25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Bon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. L. R. JOHNSON presented a petition from certain electors of the Commonwealth praying that the Australian Government withdraw our troops from Vietnam, call for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Vietnam and call on all world leaders to call a conference of conflicting parties aimed at permanent peace and self-determination of the Vietnamese people based on the principles of the 1954 Geneva Accords.
Petition received and read.
Mr. BEAZLEY presented a petition from certain students of Australian tertiary institutions relating to the deletion from the Constitution of certain words discriminating against Aborigines in section 51.
Petition received and read.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. Why did he and certain other senior Ministers last Thursday night decide that the waterside legislation which was introduced only that night at 8 o’clock was to be pushed through this House on Thursday and Friday of this week? Why did he not tell senators that they might be required to come back on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week? What is the reason for this unseemly and indecent haste? Why did he tell the Secretary of his Department to tell people outside this House last Friday that the Parliament, which had not been consulted in any way, would be required, in respect of the House of Representatives, to sit an extra day this week and, in respect of the Senate, to sit next week? Will he purge himself of his contempt of the Parliament?
– In the first place, the honorable gentleman’s allegations are not correct. This was not discussed by senior Ministers last week. It was discussed by senior Ministers yesterday and the decision was-
– That is not true, because Bland told Monk that on Friday.
– That was totally untrue.
– Monk told me, and I would believe him before I would believe the Minister.
– I now wish to repeat that the decision was made yesterday by the Prime Minister, myself and senior Ministers. It was made yesterday and there could not be-
– It was confirmed yesterday, but it was made by the Minister on Thursday night.
– It was made yesterday.
– The honorable gentleman has just heard the verification from the Prime Minister.
– It was confirmed by the Prime Minister yesterday.
– As to the way this foolish phrase, “ unseemly haste “, has been bandied about, the fact is that the bill is a vitally important piece of legislation. It is in the nation’s interest that the legislation be passed as soon as is reasonably practicable. We are determined that the Opposition will have adequate opportunity to debate it.
– Give it away: What adequate opportunity?
– What has been decided is that the House will resume the debate on the legislation on Thursday and will continue the debate on Friday, and then, Sir-
– Why did not the Minister tell us this last Thursday?
– The Leader of the Opposition has been informed that it was only decided yesterday, and a telegram was immediately sent to him.
– It was not. I did not receive a telegram at all.
– The honorable member was informed by the Prime Minister yesterday.
– I got a telegram from the Prime Minister last night.
– Yes, from the Prime Minister. He is the proper person to communicate with the honorable member. The Opposition will be given a reasonable opportunity to debate this legislation. It is up to honorable members opposite to demonstrate to the nation whether they are prepared to handle the Bill in a responsible manner.
– The Minister is an antiParliamentarian, but I excuse the’ Prime Minister from any criticism.
– I direct a question to the Minister for External Affairs. Is it a fact that a longstanding agreement, possibly going back to before the First World War, exists whereby the Dutch were ensured access to the navigation of the Fly River, which extends a considerable distance into Papua? Does this condition now apply to Indonesia? Have the Indonesians ever availed themselves of it? As the border between the two territories concerned is currently being clarified, and as Indonesia shows every sign of repudiating more recent agreements relating to West New Guinea, will the Minister take steps to see that this outdated provision is no longer accorded to Indonesia?
– For the greater part of its course the Fly River is wholly within Australian territory, but at one point the Fly River becomes the boundary between West New Guinea and Papua. A curve of the river becomes the boundary. I think it was in 1895 that an agreement was made between the Netherlands and the British Government - it was before the Australian administration - that there should be access to navigation of the waters of the Fly River subject to the condition that no arms should be carried. That agreement was never operative; it was never invoked. There was never any occasion to invoke it. At present the exact effect of the agreement is under study by our own legal officers, first of ail to see whether the agreement is still extant and secondly to see to what extent it applies to present day conditions. For the moment I am unable to say how effective the agreement is, but I would say that up to date the behaviour of the Indonesian Government in respect of the border between West New Guinea and Australian-administered New Guinea has been quite correct. We have had no occasion to find fault in any way with the conduct of the Indonesian Government.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. I refer to the reasons given by the Prime Minister for the transfer of Dr. Rex Patterson from the position of head of the Northern Division in the Department of National Development. The right honorable gentleman said that the head of the Division - … is in the direct area of advising governments …. privy to the most intimate details from a Cabinet point of view ….
Would it be correct to say that Sir William Gunn is in almost the same position? If so, is any action contemplated against Sir William? If not, does it mean that only public servants who support Labour’s policy are to suffer for their political convictions?
– It would come as a surprise to me to learn that Sir William Gunn was a member of the Commonwealth Public Service. This seems to be a novel concept. 1 must look into it.
– I ask the Minister for -Territories a question about the arrangements now decided regarding the bauxite leases on Gove Peninsula. Have any tests been undertaken with a view to ascertaining whether the profitability of the venture will be in accordance with the agreement, that is to say not less than 7i per cent, after tax? If profitability after tax does not reach 7i per cent., how does the Government propose to maintain SO per cent, participation and ownership by Australian companies in view of the fact that the clause in the agreement relating to profitability allows Australian companies to drop out completely in these circumstances? If this were to happen, the
Government’s main policy requirement would be negatived.
– First, there will be two years study of the best approach to mining the deposits at Gove. This study will include plant design. It is true that if Australian participants in the venture are not convinced that they can earn a profit of 7± per cent, they may withdraw. This would not mean that other investors in Australia would not be happy to invest in this operation. There is considerable hope that a profit of 7i per cent, will be attained.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral consider providing in Darwin television facilities similar to those provided in northern Queensland cities? In view of the importance of Darwin to our defence organisation, involving as it does a considerable increase in the number of defence personnel in the Territory, and in view of the value of television to those engaged in youth welfare work in the Northern Territory and to other citizens, will the PostmasterGeneral agree that the provision of television facilities in the Northern Territory, and in Darwin in particular, is an urgent necessity?
– I am aware that there are many areas of Australia which would like to have television, but it is not possible to provide this facility in all of these places at a reasonable cost. I was in Darwin during the last parliamentary recess, when representations were made to me about the provision of television facilities there. The honorable member and other honorable members will know that, so far, the Government has committed itself only to the end of phase 4 in television. Since every station within phase 4 will not be completed until 1965-67, no proposals for a further phase have been put to me by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. Therefore the Government has not given consideration to the extension of television in Australia beyond phase 4.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. In view of the reported rise of £2 a ton in the cost of sulphuric acid supplied to superphosphate manufacturers, and the increased freight rates, will the Government confer with the manufacturers to ensure. that the rise in retail prices of superphosphate and superphosphate based fertilizers will ba the lowest that is possible?
– I do not know that the Government has any authority to determine the price of fertilizers. Probably the Department of Trade and Industry would be interested in this matter. I can assure the honorable member that we will have a discussion with manufacturers and ascertain the merits and demerits of their proposal.
– I ask the
Acting Minister for Trade and Industry whether he will tell the House what the Government has done to meet the position created by the stand down of many employees of General Motors-Holden’s Pty. Ltd. Will the Minister also tell the House what the Government intends to do to try to expedite the decision of the Tariff Board on the application for extra duties to be imposed on imported motor vehicles? Will he say whether the Government intends to act immediately it receives the Board’s report?
– The report of the Tariff Board on motor vehicles will be studied promptly by the Government and every effort will be made by the Government to ensure the prosperity and activity of Australian industry.
– I address my question to the Acting Minister for Health. I refer to the regular review of recreation areas to be undertaken by the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness. I ask: What is the basic intention of the reviews? Is it intended to offer advice to the State Governments or possibly to extend the financial provision under the National Fitness Act to permit the acquisition of additional recreation facilities by the existing committees?
– The Commonwealth Council for National Fitness has been set up under the National Fitness Act so that the Commonwealth Minister for Health can ascertain what is being done by the various State Councils for National Fitness to provide facilities for national fitness. The national fitness recreation reserves are, of course, primarily the responsibility of the States. The State Ministers, Departments and Councils will compile the information within their own States and forward it to the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness, which will collate the information. It is not intended at this stage that the Commonwealth will participate in the provision of additional facilities.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration a question. Can he say how many aliens required to register under the Aliens Act have in fact registered and how many have not registered? Will he say what notification, and in what languages, the Government has caused to be made of the necessity to register? If, as I expect, a very large proportion has not registered, will he say whether he thinks this shows that the notification has not been adequate? If so, will he make sure that it is adequate before any consideration is given to prosecuting those aliens who have not registered?
– Notification of the requirement to register has been given over quite a period of time. The change in the registration procedure was required because some aliens change their jobs frequently in the early period after they arrive and, because of this, they probably overlook the necessity to register. It was decided to make September the month for registration. This requirement has been given a great deal of publicity in industry, through employers, over the radio and television and in the newspapers.
– In what languages?
Mr. OPPERMAN__ I must admit that offhand I cannot tell the honorable member the number of languages. It is fairly obvious that people who have been in Australia for a period have made Australian friends and have acquaintances who are of the same nationality and understand English and that, therefore, the message will get about. We estimate that some 396,000 aliens are due for registration. Registrations are coming in much more rapidly as the end of the month approaches, and it appears that about 60,000 have applied for registration already. As I have said, we expect that more will come along.
It is not a question of trying to harass aliens in relation to registration. Every country has very definite ideas on this matter. Holland, for example, is one country that has a 24 hour limit for notification. We believe that aliens should be registered. We shall make a check immediately September closes. If it is obvious that some aliens propose to stand out and not register, we shall have to prosecute them. It is fairly evident already in some States that the rate of applications for naturalization has increased somewhat. Perhaps this indicates that in Australia life is so easy and there is so much tolerance as to lead some migrants to regard neither naturalization nor registration as necessary. However, I can assure the honorable member that we shall do everything possible to ensure that every alien who should be registered is registered definitely and in the easiest possible way.
– On Tuesday of last week, I answered a question asked by the honorable member for Mitchell about the marble and stone work of the new National Library building in Canberra. I regret to say that in making my reply I fell into error. I can see now that I gave the impression that a tender for £485,000 which had already been accepted was for the supply and setting of stone required for both the external and the internal walls of the building. That was wrong. The contract in question related to the external walls. Therefore, the expression “ both external and internal “ should be replaced by the words “ for cladding the exterior walls “, “ cladding “, I believe, being the Tight word.
– My question, which is directed to the Attorney-General, refers to an ordinance of the Australian Capital Territory - No. 14 of 1965 - which amends the Law Reform Ordinance. In the absence of any explanatory memorandum, I ask the Minister: Can he say why it was found necessary to have the amending provisions in section 3 of this ordinance made retrospective for more than 10 years to 31st March 1955?
– This was a companion ordinance to ordinance No. 13 of 1965. These two ordinances were made to correct a position that had been disclosed by the case of Genders v. the Government Insurance Office of New South Wales. In New South Wales, the drafting practice is by one single act to amend two acts, but our drafting practice is to have a separate ordinance to amend each of the two that require amendment. In this instance, those were the Motor Traffic Ordinance and the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance. It is the latter to which the honorable gentleman referred. There was an explanatory memorandum that covered both the amending ordinances, and I shall be happy to make a copy available to the honorable gentleman. In the meantime, if he wishes me to explain any other matters to him, I shall be pleased to do so.
– I address a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. He will probably recall that, when he reported recently to the Parliament on the operations of the Fishing Industry Act, he highlighted the failure of the International Whaling Commission to accept proposals for increased protection of the world’s sperm whale stocks. I ask: Is there any practical move which the Government may make to influence action by the International Commission, or must we be reconciled to the complete loss of whales in the areas adjacent to Australia?
– I think that Australia made the most practical move possible in this regard in putting a proposal to the International Whaling Commission with a view to conserving sperm whale stocks. That proposal was opposed by only two nations, which had the right to object within a stipulated period. To my knowledge the two nations have not as yet objected, but I cannot say whether or not the stipulated time has expired. The point is that if two of the major fishing nations are going to stand out and exploit the seas to their hearts’ content, there is no possible advantage in having an agreement whereby a restriction is placed on nations which are prepared to take action to conserve whale stocks but which places no restriction on others who exploit the position and destroy the whales. Australia took the practical proposal to the Commission and it met with a measure of success, but as yet not total success. I hope that that will come about.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question. There is in circulation a story, which I think has some basis, that the British Government has decided to relax to 35 years the 50 years rule in respect of the publication of documents of State. Will the Prime Minister investigate the matter and, if the story is based on fact, will he follow the British example? I should like to add that historians, other scholars and many people are interested in this question. If the rule were relaxed we would know the whole story of World War I, the story of the Bruce-Page Government in this country and almost the whole story of the Scullin Government.
– I am not aware of the change that is referred to, but I will certainly find out whether there has been a change. I would pay a good deal of respect to a change of that kind. Without committing myself to any final result, I would certainly be willing to re-examine the position.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise by reminding him of a statement by the Minister for Customs and Excise dated 22nd September dealing with petroleum subsidies. I ask: Is the Minister aware that at least some retailers of petroleum products in Victoria have not been advised of the reduction in price that should apply and, therefore, are charging the original price? I ask further: Will he consult with the Minister for Customs and Excise with a view to having the position clarified at an early date, thereby giving the consumers the reduction in prices to which they are entitled by legislation passed in this House some months ago?
– I will certainly raise this matter with my colleague in another place and pass on to him any details which the honorable member can give me about these practices in his own area.
– Does the Prime Minister know that many pensioners receiving the base rate pension and basic wage earners dependent on one family income are suffering real hardship because of the continuing increase in the cost of living? In view of the fact that these needy groups of people are not to receive an increase in pension from the Budget or an increase in wages from the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, will the Prime Minister take the earliest action to redress these wrongs? Finally, what action does the right honorable gentleman intend to take to halt the spiralling cost of living?
– I think my friend would agree that this is a powerful question relating to policy. I will treat it as such.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether he is aware that the Australian Citrus Growers Federation met in Melbourne last week, with officers of the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Primary Industry in attendance. Is he aware that a recommendation has gone out to State citrus organisations aiming to set up a statutory body under Commonwealth legislation? Is it a fact that this legislation would aim to promote sales and develop exports? If this proposal is endorsed by State organisations, is the Minister prepared to recommend such legislation to the Government?
– It is the usual procedure for officers of my Department and officers of the Department of Trade and Industry to attend industry conferences such as the one mentioned by the honorable member. I am not aware of the results of that conference because I have not yet received a report from the officer concerned. However, the Government’s policy in matters of this kind is clear. The industry would need to take the initiative in submitting any proposal for stabilisation or the organisation of exports. I think the citrus industry would have a fairly big task ahead of it in this connection because it is faced with many problems in promoting exports. Although the export prices for citrus fruits are higher than the domestic prices at the moment, the industry is still faced with disease problems. For instance, the fruit fly affects citrus fruits in some States and receiving countries are not prepared to accept exports from those areas. On the whole, the industry has a big job of organisation ahead of it. However, I hope that it can do much to help itself and if it has substantial support for any proposal, I shall be only too happy to discuss it with representatives of the industry.
– In prefacing a question to the Minister for the Interior I should like to say that in my opinion the Australian film, “ From the Tropics to the Snow “ is of excellent quality. Has this film been displayed in overseas countries for the purpose of advertising Australia?
– I am pleased to hear the complimentary remarks of the honorable member for Watson. I, too, have praised it as being one of the best travel films produced in Australia. I might add that this film has already won four awards. It has won the Jedda Award presented by the National Travel Association for the best travel film; gold medal in the travel category of the Australian Film Institute’s Awards for 1965, the Kodak silver medallion for the best colour film and the Australian Cine.matographers Society’s silver plaque for the best colour film.
This film is being shown throughout the world. Indeed, many of the overseas shipping lines are screening it for the entertainment of their passengers. Honorable members might be interested to know that I have had many excellent letters from the major shipping lines of the world complimenting the Commonwealth Film Unit on its production. I hope that it will be seen by many more people throughout the world because it gives a very favour 41- and very realistic impression of Australia.
– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport whether the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads is now operative. If it is, where are its headquarters, and will it be represented in the States?
– The honorable gentleman is anxious to get the Bureau off to a flying start. Mr. Loxton was appointed Chairman of the Bureau a few weeks ago. He has yet to be transferred from the Department of Supply, and he will take up his duties officially with the Bureau on 1st October. The Bureau’s headquarters will be in Melbourne. At the moment, it is not contemplated that it will have branches in the States, but I do hope that it will be mobile and that it will move from State to State in the course of its inquiries.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. Will the higher standard of matriculation required for entry to universities greatly affect students undertaking private studies? Will the right honorable gentleman have consultations with the Universities Commission to ascertain whether this higher requirement will make it virtually impossible for those students who have undertaken a two year evening study course at various technical colleges to matriculate?
– This is a matter which each university deals with for itself; each determines its own standard for admissions. Admissions to universities do not fall within our jurisdiction. These matters have been under debate, particularly in New South Wales. I find it very confusing. One day I read in the Press a letter that is written by some learned authority, and the following day some equally learned person contradicts him.
– Like members of Parliament.
– That is very much so.
– Like the Cabinet?
– That is certainly so. I did not ever pretend that we were all dead men in the Cabinet, and whenever men are alive there will be argu ments. Of course, there will be, and these are going on. I understand that the New South Wales Minister for Education is conferring about this matter hoping to clarify the position. All I can tell the honorable member is that I have been looking at this, following a question asked by the honorable member for Evans the other day about a similar matter. I think the best thing for me to do is to get assembled what we can say from our knowledge at this stage and distribute it in the form of an answer to the question asked by the honorable member for East Sydney and the one asked the other day by the honorable member for Evans.
– Has the attention of the Minister for National Development been directed to the expected rise in the cost of sulphuric acid for superphosphate production? In view of this expected rise, and the importance of the superphosphate industry to Australia’s economy, has any consideration been given to the possibility of providing incentives for the search for sulphur in Australia in the way that the Government already provides incentives for oil search in this country?
– My attention has been directed to the fact that the cost of imported sulphur is likely to rise, but any action by the Government to encourage the search for sulphur locally would naturally be a matter of policy, and for that reason is not a matter to be dealt with at question time.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. On behalf of the tobacco growers of Australia, particularly those in North Queensland, who are concerned about their future and the future of the tobacco industry, I ask the Minister: What stage has the proposed stabilisation plan reached and when does he hope that the effectiveness of the plan will be felt?
– The concluding sales of the season have just been finalised in Melbourne. Officers of the Department are analysing the position, but I can tell the honorable member and the House that of 23.3 million lb. of quota leaf submitted for sale 5.7 per cent, was unsold at auction. The position is well in hand and I may have something more to say to the honorable member in the course of a few days.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise. Can the Minister tell the House whether there is any justification for the fear expressed by people in some country centres, who are now getting petrol at less than 4d. above city prices, that the prices they are paying will be increased to compensate for the larger reduction of prices necessary in other country areas which at the present moment are getting petrol at well above 4d. more than city prices?
– I imagine that these fears are quite unfounded. But to check the honorable members worries I will raise the matter with my colleague in another place and endeavour to reassure him. I am sure that no person could possibly catch up with all the kinds of rumours liable to be let loose on such occasions, whether well founded or not. I very much doubt that they are well founded.
– I ask the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry: Have the increases in freight charges made during the last five years added immensely more to the prices of Australian exports and imports than has the total time lost on Australian wharfs for any reason whatsoever?
– I am sure the honorable member would realise that even if I were more closely familiar with this portfolio of Trade and Industry than I am, it would require a calculation of the figures to give him the answer he requires. Therefore, if he will put the question on notice I will obtain a reply for him.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that Mr. Michael Stewart, Foreign Secretary of the Government of the United Kingdom, will be visiting Tokyo for the 4th regular Anglo-Japanese minis terial consultations on 19th October? Mr. Stewart will also be visiting Korea and a number of other Far Eastern countries. In view of Mr. Stewart’s oft expressed concern with events east of Suez, would the Government consider inviting Mr. Stewart to this country?
– I can assure the honorable member that Mr. Stewart really would not need an invitation. The Prime Minister and his senior Ministers concerned with Australia know quite definitely that we will welcome a visit at any time. I would certainly be delighted to see Mr. Stewart here. But as to whether he can come on this occasion is a very different matter because he is under great pressure in his own office and even a couple of days, or three days, added to the journey might turn out to be impossible.
– I put my question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. Can the Minister confirm or deny the information which has been given to me that officials of the Australian National Line and the Waterside Workers Federation have met in Sydney with the idea of discussing mutual co-operation between the Australian National Line and the Federation in the building and operation of two bulk ore carriers for our overseas trade between Australia and Japan? Is this evidence that the Australian National Line has a firm policy to begin an overseas shipping line with or without this Government’s blessing?
- Mr. Speaker, not only has the Australian National Line this Government’s blessing, as the honorable member puts it, but it has the blessing of Parliament because in the statute which created the Line it is given power to operate ships overseas. There is a deal of difference between operating an overseas shipping line and carrying cargoes overseas in ships when the opportunities are available. One connotes a regular service with a large number of vessels; the other connotes merely taking advantage of opportunities that exist. The Australian National Line and the Government have frequently looked at opportunities which have occurred from time to time to take part in overseas trade. Unfortunately, at the moment they seem to be very limited.
There will be new opportunities in connection with shipments of bulk cargoes in association with many new aspects of our mineral development. All these are being carefully examined by the Government and by the Australian National Line.
” VOYAGER” ROYAL COMMISSION.
– I desire to ask the AttorneyGeneral a question. May I explain to him that on two occasions I have gone to the Library to endeavour to obtain a photostat copy of extracts from the “ Voyager “ royal commission and on both occasions I have been refused. Could the Attorney-General tell me whether there is any reason under law why photostat copies of this evidence cannot be given to members of Parliament? Is there any right of copyright over this particular royal commission transcript or is such a right applicable to any royal commission transcript?
– As I understand it, there are specific rules relating to making available photostatic copies of material in the Library. What those rules are in particular I am unable to recall to my mind but I would remind the honorable gentleman that the Attorney-General is not able to give opinions as to matters of law in answer to questions asked in the House. As to copyright, I should tell the honorable gentleman that, generally speaking, there is copyright existing in the Commonwealth in relation to reports of this kind.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Housing. Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a graph which appeared in “Trends”, the official magazine of the Rural Bank of New South Wales? Did that graph, which dealt with interest payments on first mortgages registered in the Registrar-General’s office, disclose that of £180 million lent on first mortgage of real estate, 66 per cent, was advanced at interest rates in excess of 7 per cent.? Did comparable figures for 10 years ago show that only 23 per cent, of money advanced in similar conditions was at interest rates greater than 7 per cent.? What steps does the Minister intend to take to correct the situation, particularly having regard to the drop in savings bank deposits?
– Although I have not seen the report referred to by the honorable member, I am sure that the substance of what he has said does reflect the trend which has been going on for some time. At the moment, interest rates are high, the demand for loans of all types from the banking system and all other financial institutions is most intense. In these circumstances the rates charged have risen. The cheap money sector is, of course, the savings banks and the various Governmental organisations which lend for housing purposes at comparatively low rates. Other rates depend on market movements over which, of course, the Commonwealth Government has no control.
– With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a (personal explanation in correction of a broadcast statement in which I was misrepresented. My attention has been directed to the terms of a nation-wide broadcast to wool growers by Mr. S. S. Nevile, Chairman of the Australian Wool Board’s Marketing Committee. In this broadcast, the following statement occurs -
Finally, the Prime Minister has clearly revealed the views concerning the reserve price arrangement of his Government, and I quote-
Then he purported to quote me - “Besides protecting the individual grower, the plan will help stabilise the industry and the national economy. These objects will be achieved without any of the elements of controlled marketing by Government control associated with most primary industry marketing arrangements, to which the characteristically independent wool grower objects.”
The use of this quotation is - and I choose a mild expression - grossly misleading. How misleading - to use no stronger word - will at once appear when I tell the House that the words attributed to me as if they related to the plan now under consideration by wool growers were part of a statement made on behalf of the Government no less than 14 years ago. At that time there was another reserve price plan, of an international character, negotiated among and supported by the Australian, New Zealand, South African, and British Governments. The British Government had already agreed to contribute substantial capital to the fund necessary to establish it. That scheme was designed to represent a continuance of the
Joint Organisation reserve price arrangement after the winding up of the Joint Organisation.
In anticipation of that plan going into operation, the Australian Government, with the concurrence of wool grower organisations, imposed a levy of 7¼ per cent on the gross proceeds of wool sold in 1950-51. This yielded about £45 million, which was very near to the £48 million which Australian wool growers were expected to contribute for the capital of the scheme. My Government supported the scheme, which had been negotiated internationally. My statement was made on behalf of the Government. We were not impartial.
Today, 14 years later, another scheme has been propounded for wool marketing in Australia. What my Government has done is to agree with the representatives of the industry that -
Under these circumstances, to claim the Prime Minister as a public partisan is to accuse him of violating the very principle which on behalf of his own Government he has tried to make clear. This I greatly resent. The facts I have recited will, I think, justify that resentment to the full.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill presented by Dr. Forbes, and read a first time.
I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to increase the standing appropriation in the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1960 from £5,000 to £10,000. The next Bill on the notice paper contains a proposal to make similar amendments to the Public Accounts Committee Act 1951. As the purpose of the amendments is the same in each case I propose, in the remarks which follow, to address myself to both Bills.
The appropriations, which appear in section 37 of the Public Works Committee Act and section 23 of the Public Accounts Committee Act, are designed to permit the payment of the expenses of the Committees. The major part of these expenses represents the cost of travel for members when on Committee business; the balance represents the sitting fees and travelling allowances payable to the members under the Regulations. During last financial year, 1964-65, the expenses of both Committees were within a few pounds of the standing appropriation of £5,000 provided in each Act. Both Committees have advised that they expect the expenses which will result’ from their programme of work in 1965-66 to be in excess of £5,000, and they have accordingly sought increases in the standing appropriation.
I am sure that honorable members will all appreciate the valuable work which these two Committees have done in extending the scrutiny of Parliament in the fields of public works and of finance. The regular and comprehensive reports which each Committee presents to the Parliament are in themselves evidence of the time spent by the members on the business of the Committees, and their influence on the administration of government extends considerably beyond the immediate scope of their reports. I am sure that there will be no objection among honorable members to increasing the standing appropriations available to these Committees to permit them to continue their activities in the future.
The present standing appropriations of £5,000 have remained unaltered since 1951, except for a special increase to £6,500 which Parliament approved for expenditure by the Public Works Committee in 1962-63 only. Despite the increase in costs since 1951. the appropriations have thus stood sufficient to meet the requirements of the Committees for some 14 years. In proposing that the new amount be set at £10,000, the Government has in mind that it should not be necessary to approach Parliament frequently for minor increases in the standing appropriation. In our view, it is important that the Committees should have the assurance of adequate finance. It therefore seems best to propose an amount which can reasonably be expected to cover the relatively small expenses of the Committees for a further period of some years.
I should add that the passing of these Bills will not have any immediate effect on the fees and allowances paid to the members of the two Committees. However, as soon as possible after the two Bills are enacted, the Government proposes to issue regulations to provide for increased rates of sitting fees and travelling allowances for the members of the Committees. The new rates to be prescribed will be in conformity with the increases approved by Parliament late last year in the Parliamentary Allowances Act, and associated Acts, and it will be proposed that, as in the case of those allowances, the new rates should apply with effect from 1st November 1964.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Bill presented by Dr. Forbes, and read a first time.
– I move-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
As I mentioned when introducing the Public Works Committee Bill, the purpose of this Bill is to increase the standing appropriation to meet the expenses of the Public Accounts Committee from £5,000 to £10,000. The reasons for proposing the amendment are the same as in the case of the Public Works Committee Bill and I do not propose to add to the comments I made when introducing that Bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the Government’s Budget proposals in the repatriation field and to make someother desirable changes in the Repatriation legislation. As honorable members know, this year the Government has had to provide for greatly enlarged expenditure in the defence area and has been obliged to meet very substantial commitments over the entire range of Commonwealth activity. Despite this, it has again reviewed the operation of the repatriation system including eligibility for, and rates of, benefit, and has been able to make some valuable changes. These will be of particular benefit to the more needy class of pensioner.
The Bill introduces to the repatriation system a new category of war pension to be known as the intermediate rate of war pension. This pension will be paid under the First Schedule to the Repatriation Act and the rate will be £10 2s. 6d. per week. It will cater for the special needs of war pensioners who, although not so disabled as to qualify for the special rate of pension payable to the totally and permanently incapacitated, are seriously disabled because of war caused incapacity to the extent that they are able to work only part time or intermittently and thus cannot earn a living wage. This benefit will provide a desirable supplement to the present war pension structure for ex-servicemen whose overall earnings are limited because of their physical inability to participate in full time employment.
It is also proposed that provisions relating to eligibility for payment of sustenance allowance at the equivalent of the special - total and permanent incapacity - rate of pension will be extended to include exservicemen who are prevented from following their usual occupation because of the necessities of outpatient treatment for war caused disability for continuous periods in excess of one month. On completion of a continuous period of one month’s outpatient treatment, this higher rate of sustenance will be payable retrospective to the commencement of the period involved. As honorable members know, the present sustenance allowance for outpatient treatment is equivalent to the 100 per cent, general rate of pension and is, therefore, considerably below the inpatient rate. The effect of the new provision is that except for comparatively short periods of outpatient treatment, eligible ex-servicemen will now receive sustenance allowance at the equivalent of the special T.P.I, rate whether receiving treatment at inpatient or outpatient level. The new eligibility will be given effect through repatriation regulations. It is a benefit in which ex-service organisations have been interested for some time and will no doubt be well received by them.
At present medical treatment may be provided under the Repatriation Act regulations for the children, up to the age of 16 years, of war widows. It is proposed that medical treatment will be continued in the case of student children, up to the age of 2 1 , of war widows. This extended eligibility will operate from 1st January 1966, which is the date from which similar arrangements in relation to children coming under the pensioner medical service will commence. It is necessary to amend the regulationmaking power under the Repatriation Act to enable such a regulation to be made. This Bill, therefore, includes an appropriate amendment to section 124 of the Repatriation Act which at present does not authorise the making of regulations to provide general benefits for children over the age of 18 years.
A number of changes are to be made in the service pension area. The first is that a married member service pensioner whose wife receives a wife’s service pension will henceforth be eligible for the single service pensioner’s rate of £6 per week, an increase of 10s. per week. Previously the maximum rate of service pension for married member service pensioners was £5 10s. per week. A further change relates to the entitlement to pension of wives and children of service pensioners receiving the pension on ground of age. Hitherto no provision has been made for wives and children in these circumstances. The Bill provides that the wife of such a pensioner will now qualify for a wife’s service pension if she has one or more children, and the children also will qualify. As well, the addition to the member’s own pension in respect of second and subsequent children, at present payable at 15s. per week for each such child to member service pensioners who are permanently unemployable, will now be payable at the same rate to members who receive service pension on grounds of age.
An entirely new benefit which the Bill introduces is the guardian’s allowance, which will be at the rate of £2 per week. This will be paid by way of addition to pension to a member service pensioner who is unmarried but who has the custody, care and control of one or more children under the age of 16 years. The guardian’s allowance will be payable until the child reaches 21 years in cases in which the child continues to undergo full time education. Since 1963 eligible children of service pensioners have continued to receive pension up until the end of the year in which they turn 18, provided that they are still receiving full time education. As in the case of the guardian’s allowance, this age limit will be extended until the child attains 21 years.
Finally, there are two important changes in relation to supplementary assistance which is paid to certain service pensioners who pay rent or who pay full board or lodging. Eligibility for this benefit will be widened and the rate is to be increased. Hitherto, supplementary assistance has been paid to unmarried persons and limited categories of married persons. Eligibility for married persons is now to be widened to include a married service pensioner whose wife receives service pension. Also, the maximum rate of allowance is to be increased by 10s. per week, from £26 to £52 a year. The maximum rate will be sub*ject to adjustment according to the amount by which the pensioner’s means as assessed, that is his assessable income and/ or property, exceeds £26 per year.
In addition to these payments which bear directly on the pensions and allowances to service pensioners, there is to be a further benefit which will be of assistance to people in this group. Aside from the £10 grant now available in respect of deceased member service pensioners, there is to be funeral benefit of £20 provided for service pensioners who are responsible for the funeral costs of a spouse, a child or another means test pensioner. This benefit will be provided under the repatriation regulations. Where there is an eligibility for both the existing benefit of £10 and the new higher benefit, the latter will be paid.
I am pleased to inform honorable members that two important changes in the scope of the pensioner medical service will have an effect on some service pensioners. The first of these changes is that- the existing income limitation governing eligibility for enrolment in’ the pensioner medical service taas been removed. Although the member service pensioner is, as honorable members are doubtless aware, already eligible for a wide range of medical benefits at the Repatriation Department’s expense, the change will be of real assistance to wives and children who are receiving a service pension, including the wives and children of the special or totally and permanently incapacitated rate war pensioners who also receive a part service pension. The other change is the extension of the pensioner medical service eligibility to student children up to the age of 21 years. These changes will operate from 1st January 1966.
The opportunity is also being taken to include in the Bill some other desirable changes in the repatriation legislation. Under section 45 of the Act, war pensions which are being paid to dependants in respect of the incapacity of a member at the time of his death are continued after his death where he dies from a cause not accepted as due to war service. At present this secti’on does not provide cover for a posthumous child and, although there would perhaps be relatively few such cases, it seems reasonable that such a child should be included. The amendment proposed to section 45 will do this.
In the appeal area, two adjustments will be made. First, an appellant to a War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal has the right to appear at the hearing of his appeal and also is entitled to receive expenses in connection with that appearance. However, in the relatively few cases where the Repatriation Commission exercises its right of appeal against the decision of a War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, the Act confers no such rights on the exserviceman. An amendment proposed to section 72 will remove this anomaly by giving to a respondent to an appeal by the Commission the right of appearance and to receive expenses in connection with that appearance.
The second proposal in the tribunal area relates to “ further evidence “ cases. Where a claimant for war pension dies before his claim is determined, or before he has had the opportunity to follow up his appeal rights, the Act in general makes provision enabling the legal personal representative, or an approved person, to prosecute the claim or appeal. However, no such provision is made where, after an unsuccessful appeal, a claimant seeks to re-open his case by submitting further evidence to the Repatriation Commission under section 64 (7.) of the Act, but dies before the further evidence is considered; or, where such evidence has been rejected by the Commission and he dies before he has exercised his right to have it referred to a Tribunal. This could have important consequences for dependants - for example, the wife and child who continue to receive their pensions on the death of the member. The amendment proposed will allow the legal personal representative or an approved person to pursue the claim of a deceased appellant in respect of such evidence submitted by him during his lifetime.
The Bill also contains a clause inserted following an amendment in another place, the effect of which is that medical, hospital and related treatment is to be provided cor ex-servicemen of the Boer War and the 1914-18 War for disabilities which are not accepted as war caused. For the convenience of honorable members, a table which summarises the repatriation Budget proposals, has been prepared. This is attached to copies of this speech being circulated to honorable members.
In accordance with usual practice, the foregoing proposals will, where applicable, be extended to those eligible by amendment to the Native Members of the Forces (Torres Strait Islands) Benefits Regulations. With the exception I have mentioned in the case of medical benefits for student children of war widows, the amendments will come into force from the date on which the Act receives the Royal Assent. The measures with which the Bill is concerned are part of the continuing development of a repatriation system which has emerged over the years from soundly based principles. They confer useful benefits on the more needy class of pensioner and dependant as well as making other desirable adjustments. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
As the subject of this small Bill has been dealt with, in effect, in the second reading speech on the Repatriation Bill, I shall deal with it quite briefly. By clause 3, the Bill will insert into the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act provision for payment of a new intermediate rate of pension in accordance with the Government’s policy decision as announced in the Budget speech. The new rate of £10 2s. 6d. a week falls between the special or totally and permanently incapacitated rate and the general or 100 per cent, rate and will meet the special needs of seamen war pensioners who, although not so disabled as to qualify for the special rate pension payable to those totally and permanently incapacitated, are nevertheless suffering war caused disablement serious enough to prevent their working other than part-time or intermittently. Clauses 2 and 4 ensure that the new provision will become operative without delay. The insertion of provision for this new rate of war pension in our legislation meets the special need of some of our ex-servicemen and seamen who suffer war caused incapacity. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Consideration resumed from 23rd September (vide page 1286).
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
.- Clause 2 is a very important clause. If reads -
This Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
Honorable members will recollect that in the second reading stage the Opposition moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: -
to make retrospective to the 1st July 1965 the increases proposed by the Bill. . . ‘.
The wording of this clause has been a matter of dissatisfaction to the Opposition since before the present Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) held this portfolio. Members of the Opposition are hampered in moving amendments to this legislation. If we move amendments, we could be accused of delaying the passage of the Bill. This is important because payment of benefits provided in the Bill will not take effect until we pass the legislation. It is not our intention to delay the passage of the Bill. We believe that this position could have been avoided if our amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill had been adopted.
We could never get much satisfaction from the previous Minister for Social Services on the question of retrospective payment. The present Minister claims that it is to commence the payment of increased pensions on the day on which the Bill received the royal assent. With every good intent I ask him to try to give a satisfactory explanation to the Committee for the delay in paying the increases. In this age of automation, with special types of machines installed in many offices, including, I believe, the Department of Social Services, it is difficult to understand why it is not possible to back date the payment of the increases to the commencement of the financial year, that is, 1st July, or at least to the day on which the proposals were announced in the Budget, that is, 17th August? If these payments were back dated, the Opposition would have a reasonable opportunity to offer criticism of the Government’s legislation. The Government’s action leaves- the impression that the Government is trying to stifle discussion of very humane legislation. I would like the Minister to offer an explanation when he speaks on this clause.
The Opposition does not propose to move amendments to this or other clauses for another very good reason. It is not that we think a number of amendments should not be moved; but we face the position that if we did move an amendment providing, for instance, that the maternity allowance should be increased, we would be moving that expenditure be increased and our motion in those terms would be out of order. The only way we could have this clause, for instance, altered to provide that payments commence on 1st July would be to move that the clause be postponed. We would then be able to give our reasons and show that the payments should be back dated to 1st July. To those of us who know parliamentary procedure, this course is understandable. We would be using the forms of the Parliament to impress upon the Government the need to back date the payments to the date we suggest. But people outside the Parliament may not understand the procedure and might be led to believe that we did not want the payments made even from the date on which the Bill receives assent. We are not moving amendments, therefore, in the main because of the procedure we must follow and because we could not under the Standing Orders, frame our amendments in clear language that would be understood precisely by the interested people outside the Parliament who should know the attitude the Opposition adopts on this question. The fact that we are not moving an amendment to this clause does not mean that we agree with it but rather that we prefer to avoid confusing people who are interested in social services.
I ask the Minister to give us today the actual reason why the payments cannot be back dated. Can he tell us why this is impossible? Is it because people have died? Does this make it difficult for the Department to back date payments? I know that about 800,000 people receive pensions or other benefits, but only a fraction of them are affected by this Bill. What is entailed in back dating payments? Would an enormous amount of work be required? Would it be any more difficult to back date these payments than, say, to refund taxation instalments that have already been collected? Does the Government refuse to back date the payments because of the precedent that has been set? I know that the Minister has a realistic approach to these problems. The fact that similar increases have not been back dated in the years gone by does not mean that a change cannot be made. I remember when it was said in this Parliament that we could not have a daily “Hansard”. Almost in a night, on the inquiry of a committee, it was established that a daily “ Hansard “ could be produced.
I am inclined to think that there is no good reason for refusing to adopt our suggestion and I put it sincerely that the Government is merely following tradition. The Government says it cannot be done because it has never been done. I ask the Minister to investigate the possibility of back dating the increases. I remind htm that when benefits are granted to people in other spheres of activity, payment has been back dated for a month or even longer. I do not want to repeat the arguments 1 advanced at the second reading stage. However, I say again that the Parliament has established a precedent for back dating increased payments. I have in mind such benefits as the payment of child endowment for student children, which was back dated to 14th January 1964. The Government did not find any difficulty in commencing the payment of the homes savings grant from a date much earlier than the date on which assent was given to the legislation. I do not criticise the back dating of these payments, but I say that if they can be back dated surely there cannot be any sound reason why the payment of increased pensions cannot be back dated to 1st July. If this were done, those who will receive the increases would enjoy the benefit of them for a full year.
If we are to accept that increased pensions cannot be back dated, the Government will have to bring down its Budgets much earlier in the year. If technical problems or staff problems prevent the back dating of these increases, the beneficiaries of them should not be asked to suffer. On this occasion, the benefits contained in the legislation are, unfortunately, very limited. But if increases had also been granted to the recipients of child endowment, maternity allowance, sickness and unemployment benefits and widows’ pensions, many thousands of people would have been affected for some months. They would have been asked to wait until assent had been given to the Bill, because of the Government’s refusal to make the payments retrospective and not because we as an Opposition wanted to debate the Bill without any consideration for the people who will receive the increased benefits. We could quite genuinely and sincerely put many cases of hardship before the Parliament, but if we did this the Government’s action would mean delaying the measure and many people would be denied the benefits to which they are entitled. We have no desire to deprive the people of any benefits and that is why we do not intend to hold up the legislation.
I do not think the Minister intends to prevent discussion of a common problem that is known to all members of the Parliament, but I think a better explanation than the one that has been given in days gone by should now be given for the Government’s refusal to back date the payment of the increased benefits. I suggest to the Minister, without moving an amendment, that this clause should be changed, if not in this Bill then in the next bill that is introduced for this purpose, so that payments can commence from 1st July, which is the start of the financial year. We believe that payments can be made from this date. If they cannot be made from 1st July, surely they could be made from the date on which the legislation is introduced. I suggest to the Minister that he should reply to our suggestion during the Committee stage. We believe that this is an important point. A principle is involved. We believe that pensioners and others dependent on social services should receive the same consideration as those people who receive large salaries and others who enjoy the benefit of legislation passed by the Parliament. I ask the Minister to give favorable consideration to my suggestion.
.- I support the proposition put by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) that the increased payments provided by this Bill should be made retrospective. The honorable member for Grayndler included the suggestion in the amendment that he moved to the motion for the second reading of the Bill. The only argument that I have ever heard advanced by honorable members opposite against the retrospective payment of these increases is that it has not been done by any other government. I do not believe that I should be held responsible for action that was taken by the Parliament before I came here. After all, I could not have any influence on it. The fact that retrospective payment has not been made previously does not concern me in the least.
I think the suggestion made by the honorable member for Grayndler has a great deal of merit. There is no reason why these payments cannot be made retrospective to 1st July of this year. After all, the Government has been able to make retrospective payment of other benefits that have been approved by the Parliament. I readily call to mind that the Government provided that the subsidy on superphosphate should be paid immediately for the benefit of the farmers. The Government did not delay until that Bill received the Royal assent. It immediately approved the payment of the subsidy. If the Government could in that way approve the payment of a subsidy to one section of the community, surely it could sympathetically consider the payment of pensions, small as they are, at increased rates from the beginning of the financial year in which the rates are increased, as was proposed by the honorable member for Grayndler last week on behalf of the Australian Labour Party in his amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill. After all, no large amount is involved. As was pointed out at the second reading stage, the increased benefits provided for in this Bill will cost the Government only £5.7 million in a full year. Obviously, if the Government agreed to the Opposition’s contention that the increases should be made retrospective to 1st July, no great expenditure additional to that announced by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget speech would be involved.
I have supported this kind of proposal on other occasions, Sir. I do not rise today to state a proposition that I have not been prepared to put before the Parliament before. I have always believed that the payment of increased rates of social service benefits should be made retrospective to 1st July, and I have never hesitated to make my attitude known in this Parliament I say again that I am not prepared to accept the excuse that, simply because a proposal of this kind was not adopted by previous governments, the present proposal should not be adopted by this Government. By adopting the proposition, the Government would be making a generous gesture to those who are to receive small increases in social service benefits under the terms of this measure. At the second reading stage, I pointed out that only a limited cumber of those people who qualified for social service benefits of one kind or another will benefit under the terms of this Bill. If the Government were prepared to look at the situation sympathetically, as I believe it should, and to make the payment of increased benefits retrospective, the income of the very small section who will benefit from this measure would be increased. As 1 explained at the second reading stage, the great bulk of the pensioners of this country will not receive any increase in benefits under the terms of this measure. Married pensioners will continue to receive the base rate of pension of £5 10s. a week. Only single pensioners and certain other categories of people who, under the terms of this Bill, are for the first time to be brought within the scope of the Social Services Act by the Minister will benefit.
– Only some single pensioners will benefit.
– Yes - some single pensioners, not all. I agree wholeheartedly with the amendment that was proposed by the honorable member for Grayndler at the second reading stage. I have never heard advanced in this Parliament any argument that would justify the Government’s refusing to accept a proposal that would permit the payment of increased benefits to be made retrospective to 1st July of this year. As I have already pointed out to the Committee, only a very small additional expenditure would be incurred if the Government accepted the proposition. I believe that there is a great deal of merit in what has been said by the honorable member for Grayndler. The Government would be justified in accepting the proposition that he put. I believe that it ought to consider seriously the points that have been made by honorable members on this side of the chamber.
.- Mr. Chairman, I, of course, would be very pleased if the Minister could accede to the request that the payment of the increased benefits provided for in this measure be made retrospective to 1st July. I am always pleased when pensioners and others who require more money receive it and are made a little happier. I believe that, after having heard the speeches just made by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), I should put the record straight. First, the honorable member for Bass said that he is not concerned about what happened in the past. I am amazed to hear that. After all, he is a responsible member of the Australian Labour Party and what that Party did in the past should concern him very greatly. He has had considerable association with the Department of Social Services in years gone by. Statements like that do not bring out the facts of the matter.
The honorable member for Grayndler stated that he would be happy, as I would be, as I have said, to see these increased rates of benefits dated back to 1st July. But it must be remembered that it is on record - I can produce the record in “ Hansard “ if the honorable member wishes - that when Labour was in office, the Opposition of that time, of which for three or four years I was a member, proposed amendments to social service measures in an attempt to have increased rates made retrospective to 1st July of the year in question. I am not taking sides as between the Government and the Labour Party on this occasion, for the simple reason that if the Opposition of the time in 1947, 1948 and 1949 proposed amendments embodying proposals similar to that made by the honorable member for Grayndler now, in view of the Labour Government’s actions he cannot claim that this Government should accept his proposition now.
– That proves only that the present Government parties were not fair dinkum when they were in Opposition.
– What it really proves is that neither side, when in office, has been prepared to support what it advocated when in Opposition. People outside the Parliament may say that this is terrible. But, much as we may dislike it, this is the record of this Parliament as shown in “ Hansard “. What really happens is that increased rates of pension are paid usually from the first pension pay day after the Social Services Bill is passed. This is normally some time in October. So thu means that the pension year, as it were, runs from October to October. We hope that pensions will never be reduced. This Government’s record of increasing them every now and again, even though the increases at times may be only small, suggests that pensions will not be reduced. I see no indication of pensions ever being reduced in the future, but if, at some time, this were to happen, it seems, in view of the procedure that has been adopted, that the reduction would not take effect until the end of what I have described as the pension year. This is the logical conclusion on the basis of the existing situation. I put this proposition to the Committee without attempting to take sides. I am merely looking at what is really happening. What happens now in relation to the payment of increased social service benefits has been happening to my knowledge for the last twenty years, and probably for a lot longer - perhaps ever since pensions were introduced soon after Federation. If the Minister were to depart from the established practice and bring in a new procedure, I would be very happy about it if it would mean that increased benefits would be paid from 1st July.
Both the honorable member for Grayndler and the honorable member for Bass must realise that, as I have said, the pension year, as it were, runs from, say, October to October. As I have said, there is no indication of anything happening to bring about reductions of social service benefits. The present Government has continually increased them, though perhaps not as much as we would like at times. At the risk of repeating myself, I say that even if this Government or some other administration decided to reduce a benefit at Budget time, under the Opposition’s proposal the reduction would have to date from 1st July - the beginning of the financial year in which the reduction was made and the pensioner’s would lose by it. Considering all these points, I believe that the Minister is adopting a very fair attitude by doing as previous Ministers have done for many years. Apparently, he is not inclined to depart altogether from previous practice. That being so, although, as I have said, I would be pleased to see those who depend on social service benefits receive more money, I support the Minister’s stand.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly).
– There is no amendment before the Chair.
– I support his contention that the Government could have made payments under this legislation, these little handouts to the pensioners, retrospective to 1st July. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) referred to what happened in 1949 when a Labour Government was in power. He said that the then Opposition moved an amendment, the purpose of which was to make social service benefit payments retrospective. I suggest that if the Labour Government was wrong in 1949, the present Government is equally wrong in 1965. Two wrongs do not make a right. In view of the ever rising costs of living, it would not hurt the Government to make these payments retrospective. It must be realised how hard it is for pensioners to live. The pensioner who receives the base rate pension depends on that paltry handout and finds it hard to exist. Further, 600.000 pensioners will receive no benefit from this legislation. Married pensioner couples also find it very difficult to exist on the handout that this Government gives them.
I suggest that if money can be found for war, to send troops to Vietnam and to provide them with ammunition, money can be found also for our own people and to enable us to provide for the welfare of our aged. The Government can find the money quite easily when it so desires and it could easily make these payments retrospective to 1st July. Whenever the Budget is presented we find that increases in taxation are made retrospective to that date. But when it comes to handouts to the pensioners the Government will not give them the benefit for an extra couple of weeks by making the provisions retrospective. In some parts of the Bill we see that the Government is handing out a little, but in others we see that it is also taking back a little. Probably we will be able to discuss later the medical entitlement cards. In that instance also we find that the Government is keeping something from the people who would be entitled to the medical benefit card by not making the card available to them until 1st January next year. The effect will be that pensioners who visit doctors will have to find the doctor’s fees from their own pockets. I believe that this Government and any other government that may be in office should make social service benefit increases retrospective at least to the date upon which the legislation was introduced. This would greatly assist recipients by giving them a little more on which to exist.
– Two matters in particular were raised during the debate on this clause. I understand that the first of them has been discussed previously in the House. I refer to the subject raised by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) who expressed himself as being somewhat at a disadvantage in not being able to move an amendment to the Bill; all he could do was to move that the measure under discussion be postponed. The reason for this is that the Bill is introduced under a message. For the benefit of honorable -members I shall endeavour to explain the position so that it might be a little clearer why this Bill, as distinct from some others, is introduced under a message with the result that there can be no amendment moved which will involve an increase in the allocation of funds necessary to implement the provisions of the Bill. The reason for this is related to three Acts and their interlocking effect.
The first is the Social Services Act, section 1 36 (1) of which provides that the payment of all benefits shall be made out of the National Welfare Fund. Under section 5 of the National Welfare Fund Act, which was enacted in 1952, there is appropriated an amount equal to the amount paid out of the National Welfare Fund, in each financial year. The appropriation is automatic by virtue of the National Welfare Fund Act. lt is a special appropriation and not an annual appropriation and it takes place without any specific parliamentary action. The third Act which interlocks with the other two is the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. Section 56 of the Constitution states -
A vote, resolution, or proposed law for the appropriation of revenue or rooneys shall not be passed unless the purpose of the appropriation has in the same session been recommended by message of the Governor-General to the House in which the proposal originated.
The Social Services Bill this year will have the effect of increasing the expenditure which would otherwise have been incurred under the Social Services Act. This, in turn, will have the effect of increasing the amount which it would be necessary to allocate under the National Welfare Fund by virtue of the National Welfare Fund Act. Therefore, even though there might be an automatic appropriation of funds from the National Welfare Fund, the amount will be increased by the provisions of the Bill now before the Committee. Consequently, the view has been taken that it falls within the provisions of section 56 of the Constitution and that it is necessary for the Bill to be introduced under a message from the Governor-General. The result is that the only proposal that it is possible for the Committee to adopt is that consideration of a particular measure be postponed. As has already been explained by the honorable member for Grayndler, the effect of this procedure is that although there is some doubt as to the interlocking effect, it would seem that the presence of the three interlocking Acts necessitates the passing of the Bill subject to the presentation of a message from the Governor-General and, consequently, it is not possible to amend it.
The second point that was raised by the honorable member for Grayndler and, I think, most effectively answered by my friend and colleague, the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), relates to the backdating of the legislation. As has been stated this afternoon, it has been traditional not to make the operation of social services legislation retrospective. The reason for this tradition is that there is a tremendous amount of clerical work necessary to effect any increase in benefits. Because of this amount of clerical work it is not possible to guarantee that if the legislation took effect retrospectively we could be sure that everything would be tidied up to the point at which payments became due. By paying the benefits from the date of the royal assent there is certainty that all the necessary paper work will have been completed. It is because of this that governments, irrespective of the political parties from which they have come, have consistently proposed the social services legislation in this form. In this instance it is intended not to depart from tradition.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine) suggested that 600,000 pensioners would receive no benefit under this Bill. As the honorable member will be aware, there is provision for an increase in the funeral benefit and it is to be payable to all age pensioners who are liable for funeral benefits. The result will be that every pensioner, at the point of time at which he is responsible for meeting funeral costs, will receive the benefit. I sincerely hope that not many pensioners will be in that position this year, for their own sake, but I point out to honorable members that every person who receives a benefit under the social services legislation will have reason to feel pleased with the legislation which will increase his benefit.
.- I could not allow some of the Minister’s remarks to pass without one or two comments. I refer first to his explanation as to why we cannot move an amendment. I commend the Minister on being a decided improvement on his predecessor in that although his explanations might not be satisfactory, at least we do get an explanation. That is more than we received from the previous Minister. I could not let pass unnoticed the last point he made. He said that in order to get the funeral benefit one must die.
– I did not say the’ pensioner must die. I said that he would get the benefit if he was responsible for payment of the funeral expenses of a dependant.
– I would like to know how he could get the funeral benefit without dying. To say the least, the chap who got it would not know that he had received it. In any case, I congratulate the Minister on his very enlightened approach to the 600,000 pensioners mentioned by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine). At least he eliminated those who might benefit from the funeral benefit.
I do not accept the theory advanced by the Minister that it is traditional not to back date increases such as these. In any case there are times when tradition should be departed from. The Government has not been backward in accepting Labour’s policy on other occasions. When it suited it to do so the Government has introduced certain policies that it has always insisted would never be accepted. The fact that improved social service benefits have never been made retrospective to 1st July is no reason for continuing that system indefinitely. In refusing our request, the Minister mentioned the amount of paper work involved. I suppose that objection might have been tenable 20 years ago, but we are now in an age of automation when the whole of industry is keyed up to finding ways and means of keeping people in work, particularly in the clerical occupations where machines are taking over from men and women.
Even accepting that a good deal of clerical work is involved, why cannot the Government so plan as to know before 1st July precisely what benefits it proposes to give? Then, having done that, why can it not so plan as to give the officers concerned the necessary information at a date early enough to enable them to make the benefits available at the proper time? 1 do not blame the officers of the Department. I think they do a commendable job, and that they give every satisfaction. I complain merely about the excuse that a tremendous amount of clerical work would be involved. Before the next amendment such as this is made to our social services legislation, I hope the Minister will see fit to have a look at this matter personally.
To support my argument that tradition can and should be broken, I refer again to the introduction of daily “ Hansard “ in this Parliament. For years, we were told that a daily “ Hansard “ was not possible. At one time we had to wait for a week, ten days and sometimes longer for “ Hansard “ to be produced. Suddenly, almost over night, after an inquiry had been made, the Government produced that which it had been saying for many years could not be produced. Although the document which is now available to honorable members each day is not “Hansard” in its final form, at least it is a record which enables honorable members to know what happened in Parliament in the preceding day.
I come now to the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). He subscribes to the policy that pensions should be three months behind the cost of living even though in some cases the proposed increase is but a meagre sum. The honorable member for Mallee is a classic example of Government members in this Parliament. When he was sitting in opposition he ranted and raved because the Labour Government was not making the payment of benefits retrospective. Today he stands in this place and tenders a public apology for his Government’s failure to do that very thing. Those who were sitting on the government side at that time may have had an excuse for not advocating retrospective payment because that was their Government’s policy, but the honorable member himself is now on the government side and has the opportunity to do the very things he advocated should be done when he was in opposition. He has now been on the Government side for 16 years.
– And he has done a good job. too.
– I am not disputing the fact that he is a good member. My complaint is that his political principles change according to the side of the Parliament on which he is sitting. When he is back in opposition I suppose, if he follows the policy he is adopting now, he will oppose all those things which he is now sponsoring. But that is not satisfactory to the pensioners. I am sorry that the Minister said that the honorable member for Mallee had satisfactorily answered us. Very few honorable members, if any, would subscribe to that view, particularly when we remember that when the honorable member for Mallee was on this side of the Parliament he advocated precisely what he is opposing today.
I regret that at this stage the Minister is unable to satisfy us on the question of backdating these increases although we do record our appreciation of his explanation as to why certain amendments cannot be moved in Committee. I believe that amendments could be moved although their purpose could be misunderstood. I repeat that I hope that before the next amending legislation is brought forward the Minister will have changed his thinking, and will not be reduced to the point where he has to mention those who are to receive the funeral benefit in order to add a few more pensioners to the small number who are to benefit under the legislation.
.- This Bill is designed to implement the social service proposals announced in the Budget. The Budget is the financial statement of the Government. All matters of taxation and expenditure have to be reconciled in that document. The Constitution itself provides that in implementing any financial matter, the Governor-General - in other words, the Government which is responsible for financing the services of the Commonwealth - shall first of all authorise the proposed expenditure. As any amendment to the legislation under discussion would mean an increase in the proposed expenditure, the Crown Law authorities have advised that no amendment can be made without a message from the Governor-General. In other words, they advise that no amendment can be made without the Government, which has financial responsibility for the services of the Commonwealth, first requesting the money required to be spent.
When a Labour Government was in office in 1948 it was asked to do the very thing that the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) now asks this Government to do. That Labour Government refused to back date the payment of social service benefits. The obvious reason was that to have done so would have completely upset the Budget. Therefore, I do not think serious consideration should be given to the request made by the honorable member for Grayndler. He knows perfectly well that if the Labour party were in office today it would not do what he is asking us to do because such action would be tantamount to taking control of the finances of the Commonwealth out of the hands of the Government which is responsible for raising the taxation necessary to meet the proposed expenditure.
Let us look at this proposal from another point of view. Let us assume for a moment that it is possible to propose an amendment on the lines suggested by the honorable member for Grayndler; namely, that all the benefits provided in this Bill should be back dated to 1st July. As the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) has said, we would all like to see additional help given to the pensioners. If we could be guided solely by sentiment we would all be happy to support that point of view. But the fact is that, in the first place, it is constitutionally impossible to do what the honorable member for Grayndler requests. Even if it were constitutionally possible to accept his suggestion, think of the administrative difficulties that would be involved. Let us take first the supplementary assistance that is payable to single pensioners and to married persons in those cases where only one of the married couple is a pensioner and where income does not exceed 10s. a week and assets do not exceed £209. If we back dated the payment of the supplementary assistance to 1st
July, we would have to ask ourselves what was to happen to the amount that would have been payable to those aged persons, who, unfortunately, had died between 1st July and now. Similarly, without having any information to guide us, we would have to go back and endeavour to calculate what the assets and incomes of those people were as at 1st July. No Government in Australia’s history has been prepared to backdate the type of benefits that are provided for in this legislation. I am sure that there is no more sympathetic Minister than the present Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair). If he were able to give these people a back payment I am sure he would be very pleased to do so, but we must keep our feet on the ground and realise how administratively impossible it is to do that. How are we to find out what the incomes of these people were on 1st July? How are we to find out what their assets were? As far as the future is concerned they can make application for supplementary assistance if they are not already receiving it. or even if they are already receiving it. They can then be called upon to supply a statement of their income and expenditure to show whether, there has been any change in their financial position.
Like the honorable member for Mallee, I should like to see all the help possible given to the aged and the sick, but we cannot let our emotions run away with our common sense. We must face reality. The increase in this benefit is part of the implementation of the Budget, and no self-respecting government would allow the Budget measures to be taken out of its hands. As is well known, for centuries the position has been that if a government is defeated on its Budget it resigns because its capacity to implement the legislation it has proposed has been taken away from it. So it is quite impossible to backdate this particular benefit, first, on constitutional grounds; secondly, because no self-respecting government would allow its Budget measures to be taken out of its hands; thirdly, because of the administrative difficulty of dealing with some 580,000 pensioners. It would be impossible to find out what their position was on 1st July. It would confront the Department with a problem that it was incapable of solving. I therefore entirely support the attitude of the Minister in refusing to accept the suggestion, which has just been put forward by the honorable member for Grayndler, I am afraid, for party political reasons in an attempt to gain popularity. This is something he did not suggest when his party was in office, and the government that he supported did not do it.
.- I too support the contention of the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) that this benefit should be backdated to 1st July this year. Once more we heard that very wealthy Country Party member, the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), say that this cannot be done. It is strange to hear a man of so much wealth say that we cannot do this for people. I did not hear the honorable member say anything against the backdating of the phosphate bounty last year or the year before, I am not sure which. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) said that it would be impossible to backdate these benefits. There is one benefit that comes to my mind straight away that could be backdated. I refer to the funeral benefit. There would be no difficulty in backdating that benefit, as I think the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) would agree.
The funeral benefit was first introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943, 22 years ago. At that time it was fixed according to the actual cost of a funeral. The amount of £10 represented a fair proportion of the cost. The benefit will have remained stationary over the past 22 years until the legislation is passed following the introduction of this year’s Budget. However, the increase in the benefit that is proposed will be applicable to only a few pensioners. It is to be applicable only where a spouse buries a spouse; it is not to be applicable in any. other case. For example, if two sisters are living together, which happens in many cases - or a brother and a sister, a mother and daughter or a father and daughter - if one dies the other is not entitled to the extra £10 to be granted under this Bill. I think that is a blot on the reputation of the Government.
– Order! I would say to the honorable member for Watson that the subject matter with which he is dealing would be better discussed under a later clause.
– Perhaps so, Sir, but I am only answering arguments raised by the
Minister about funeral benefit, and you, Mr. Chairman, did not at that stage object to what he said.
– Those references to funeral benefit were among references to a number of pensioners who receive benefits under this legislation. The specific matter of funeral benefit comes under a later clause.
– I bow to your ruling, Sir. I repeat that it would be a godsend to many pensioners if the increase were made payable as from 1st July of this year, because it will be agreed that during the last i2 months people have had to face increased costs, particularly in relation to the essentials of life such as meat and groceries, and possibly many have actually got into debt because of the increased prices. Although this increase of benefit applies to a few pensioners only it would be of great assistance to them to receive it from 1st July.
The honorable member for Sturt said that it would, be administratively impossible to make payments retrospective to 1st July. I have gone through the Melbourne office of the Department of Social Services and I know the capabilities and efficiency of the officers of the Department. I know the latest equipment that the Department has for dealing with these matters, and I would say that nothing is impossible to this Department. It has the very latest equipment and I venture to say that to backdate this payment to 1st July would not be an impossible task for it. It would mean, admittedly, additional work. I remind the honorable member for Sturt also, that, as he will be aware, each year all pensioners are obliged to fill in forms stating their assets and whether they are receiving any additional income. All of these forms, which are returned to the Department, are accessible to officers of the Department who would certainly find out how much benefit would have to be paid as at 1st July of this year, and to whom that benefit would have to be paid. The honorable member for Sturt says that it is impossible to make this payment, but I repeat nothing is impossible, to the officers of the Department of Social Services with the very up to date equipment that they have at their disposal.
.- I think that I should address myself again to this question because of some statements that were made by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) and the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). The arguments applied to this matter by the honorable member for Mallee did not surprise me, because they are the same arguments that he raises every year. As a matter of fact, last year when he was discussing a similar bill the honorable member said that he was not going to support any of the amendments that were to be placed before the Committee - even before he heard the arguments advanced for or against those amendments. The arguments we heard the honorable member raise today are of the type that he has raised every time this matter has come before us. In fact, nothing has been said by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) - and certainly nothing has been said by the honorable member for Sturt or the honorable member for Mallee - which would make me change my contention that it is possible for this Government to give some consideration to making these payments retrospective to 1st July. The honorable member for Sturt said that it was not physically possible for the Department to do so. The honorable member for Sturt and the Minister, in particular, will appreciate that every payment made by the Department of Social Services, or the great majority of payments, are retrospective. The Minister appreciates that if a person applies for a social service benefit, whether it bo an age, invalid or widow’s pension, or any other type of payment, in 90 per cent, of cases dealt with by the Department a retrospective payment is made.
Surely the files of the 150,000 people who will benefit under the terms of the legislation we are now debating must be dealt with at some time by the Department. Surely, if the Department has to deal with each file it would not be difficult for its officers to calculate the amount that would be payable back to 1st July 1965. Surely that is physically possible for the Department. Its officers must handle each file so why not calculate the payment back to 1st July at the same time?
I think it is interesting to note - and I hope that the general public, if they are listening to this debate, will take this into consideration - that the reason advanced by Government supporters including the honorable member for Sturt as to why a retrospective payment should not be made to the small number of people who will receive a benefit under the terms of this legislation is that it would not be possible for the Department of Social Services to arrange retrospective payments. The financial aspect has not been considered at all. I suggest to the Minister, as I said before, that the Government would not be liable for a great increase in expenditure if it agreed to make these payments retrospective. I ‘am not convinced - and I do not think any honorable member on this side of the chamber is convinced - that it is not possible for the Department to make a retrospective payment. I have already pointed out that the files already have to be dealt with by the Department. If they are considered it should be possible for the retrospective payment to be calculated in every case.
I resent an insinuation from the honorable member for Sturt that the Opposition’s proposal has been put forward purely and simply for political propaganda purposes. I think that when I rose to speak on this matter a short time ago I pointed out to the Committee that I had put forward this point of view on every occasion that social service legislation had come before this Parliament. I have believed always that such payments should be retrospective and I have never hesitated to say so in the past. I am not likely to refrain from accepting my responsibility in the future. It is possible for the Opposition’s proposal to be carried out. I am not prepared to accept, as a reason for not making payments retrospective, the argument advanced by the honorable member for Mallee that it has not been carried out by governments in the past.
I said a short time ago, Mr. Chairman, that I am not concerned about the actions adopted in the past in regard to these matters by other governments. I am concerned only with the point of view that has been expressed by the Opposition which has been agreed to by the Australian Labour Party since I have been a member of this Parliament. This can be done. It should be done. I do not think that the reason advanced by the Minister for not adopting this proposal contains any substance at all. I think I have demonstrated quite conclusively that it is possible for the Department to handle this matter if the Govern ment agrees to make payments retrospective to 1st July 1965.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine) pointed out that 600,000 pensioners in this country will not receive any benefits under the terms of this legislation. In point of fact I think that the exact figure is 650,000, because only 150,000 will benefit, and I think the Minister, in his second reading speech, referred to the fact that there were 800,000 pensioners in Australia. So the figure is actually 650,000. The Minister said, in reply, that he hoped that the 600,000 pensioners referred to by the honorable member for East Sydney would at least get some benefit from the changes to be made to the Act in regard to funeral benefits. I think it has been demonstrated quite clearly by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) that certainly 600,000 people will not benefit from the increase in funeral benefit because it is paid to a husband or wife, not to both. If one dies then the benefit of £20 is paid to the surviving partner. So, if we assume that the 600,000 people referred to are married pensioners, there would be only 300,000 beneficiaries who would receive a funeral benefit. Therefore only 300,000 people could benefit.
Nothing has been advanced, as I have already indicated to the Committee, by the honorable member for Sturt, by the honorable member for Mallee or by the Minister to convince honorable members of this Parliament or the great bulk of pensioners in this country, that the payments under this Bill should not be made retrospective to 1st July 1965. It is physically possible for the Government to arrange this. The Government has not denied that it is financially possible. In these circumstances, I believe that the Government, particularly the Minister, at this stage ought to give sympathetic consideration to the proposition advanced by honorable members from this side of the chamber.
.- Mr. Chairman, I think that the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) made a salient point - the most important one in this debate so far - when he said that when the Australian Labour Party was in office it would not accept the kind of suggestion that is now being made by the Opposition and that, likewise, the Government of the day will not accept it. He rightly said that governments would not allow oppositions to take the business of the House out of their hands and that, at this stage, the Government had entered into its financial commitments for the year. Honorable members will have noticed in the Budget speech information as to the additional cost involved in increasing social service benefits, both in this financial year, and in a full year. The additional cost indicated is a financial commitment of the Government for this financial year. Owing to the rules of the Parliament, the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) is not in a position to move an amendment to this legislation because it is a money bill. That is a provision designed to protect the Government in these circumstances. That is a very salient point which puts the Opposition’s proposal in its true perspective. All honorable members must agree that this is correct. The Australian Labour Party practiced that principle when in government and this Government is doing the same thing.
The honorable member for Grayndler, of course, has made the unkindest cut of all in this debate. He always likes to make a personal attack. He says that the principles of the honorable member for Mallee are such that he varies them according to where hf. is. I do not do that. I support the Government and I do not support amendments moved by the Labour Party because I believe that the continuation of this Government in office is of more importance to the people of Australia, including the pensioners, than letting the socialists get hold of the reins of government. That is the principle for which T stand. Strange to say. no other honorable member of this Parliament - no member of the Labour Opposition or of the Government parties - except the honorable member for Grayndler has ever cast any aspersions on my principles. Why is this so? The reason is that in the past, as honorable members know if they have read “ Hansard “. on so many occasions during debates on the motion for the adjournment of the House and at other times I have thrashed the honorable member for Grayndler in this House. That is the reason, and during all these years he has never forgotten.
I suggest that the honorable member come back to the clause before the Committee.
– The suggestion has been made that the increased rates provided in the Bill be made retrospective to 1st July. The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) has stated that no-one said anything about retrospective payment in connection with the superphosphate subsidy.
– That is right.
– Surely the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), the honorable member for Watson and the honorable member for Grayndler know that when it was announced that there would be a superphosphate subsidy the subsidy came into force immediately.
– Yes, it was paid the next day.
– And what was the reason? The reason was that if we did not arrange for it to come into operation immediately the people who were about to buy superphosphate would know that if they waited some time, perhaps a couple of months, they would get the advantage of the subsidy, and so they would refrain from buying during that period of time. Then when the subsidy became payable there would be a rush to buy and there would be such heavy demands on the railways and other forms of transport that it would be impossible to cope with them, and the whole superphosphate industry in Australia would be disorganised and much production lost.
There is only one other matter I wanted to refer to. The suggestion was that the increased rates be made retrospective to 1st July, and then the honorable member for Watson sought to compare these increases with the superphosphate subsidy. Even if we agreed with his arguments we would make the increases retrospective only to 17th August, because that was when the Budget was introduced.
– We will settle for that.
– Yes, you will change your mind immediately. You are at least consistent. It is my view that being consistent is not in keeping to any one opinion but being willing to change your mind if you see reason to do so - and of course honorable members opposite see a reason to do so after listening to my strong arguments on this subject. I contend that whichever way we look at its arguments the Labour Party is out of step with the proceedings of this Commonwealth Parliament.
.- I do not want to detain the Committee for very long. I merely want to support my colleague, the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), and, indeed, the honorable members for East Sydney (Mr. Devine), Watson (Mr. Cope), and Bass (Mr. Barnard), who have spoken on this subject. They are aware, as I am, that there is a great deal of consternation among the pensioner community, first because of the frugal nature of the benefits to be paid and secondly because the increases were not made retrospective.
I believe there are special circumstances to justify the proposals made by Opposition speakers. There is the undoubted fact that prices have been and are rising throughout Australia. I do not think the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) needs to be reminded that during the hearing of the application for an increase of the basic wage statistical indexes produced showed conclusively that there should have been an increase of 12s. a week in the basic wage, and of course that increase would have been granted except for the fact that the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission decided to depart from the traditional practice, with the result that what was granted was an increase of li per cent, in margins. Leaving aside the fact that the indexes were abandoned, the granting of the margins increase alone showed, at least to my way of thinking, that people were experiencing some difficulties as a result of price increases. We have heard nothing to suggest that this tendency towards price increases has been arrested. Indeed the Leader of the Opposition in the New South Wales Government has provided evidence, either yesterday or today, that there has been a wide range of commodity price increases. This is the trend that is prevailing at the present time. I understand the figures made available by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) when he presented his Budget showed that there was an overall increase of 3 per cent in prices last year. Is this Government going to stand idly by and deny to people on the lowest income levels some increase of benefits when prices have risen by 3 per cent, during the last 12 months? Heaven knows there is little enough provided under the social service legislation and even if the request of the honorable member for Grayndler were acceded to it would affect only a small number of pensioners.
The Minister has taken some pains to tell us that the legislation we are dealing with has application to people in the most difficult circumstances. Early in his second reading speech he said -
In framing a more equitable structure of social services the Government has been guided by the general policy of ensuring that the people in the poorest circumstances receive the most assistance.
That is to say, the more affluent pensioners would not be benefiting even if the honorable member’s proposal were accepted. It is only those in the poorest circumstances who would benefit, and in a situation in which the Government, through the Treasurer, has admitted that there has been a 3 per cent, increase in prices during the last 12 months. Surely the fact that this increase has occurred shows that there is a special sort of case to consider.
There is nothing new about retrospective payments. If honorable members look at the Social Services Act and the provisions governing the sickness benefit they will find - and the Minister will be the first to concede - that the legislation contains provisions for 13 weeks retrospectivity. A person who is sick and applies for the sickness benefit is subject to a means test. An income of £2 a week or more affects eligibility for sickness benefit. Anything received over £2 a week is taken off the entitlement of £4 7s. 6d. for a single person or £7 3s. 6d. for a married couple.
It is claimed by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) that because of the ramifications of the means test retrospectivity is absolutely impossible. I think of another piece of legislation in respect of which retrospectivity applied. That legislation concerned the telephone concession for pensioners. We all recall the long period of time that elapsed from the first occasion when it was suggested that there should be some kind of telephone concession. Then the Government decided to rush the legislation through in the period preceding a
Senate election. I do not complain about that; we were lucky to get it in any case. But the fact is that retrospective provisions have applied in other legislation. I do not know whether the Minister is aware of this or not, but I can tell him that up to the end of September this year pensioners can make claims in respect of their telephone payments. Until the end of September, about two days from now, they can make claims covering two lots of half yearly payments. In other words, they may have paid a telephone account in full and still have the matter adjusted. There is also a means test applying to this concession - make no mistake about that. If a pensioner lives with someone having an income exceeding £9 10s. a week he is not entitled to receive the telephone concession and the honorable member for Sturt would be justified in asking how the Department of Social Services could possibly go back and determine whether a son living with a pensioner who applied for a telephone concession was getting more than £9 10s. a week or less than £9 10s. a week at some point of time last year.
Retrospective provisions have applied in the case of the telephone concession and I venture to suggest that if one had time to look back over the records one would find that retrospective provisions have applied on many other occasions. In any case, how difficult would it be to carry out our suggested proposal? Just have a look at the numbers involved. Considering first the payment of wife’s allowance in a case in which an age pensioner has a child, this is a proposal affecting 100 people. Will the Minister tell me that his Department, with all its electronic devices, as well as the outstanding capacity of its public servants, cannot arrange retrospectivity in the case of those 100 persons? Then let us look at the additional allowance for children of age pensioners. This involves about 250 children, and the Minister has gone to great pains to tell us that these are the people in the poorest circumstances. Are we to believe that it is beyond the capacity of the Department to make this benefit retrospective to 1st July, in the face of the rising prices to which I have already referred? I have never heard such a ridiculous argument in the Parliament before. There is also a pro posal to increase the age limit from 18 to 21 years for student children of pensioners. This proposal will preserve the eligibility of a widow for a Class A widow’s pension. The Minister has estimated that 215 children will be effected by this. So we can go right through the list. Another benefit will affect 5,200 guardians. Probably the largest number of recipients affected are those who will receive supplementary assistance, about 34,000 pensioners being involved. Clearly the arguments put forward are not even plausible. I believe that even at this late stage the Minister should be prepared to review the situation, in view of rising prices, and provide some element of pension justice to those he has described as the people in the poorest circumstances in this country. I support the remarks of my colleagues and sincerely hope that our pleas and endeavours in this regard will be acceded to.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 to 5 agreed to.
Section 28 of the Principal Act is amended -
Section proposed to be amended -
(1b.) Where a person who is qualified to receive an invalid pension, or a person who is qualified to receive an age pension and is permanently incapacitated for work, has the custody, care and control of two or more children under the age of sixteen years, the maximum rate of pension applicable to that person under the last preceding sub-section shall, subject to the next three succeeding sub-sections, be increased by Thirty-nine pounds per annum for each of those children other than the elder or the eldest child. (1e.) Sub-section (1b.) of this section does not apply in relation to a person if the property component calculated in relation to that person exceeds by One hundred and eighty-two pounds or more then maximum annual Tate of pension applicable to that person under sub-section (1a.) of this section.
– I move -
Omit paragraph (d), insert the following paragraph: - “ (d) by omitting sub-section (Ie.) and inserting in its stead the following subsection: - (1b.) Sub-section (1b.) of this section does not apply in relation to a person if the property component calculated in relation to that person exceeds by One hundred and eightytwo pounds or more -
This amendment is necessary because of a doubt concerning the wording of the Bill as drafted. It is felt that paragraph (d) of clause 6 does not fully express the Government’s intention regarding the new guardian’s allowance which is intended to be fully comparable with the widow’s allowance already payable. This new allowance is provided for in clause 6 (b) which inserts a new sub-section (Iaa.) in section 28 of the principal Act to add £104 to the maximum rate of pension where an unmarried pensioner has care of one or more children. Under sub-section (Ie.) of section 28 the additional pension of 15s. a week for each child after the first is not payable if the pensioner’s property component exceeds the maximum rate of pension by £182 or more - that is, for a single pensioner, £312 plus £182, giving a total of £494.
The Government’s intention is that where the new guardian’s allowance is payable, entitlement to additional pension for children should not cease until the pensioner’s property component exceeds the maximum rate of pension plus the guardian’s allowance by £182 or more; that is, £312 plus £104 plus £182, giving a total of £598, at which point the value of the pensioner’s property is £6,180. The amendment is to give effect to this intention and it places the guardian’s allowance on all fours with the comparable mother’s allowance payable to Class A widow pensioners.
.- I wish to address only a few remarks to the amend ment which, as the Minister stated, is not complicated but which extends the monetary provisions of the Bill.
– It is purely beneficial.
– Yes. An appropriate provision was included and an amount was allocated for expenditure. I want to address a few general remarks on the broad question of supplementary assistance. The Opposition does not oppose the amendment. Almost £4 million is to be expended on supplementary benefits payable under the Act. Clause 6 is interwoven with quite a few provisions affecting the supplementary assistance that is to be granted and I would ask that you, Mr. Chairman, allow me a little latitude in making passing reference to one or two of these provisions. People can be called upon to live on £6 or £6 10s. a week if they have no income other than the pension. Yesterday a person called to see me. He lives with his invalid daughter and when the new provisions operate he will receive £6 10s. a week. They have no other means, so will be receiving a total of £13 a week from which they must pay £3 10s. a week rent. Imagine trying to exist on that sum. As the Minister knows, 75 per cent, of all pensioners have no income other than the pension. It is wellnigh impossible in this day and age for a person - even a single person - to live on £6 10s. or £7 a week.
When the Government assesses the cost of living, the amount of pension to be granted, the supplementary assistance to be given to this one and that one, and when it excludes 600,000 people from any benefits whatever under this legislation and denies them any increase in their pensions to meet rising costs of living, it ought to realise that not only do the people who are paying rent have great disabilities but that other sections, including married persons, find they cannot make ends meet The Australian Labour Party believes that even allowing for the supplementary assistance that has been granted, there should be a base rate pension with adequate amounts for supplementary assistance to meet necessitous cases.
– According to needs.
– Yes. I wonder whether the Minister realises what some people must face in making ends meet - and let us forget statistics, percentages, facts and figures. On the question of supplementary assistance I want to read to the Minister a letter the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) received from a resident of New Farm, Brisbane, Queensland. It clearly illustrates the problems that confront people. This letter states -
I am writing this letter on behalf of the married pensioners of Brisbane. We read your speech in the paper and were very pleased to hear you spoke up for us. I don’t know why Mr. Holt wants to starve us. He gives the single pensioners £1 10s. a week more than us which is not at all fair. They get £7 a week while we have to exist on £5 10s. If we could only get the £1 per week rent money it would not be so bad because we have to pay rent as well as them. I have to pay £4 a week for a flat, the cheapest I can get for the wife and myself, pay our own gas and electricity which does not leave us much for food and clothing. Single pensioners can get a room anywhere for £2 a week. We cannot buy the food we should have the last three days of the fortnight. We have to live on dry bread. We have to buy second hand clothes. We cannot go to any place of amusement. In fact we might as well be in gaol. So I hope that when the debate comes on the Budget next month you and your Party will do your best to get us a rise. If it is only to get the £1 rent money it will make a big difference to us.
What a very human problem for married pensioners. I do not regret the Government assisting single pensioners, but there is no reason at all why the rate of pension for married persons should be pegged simply because they happen to be married people. This letter is a classic example of the hardship that is being caused. Naturally, the Leader of the Opposition wrote back to that good person and indicated what we are doing. He wrote -
My parliamentary colleagues and myself fully appreciate the difficulties which people like your wife and yourself are experiencing in trying to exist on the pension, but unfortunately the Government has ignored all our appeals for a better deal for all people in receipt of social service benefits. However, I would like you to know that we of the Labour Party will continue our efforts in this regard.
I suggest that the Minister might explain to the Parliament how, in an age when the cost of living is rising to inflationary levels, he can justify not giving an overall increase to all pensioners. In the last couple of years married pensioners have received annual increases amounting to about 8d. a week. Because married couples live together does not mean that they can live more cheaply than can single pensioners. Married pensioners must still pay for butter, tea and sugar. They must still pay rent.
– Their costs are as great as those of two single pensioners living together.
– Yes. There has not been any increase in pensions for married pen; sioners this year. There was an increase last year of 5s. That was the first increase since 1961. In other words, all that married pensioners may expect is an increase of about 5s. every few years. I do not suggest that single pensioners are not entitled to their increase. What I say is that adequate amounts should be granted to all pensioners. There can be no justification for discriminating -against married pensioners. Some attention should be paid to the complaints of these people. Their problems are human ones. It is all very well for Government supporters to quote percentages and other figures, but people cannot live on percentages or statistics. They must have food.
In my speech during the second reading debate I referred to a letter from Mrs. Ellis, Honorary Secretary of the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners Federation which, she says, represents 80,000 pensioners in Australia and Tasmania. That statement may not please some of my colleagues. Mrs. Ellis states -
The majority of pensioners firmly believed the Commonwealth Government, in all fairness, in view of the greatly increased living costs, could not fail to grant, at least, 10s. a week to all.
I think the Federation’s request is conservative. I am sure that pensioners need more than an extra 10s. a week. The letter from Mrs. Ellis continues -
Dr. Cunningham Dax, Melbourne Herald, 13/8/65 reports an increase in suicides among old people. Is this callous Budget to continue this terrible trend? Over the last week have come reports of a pensioner couple quietly turning on the gas, or more violently, the pensioner ending it all with a shot gun blast.
These things happen in our society. This is why the Labour Party seeks an inquiry into poverty and into the conditions under which the supplementary allowance is granted. We want an all party inquiry into poverty and suffering in the community. While the Minister may have the best of intentions in providing a sop to 139,000 pensioners out of a total of about 800,000 pensioners, this does not take care of the immediate problem of safeguarding the wetfare of the people I have mentioned. Many pensioners who are in receipt of income additional to their pension are able to get by, but those who are in the lower strata financially, including some married pensioners, cannot exist on the amounts that are paid to them now. It is obvious from the Minister’s second reading speech that the provisions relating to the wife’s allowance will benefit about 100 people, that another provision will benefit about 250 children and that about 215 children will be covered by yet another provision. These numbers represent only a fraction of the total number of pensioners and their dependants. Perhaps a couple of people in each State will benefit under this legislation. This is not good enough at a time when all the suffering that I have referred to is being endured.
I do not think pensioners write letters, such as those to which I have referred, simply to create a state of hysteria. I represent an electorate where most households would have at least one person dependent on a pension. Every Monday morning I interview many people who are required to live on the minimum amount provided by the Government. It is not enough to give these people a sop of a few extra shillings a week and to deny the supplementary allowance to married pensioners. I hope that next year, if not this year, the Minister will present to the Parliament a programme designed to give pensioners everything that they need, including an adequate amount on which to live. They should not be asked to live on a pittance. They should not have to seek help from the St. Vincent de Paul Society or other charitable institutions. Give them the human dignity to which they are entitled.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I join with the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) in protesting at the Government’s failure to provide general increases for pensioners. The testimony of the honorable member is something with which all honorable members on this side are familiar. Since pensions were increased by 5s. 12 months ago it is conservatively estimated that there has been an increase of 4 per cent, in prices. Most of the increase has related to consumer items which pensioners and other members of the community buy.
The provisions now before the Committee relate to the supplementary allowance. In my speech during the second reading debate I indicated that there were grave injustices and inequities associated with the granting of this allowance. One case that has come to my attention highlights more than any other the injustice in the granting of this allowance. I know of a wealthy family whose son broke his back while surfing at Cronulla. Unfortunately he will be an invalid for the rest of his life. He is 19 years of age. Because at this stage he does not own any of his parents’ assets he is entitled to receive the invalid pension. By nominally paying 10s. a week board to his wealthy parents - I say this advisedly - he has been able to obtain the supplementary allowance of 10s. a week, which is now to be increased to £1 a week. I am not out to take anything away from people, but I cannot help thinking of the many classes of pensioners who cannot obtain the supplementary allowance simply because they nominally own their home. I have in mind single pensioners,, married pensioners and class B widows in receipt of £5 7s. 6d. a week. These people do not pay rent or board but in many cases they are paying more by way of payments off their home, municipal and water rates, insurance and maintenance, than are people who are paying rent. I have real sympathy for the young man whose case I have referred to, but it illustrates the inequity of this provision. Many married couples who are paying off their home and meeting the cost of rates, insurance and upkeep, are worse off than pensioners who have been getting the supplementary allowance of 10s. a week and who will now get an allowance of £1 a week.
Under this Bill the supplementary allowance will be payable in the case of a husband who is in receipt of a pension and whose wife now qualifies for the wife’s allowance of £3 a week. If the husband is an invalid he will receive £6 a week pension instead of £5 10s. a week. But what about the age pensioner whose wife is not eligible for the pension and who must support himself and his wife on £6 a week?
If the husband is between 65 and 70 years of age but is not classified as an invalid, he cannot receive the allowance for his wife. The £3 wife’s allowance is not paid and the couple is not entitled to supplementary assistance.
In my speech on the motion for the second reading of the Bill I referred to provisions of the social services legislation that are not advertised by the Department. I do not think the handbook published by the Department states that a pensioner who attains the age of 70 years is automatically classified as an invalid for the purpose of payment of the wife’s allowance of £3. I am sure that this position is not well known. I dare say that the Department of Social Services keeps an eye on these details and knows that when the husband reaches 70 years of age he is automatically classified as an invalid, although he may be in the best of health, and his wife attracts the £3 a week wife’s allowance if she is not at that time eligible for the age or invalid pension in her own right. A good many potential pensioners would not be aware of this. People in the community may say: “ It is no good applying for the age pension, because we would get only the one pension. My wife has not yet turned 60 years of age and is not qualified for a pension. Therefore I will have to stay at work.” If they knew the position, they would realise that between them they would receive £9 a week, poor though this amount is.
I remind the Minister of the inequity that exists where the husband is between 65 and 69 years of age and his wife is not yet eligible for an age or invalid pension. The two of them are required to live on £6 a week, and I think this is grossly unjust.
As this clause refers to invalid pensioners, I hope, with your indulgence, Mr. Chairman, that I can refer to one other point. I have in mind invalids who are seeking to rehabilitate themselves in employment. This situation has been brought to my notice by the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association and other organisations that conduct sheltered workshops. People in these workshops are classified as invalids and receive the invalid pension. They are said to be at least 85 per cent, unfit for work. One of the objectives of the sheltered workshops and of the rehabiliation service conducted by the Department is to rehabilitate these people in employment. But they will not be ready for employment overnight; this will be a progressive affair. However, the means test prevents an invalid pensioner from earning more than £2 a week without affecting his pension. This precludes an invalid pensioner from going into industry and engaging in partial employment that gives him an income of more than £2 a week. Our suggestion is that persons who can show that they are genuinely trying to rehabilitate themselves into full employment will not have the means test applied against them. We suggest that the means test be progressively relaxed so that they may take partial employment - perhaps half-time or quartertime employment - and so rehabilitate themselves progressively into society.
I am told by the people who conduct sheltered workshops and their medical advisers that many invalid pensioners have not the courage to surrender their pension and undertake full-time or part-time employment. They realise that they will lose some concessions as well as the pension and they hesitate to take the big step of relinquishing the invalid pension altogether and trying themselves out in full-time employment. I think, if a more considerate scheme could be devised, people seeking to rehabilitate themselves in employment would be materially helped.
.- I do not propose to deal with the adequacy or otherwise of the pension for the reason that it is not competent for us to do so on this Bill. As I previously pointed out, by virtue of the Constitution no amendment involving additional expenditure can be made without an appropriation from the Government for that purpose. I want to deal with the point raised by certain honorable members regarding the equity of the position as between married couples and single people.
Some of us have realised for many years that the single pensioner was at a very substantial disadvantage in relation to the married couple. For that reason, the Government first introduced supplementary assistance of 10s. a week. Under this Bill, the assistance is doubled to £1 a week and substantially liberalised to include many people who were excluded by the previous provision. I ask the Committee to consider a comparison which I suggest is a fair and reasonable one. Let us take, for example, married couples and single persons with no income other than the pension. After this Bill is passed, the married couple will receive £11 a week. If we assume that £3 a week is paid in rent, the married couple would be left with £8 a week or £4 a week for each person after rent is paid. A single person will receive a pension of £6 a week and supplementary assistance of £1 a week, making a total of £7 a week. If we deduct rent at £3 a week, the single pensioner is left with £4 a week, which is the same as the amount per person for the married couple. Therefore, I suggest there is no justification for the suggestion of honorable members that the legislation discriminates against the married couple. All that it does is to prevent the discrimination that previously existed against persons where only one pension was coming into the home. This, of course, included single people and married couples where only one was a pensioner.
Let us now take the case of the single person or the married couple in receipt of the maximum permissible income. The married couple would receive a pension of £5 10s. a week each or a total of £11. They would be entitled to have an income of £7 a week, making a a total of £18 a week. If we deduct from that £3 a week rent, bringing the total back to £15 a week, each spouse would have an income of £7 10s. a week.
– Have you any houses available for £3 a week rent?
– I have taken the figure that was mentioned by honorable members on your side of the Committee as rent. You can take whatever figure you like for rent and the same argument applies. The single person receiving a pension of £6 a week and supplementary assistance would be permitted to have additional income of £3 10s. a week. His total income would be £9 10s. a week. If we deduct the £3 a week rent, he is left with £6 10s. a week which is less than the £7 10s. a week for each of the married couple. Therefore, the single person still does not receive the equivalent of the amount received by each married person. I wanted to refute the quite silly statement that, by providing supplementary assistance to help single pensioners and married people who are in receipt of only one pension, we are discriminating against the married couple. On the contrary, we are preventing a discrimination against the people who are living alone where only one pension is coming into the home.
The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson), by interjection, asked whether I knew of any rents of less than £3 a week. I happen to be Chairman of Aged Cottage Homes Incorporated, which has built 400 homes for aged people. Most of the married couples to whom those homes are let pay one fifth of their income in rent, and this works out at £2 2s. a week. So the answer to the question asked by the honorable member for Hughes is that many of the homes that have been built by the organisation of which I have the honour to be Chairman are let at rents of less than £3 a week.
.- Mr. Chairman, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) no doubt can claim credit for the fact that in South Australia there are a lot of aged people who pay very low rents. But, until we reach a situation in which every person in this country who needs accommodation is able to obtain accommodation of the kind mentioned by him, we must consider the base rate of pension that is being paid, because the great majority of Australian pensioners do not own their own homes. In fact, they have great difficulty in finding accommodation, particularly at a rent of £3 a week or less. I believe that the average rent today would probably be closer to £5.
The honorable member referred to a number of propositions. No doubt one can show that the position of certain individuals under the terms of the existing social services legislation is reasonable or perhaps even satisfactory. But this entirely depends on the individual case. I suggest that the honorable member should have considered the proposition that was raised by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) who pointed out that in many instances a widow or a spinster lives in a home that she is purchasing. Each week, payments for the purchase of the home must be made. Yet such a person is not entitled to supplementary assistance. She may qualify in every other respect, but no supplementary assistance can be paid, simply because she happens to be purchasing the home that she occupies. I hope the Minister will be able to demonstrate for the benefit of honorable members the logic that leads to the provision in the Social Services Act under which supplementary allowance can be paid to a single person, a widow or a widower who is paying rent, but not to a person in one of those categories who happens to be buying a home. Surely it is not suggested by the Department of Social Services, the Government or the Minister that the person concerned should sell the home in order to qualify for supplementary assistance. The weekly instalments on the purchase of a home may be reasonable for a person who is buying the house that he occupies, but, nevertheless, this feature of the Act places him in a different situation. This Government does not recognise the needs of pensioners who are buying thenown homes. We do not quarrel with the Government on the matter of supplementary assistance in general, which, I think, was introduced by the present Administration in 1958. We are concerned with the principle that operates in the circumstances that I have described.
I support the contention by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) that one must consider pension payments on the basis of need. A base rate of pension must be paid to pensioners in accordance with their needs and the general cost of living. This Government assumes that two people who are married and living together, each receiving the standard rate of pension of £5 10s. a week, this giving them a combined weekly income of £11, are in a better situation than two people who, though living in the same home and sharing the rent, are single and are able to qualify for supplementary assistance. For example, an aged mother and an invalid son or two widows may be sharing accommodation. Such people would be entitled to the standard rate of pension of £7 a week and the combined income coming into the home would be £14 a week, provided, of course, that the means test applied to supplementary assistance by this Government could be satisfied. Surely the Government and particularly the Minister are aware of anomalies like this. How can it properly be suggested that there should be a total income of £14 a week in one household where the situation differs very little from that in another household occupied by a married couple whose income is limited to only £11 a week? I know that the honorable member for Sturt can cite cases to support his argument. We on this side of the chamber can cite cases that demonstrate clearly that anomalies exist under the terms of the Act. The situation for married pensioners is not as easy as the honorable member for Sturt would have us believe. Married pensioners who pay rent are not entitled to any benefit other than the standard rate of pension, giving them a total income of £11 a week.
The honorable member for Barton referred to a matter that has been raised by honorable members in this chamber on a number of occasions. He dealt with the anomaly that exists where an age pensioner under the age of 70 who is receiving an age pension has a wife who cannot obtain employment to supplement his pension. The only income of the couple is therefore £6 a week - what the Minister has described as the standard rate of pension. Surely the honorable member for Sturt and the Minister appreciate that there is an anomaly here. It has been raised by honorable members on this side every year when social services legislation has been before the Parliament. In such a case, the age pensioner must be able to satisfy a doctor that he is 85 per cent, incapacitated. If, in the opinion of the doctor, he is permanently unemployable, a wife’s allowance of £3 a week will be paid to his wife. If he satisfies the means test, supplementary assistance also will be paid. Surely the Government ought to recognise that a wife’s allowance, which is normally paid to a wife when a pensioner has reached the age of 70, should be paid to an age pensioner who has reached the age of 65, which is recognised by the Commonwealth Public Service as the age of retirement. On what basis did the Government decide that a wife’s allowance should be paid automatically when a pensioner reached the age of 70? Why is it that up to that age a pensioner must satisfy the Department of Social Services that he is permanently unemployable or, in other words, that be is 85 per cent, incapacitated, Mr. Chairman?
The Opposition believes that a great many anomalies have arisen and are now perpetuated in the Act as a result of the way in which the Government administers supplementary assistance. We do not believe that merely because a person is single an additional amount should be paid. It is quite obvious from what has been said during this debate that the standard rate of pension at £5 10s. a week payable in the case of a married couple is completely inadequate, having regard to the tremendous increase in the cost of living that has taken place in this country. We do not begrudge the payment of a supplementary allowance. In fact, honorable members on this side of the chamber applaud any increase that the Government is prepared to give to a very needy section of our community. We believe that anomalies have arisen from the payment of supplementary allowances and that the Government should examine the base rate of pension which is now paid to married pensioners.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I ask the Minister to heed the pleas made by the honorable members for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), Barton (Mr. Reynolds), Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) and Bass (Mr. Barnard). They have made strong cases for a humanisation of the law affecting pensioners and they have brought to the attention of the Committee the importance of fixing a base rate of pension which will be adequate to the needs of pensioners. It must be admitted that the supplementary assistance which is granted at the present time is only given to try to overcome a particular situation. It is an admission by the Government that the base rate of pension is inadequate to cover the rental requirements of people who do not own their homes. Because of these circumstances I think it is necessary to review the whole of these matters. It can hardly be expected that the Minister will be able to give an immediate answer to these things this afternoon - they are matters for the Government and for Cabinet - but I ask him to take to the Cabinet the considered views of honorable members on this side of the chamber, the unspoken feelings, I am sure of some of his colleagues and a mass of opinion outside that there should be an increase in the amount that is paid to pensioners these days sufficient to enable them to keep body and soul together. The supplementary assistance must be extended to all if the principle is to be maintained.
I ask the Minister to recall that during the years from 1954 to 1961 the rental of the modest home required by the pensioner rose from £2 12s. a week to £5 a week, and that of flats from £3 5s. a week to £6 10s. a week. These figures came from the Bureau of Census and Statistics and are based on information gathered carefully by that department. They are figures which should not be disregarded by the Government. They emphasise the importance of either increasing the supplementary assistance to an amount which will meet the housing needs of the people if the present system is to be maintained or granting an overall and substantial increase in the base pension rate.
I want to speak for a group of people who have not yet been considered in the legislation or referred to in the debate, so far as I am aware. I refer to home owners and those who are endeavouring to purchase their homes. These people find themselves in very straitened circumstances and face difficulties equal to those of people who are obliged to pay their rents each week. I have had brought to my attention the circumstances of a number of people who are trying to pay off overdrafts, trying to meet their instalments from month to month and, in addition to that, are obliged to pay rates and insurance charges. These all add to the burden of maintaining or attempting to buy a home. This group of people deserves the Minister’s sympathetic consideration. I ask him to give special care and consideration to their needs. Whilst it might be said that a person who owns a home at least has a home and is obliged to pay only rates and insurance charges, the person who is endeavouring to purchase a home has a much greater problem. In addition to high rates, very often, there are instalments to be met and these are a very great burden. One lady came to me and told me of her difficulties. She said that she was paying off her instalments through a money lending organisation. When it came to the rates for the year she thought that she would be troubled by the council and borrowed money with which to pay the rates. A hardship is inflicted on these good, thrifty people who have tried to make a contribution to the development of Australia.
I have no desire to stress the points which have already been adequately stated by honorable members on this side of the chamber. However, I ask the Minister to consider carefully all the views that have been expressed so clearly, tellingly and eloquently by my colleagues this afternoon and to give sympathetic consideration to the views expressed by them. I say only one word in conclusion. I believe that if all these problems are to be overcome it will be necessary to increase the base rate of pension and, as speedily as possible, to abolish the means test and thus clear up this matter so that there will be no injustice visited on any section of the aged and infirm of this country.
– I should like to answer a few of the matters raised in Committee this afternoon by various honorable members. I know that every honorable member is personally concerned with the wellbeing of those people in the community who are perhaps not so well off as other sections. Honorable members from both sides of the chamber from time to time have come to me, since my appointment as Minister for Social Services, with very telling tales of individual instances of people who seem to be in genuine distress. Each one of us does the best he can in these circumstances as a Federal member to help these people. The Government, for its part, has endeavoured from time to time in the past, and continues so far as funds will allow, to provide for as many sections of the community as it can. The level of the base rate of pension has been discussed by several honorable members this afternoon, including the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti). I feel that this is one of the fields which is subject to an arbitrary decision as a result of which it may well be that some people in the community feel that they are not as advantageously placed as they would like to be. Certainly those of us within the Government frequently feel that we would like to be able to do more than we have done, but in this instance I feel that what the Government has provided will certainly extend to a tremendous extent the benefits that are available to the community. I believe that in this way we are making available to a wide section of the community as great a range of benefits as our financial circumstances will allow.
I should like to remark on one or two other matters that have been mentioned in the discussion on this clause. There has been considerable discussion on the standard rate of pension. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) presented some figures to the Committee to explain the relative positions of the married pensioner and the single pensioner. The idea of introducing the standard rate some years ago was to remove an anomaly which previously existed within our social service legislation and by which the single pensioner was placed in a far less advantageous position than the married pensioner. I should like to check some of the figures that have been presented to the Committee this afternoon. I did not quite follow some figures that were mentioned by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard). He mentioned the married pensioner household in which the income of the couple is £14 a week. I do not follow the way in which that figure was calculated, but I think that, basically, most honorable members will agree that, without some distinction in the rates, any household in receipt of two pensions should be in a more advantageous position than the household in which only one pension is being received either by only one of a married couple or by a single pensioner.
The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) mentioned some categories in which he felt some additional assistance was needed. He spoke in particular of households in which wife’s allowances were payable. I think he said there was still one area of the community - the household in which the husband pensioner is between 65 and 70 years of age and the wife is not of pensionable age - in which there would still be an element of need.
– Those two people receive only £6 a week between them and in their case no supplementary assistance is possible.
– I think the honorable member will find that supplementary assistance may be paid at the present time provided their joint income - means as assessed - does not exceed £1 a week. This is to be increased. In future, if their joint income does not exceed £3, they will receive some supplementary assistance.
– According to the Minister’s second reading speech that only applies in cases where there is a dependant child.
– No. In those households where only one of the couple receives a pension, the joint income permissible at the moment is £1 a week. If between them they earn less than £1 a week, and only one member of the household receives a pension, they are entitled at present to receive supplementary assistance. Under the Bill before us, the joint permissible income is to be increased to £3 a week.
The honorable member for Barton also mentioned invalid pensioners in sheltered workshops. As most honorable members are aware, at the present time when a person leaves a sheltered workshop to enter full time employment, his pension is not cancelled; it is suspended for a period of six months. If at the end of that time, he feels that he cannot make the full break between working in a sheltered workshop and full employment in the outside community, he has the opportunity of returning to the invalid pension without going through all the checks and tests to which a new applicant for invalid pension must submit.
– But there is still a case for the person who can take part time employment.
– I acknowledge the honorable member’s point. I feel this is one area where there must be further investigation in the future. I appreciate the job being done in the community by the sheltered workshops. Both the sheltered workshops and the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service have done a tremendous job for those people who have been fortunate enough to be able to pass through them. I acknowledge the honorable member’s point and assure him that the Government will continue to look at this matter and see whether anything can be done in the future to rectify the position if in fact there is a situation which needs modification. I commend this provision to the Committee.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 7 to 14 - by leave - taken together.
.- I relate my remarks mainly to the rent allowance. Under the suggested provision, a single pensioner who is paying rent will be entitled to receive an additional £1 a week whereas the married couple living together and paying rent will not be entitled to any additional payment. I do not know whether the Government or the Minister appreciates this fact, but it is possible to have a position in which two people living in a house on one side of a fence are receiving £14 a week between them while another couple living in a house on the other side of the fence and in exactly the same financial circumstances, are able to receive only £1 1 a week. Here, the Government does not say: “ Thou shalt not live in sin. If thou liveth in sin, thou shalt not receive our blessing.” In effect, it says: “Blessed are they that liveth in sin. They shall receive our blessing.”
If a pensioner has a big house for which he is paying £3 or £5 or indeed any amount each week by way of rent, we should not deny him the opportunity of taking in another pensioner to share the rent. We should not deny assistance to any two people under those circumstances, whether they be two men, two women or a man and a woman. Equally, if a married couple happens to be living on the other side of the fence in exactly the same financial circumstances and paying the same amount in rent, that couple should be entitled to an additional allowance to meet their costs. I agree with the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) and other honorable members on this side who have argued that each case should rest upon the needs of the pensioners concerned. We should have a base rate applicable to all pensioners. There seems to be no reason why one pensioner should receive only £5 10s. by way of a base rate pension while somebody else receives a larger amount.
As I see the position, the rent allowance and all other allowances should be based on the needs of the pensioners concerned. But, first of all, we should ensure that the base rate of pension is sufficient to allow a pensioner or pensioner couple to live in circumstances that are fitting in a community such as ours. Surely no-one would suggest that a pensioner couple who are receiving £5 10s. a week each and who have no right to rent assistance although they are paying a high rent, are able to live in circumstances that we would like to see them enjoying in this country.
What I have said applies to all allowances. It applies equally to the wife’s allowance of £3 a week and to the allowances for children. In all cases we see the discrimination that this Government has introduced over the last few years. I do not want to labour the point. I think it was dealt with very ably during the discussion of the previous clause; but I do express my concern at and register my objection to the introduction by the Government of discrimination between pensioners, as a result of which pensioners in exactly the same financial circumstances and subject to the same costs of living are receiving differing rates. Naturally, we on this side hope that when the social services legislation is next reviewed the present Minister and his colleagues will not be in office, but, if he should still be Minister for Social Services on that occasion, I hope that by that time he will have studied the position seriously and taken steps to correct the anomalies to which I have referred. I sincerely hope that he will have given serious consideration to the position of various couples living in the same circumstances. A married couple -with no income other than the pension should receive the highest rate of pension and the same allowances should be paid to all persons situated in similar circumstances.
.- I rise to support what previous speakers on this side have said about the supplementary assistance. I know that approximately another 34,000 pensioners will become eligible for that assistance when this Bill becomes law. I think the field could have been widened to include a great many of those married couples to whom reference has been made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) and other members of the Opposition who have spoken. Many of these married couples are paying off homes. Reference has been made to people living on either side of a fence. Two single pensioners living together receive £14 a week whereas a married couple receive only £11. I think that the Government should widen the field of this benefit to include a great many of these married couples.
Last night a couple of single pensioners told me that pensioners had been informed by their landlords that they intended to increase the rents. So we find that even before the Bill has received the Royal assent money-hungry landlords are, as it were, jumping on the bandwagon and threatening to take the benefit of this supplementary assistance away from a large number of pensioners who are going to receive it. So in actual fact many pensioners are finally not going to get any benefit whatever. The Government could at least have given some assistance to people who are paying off their homes. It could have done this probably by relaxing the means test. If the Government had granted the supplementary assistance specifically to pensioners who are engaged in paying off their homes this would assist them greatly to pay their water rates and land rates and also probably help a little towards the upkeep of their homes. The Government could decide to make the payment, not every week, but on those occasions when the rates and taxes have to be paid. This would represent a substantial grant that would assist these people to pay their water and land rates.
State Governments, and especially the previous Government in New South Wales, did assist many home-owner pensioners who could not afford to pay their rates. The New South Wales Labour Government assisted such people by paying half their rates, and local councils decided to pay the other half. Many people in great need could be assisted in a similar direction by this Government. The Minister should give more thought to this matter and find ways of assisting married couple pensioners to pay rates and attend to the maintenance of their homes. If the Minister, in consultation with the Department, were to give some thought to this problem a scheme could be evolved to widen the field of supplementary assistance to include many in the community who at present are not eligible to receive it under the legislation. If an extra 10s. a week could be given to married pensioners it would be of great assistance to them. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) made reference to homes for the aged that have been built in South Australia. We have a large number of these homes in New South Wales but unfortunately we cannot provide a home for every unfortunate persons who needs one, and by “ unfortunate” I mean many people who are in receipt of social service benefits. If we could supply all these people with a home it would solve a great many of the difficulties that confront most pensioners in Australia at the present time.
In the case of homes built by various organisations, under the Aged Persons Homes Act, the money has to be raised by charity. People have to go out and beg or borrow, as the case may be, in order to get sufficient money to build homes for aged people. This Government, of course, makes no effort whatever to supply State Governments with money to build homes specifically for aged persons. I repeat that if the Minister were to give a little more thought along the lines I have suggested he could widen the field to include other people who are in need of supplementary assistance.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
.- Mr. Chairman, the Committee is at present dealing with the very restrictive provisions in the Budget which affect the social services legislation. There are so many aspects of social services which it is not appropriate to discuss at this stage, that I think it is f air to say that, at the moment, the debate is confined to the supplementary assistance provisions of the Bill. This is a matter of great concern to a large number of people in the community. After all, we are dealing with a Budget of £2,667 million, I think, and the increase in social service benefits for this financial year amounts to about £4.2 million. The increase in expenditure apart from these benefits will be close to £9 million in a full year. So it is a very reasonable contention that the pensioners and their problems have been dealt with in a very stringent way in this Budget.
The provisions for supplementary allowances have been extremely limited and, for that matter, they are going to remain limited. I understand that there are about 735,000 age pensioners in Australia and about 66,000 widow pensioners, making the total close enough to 800,000 pensioners in those two categories. The Minister for Social Services indicated in his second reading speech that no more than about 139,000 pensioners will benefit as a result of the relaxation of these provisions in the Social Services Act
The supplementary assistance has been supported by the Opposition and will be supported by it. Indeed, we are anxious to see it extended to a wider category of pensioners. The supplementary assistance has been called the “ rent allowance” and I think it would probably be helpful to a lot of people who wish to know what we are talking about to use this term. But it is important to emphasise that this allowance is payable also to certain people who pay board. I know that this point is not readily understood in the community and it needs considerable amplification. The handbook issued by the Departof Social Services includes a small paragraph which indicates the extent to which the supplementary assistance is available. The handbook states -
Supplementary assistance is available to single pensioners and to married couples where only one is a pensioner and no wife’s allowance is paid. It is payable only to persons who pay rent and who are considered to depend entirely on their pensions.
The rate has been 10s. a week. This very small amount of money has been available to single people whose income has been limited to 10s. a week and whose property has been valued at under £210. So far as married pensioners are concerned, the allowance has always been a complete and utter myth. It has hardly been an entity at all. After all, a married couple only one of whom is a pensioner and who are entirely dependent on the pension of that one person have to live on £6 a week. It has been conceded by the Government that there are such people in our community, despite the great ramifications of our social services legislation, who have to live on £6 a week. People in those circumstances have been able to qualify for the supplementary allowance of 10s. The proposal before us is that the supplementary allowance be raised to a maximum of £1 a week. Under the Bill, a pensioner will be able to receive all or part of the supplementary allowance proposed if his means as assessed do not exceed £78y It is possible, under the formula prescribed, for means as assessed to equal £78 ii the value of property owned does not exceed £980. The Bill 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 exceeds £26. This figure of £26 permits the ownership of property to the value of £460. It will be observed, therefore, that the conditions under which the new supplementary allowance will be payable will still be stringent. We are pleased to note that there is to be a mild extension of this benefit to those who receive a wife’s allowance. That is to say, about 5,000 pensioner households will benefit as a result of this particular provision. If the pensioner is incapable of earning, his wife can get the wife’s allowance. But the point 1 particularly want to make is that there are many pensioners whose wives do not qualify for the wife’s allowance. There are large numbers of male pensioners who have wives who are under 60 years of age and, as I understand the legislation the allowance paid to those who pay rent will not be extended to people in those circumstances. I would ask the Minister to indicate whether that is a proper interpretation of the Act as it will be amended by this Bill. I think he would be prepared to concede that it is correct to say that the supplementary allowance is not paid to pensioners whose wives receive no pension and who are under the age of 60 years.
I heard some discussion early this afternoon about people who can qualify in this regard. I just want to point out the anomalous positions that can arise. In my own electorate there are people who have the good fortune to be accommodated in aged persons’ homes. Their income would be made up of a pension at the single rate which is £6 a week. Under the new provisions, they will get a supplementary allowance of £1 a week so their total income would be £7 a week. These people have the good fortune to get accommodation at 10s. a week so they are left with £6 10s. a week upon which to sustain themselves. On the other hand I know of married pensioners who receive the pension of £5 10s. a week each and their total income, therefore is £11 a week. It is not at all uncommon for such a pensioner couple who are not living in an aged persons’ home to have to pay rent of £4 a week. It is quite a common occurrence in my own electorate. Therefore, that couple is left with only £7 a week whereas the single person to whom I have referred is left with £6 10s. a week. There is quite a difference, as one can imagine, in the living standards of the persons concerned. The single pensioner has £6 10s. after paying rent and receiving the supplementary allowance whilst the married couple have only £7 left to sustain themselves after paying rent and after being excluded from the supplementary allowance.
The important point is not how much money pensioners are given but how much they are left with after they have paid their rent. It seems to me that this legislation is still fairly obtuse. I am as anxious as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Devine) to see this benefit extended to people who are paying off a home. I spoke just a short time ago on the telephone to one of my local councillors or aldermen, as they are called in many places in Australia, and he instanced cases where people are paying rates in the vicinity of £30, and higher, and a similar amount for water rates. They are paying about £60 a year. But people in this category cannot qualify for the supplementary allowance. On top of their rent and rates they also have to contend with very high maintenance on their homes. I have thought for a long time that the Commonwealth Government, which is fundamentally responsible for pensioners in this community, has closed its eyes to the great rate problem being experienced in this country. Some of the State Governments contribute towards meeting the cost of pensioners’ rates. Not all of them do this by any means. Yet the Commonwealth has failed to recognise the great difficulty being experienced.
The point I want particularly to make is that there could be a more equitable approach to this matter. I believe that, after paying rent or board or rates, the supplementary allowance could be paid to pensioners who are left with an amount to be prescribed in accordance with a merged means test. Of course, the supplementary allowance could be extended to others, too. I believe that those pensioners who find difficulty in maintaining children should also benefit from the supplementary allowance provisions. It seems to me ridiculous that under our social services legislation pensioners required to keep children get assistance at the rate of only 15s. a week. Now it is proposed to extend the assistance to people with children over 18 years of age and up to 21 years of age, but it is absolutely absurd to think that any pensioner couple could maintain a child on 15s. a week. Obviously the supplementary allowance could be extended in such cases to very good advantage.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It might be appropriate at this stage to indicate the policy of the Opposition on this matter of supplementary assistance. Our policy, briefly, is to devise a more flexible system of supplementary assistance based on established need. My colleagues have already indicated that many pensioners experience considerable difficulty in various directions, such as meeting payments for rates, paying for the upkeep of their homes or paying off their homes. These people certainly need assistance.
We get some idea, in a very limited way, of the Labour Party’s approach to the difficulty if we have a look at the operations of State welfare departments. They cater for a small part of the need that has been neglected by the Commonwealth. They investigate particular circumstances such as prolonged sickness in a pensioner’s home. Not all pensioners are admitted to public wards in public hospitals. Many of them, especially those suffering from prolonged illnesses, are forced to go into what are called convalescent hospitals or private rest homes, and often they have to pay a fair amount of the bill even after having surrendered the whole of their pensions and having attracted the £7 Commonwealth hospital benefit. This £7 from the Commonwealth added to the pension of a single person gives a total of £13.1 have yet to learn of any convalescent hospital or private rest home that will look after a patient for £13 a week. My experience has been that these institutions in my electorate charge anything from £16 to £20 or even more. The more chronically ill or the more crippled the patient and therefore the more in need he is of special assistance, the higher the charge that has to be met. It becomes a crippling burden not only on pensioners but also sometimes on dependants. It is this sort of thing that State welfare departments, with the very sparse funds available to them, have to cope with. They try to close at least some of the gap.
I would also like to ask what happens to the pensioner wife when her pensioner hus band has to enter a mental hospital. Let us suppose that the couple had been occupying a rented dwelling. I would like the Minister for Social Services to tell me what the position is when the husband goes into the mental hospital. We know, unfortunately, what the husband’s position is; he surrenders his pension immediately he goes into the hospital, and even this will not protect his estate, if he has one, from being taken after he passes on and his wife passes on, in order to meet the State hospital expenses. But let us suppose that the couple had been paying rent. As a couple they would not have qualified for the supplementary assistance. When the husband goes into the hospital - or the wife, for that matter - leaving only one of the couple to pay the full amount of rent-
– She is entitled to the widow’s pension.
– Would she get the supplementary assistance?
– If he had previously qualified for it.
– But if they are both on the age pension and the husband goes into the . mental hospital, his pension is alienated and only the wife is left to pay the rent.
– She is treated as a deserted wife and she gets the widow’s pension.
– And she gets the supplementary assistance?
– She would be eligible if the husband had been eligible.
– Well, that is of some help. But the position becomes much more burdensome if the couple had been paying off their home. After the husband goes into the hospital only Mum is left to meet the whole commitment, the payments on the home, rate payments, upkeep and everything else. This is an example of the cases that impel us to advocate a more flexible system of assistance based on assessed need. Cases should be dealt with as they are mct. I mentioned earlier this afternoon how we could be giving assistance to people who do not need it. The crippled invalid 18 year old son of very wealthy parents, by nominally paying his parents 10s. a week board, can attract supplementary assistance of £1 a week under this Bill, while a widow who owns a home or, worse still, is paying off a home and meeting rates, maintenance and so on - she may even have dependent children - will not get the supplementary assistance. This strikes me as shockingly inequitable. It seems to me that there is a need, as we said at the beginning of this debate, for a national survey of needs. Wc should identify the real needs in our community and get rid of some of the inequities and inequalities that are perpetuated even under this Bill.
I did mean to refer to clause 5 but failed to do so when we started the Committee stage of this debate. However, I can deal with the subject matter under clause 8 which refers to dependent children. The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) mentioned the child’s allowance of 15s. a week that extends the benefit payable in respect of dependent children to full-time students with no other source of income in their own right up to the age of 21. This is something that the Government has done and for which it deserves credit. It now recognises that with improved standards of education children stay at school longer and if they go on to tertiary education the likelihood is that a number of them will continue to be educated until they are 21 years of age.
I suggest that we have not completed the task. Why not extend the benefit to all dependent sons or daughters, or other persons in the custody of pensioners, for the duration of their full-time education? We must realise that under our present educational systems provision is made in New South Wales and Victoria at least for six years of secondary schooling before matriculation. The chances are that students will be at least 18 years of age before they go on to a university. Can honorable members think of any university degree course, other than in arts, that requires no more than three years of study? I can think of arts, and even in that course three years would give just a pass. There may be other diploma courses - I think there are - that can be completed in three years. These courses take students through to their 21st year, but if they wish to go into law, medicine, architecture or engineering, for instance, they will be 23 or 24 years of age before they complete their courses. If they do honours courses, which the Commonwealth is supposed to be encouraging, they will be 22 or 23 years of age before they complete their studies even if it is only in the arts faculty. Even then I am assuming in all cases that the courses are completed without repeats. A similar lengthy period is required for an economics course.
What I am suggesting would not cost the Commonwealth very much more, and if we really want to give the kind of encouragement that the Minister referred to in his second reading speech to persons who are unfortunate enough to become invalids and who have student children, or to widowed mothers, so that such children will not be deprived of educational opportunities through lack of financial resources, then I believe we should further extend eligibility for this benefit - not that I believe that 15s. a week will be a great deal of help even if the students continue their education only to the age of 21 years.
There is finally the question of people entering benevolent homes. This is referred to in clause 9 of the Bill which amends section 34 of the Act. Will a pensioner who goes into a benevolent home be regarded as paying rent or board? Will such a person be regarded as paying rent or board after having ceased to occupy the premises outside the home for which he previously paid rent? If so, this only increases the inequality. I would not begrudge such a person any extra assistance he obtained in this way, but another single person who owned or partly owned his home, still having to pay rates and maintenance, who went into a benevolent home would not be able to attract supplementary assistance. This seems grossly inequitable too. A pensioner who lays aside all responsibilities and goes into a benevolent home has the right to retain an income of £135 4s. a year out of the pension, but the poor unfortunate who goes into a home and leaves an unpaid or partly paid home outside can attract only £109 4s. or 10s. a week less, which seems most inequitable.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- There are one or two matters to which I wish to refer that are covered by the clause we are now considering. First, I want to discuss those aspects of the Bill that relate to inmates of benevolent homes. This has been referred to briefly by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds). I understand that when an age pensioner is admitted to a benevolent home and makes a contribution from his pension to the home for his upkeep, this is regarded as board and a supplementary allowance is payable. So in the case of a single pensioner, or in the case of a married pensioner couple when one of the couple is admitted to a benevolent home, a supplementary allowance is payable. Perhaps the Minister will confirm or deny this when he replies. However, if that is the position, it means in effect that the total amount payable to the inmate of a benevolent home would be £7 a week, provided of course that he is able to qualify under the means test for the grant of the supplementary allowance. From this £7 a week a certain amount is collected towards his upkeep by the home to which the person has been admitted.
The point that concerns me, and to which I referred when speaking to the second reading, relates to those pensioners who are admitted to other kinds of institutions. I referred to this matter in some detail during the second reading debate but in his reply the Minister did not indicate whether the Government would consider the point I raised. When an age pensioner, invalid pensioner or widow pensioner is admitted to an institution for the mentally sick the pension applicable to that person is immediately cancelled. This matter, too, was referred to by the honorable member for Barton. I consider that this practice represents a grave injustice.
I am not prepared to accept a set of circumstances in which a person who is admitted to a benevolent home and is subsequently transferred to a public hospital continues not only to receive the pension normally paid to him but receives a supplementary allowance, whereas the person from a benevolent home who is subsequently admitted to a mental institution has his pension cancelled. I have pointed out what can happen in the case of a pensioner couple who each receive the base pension of £5 10s. a week, or a combined income of £1 1, when one of them is admitted to a mental institu tion. The pension payable to the inmate of the institution is cancelled and his wife is advised to apply for a deserted wife’s pension or a class B widow’s pension, and she then receives a weekly payment of £5 7s. 6d. I understand that the Minister has indicated that in addition she can receive supplementary assistance of 10s., provided she can qualify under the means test, or a total of £5 17s. 6d. a week. However, compared with the former combined income, the income is substantially reduced. Because one of a pensioner couple is admitted to a mental institution this does not mean that the rent of their house is reduced and that the normal upkeep of the home is reduced. However, this Government apparently accepts that wrong proposition and believes . that because one of the recipients of a social service pension has been admitted to a mental institution the total income of the family should be reduced. As I said, the rent and upkeep of the home remain the same, and I cannot understand why the Government refuses repeatedly to recognise this. This is not merely a submission put to the Government by members of the Opposition. The Minister knows, as does every honorable member opposite, that this matter has been represented to the Government by the various State Ministers for Health who have requested the Government to consider the position and continue the payment of an age or other pension when a pensioner is admitted to a mental institution. There is no logical reason why the pension should be cancelled.
Can anyone understand the futility of a situation in which the husband of a pensioner couple is admitted frequently to a mental institution? Each time he is admitted to the institution his wife has to apply for a deserted wife’s pension. When he is discharged the deserted wife’s pension is cancelled and both pensioners then receive the age pension, or a total combined income of £11 a week. There is no reason why the age pension should not be continued all the time and I ask the Minister to inform us why the Government is not prepared to accept the representations not only of honorable members from this side of the House but also of State Ministers for Health. I could cite many example to indicate how this legislation reacts adversely on pensioners admitted to mental institutions. If the Government agrees that the pension should be continued when a person transfers from a home for the aged or a benevolent home to a public hospital why should not the same situation be applied to the person who is admitted to a mental institution? The Minister should indicate the Government’s attitude on this question. He ought to inform honorable members why the Government is not prepared to accept the representations put to it by numerous people, including Opposition members and State Ministers for Health. The cancellation of the pension certainly reduces the income to a home, as a result of which hardships accrue. Surely the wife of a pensioner admitted to a mental institution has sufficient worry without the additional worry of having to apply for a different type of pension, and having to have that cancelled when her husband is discharged from a mental institution. The Government should consider this matter. Tonight is not the first occasion that this matter has been raised in the Parliament. The Minister is aware of this. I believe that the Government has a case to answer here.
.- Members of the Opposition can find so little to attack in this Bill that they are dealing with matters that are not relevant to the Bill. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) dealt with a matter that is not contained in the Bill. He referred to the payment of pensions to the mentally sick. The Labour Government of Tasmania and the other State Governments do not permit any person declared to be a mental defective or who is transferred to a mental hospital to receive any money. The Public Trustee or the Curator of Mental Defectives - whatever the title is in the various States - takes charge of the assets of the mental defective and provides hospital care and food at no expense to the patient. If the law were amended to provide that a person in a mental hospital should receive the pension, the money would not go to the patient; it would go to the State Government. This is one reason why the States support the plea for an increase in pensions.
The positron of the mentally sick is complicated by the different jurisdictions of the Commonwealth and the States. There is a strong case for co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States in dealing with mental patients to the best advantage of those patients, without the present divisions of responsibility as between the Commonwealth and the States. For a considerable time my colleagues and I have been looking into this matter. It is silly that a person in a mental annex of a public hospital should receive the age pension but that payment should cease if he is transferred to a mental hospital.
– Is the honorable member agreeing with me?
– In a sense I am. The honorable member for Bass has had his opportunity to speak. It may be interesting for him to listen for a while. State laws provide that a person who is declared a mental defective and placed in a mental hospital cannot receive income or have control of assets but if the State chooses to place that person in a public hospital annex, the State does not assume control of his assets or take away his income and so he may receive the age pension. In my opinion there should be a conference between the Commonwealth Minister for Health and the State Ministers for Health, together with the Minister for Social Services, to tidy up this matter. The Queensland Government has not used the money provided by the Commonwealth for building mental hospitals because it adopts the attitude that it is better to put patients into an annex of a public hospital and permit them to obtain the pension. The Victorian Government adopts the opposite attitude It says that the mentally sick should be in a mental hospital. The Victorian Government has accordingly used all of the Commonwealth money provided for building mental hospitals.
The solution suggested by the honorable member for Bass does not meet the situation. Simply to say that the Curator of Mental Defectives or the Public Trustee, whatever he is called, should take a pension payable by the Commonwealth in respect of a mental patient would be too silly, even if the money were to go to the pensioner’s estate after his death. This is not the reason for paying pensions. While the present State laws exist the Commonwealth has no alternative but to do what it does. The Commonwealth concedes that the States are in charge of health matters. The States provide free hospital care and free accommodation for the mentally sick. While these people are under hospital treatment they do not have to meet any expenses, so no pension is payable. But other States saythat they will not put these people into mental hospitals but will place them in annexes to public hospitals, thus enabling them to draw the pension. I do not know which Government is right and which is wrong. AH I say is that the guiding principle should be the benefit of the patient and not the manner in which the State may gain the best financial advantage. This is why I say that this matter should be dealt with at a conference between the Commonwealth and the States. In this way we could reach a decision as to how these mentally ill people should be dealt with - whether they should be placed in an annex of a public hospital, a nursing home for mental people or in a mental hospital. The only guiding principle should be the welfare of the mentally sick.
This problem can be solved only by the States and the Commonwealth getting together and deciding who will see that these patients get into the right place and get sufficient money to maintain themselves when they are in the right place. I am convinced that many people who should now be in mental hospitals are in annexes of public hospitals. Conversely, many people who are in mental hospitals should be accommodated in annexes of public hospitals. In many cases people are kept in mental hospitals when they should not be there. Financial benefit to the Commonwealth or the States should have no part in this problem. The only matter for concern is what is best for the patient. Once again I say that the propositions put forward by the honorable member for Bass have no validity because they would not help the mentally sick at all.
– The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) and the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) referred to the matter of the suspension of the payment of benefits to inmates of mental institutions. This matter was referred to also by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). The matter was considered by the State Ministers for Health and referred to the Commonwealth Minister during the last conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers for Health. This matter has been considered by the
Government from time to time. It is not easy of solution. As the honorable member for Sturt pointed out, the type of hospital accommodation available to mental patients varies in the different States. As a result there is a consequential difference in the treatment of patients so far as social services are concerned. The pension is not completely cut off when a person becomes an inmate of a mental institution. The pension is suspended rather than cancelled. When the patient returns to the community he receives back payment of pension covering the last four weeks of his stay in the institution.
Several matters have been raised by honorable members tonight. I will look into them and, if I have anything further to add on any matter, I will contact the honorable member who raised it. The honorable member for Barton referred to the number of people on the base rate of pension and told us something of their plight. I point out to the Committee that two factors must be kept in mind. The first is the age of entry into the pension. This is of interest and is detailed in the report of the DirectorGeneral of Social Services, which I tabled last week. Details of the age of entry show that quite a number of persons do not in fact enter into the pension until they are over 70 years. The age limits have something to do with the question whether the wife receives a wife’s allowance and whether at the age of entry a pensioner couple depend on a single pension only. The second factor is the permissible earnings rate within our means as assessed which we call our means qualification test for the purpose of a pension. Permissible earnings are £3 10s. a week for one person and for a married couple they are twice £3 10s. or £7. This means that a married couple can have a pension entitlement of £11 plus permissible earnings of £7, making a total income of £18. This is excluding the supplementary assistance. Mr. Chairman, I thank you for your permission to digress from the details of the clauses now before us. Of course, they make no reference whatever to mental institutions.
.- I have no intention of detaining the Committee unduly, but I am very concerned about this matter. I am not prepared to accept the statements of the honorable member for
Sturt (Mr. Wilson) concerning the difficulties that the type of legislation we are advocating would present. I hold the opinion that if the Parliament wants to provide an entitlement under the social services legislation there should be no difficulty.
– Order! The matter being discussed by the honorable member for Bass, of course, has no relevance to the clauses before the Committee. The Chair has shown a degree of tolerance because the Committee was discussing a number of clauses together. However, I think that sufficient time has now been devoted to this subject and I do not want the discussion to develop into a full scale debate on social services.
– I did not intend that it should do so. When I rose to speak on these clauses, I said that I would be brief. 1 want to answer one or two points that were raised by the honorable member for Sturt. The Minister acknowledged the importance of the matter by replying and in a sense he supported the remarks of the honorable member for Sturt. I do not want to canvass your ruling, Mr. Chairman. I merely point out that there should be no difficulty about this matter. The various State Ministers for Health have made representations to the Government. Perhaps I might be permitted to make the point that, as the honorable member for Sturt must know, those people who are the responsibility of the Repatriation Department-
– Order! I ruled earlier that this matter has no relevance to the subject matter before the Committee. I therefore suggest to the honorable member that he does not pursue the point any further.
– I accept your ruling, Mr. Chairman, and conclude merely by saying that I am prepared to accept the statement of the Minister that he will consider this matter. If he is prepared to examine it, I am satisfied.
.- Mr. Chairman, I am well aware of the difficulties under which you and the Committee are working, since the provision that the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) referred to at some length is more appropriately dealt with by section 48 of the principal Act than by section 50, which is the provision that is now under consideration. Nevertheless, in view of the leniency you showed to the honorable member, I thought you may be prepared to give me just one minute in which to clarify a point he made.
– Order! I have already commented on the relevance of this subject to the clauses now before the Committee. I think, as I intimated earlier, that the Committee has devoted sufficient time to this subject.
– I appreciate your ruling, Mr. Chairman. I just thought that there may have been some prospect of leniency, in view of the fact that the restricted nature of the Bill this year prevents the Committee from having its usual wide debate on social services. Since you had already permitted the honorable member for Sturt to speak about the Victorian situation and the admission of pensioners to mental institutions, which resulted in their being deprived of their pensions, I thought you would allow me at least to say that more pensions are taken away from pensioners through the operations of this provision in Victoria than in any other State. It is not true that Victoria has circumvented the arrangement by placing these people in an annex of a public hospital. If the honorable member would like to check his facts, he can readily do so by referring to question No. 57 of 7th April 1964.
Clauses agreed to.
Remainder of Bill - by leave - taken as a whole.
.- I think I am right in saying that this part of the Bill deals with the funeral benefit. The provision for funeral benefit was introduced by the Curtin Labour Government as far back as 1943. The amount at that time was fixed at £10 and the benefit was paid on all pensioner funerals, no matter who paid for the funerals. The amount of the benefit has remained at £10 for the past 22 years. It mustbe remembered that the cost of a funeral in 1943 was much less than it is today. I cannot say exactly what a funeral would cost then, but I would think it would not be much more than £25. Again, the basic wage in 1943 was less than £6 a week. If we compare the basic wage and the cost of a funeral in 1943 with the basic wage and the cost of a funeral in 1965, I think we must agree that the amount of benefit paid for a pensioner’s funeral today should be about £35. In this Bill, the Government has increased the amount of the benefit from £10 to £20, but the benefit will be paid only in certain circumstances and only when certain people pay for the funeral.
Proposed new section 83b (1.) of the Bill provides -
Subject to this Part, where-
a person has paid, or is liable to pay, an amount in respect of the cost of the funeral of -
the deceased spouse of the person;
a deceased child of the person; or
a deceased pensioner; and
the first-mentioned person was a pensioner at the time of, or became a pensioner within six months after, the death of the deceased person, there is payable to the first-mentioned person in respect of the funeral a funeral benefit-
In other words, the person who actually pays for the funeral must be a pensioner. The Bill also provides that “pensioner” includes a person in receipt of a wife’s allowance. If the cost of a pensioner’s funeral is paid by somebody who is not a pensioner or who is not in receipt of a wife’s allowance, a funeral benefit of only £10 and not £20 is paid. Provided the person paying the costs of a pensioner’s funeral is himself a pensioner, a funeral benefit of £20 will be paid in respect of the funeral of a widow pensioner, a single pensioner or a married pensioner. I think we can assume, though, that in most instances the costs of the funeral of a single pensioner will be paid by a person who is not a pensioner and therefore a funeral benefit of only £10 will be paid. There is also another point. When a married pensioner dies, if the surviving pensioner pays the funeral costs, a funeral benefit of £20 will be paid. But it is pounds to peanuts that when the survivor dies a funeral benefit of only £10 and not £20 will be paid. Similarly, when a widow dies, the funeral costs are likely to be paid by a relative, or even somebody not a relative, who is not a pensioner, and therefore the funeral benefit will be only £10.
This brings me to the point that silly discrimination of this kind can lead to all kinds of a skulduggery. A person who is obliged to pay the cost of a funeral of a pensioner may himself be in rather poor circumstances, and to him £1 may be of considerable consequence. Therefore, he will look for means of ensuring that he obtains a funeral benefit of £20. Suppose the cost of the funeral of a pensioner is to be met by a nephew who is not himself a pensioner. If he is in rather poor circumstances, he may suggest to his mother, if she is a pensioner, that he make all the arrangements and hand her the money so that she can actually make the payment to the funeral director, obtain the receipt in her name and claim on the Department of Social Services for the maximum funeral benefit of £20, on the understanding that she would then give it to the nephew. No doubt, this sort of thing would be likely to happen. If the department should find out that it had happened in a particular instance, there could be serious trouble for the sister of the deceased pensioner. This sort of thing can be expected to happen whenever we have legislation that discriminates between one person and another and encourages this kind of skulduggery. I should not be a bit surprised to see this kind of thing happen.
How can pensioners, particularly married couples, who have been in receipt of the pension and nothing else for some years be expected to save a considerable sum of money to meet funeral costs? As I pointed out the other night, the present Minister, referring to poverty last year, qualified his remarks by saying that there are not many on the basic wage or the breadline. This indicated to me that he believed that anybody who depended only on the basic wage today would certainly not be in very good circumstances. The basic wage, as we know, is supposed to provide for the needs of a man, wife and child. The basic wage is now about £16 a week. I think we can say that a pensioner married couple on a total income of £11 a week cannot be regarded as having an income as adequate for their needs as the basic wage would be for a man, wife and small child. So, we can say, using the Minister’s words, that a pensioner married couple are really on the breadline. Yet the Government expects them to pay funeral costs of up to £70, for one does not get much of a funeral these days for less than that sum, so far as I can see. When one of a pensioner married couple dies, a funeral benefit of £20 will be paid, but only £10 will be paid when the survivor dies. This is completely wrong. The Government should have given the matter more thought. In the very near future, it will have an opportunity to do so, and I strongly urge that the funeral benefit be increased. If this Government agrees that the introduction of the funeral benefit by the Labour Government in 1943 was right, action should be taken now to maintain the value that £10 had in 1943, and the funeral benefit should be increased accordingly.
.- Mr. Chairman, in my opinion, clause 15 shows up the meanness of this Government and magnifies it many times. We have been waiting for 22 years for an improvement in the funeral benefit that was introduced by a munificent Labour Federal Government. But what has the present Government done? It has almost introduced a means test for the sake of an additional funeral benefit of a miserable £10.
– And everybody gets the benefit.
– Yes, provided he dies, or his relatives die, depending on how one looks at the matter. Some of the language of new sections proposed to be inserted in the principal Act will confuse even the officers of the Department of Social Services, I am sure. It is really enlightening to read some of these proposed new sections. For example, proposed new section 83b(1.) reads -
Subject to this Part - where
a person has paid, or is liable to pay, an amount in respect of the cost of the funeral of -
the first-mentioned person was a pensioner at the time of, or became a pensioner within six months after, the death of the deceased person, there is payable to the first-mentioned person
Taking away the number first thought of - in respect of the funeral a funeral benefit of -
That is the sort of language with which we are dealing in this provision. Indeed, the Bill contains a page and a half of this kind of jargon dealing with the cases in which a funeral benefit of £10 will be paid and those in which a benefit of £20 will be paid. Proposed new section 83d provides - (1.) Subject to the next succeeding sub-section, a funeral benefit under this Part shall not be paid in respect of a funeral if a funeral benefit in respect of that funeral has been paid under this Part or under the Repatriation Act 1920-1964. (2.) A funeral benefit may be paid under section eighty-three b of this Act in respect of a funeral notwithstanding that a funeral benefit in respect of that funeral has been paid under section eightythree c of this Act, but there shall be deducted from the first-mentioned funeral benefit the amount of the funeral benefit paid under section eightythree c of this Act.
– What does that mean?
– What does it mean, indeed? The officers who have to administer the operation of a measure containing this sort of jargon face problems, Mr. Chairman. As we come to the end of the consideration of this measure, in which the Opposition has waged a long and hard fight on behalf of pensioners, I want to pay tribute to the officers of the Department, whose work will be greatly increased, throughout the entire ramifications of this huge Department, by this Bill that we are to pass tonight. I would consider it a just action by the Minister if he were to set the ball rolling and initiate action to raise the salaries of the officers of the Department. Already they have to be lawyers to unravel the sort of jargon that I have read to the Committee tonight. They have to administer bits and pieces and patchwork quilt sections of a huge Act which provides for more than 700,000 pensioners in Australia. Every social services bill that goes through the Parliament increases the work of those officers. I feel that the problem of the funeral benefit -
– Order! I suggest to the honorable member that his remarks have nothing to do with the matter before the Committee.
– Yes they have. I feel-
– Order! I suggest again to the honorable member that the salaries of officers of the Department of
Social Services have no relevance to the Bill. I suggest that he give consideration to a reminder by the Chair that his remarks have no relevance to the Bill.
– I simply state that the salaries paid to the vast staff of the Department of Social Services are not what its members deserve when they have to unravel the type of legislation that we have before us tonight. I claim that the officers of that Department deserve an increase in salary for having to handle this sort of language. The Opposition is disappointed, as all relatives of pensioners throughout Australia will be, that after 22 years the funeral benefit is to be increased by a miserable £10. For years honorable members on this side of the chamber have fought for an increase in the funeral benefit. The Social Services Act when first passed was a humanitarian act. It should be a humanitarian act now and the funeral benefit should be increased to £30 or £40 at least, especially when it is considered that the cost of funerals today averages between £70 and £90 and is increasing. I trust that before the Bill goes through the other place the Minister will consider the Opposition’s request that the funeral benefit be increased, at least to £30.
.- One would expect members of the Opposition to be more interested in the wage earner and the employees than they are. Surely honorable members opposite realise that all social service payments are financed from taxation levied on the people. A proposition put forward by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) is that a person with an income of £10,000 a year who pays the cost of a funeral shall receive from the taxpayer a refund of that amount. I do not think it would be fair to the basic wage earner or to any other wage earner to tax him more to pay benefits to people with large incomes or large capital simply because they pay the costs of a funeral of a pensioner. The Government has realised the need that exists where one of a pensioner couple dies and the other pensioner has to pay the high funeral costs which exist today. Therefore, in this extremely difficult year when the Government’s financial responsibilities are so much greater it has seen fit to relieve hardship where hardship exists. In the matter of funerals the Government realises that there are cases where hardship exists and it has met those hardships in the manner provided for in the clause which we are dealing with at the present moment. Many of us would like to see the funeral benefit increased in these cases by more than the £10 that is provided, but we are all extremely grateful to the Government in this extremely difficult year for having met the case of the pensioner who is liable to pay the funeral costs of his spouse or child and finds difficulty in doing so because his income is a pension. Therefore, the Government is to be congratulated upon this reform - not so much on the amount of the benefit but on the principle that it has introduced in the Bill, that we relieve hardship where hardship exists and we do not pay out taxpayers’ money to people who have no need of the benefit.
.- I think the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) has misrepresented the statements made by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) in saying that that honorable member suggested that we should be helping very wealthy people to pay their funeral accounts. Under the means test as it stands there is nothing in the wide world to prevent a pensioner couple from having £9,000 in assets, apart from their home and their car, and being able to claim the funeral benefit which is now £10 but which is to be £20. The surviving husband or wife may have up to £5,140 before his or her pension is eliminated. As honorable members know, if the couple have £9,000 they are able to get a part pension and, as I have pointed out, while on a part pension they are entitled to claim for all benefits, including the funeral benefit.
I turn now to the other side of the picture and refer to the point about the Government helping those most in need. This Bill perpetuates an injustice which has existed in the Act, perhaps since it was first brought in. I refer to the provision which takes from pensioners who, over a long period of years, have contributed their 6d. or ls. a week - more often 6d., and it used to be 3d. - to a funeral benefit fund. They are usually the sort of people who have very little other money and they are very concerned that they should be able to have a respectable burial when they die. Therefore, over a number of years, they contribute to a funeral fund. Although I was not aware of it until about 12 months ago when a case came to my notice, under the funeral benefit provision if they have contributed to a funeral fund and the cost of the funeral is no more than £5 or £6 in excess of the benefit that they will receive from the fund, they will get no more than £5 or £6 from the Department of Social Services. To make the point clear, if they contributed to a funeral benefit fund that would return them £80 to meet funeral expenses and the funeral cost £85, they would receive a benefit from the Department of Social Services of £5. If the funeral cost £80 they would get no benefit. This is the kind of treatment that we give to people who have been thrifty and have saved their money. If they put the money aside instead of contributing to a funeral fund - if they put it into a trust account or in a bank to meet this expense - presumably they would be able to claim the full £20. I think that this is most unjust to those who have been thrifty and have acted in that way.
I could understand the position if the Commonwealth or State subsidised their contribution to the funeral fund, but they do nothing of the kind. It is their own money that they contribute to the fund, but because they do so they are disadvantaged when compared with people who have invested the amount in some kind of trust fund, have saved it in a funeral account in the bank or have kept money to be used in that way. This is another instance among many that can be found as one goes through the social services legislation. There are many inequities, inequalities and injustices. I now come back to the point at which I started - the utter need to introduce logic, simplicity and a public understanding of our social service legislation by a thorough review of it. Let Dr. Vernon get to work on this subject. He would do a lot of justice to social service recipients.
Remainder of Bill agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Sinclair) - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 16th September (vide page 974), on motion by Sir Robert Menzies -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition supports this Bill. The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) introduced it with a speech that lasted three minutes, and there does not appear to be very much reason why the legislation should be delayed. Hitherto, the Universities Commission has consisted of a full time Chairman and six part time members. When this Bill becomes law, it will consist of a full time Chairman and eight part time members. The reason given for the expansion of the number of part time members is the increased load of work upon the Commission associated with the growth in the number of universities and the growth in the number of enrolled students.
The Opposition only wants to make one or two comments on this measure. The first of them is that now the Commonwealth’s stake in financing university education exceeds the contributions of the States and the fees combined, the Opposition believes that the Universities Commission and the Commonwealth generally should play a much bigger part in trying to influence university policy and should have a say in some of the things that are taking place now, such as the raising of the standards for enrolment in the State of New South Wales. If there is to be disparity in standards between States this will, I think, be a matter for regret. I am not arguing at the moment about the particular action within New South Wales of raising standards, but it will be unfortunate if there is disparity of standards.
The Opposition also thinks that the Universities Commission needs to be more active in making its comments on such of the abiding problems of universities as staffing. We have a shortage of staff and this seems likely to continue. The overloading of some classes in universities might be avoided if there were transferable scholarships. There are some universities not so chronically overcrowded or not so chronically overcrowded in certain faculties as are others and interstate transferability of scholarships might be one way of meeting this problem. We also wonder whether the secondment from time to time of practising scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation might help relieve the shortages within universities.
The Opposition also believes that something needs to be done about the teaching quality in the universities. At the present time, promotion in universities goes by research and publication. The man who concentrates on these to the neglect of teaching may get promotion over others who concentrate on teaching. Teaching has become a secondary issue, nevertheless, it is still important. There is a need for the training of junior lecturers.
The Commission is sadly under pressure of time. We wonder whether the increase to eight will in fact give it the number of people who can perform the sub-committee work which the Universities Commission anticipates will be a greater feature of its procedures in future.
It seems to us that one of the major functions of the Universities Commission, apart from being a kind of sieve of realism of university claims for presentation to the Government, is the reconciling of the attitudes of the State and Commonwealth Governments, and this is a very onerous task. With those comments, I say that the Opposition supports the passage of this measure.
.- This Bill at least has some measure of importance in that it brings before the Parliament, at a time when there is public discussion on the question, the role of universities and of the Commonwealth Government in the field of university education. One of the duties of the Commission is to prepare reports on a large number of matters for presentation by the Minister to the Parliament. Although I doubt whether the sheer expansion of the number of part time members of the Commission will achieve its objective, I do hope that in the near future, as a result of this expansion some of the questions that have been bedevilling the whole university structure will be immediately answered.
One question that has been raised here in other ways is why it is that there are relatively so few girls or women in the student body in the community. Why is it that such a large proportion of the student body are men? For example, at the Melbourne University last year there were 9,917 male students and only 3,975 women students. Why is there this difference of something like 6,000 when, generally speaking, girl students perform slightly better than male students at matriculation? This represents a tremendous waste in the community. I should like to see at some time in the near future - the sooner the better - an examination made of this problem, the social questions related to it and the manner in which the Parliament and the Government should tackle it so as to give to women or girl students, at matriculation level or before that, equality of opportunity with the men in the community.
Then there is the general economic basis of the student body. An examination should be made into ways in which we can give financial support to students so that the economic discrimination which occurs in university education can be overcome. For instance, in my own electorate there has been a tremendous increase in the number of students doing matriculation, and-
– Order! I point out to the honorable member that this Bill is restricted to the question of the increasing of the number of part time members of the Universities Commission to eight.
– With due respect, I point out that the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), had this to say when bringing the Bill before the Parliament -
An increase in numbers of the kind suggested will enable the Commission to form special committees for special inquiries and will also enable a reasonably high proportion of Commission members to visit any. particular university while at the same time relieving the pressure on the time of any individual part-time member.
– So long as the honorable member confines himself to that matter he will be in order.
– I shall. There are some matters into which I think the Government and the Commission ought to conduct inquiries. The first is the economic basis of the student body. Another is the question which was raised by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) - the role of universities, the Universities Commission and the Government in laying down standards which the universities shall adopt. I am afraid that at the moment the universities are going through a period in which they will try to restrict the student body by placing undue stress upon standards at the matriculation level. I agree with the honorable member for Fremantle, and I believe that the whole community agrees also, that something ought to be done about teaching qualities inside universities in order to ensure that inadequate teaching qualities do not prevent the development of the university system. I hope that in the near future the Government will give us the opportunity to consider these questions by having reports prepared and tabled in this Parliament which has the ultimate responsibility for the universities of Australia.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Sir Robert Menzies) read a third time.
CUSTOMS TARIFF BILL (No. 2) 1965. Second Reading.
Debate resumed from 24th August (vide page 335), on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Order! There being no objection, that course will be followed.
.- These two Bills are concerned with the same purpose ‘and the Opposition does not oppose them. In introducing them, the
Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) said the Bills were designed to achieve the objective that he on behalf of the Government had advocated at meetings of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and that it was necessary to have a waiver by G.A.T.T. in order that these provisions could be brought into operation. The House will recall that the Minister said he was introducing the two Bills - the first one is of greater substance than the second which is a machinery Bill - for the purpose of making provision in our own customs and tariff legislation for tariff preferences in favour of less developed countries. The Opposition believes that it is the responsibility of all countries that are better off and that can be classified as developed, to make such provision. While Australia does not meet this classification fully, it is one that we meet substantially and the Opposition believes that the achievement of arrangements to allow assistance by increased trade with under developed countries and less developed countries should be supported. We believe this is a fine and excellent objective and it should have the support of the Australian people.
At the same time, the Opposition wants to make it clear that we do not always accept the methods that are adopted by the Government to achieve these ends, nor do we consider that the proposals being made in this legislation amount to anything of very great substance. In fact, without diminishing the Government’s aims as early steps in this direction, we say that hardly ever has a Minister said more words about so little as the Minister for Trade and Industry said when introducing this legislation. In a few minutes I hope to indicate to the House and all those interested the evidence for that submission.
The Minister pointed out to the House that in order to introduce the reduced tariffs in favour of predominantly manufactured goods that will come from 118 defined countries, or might come from them, the Government has to seek a waiver from G.A.T.T. Australia’s application for a waiver is now before the contracting parties to G.A.T.T. and the Government has introduced this legislation to get ready on the assumption that the waiver will be granted and so that the legislation can become operative quickly.
The proposal is that there be reductions in the tariff rates of duty on specified manufactured products from these less developed countries. The products are the items in the tariff schedules, and are listed with the countries concerned. The key clause is clause 8 in the second schedule of the customs tariff giving the proposed preferential rates of duty, and the tariff classifications of the products on which less developed countries will receive preferences will be incorporated in that clause.
The products referred to in the clause and on which reduced tariffs will be granted have been selected, we have been told, after careful examination of the list of products which the less developed countries themselves have nominated to G.A.T.T. as being of special interest to them. The proposals came originally from the less developed countries and we can expect, therefore, that they reflect the products in which those countries are specially interested. In his second reading speech, the Minister stated -
The system of preferential tariffs proposed in this Bill recognises that Australia cannot act in ways that would frustrate its own development or negate well tried tariff policy.
At the same time, the Minister went on to say -
This does not mean that Australia cannot or need not take tariff action to help the less developed countries. On the contrary, we simply cannot ignore that almost all the younger countries are much less fortunately placed than Australia.
Of course this is true and one has only to look at the list of 118 countries provided for us to know that it is true of every one of them. I want to make the point here that it will become increasingly significant in the discussion of trade policy and its application in Australia in the future. It has to be recognised that we will not be able to improve and increase our trade with less developed countries, or with any country, unless some changes in the Australian economy are involved. There must also be some cost to certain sectors of the Australian economy.
We have to face the fact that these trading arrangements can be facilitated only if we anticipate where the costs and difficulties in Australia are likely to occur, and only if the Government is prepared to take measures to see that these costs are shared in the economy as a whole and will not fall upon sectors of producers here and sectors of producers there. In other words, there must be some anticipation and some planning to see that these costs in fact are shared. Otherwise, the pressures from interested people who are going to lose as a result of these arrangements will be sufficiently significant to reduce the effect of these trading arrangements.
I think the main criticism the Opposition would make of the Government is that there appears to be no effort to anticipate how these changes might affect the Australian economy and how they might be effected. No effort has been made to see how they could be modified or how the persons concerned could be encouraged not to oppose them but to support them. The Government seems to be taking a laissez-faire attitude; it will make the changes first and then hope the consequences will not be so great that too much difficulty is encountered. I think not in this agreement but in the case of one to come later relating to trade with New Zealand, the Government is going to be somewhat disappointed and will find some difficulty in handling the consequences of the agreement. I believe the right attitude to take to these things is that so far as possible the effects have to be anticipated and there has to be some preparation to modify them and meet them so far as injured parties are concerned.
This is of vital importance because Australia has to make its contribution to improve the trading conditions of these less developed countries. We have a responsibility to assist them. We have to do more than is involved in this legislation because, as I hope to show, this legislation is not of very much significance in itself. In a statement in May, the Minister for Trade and Industry outlined in detail what was proposed to be done as a result of the undertakings he had given on behalf of the Australian Government at G.A.T.T. The Minister said -
The Government has taken two important decisions. It has decided to introduce preferential rates of import duties for a range of products of particular export interest to the less developed countries. … It has decided also to accept new provisions of the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade designed to aid the trade of less developed countries, subject to a reservation which will fully preserve our right to continue our own policies of using the tariff to assist Australian development.
There is a reservation, first of all, in that as to most of these items a specific quota is established. There is a limit to the value of commodities that can be imported. Second, there is a provision that in the case of any difficulty the special provision in relation to these matters provided for in the tariff legislation, under which a special inquiry is held and recommendations made to deal with the difficulty, can come into operation. The Minister went on to discuss the overall question of G.A.T.T. The purpose of G.A.T.T. was, of course, to help to increase trade among various countries and to avoid a repetition of the sudden and sharp disruptions of international trade that had characterised the pre-war period. One of the characteristic features of G.A.T.T. and those associated with it has been an assumption that relatively freer trade would achieve this purpose. It may well do so, but I do not think sufficient emphasis has been laid in the discussions in G.A.T.T. on a number of other things.
The Minister pointed out that we were not altogether satisfied with G.A.T.T., but it seems to me that he hardly, in some cases, touched on some of the reasons why we should be dissatisfied with the kind of principles and practices that have been enunciated and attempted to be applied by, and in, G.A.T.T. for some time. He pointed out that G.A.T.T. sought to reduce tariffs and to control the other protective measures that nourished in the period of the 1930’s, such as import restrictions, exchange control. State trading practices, bilateral arrangements and similar devices to establish closed markets. The basic philosophy of G.A.T.T. was that international trade should be free of measures which discriminated in favour of particular- countries or groups of countries. This basic philosophy is, in simple terms, one which I do not think can be accepted. I think that the practices of the 1930’s that were, by implication - and also implicitly - criticised by these principles in G.A.T.T. ignored the importance that many of these things can have in raising the trading capacity of individual countries. I do not think that in G.A.T.T. there is enough emphasis upon a high level of employment and a high level of growth in particular countries. In order to achieve a high level of employment and a high level of growth it is necessary to take specific measures of the type that I have just listed from the Minister’s speech and which the G.A.T.T. principle finds at fault.
The baic philosophy of G.A.T.T.- to increase international trade, to reduce tariffs and to expand trade between one country and another, and right throughout the world - is achievable only in proportion to the extent to which countries do preserve high levels of employment and rapid rates of economic growth. It is achievable only insofar as living standards in various countries are raised as fast as the capacity of the countries make possible. One of the difficulties of increasing trade between less developed countries, and countries like Japan which are well developed, is that the wage rates paid in those countries are so abysmally low. It is impossible for Australia to trade with Japan as much as she might, because Japan has a low cost of production that is determined alone by very low wages. Japan is only one of the countries that have this characteristic. In pointing out that we were not satisfied with what has been happening in G.A.T.T. the Minister said -
Ils negotiators did not foresee, or make adequate provision for, the development of economic blocs among the major industrial powers.
One of the reasons for the development of economic blocs among some of the major economic powers has been the raising of their own rates of growth and in turn the raising of the amount of international trade of which they are capable. It is wise to point out to the House, and to everyone else, that an Australia with a full level of employment and a high rate of economic growth can trade at a far higher level than an Australia with 10 per cent, of unemployment. Implicit in G.A.T.T. is that the level of unemployment might have to fluctuate according to the needs of international trade.
We are pleased on this side that the non-Labour Party and anti-Labour parties which had a very different kind of record in earlier years have, because of the understanding and the voting capacity of the electorate, been forced to accept the kind of policy that has always been the policy of the Labour Party. We are pleased that they are now able to see, as we were able to see, that this policy is in the interests of high levels of international trade. I want to emphasise the point that we can trade more with less developed countries and with every other country, if we ourselves are operating at full employment than we could if we were fluctuating as some of the principles accepted by G.A.T.T. would require us to fluctuate. The Minister went on to say -
Nor did they foresee-
That is, the contracting parties in G.A.T.T.- the extent to which the post-war affluence of those powers would allow them to support and subsidise their very high cost and uneconomic primary production.
Of course, this has been happening not only inside individual countries but also inside blocs of countries. Full employment levels of income and full employment levels of effective demand inside a country have allowed not only uneconomic primary production, but uneconomic manufacturing production to be subsidised as a result of the ability of the Government to raise more money in taxation and loans thereby finance a subsidising policy of this kind. This is only a part - and perhaps a necessary part in some cases - of the overall full employment policy and a policy of a rapid rate of economic growth, and it cannot be separated from them. If we were not able to do these things for both primary and manufacturing industry - and there is no emphasis in the Minister’s statement given to manufacturing industry - then it is pretty certain that we would have a level of employment much less than full and that we would have a rate of economic growth much less than the one we have had, and that we would be doing much less international trade. The Minister went on to say -
Similarly, they made no real provision for coming to grips with the trading problems of the world’s less developed and primary producing areas.
He was referring to the parties to the Agreement. This, I believe, is the. most substantial criticism of the three mentioned by the Minister.
What has been seriously wrong with the policies of the affluent countries-the manufacturing countries - is that they have not been prepared to use a sufficiently high proportion of their affluence to assist directly the less developed and primary producing areas. What has happened is that the manufacturing countries have, by their very nature, been in a monopolistic situation. There have been fewer suppliers of manufactured products and there have been relatively many more suppliers of primary products. Therefore the basis of bargaining between the manufacturing countries and the primary producing countries has been distorted, with relatively few sellers on the side of manufactured goods and many sellers on the side of primary goods in world trade. The terms of trade, therefore, have turned against the primary producing countries, and it is well known that from 1958 to 1961 the primary producing, less developed countries lost more as a result of an adverse turn in their terms of trade than they had succeeded in gaining in all forms of economic aid in the decade before. This is a most significant factor and it puts economic aid into the context into which it should be put. That is to say, it can easily be counteracted in a short space of time by a serious adverse turn in the terms of trade. This shows the importance of, trade when we are considering the development of the less developed countries. The manufacturing countries - the affluent countries - have not been prepared to do enough directly in the way of aid or to make enough of the kind of trade concessions that this legislation envisages. I said at the beginning that I did not think this legislation amounted to very much, although it could be a beginning, and that in that sense we approve of it. We give the Government full credit for introducing it and for taking some initiative in G.A.T.T. - initiative to which I shall refer in a few minutes. The Minister’s statement continued -
In the result, the G.A.T.T has been able to bring about reasonably satisfactory conditions for international trade only for the industrial products of importance to the major powers. It has not yet brought about any significant improvement in the trade of its primary producing and less developed members.
I feel that the better conditions which have been won for the industrial products of the major powers are conditions which have been won by the economic strength of the industrial products of the major powers, with which G.A.T.T. has not had much association. Whereas one would have expected G.A.T.T. to have done something for the primary producing and less developed members, as the Minister has pointed out, very little has been achieved. I think that what has been achieved has been achieved in proportion to economic power and that G.A.T.T. has not done much to strengthen the economic power of the primary producing and less developed members. I believe it is working on an outdated economic philosophy. It has been predominantly laissez-faire and it has believed that the best that can happen to countries is that there should be greater freedom of trade.
What is necessary for the less developed and under-developed countries is that their economic strength be increased specifically, not in a field in which, as it were, the manufacturing countries and the under-developed countries can be put into a race on equal conditions. If that happens, the primary producing and less developed countries will be swamped. What we want is not a race on equal conditions but a specific increase in the strength of the primary producing countries. Whatever we are prepared to do for them in the way of tariff concessions or economic aid can never be a substitute for what they have to do for themselves. In the end, it will be the strength of the under-developed countries that will raise their status in international trade, not anything that the affluent countries will do for them.
This makes it clear that if the economic and political strength of the primary producing and less developed countries is to be raised, they will have to go through a political process of change as the rest of us have done. They will have to go through a programme of economic development as the rest of us have done. They will have to develop in their own countries people who will have enough power in the contest with international capital to develop for their countries their own specific means of protection and positive development, otherwise they will not win the race. This means they must have political progress and political development. They need people who are primarily concerned with their development, not with acting as commercial agents for wealthy people in well-developed countries. Specific political changes - I think in many cases of a revolutionary nature - are necessary in these countries if this is to be achieved. lt is completely naive and at the same time platitudinous to talk about what
G.A.T.T. can do or what we can do unless the significance of this is realised. The under-developed countries will become developed predominantly as a result of their own efforts, not as a result of what we are inclined to do, because it is not very often that affluent people are willing to do anything much for anyone.
At the same time, however, the Minister and the Government must be given full credit - I give them full credit - for what they propose to do in this legislation, slight as it is. The Minister pointed out another factor which I think is of importance. He said -
We live with the same problems as plague the efforts of the less developed countries to maintain and expand returns from traditional and limited export lines.
In this sense, we have the same kind of problem as the less developed countries have. That is one of the factors which has brought Australia together with these countries in taking some initiative in G.A.T.T. The Minister went on -
We therefore pressed to have included in the new articles provisions which would carry forward the G.A.T.T. recognition that there are quite significant differences between the Australian economy and the economies of the industrial powers.
We are not precisely in the same position as are the industrial powers. We are somewhere midway between the industrial powers and the less developed countries. Economically, this means that Australia can play a very important role as a kind of intermediary between the two. What has happened in G.A.T.T. is an example of this. This is a role which I hope Australia will play increasingly. I believe this is a role that we could play also in foreign policy if we had the imagination and the wit to do it. I sometimes feel that if we had a Minister with the same kind of initiative in foreign policy as we have in trade, then in foreign policy we would be doing something along these lines, to the benefit of Australia as well. But it seems to me that in foreign policy we have had rubber stamps in various forms. The initiative that the Minister for Trade and Industry has shown in this matter is something that we should admire and for which we should give him credit.
In the course of one of his speeches the Minister painted out that the Australian initiative in G.A.T.T. had received the approval of Mr. Shah, India’s Minister of
Commerce, who had called it a bold and imaginative move. He also told us that Mr. Kaissouni, Deputy Minister for Economic and Financial Affairs in the United Arab Republic, had expressed appreciation of Australia’s moves, and that Mr. Balmaceda Philippines Secretary of Commerce and Industry, was reported to have hailed the decision, saying that Australia had given the lead to the industrialised countries. I hope that the expressions of opinion by those three gentlemen are not too generous. I hope that they made a fair evaluation of what was felt in G.A.T.T. at the time. On the face of it, they seem to have been very generous towards Australia. If their praise is justified, I think it means that the others in G.A.T.T. must have been awfully backward. They may well have been so. If this is the case, Australia no doubt deserves appreciation of this kind; but if Australia does deserve it, it only goes to show that the other countries in and around G.A.T.T. must be hopelessly backward in this field. I still doubt whether this is a bold and imaginative initiative, but I am happy to see the Minister for Trade and Industry taking it.
I will not detain the House for very much longer. In order to indicate the relative value of this Agreement, let me point out that it can extend to as many as 118 countries. The Minister and his Department have provided us with a list of the 118 countries. They are all less developed countries, countries with not much industrial development, countries with an industrial capacity which obviously will not lead to a considerable increase in their export capacity in any one of these fields, and countries that are relatively small. They range from countries like Gibraltar, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and Haiti to countries as large as Indonesia and India. The list includes the United Arab Republic, Pitcairn Island and the Republic of Vietnam. One wonders sometimes why North Vietnam is not included too; but, of course, that kind of heresy is something that both G.A.T.T. and the Government would no doubt find impossible to tolerate. Pakistan is another large country which is included.
When we turn to the information provided by the Minister relating to the proposed tariff preferences to less developed countries, we find information which I hope will be supplemented or given to us in full eventually in relation to the New ZealandAustralia Free Trade Agreement. I express my appreciation to the Minister and to the Department for providing Parliament with this information. I think it is most valuable and I hope that similar information will be provided to the Parliament for what is in many ways a more important agreement - that with New Zealand.
Now, in looking at what is included in this information relating to less developed countries I find that there are about 160 tariff categories that are to be included in this legislation,. I find that the quota of categories, as provided in the legislation, is attached to each item. Imports from the less developed countries - 118 of them - can rise only to the point of an annual quota. They cannot go beyond that figure. The total quotas - the total limit of any imports from the less developed countries - of the 160 tariff items amount to a value of about £5,490,000.
Looking at the individual items we find that there are nine categories, roughly, of imports that can rise to a total of £4,060,000. There are nine items which can take up as much as £4,060,000 out of the total of £5,487,000, to be fairly precise, meaning that 151 categories are included in that figure of £1,200,000. Now, this means that there are very many items where the quotas are terribly small - where the imports will not amount to much - and we have a number of items where the quotas are relatively large. It is in that latter field that any significant trading increase will occur. What are these items? First of all, there is machine made paper board. The quota limit for preference to less developed countries is £500,000 a year. For newsprint, the limit is £2 million a year; for carpets and matting it is £1,200,000; for fishing and rabbit nets it is £100,000; for bottles, glassware and bottling machines it is £300,000; for machines and machine tools it is £350,000; for musical instruments, including brass band instruments it is £200,000. One might not expect to find brass band instruments manufactured in less developed countries, but miracles are occurring every day. The figure for furniture is £210,000; for sporting goods it is £200,000, of which the sum of £50,000 is the limit on cricket bats. Roughly, there is a total of £4,060,000 for those nine important items which may come in under these provisions.
Now, some of these important items do not have substantial tariff reductions and I would like to indicate to the House those items for which tariff reductions appear to be substantial. First of all, there is chewing gum where the reduction is from 40 per cent, under the British preferential tariff, plus 5 per cent, primage, down to 25 per cent. But the import of chewing gum will be limited to a value of £10,000. I suppose that the country could do a lot of chewing for £10,000 but that is one of the small items.
– ls the honorable member referring to weight or value?
– I am referring to value. I suppose that chewing gum would be worth more than £1 per’ lb., would it not? Then there is wattle bark where the reduction in the British preferential tariff will be from 10 per cent, to free. That is limited to £40,000 a year. There is vulcanised rubber thread where the reduction under the British preferential tariff will be from 20 per cent., with a primage of 5 per cent., down to free. That is limited to a value of £100,000 a year. For household utensils of wood the reduction is from 22i per cent., with a primage of 5 per cent., under the British preferential tariff, to free for the less developed countries, but the limit is £10,000 a year. Then there are cork manufactures where the reduction is from 20 per cent, under the British preferential tariff to 10 per cent, with a limit of £50,000 each year. Then there are “ other carpets “ as distinct from “carpets and floor rugs of wool” where under the British preferential tariff it is 12i per cent. This is reduced by 2i per cent, but the limit is £100,000 a year. There are other articles such as cut glass where the British preferential tariff is ]2i per cent, and it is reduced to free with a limit of £50,000 a year.
Now, they seem to be the main items, but there are a couple of others that I will mention. In respect of other wood working machines and appliances, the British preferential tariff of 17i per cent, is reduced to 10 per cent, and the limit is £25,000 a year. There is an, item for other furniture where there is a reduction of 2i per cent., from the British preferential tariff of 17i per cent, down to 15 per cent, for the less developed countries with a limit of £100,000 excluding Hong Kong. On cricket bats and balls there is a 7i per cent, reduction from the British preferential rate to the rate of 15 per cent, fixed for less developed countries and there is a limit of £50,000.
Those are the main items of tariff reduction. Honorable members will notice that where there are substantial tariff reductions - or even if we include reductions as low as 2i per cent. - these relate to items where the annual quotas are relatively small and the total, no doubt, does not amount to more than £400,000 or £500,000. So the relatively substantial tariff reductions are on items that are limited to a value of less than half a million pounds a year. This is not suddenly going to raise less developed countries to a position of economic prosperity or affluence. In the case of the nine items I mentioned as being the most substantial items, which had a total value of £4,060,000 in aggregate, the tariff reductions are quite insignificant, I think, in all cases. This indicates that what I said at the beginning seems to be true: There is not much substance in this proposal put forward by the Government. It is a step. Perhaps it is the first step, a very short step, and perhaps a very shaky step. We give the Government full credit for having taken it but we do not think it amounts to much. The overall position is that it seems to me that more will be done by growing national income and expenditure in international trade than has been envisaged so far by legislation of this sort.
I would conclude by emphasising what the Vernon report emphasised, if that report is not going to be banned as some other books have been banned by Liberal Governments from time to time. I thought that when the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) was discussing it the other night he might announce that it was going to be banned under an agreement that he might make with the State Governments. But assuming that it is in order to mention the Vernon report, I would conclude by saying that I think that for less developed countries, as for every other country, the important thing is their own rapid rate of economic growth. The Vernon report quoted Professor Lewis, a student of the economies of less developed countries, as saying -
I do not think the less developed countries will be able to increase their freedom until they first get greater control over their own environments and I think that they can get that predominantly from their own efforts. But anything that can be done in legislation of this sort to assist them, although it is marginal, has to be appreciated. The Opposition, therefore, does not oppose the legislation.
.- Mr. Speaker, it would be churlish of me not to congratulate the Government on this step that it has taken to reduce the margin of preferences against under-developed countries. It is platitudinous, almost, in this House to talk about the gap that widens between the developed countries, such as Australia, and the under-developed countries. We all recognise this as one of the greatest fundamental world problems that we face. It is a problem that haunts us if we think about these things as we should. So it is obvious that something needs to be done and I, who have so often urged the Government to do more in this regard, have a special responsibility, I think, to congratulate it on taking this first short comparatively unimportant step. It is a first step and I think we ought to recognise it as such. We ought to recognise, too, a statement which appeared in a Press release at the end of last week to the effect that the Government had eliminated tariffs altogether on goods made by hand in Asian countries. This is something which, I know, the Community Aid Abroad has been pushing for - that is, to help to bring in these kinds of goods, sell them at quite good prices and thereby assist in some small way the development of under developed countries. So, with these two things, it is important that we should recognise what the Government is doing.
We ought to realise, as the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns) has said, that this is not a big step. The fundamental principle we ought to remember is that trade in this regard is much more important today. I have had the opportunity of seeing the problems of Aid at first hand. Although I would not dismiss the help that Aid has given as insignificant, I am well aware that the chief hope of these under developed countries is to have a thriving economic industry of their own. They have to stand on their own feet, as the honorable member for Yarra said. We have to recognise, then, that there is a tremendous problem and that trade plays a predominant part in helping to solve it.
We ought to remember, when discussing this legislation, that it is always easy to be generous with the other person’s money. A man who is dining out on an expense account can always be recognised because he summons the waiter with more than usual enthusiasm. In this case, we should realise that what we are doing is being done at the expense of other countries. The Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) makes this completely clear in his statement. He said that Australia occupies a different position from that of other countries. I think he called it the middle zone position. As such, Australia cannot be expected to reduce its own tariffs. We accept the fact and think it is proper to reduce the margin between the developed and the under-developed countries. But we are not prepared to do anything ourselves. I understand that the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) is going to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to ask that body to give us a waiver. I can imagine a certain amount of scepticism on the part of the negotiating developing countries which would be entitled to say: “It is all very well for you to be generous with our money. What are you yourself going to do?” That is the kind of argument I put to the House. What are we ourselves going to do? I think the honorable member for Yarra will admit that he rather skirted around this problem.
This is the fundamental problem we face: What are we ourselves going to do? I think we have to be prepared, first of all, to rethink our position in regard to the stand we have taken as a middle zona country. If honorable members will forgive me, I shall quote from paragraph 12.87 on the Report of the Committee of Economic
Inquiry on this very matter. The paragraph reads -
We start by emphasising the danger that Australia may easily create a wrong impression by over-adherence to the middle zone position outlined earlier. This may engender a mistaken notion that Australia seeks to be thought of as a developing country when it suits it and yet declines the privileges of being a developed country when some cost may be attached. It should be recognised that Australia is likely to be classed with the developed countries for many of the policies under attack by the less-developed countries. Its affluence and, despite its problems, its expanding trade make this inevitable.
This is not what I say; this is in the Vernon Committee’s report, and I should think that particularly Sir John Crawford, who is an expert in this field, is entitled to have his views treated with respect. Then the Vernon Committee went on to say, at paragraph 12.91- and I think this also should be treated with respect -
It is important that Australia, already noted for high and, in some cases, discriminating tariffs on many groups of commodities and for an alleged readiness to make frequent upward adjustments in tariffs, should not deny these countries the same predictability in their export markets that it seeks so strenuously from all countries which impose barriers on its own trade.
I think that is fair comment. I believe that we should re-consider very seriously our position as a middle zone country. We have particular problems. We live on the edge of Asia. It is on this country above all that the responsibility must rest.
Going on from there, we ought to be clear that if we do take the kind of action that is predicated here - I feel we must take it in the future - and we do reduce tariff barriers in this way, it is not necessarily going to hurt us. We have to realise that the people in these other countries are really trying to sell us something cheap. People used to think it was a good thing to sell something cheaply, but in present times this is inclined to be thought of as a bad thing. We must realise that many undeveloped countries are anxious to sell us particular lines of goods cheaply. Again, with the Vernon Committee’s report in our hot little bands, we should remember that a recommendation of the Committee was that tariffs in general should not, without very good reason, be at a higher level than the 25 per cent, to 30 per cent, most favoured nation rate. Let me again quote from the Vernon Committee’s report - I think I shall be quoting from it rather freely. In paragraph 17.36 the Committee said -
We would also stress that, if policies of protection are such as to divert skilled labour away from industries with sound opportunities for expansion to less economic uses, they will damage national productivity. The Tariff must not be regarded as an instrument for creating employment of this kind. As we have said, the problem will be a scarcity, not an over-supply, of skilled labour.
The Vernon Committee has spelt out much more clearly than I have ever been able to do the proposition that we would expect to gain greatly by a general lowering of our tariff barriers. If this is done for the particular reason of assisting trade with undeveloped countries, then I would think that greater good would come to us and to the undeveloped countries also.
I am particularly interested in this line of thinking at this stage because in May 1963 - more than two years ago - the Minister referred to the Tariff Board the problem of cotton textiles. I have become used to expecting Tariff Board reports that have a long gestation period, so to speak, to tend to be unfavourable towards increased protection. 1 do not know what is contained in the Tariff Board’s report in this instance, but I have been waiting for it with great interest, because this will be a testing time which will show whether or not we mean what we say.
The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hallett) and I - together with others - had the good fortune to go to India and Pakistan in 1964 and visit the textile mills there. We saw, at first hand, those mills in operation and we are well aware of the tremendous need of those factories for a market in Australia. We know that the chief requirement of the developing countries is foreign exchange with which to buy the capital goods that development demands. They have either to earn it or receive it as aid from other countries. As the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns) hinted, and as I believe, for this to be done economically and efficiently it must be done through trade and not through aid. The honorable member for Canning and I are well aware of the great need for us to do something in this regard.
Remembering the warnings of the Vernon Committee on the subject; remembering the fine sentiments that have been exemplified in this legislation, halting though they be; and remembering, above all, the pressing problems that face India and Pakistan at this time, I am waiting with more than usual interest to see what happens when the matter of cotton textiles is dealt with. That will be the opportunity to show whether practice marches with precept. This is the kind of problem we have to face and we must keep clear in our minds that any action we take, as long as we take it wisely, will be to our own benefit as well as that of the undeveloped countries.
.- It gives me much pleasure to support the Bill which is before the House this evening, the purpose of which is to assist the development of some less developed countries. 1 listened with interest to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly) and the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns) and I agree with the .majority of what they said. I believe Australia has a job to do in assisting the less developed countries of the world in more ways than one. We are a fortunate nation enjoying a fairly high standard of living and it is not good enough for us just to sit here and enjoy it without making some contribution towards the welfare of less developed countries throughout the world. I suggest that although this measure is not of great significance at this point of time, it is a step in the right direction and we have to make a start in these things. As I have said previously in this House, we have to find the machinery to assist these countries not only with aid, but also with trade.
This is one of the first steps to be taken in that direction and I congratulate the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) and the Government on taking this first step. It is not a particularly large step, but I feel that Australia has given a lead in this field and we need some experience before we can expand the assistance to any great extent. After we have taken this first step we can gain experience and through that experience I hope that the trade in this field will be expanded. There are tremendous problems involved in relation to these countries. As the honorable member for Wakefield said, we had the opportunity of visiting some of them and getting first hand experience of the difficulties associated with their development. Australia, in common with some other countries, is doing much to assist these countries by installing large dams and hydro-electric power schemes, because water and power are the foundations of industry. These are really worthwhile aid programmes because, as I said, they are the foundation. However, I believe we must take another significant, though perhaps small, step by starting to give these countries new life and some confidence that some of the more fortunate countries are willing to assist them to develop. We saw some of their factories, as the honorable member for Wakefield said. We found that those nations were extremely anxious to be able to continue to trade with Australia in ever increasing quantities; and not only with Australia, but with other countries also. We found also, in these countries, a great lack of education facilities. If my memory serves me correctly, about 80 per cent, of the people in the countries we visited had not been to school. In other words, they had not received any formal education at all. This is a tremendous problem for these nations, but I point out that one does not require a university degree, a Leaving Certificate or, indeed, a Junior Certificate to work in a factory of the type we saw in India, Pakistan and other countries. The workers aTe very efficient at their work in the factories. Their pay is somewhat lower, of course, than the pay of operatives elsewhere, and the machinery they need is, in some instances, difficult to obtain, but they are capable of making and doing many things and working at many trades without necessarily being educated in the way similar workers in Australia would be educated.
I believe we can assist such countries to develop in the true sense of industrial development by the measures now before the House. We have come a long way in the development of Australia in the short time that we have occupied this continent. We have moved most rapidly in development of our primary industries which, I believe, are among the most efficient in the world. I think one Australian farmer feeds more people than any farmer elsewhere in the -world does. We have seen ever increasing mechanisation, mainly through Government policies. This has led to a rapid increase in secondary industries, which are still developing and will continue to do so. However, 1 do not think we can continue to develop and forget other countries. This Bill sets out to give countries an opportunity to expand their trade with Australia. It also gives protection to Australian industry by way of tariffs and quotas. There is no question of harming Australian industry. We could give a bit here. We tend to look for overprotection of Australian industry. I feel quite strongly on this. I believe we can afford to give a little in relation to the tariff barriers we erect at present. I think it is a trend in the more developed countries to provide too much protection. This removes the initiative of the people. In the United States of America there is protection against many Australian items - wool, butter and beef. America seems frightened that Australian products will damage the American market. A similar situation applies in Australia too. We are protected greatly against imports from some other countries. Our secondary industries, in the main, have received this protection. The primary industries have paid the price, although perhaps not to the extent that we may often think. However, the primary industries do suffer to a large extent as a result of the setting up of these tariff barriers. This is a real problem in our economy.
The wheat industry is one of the industries that has been sufficiently efficient in the last few years to be able to lower its costs of production. In the light of the additional costs that are to be found in Australia today, this is a tremendous achievement. However, the wheat industry did not receive, any benefit from the lowering of its costs. It reduced the cost of wheat for home consumption and put itself in a better position for trade purposes, as we have seen in the rapid sale of Australian wheat throughout the world. Should not this achievement give a lead to other industries in this country? I speak mainly of the secondary industries. I think it could be said that the wool industry too, has lowered its costs of production. I ask: Is this happening in our secondary industries? If it is not, why is it not happening? Is it because tariff barriers are protecting those industries and perhaps are taking away some of their initiative? I am not suggesting that this is so, but I do suggest that we should look at the situation. I agree that the policy of the Government is perhaps a correct one. We must develop our secondary industries and we must employ the people of Australia. Of course, we now find ourselves to be in a state of overfull em ployment. We should look at the situation to ascertain whether we are over-protecting Australian industry. I think the honorable member for Wakefield mentioned this point, too. I believe that this is a real problem on our plate, and I hope that we will look at it.
The wheat industry has shown that it has been able to reduce costs, and I think that, if the wool industry were able to reduce costs, and I think that, if the wool industry were looked at in the same way, it would be found to have done likewise. Then let us now look at the secondary industries. If we could find ways and means of reducing costs in secondary industry - a result that we should be able to achieve in this mechanical age - we would be assisting the less developed countries that we are seeking to assist in this Bill. If we could reduce our own costs, obviously we could let in goods from overseas with a lower tariff barrier.
I have much pleasure in supporting this measure. I hope that this is merely the beginning of this kind of legislation, and I hope that those countries which are more fortunate than the less developed countries will follow the lead that has been given. We cannot allow the unfortunate people of these less developed countries to continue as they are. Some of these countries have carried on for 2,000 years without having had an opportunity to change. This state of affairs must be altered if they are to exist in the world. If they want to feed their people and if they want to trade with the rest of the world, they must move with the times. I believe that they want to do this but that they cannot do so by themselves. They must have assistance of the kind we are now affording them. They do not want hand-outs. They are very proud people. They want to develop their countries but they want to do it through assistance of this kind. In addition to this form of assistance, they want technical advice and the benefit of research. This sort of legislation, although it is of limited assistance at the present moment, could develop into a very big thing. The principle is right; the policy is right. I support the measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Bury) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 24th August (vide page 336), on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to bo moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Bury) read a third time.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate -
Without amendment -
Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill 1965.
Diesel Fuel Taxation (Administration) Bill 1965.
Without requests -
Wheat Tax Bill 1965.
Diesel Fuel Tax Bill (No. 1) 1965.
Diesel Fuel Tax Bill (No. 2) 1965.
House adjourned at 10.26 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated -
on asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following information -
Aborigines Employed by Department of the Army. (Question No. 1136.)
b asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Education in Papua and New Guinea. (Question No. 1178.)
m asked the Minister for Territories, 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 -
Separate forecasts have not been made in respect of metropolitan and country areas.
In the case of New South Wales the programme should enable deferred applications to be reduced by almost 30 per cent, this year. By the end of 1966-67, unless there is a strong increase in demand for services, it is expected that the number of deferred applications in New South Wales should be about 6,000.
Provided demand for services this year does not exceed the level we are expecting, deferred applications by the end of this financial year could be of the order of 1,300 in South Australia and 650 in Western Australia with small numbers only in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. The number of deferred applications in New South Wales should be reduced by some 5,800 to 15,300. For the Commonwealth as a whole the figure should be about 17,800.
The division of this expenditure between metropolitan and country areas will be dependent to some extent on the incidence of demand, but should not differ markedly from that of 1964-65.
m asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
How many deferred telephone applications are there in each electoral division?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Statistics of deferred applications for telephone service are not kept by my Department in electoral divisions. However, a special study has been made and the following details show the position in each electoral division as at 31st August 1965.
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following information -
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following information -
The following ex-servicemen’s organisations made representations to the Government, prior to the introduction of the Budget, for increases in repatriation benefits -
In addition, a delegation from the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers’ Association discussed with me their thoughts on the Special Rate war pension, wives’ pensions, medical benefits for wives, funeral grants and recreation transport allowances.
The other ex-service organisations mentioned in 1, in conformity with long standing practice, wrote to me, setting out their proposals in detail.
Apart from the representations which were made specifically in relation to the Budget, there were other matters affecting Repatriation benefits which were submitted throughout the year, and these also were examined in conjunction with the Budget proposals.
The provision of medical benefits for children of ex-servicemen whose deaths have been accepted as due to war service where the children continue as full time students up to the age of twenty one years is a benefit which has been sought by war widows. In addition there werea number of changes benefiting service pensioners affecting both eligibility for and rates of service pension and supplementary assistance, and applying to exservicemen themselves and to their wives and children.
m asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
Can he, before the resumption of the debate on the second reading of the States Grants Bill 1965, give later figures for Commonwealth and State revenue and expenditure in the terms of my question which he answered on 24th May 1965 (“ Hansard “, page 2127)?
– The information sought by the honorable member is set out below -
In the Treasurer’s previous answer to questions 1 (a) and 1 (b) the percentage increases in Commonwealth revenue and expenditure in 1964-65 were based on the Budget estimates for that year. The tables of Commonwealth revenue and expenditure set out below show the percentage increases using actual figures for 1964-65 and Budget estimates for 1965-66. The figures of percentage increase in Commonwealth expenditure, given in the previous answer, have been revised for each year since 1959-60 to take account of changes in presentation effected in the 1965-66 Budget (see Statement No. 5 attached to the Budget speech). No similar adjustments are necessary to (he information given in the previous answer to questions 1 (c), 1 (d), 1 (e), 2 (a) and 2 (b). 1(a)-
Note. - Tables 4, 5 and 6 above are based on preliminary figures only. The scope and content of the figures vary from State to State and it should be noted that these figures refer only to revenue of and expenditure from Consolidated Revenue Funds; details are not available for all State revenue and expenditure.
s asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
The Savings Bank has no capital in the ordinary sense and it is therefore not possible to denote annual profit as a percentage of capital.
n asked the Minister for External Affairs, 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 -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following information -
y asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
What were the profits or losses of each commercial television station in Australia in each year since licences were granted?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
I refer the honorable member to my reply on 14th October 1964, to his Question No. 514 on House of Representatives notice paper No. 37 of 1st September 1964. As I informed the honorable member on that occasion, it is not my practice, nor has it been the practice of former PostmastersGeneral, to make public, financial results of particular stations as disclosed by the information which they furnish for purposes of the Broadcasting and Television Act. The honorable member will, however, be aware that under the Companies Act, the licensees of the stations are obliged to furnish an annual return to the State Registrar of Companies and it is assumed that the information required would be available from those returns. 1 might add that these returns are not submitted to me.
m asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
How did members of the Commonwealth and the Colombo Plan vote at the Eighteenth World Health Assembly on the proposal to establish a World Health Research Centre?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
There was considerable debate at the Eighteenth World Health Assembly on the proposal to establish a World Health Research Centre. Thirty-six countries contributed to the discussion in the Committee on Programme and Budget. The Committee finally adopted unanimously a compromise resolution calling for further study and consideration of the proposal to establish a World Health Research
Centre, inviting the Director-General “ to continue studying the role of the Organisation in promoting medical research”, and requesting the DirectorGeneral to report to the Executive Board and to the Nineteenth World Health Assembly in 1966 on progress made. The resolution was adopted unanimously by the Assembly.
s asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
The Acting Commonwealth Statistician has advised as follows -
For the years 1946-47 to 1964-65, inclusive, Australia’s balance of trade with overseas countries, after adjustment for balance of payments purposes, was -
Statistics are not available to show the total annual freight charges for exports, which, by the conventions of balance of payments accounting, do not form part of the Australian balance of payments.
b asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
The Acting Commonwealth Statistician has advised as follows -
For the nine years 1956-57 to 1964-65, inclusive, estimates of Australia’s balance of trade with all countries, after adjustment for balance of payments purposes’, were -
For the period as a whole, therefore, the balance of trade showed a surplus of exports over imports of £666 million.
Total freight and insurance payable on imports in Australia or overseas is estimated at £1,109 million for the whole period.
n asked the Minister for Housing, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following information -
Since 1964 further information, not previously available to the Government Statistician, has become available enabling a revised estimate to be made of the number of ex-servicemen survivors. On this basis about 7,000 more persons who would qualify for free treatment were included in the 1965 estimate, an increase of approximately 14 per cent, on the previous estimate of ex-servicemen affected by the proposal.
In 1962 the estimate of capital cost was based on the assumption that then existing excess capacity in repatriation institutions would absorb a substantial portion of the accommodation required to meet the additional patient load resulting from full treatment for 1914-18 War members. Since then it has become apparent that the normal treatment requirements under existing eligibilities are higher than estimated in 1962, and have absorbed the greater part of any excess capacity. For this reason and to provide for the increase in the numbers of World War I survivors who would be eligible for treatment, 12 more new wards would be required over and above the 1962 estimate. In addition the cost of building and equipping the additional wards has risen steeply.
Further, there have been significant increases in the costs of providing treatment at both inpatient and out-patient levels which are included in the 1965 estimate.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 September 1965, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1965/19650928_reps_25_hor48/>.