25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Ron. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. WHITTORN presented a petition from two electors of the Commonwealth praying that the Commonwealth Government will take action to provide all Australian servicemen who served at Anzac in 1915 with an “Anzac” medal.
Petition received and read.
– I ask the Acting Minister for Primary Industry a question. Is it a fact that Professor Emeritus of Melbourne University, Sir Samuel Wadham former Professor of Agriculture at the Melbourne University, has in a special message to wool growers declared in favour of a “ Yes “ vote for the wool reserve price scheme at the referendum to be held on 9th December and closing at 12 o’clock on that day? Can the Minister explain why so little publicity has been given to this declaration by this eminent Australian?
– I can give no explanation.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs any information on current reports that America and North Vietnam are considering peace moves?
– I have nothing I can usefully say to the House at this moment additional to what has been published in the newspapers. The Australian Government, like the United States Government, is always deeply interested in any prospect of settling the unfortunate affair in Vietnam. But at the same time, one has to be careful that a settlement does not mean a total and complete surrender to aggression and a handing over to the aggressor.
– As a supplementary question to that asked by the honorable member for Franklin, I ask the Minister for External Affairs: In view of statements from a variety of sources that tentative offers for negotiation over the war in Vietname have been made in the past 12 months by the Government of North Vietnam and that these were rejected by the United States of America, will he ascertain the facts and make a full statement to the House before the recess?
– The Australian Government has been following very closely every proposal from any direction relating to South Vietnam. Our responsibility to the Australian people and to the security of Australia is to be satisfied that any proposals for discussions are completely genuine and are such as will be likely to lead to a lasting and permanent settlement. A mere unconditional surrender would serve nobody’s interests.
– Will the Minister make a statement on the subject?
– I will consider, in consultation with the Prime Minister and my colleagues, the question whether it is possible to make a statement.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether he has seen a report concerning a possible discovery of a Khapra beetle on a ship in Darwin. If he has seen such a report, can he inform the House of the action being taken?
– A report has appeared that a Khapra beetle has been discovered on a ship in Darwin, and arrangements have been made for the particular specimen to be sent to Canberra for examination in our Standards Laboratory. This beetle is a very serious pest in stored grain. It originated in Asia and is now widespread in Africa and Europe. So far, we have been able to prevent any outbreak in Australia. We hope that the specimen mentioned is not a Khapra beetle, but, while the beetle is being examined, the cargo from this ship is being held in quarantine. If the specimen is identified as a Khapra beetle, steps will be taken to treat the cargo before it is released.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General, and is further to the question I asked him last
Tuesday when 1 asked whether he would revise his pronouncement that Australia is without producers and directors of high quality. The Minister then replied that he most certainly had not said this, and referred honorable members to “Hansard “ to confirm his denial. I simply ask the Minister whether he has since had an opportunity of refreshing his own memory on the matter. If not, will he look at page 2763 of “Hansard” for 11th November 1964? I think he will find that he said exactly that.
– I have had an opportunity to refresh my own memory in this matter. The honorable member is quite correct in what he said about my reference to directors. I misunderstood his question on that occasion. In that same “ Hansard “ reference, it will be noted that I made some comments about actors and other people associated with them, but those remarks were not so precise as were my references to directors.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. Some time ago, the battery lights were taken off the aerodrome at Casino. Can the Minister advise me whether these lights would be suitable for use, if only temporarily, at the aerodrome at Kempsey?
– I understand that the lighting system that was taken out at Casino would not be suitable for Kempsey, but I believe that the Minister for Civil Aviation is looking at the problem of lighting for Kempsey and will write to the honorable member on the provision of night facilities there in the not too distant future.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether he is aware that a special Federal trade union conference has been held in Perth within the last few days to discuss the aim of the Western Australian Employers’ Federation to bring overseas committed labour to work in the North West. Does he know that this proposal is also being sponsored by the Minister for the North West in the Western Australian Government? As this labour cannot be brought in without the concurrence of the Federal Government, will the Minister state the view or the policy of the Government on this matter?
– I have already answered two questions on this matter in the House. Half of the question should be directed to my colleague, the Minister for Immigration. I think I can crystallise the Commonwealth Government’s attitude in this way: It has long been our policy to attract permanent migrants here and not to attract migrants on a temporary basis unless there are exceptional circumstances. Secondly, we as a Government believe that if there are high rates of pay to be earned in the Pilbara iron ore district Australians should participate in these developmental projects and get the benefit of the high wages paid. We certainly would offer no impediment to their working in these areas. We also recognise that there are occasions when temporarily we cannot recruit the type of labour necessary. On one occasion it was necessary to bring in some Japanese divers. On another occasion some Americans came here on a teacher basis. These key specialist personnel came, in other words, to teach the Australians to do the job, and when it had been done they returned to the United States. All these problems are being looked at and I understand that the attitude of the Commonwealth Government is identical with that of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
– My question to the Acting Minister for Primary Industry refers to the allegation that the calculation of costs in the “No” case pamphlet for the wool prices referendum is mathematically inaccurate. As the purpose of the allegation was to mislead growers, as it received wide publicity, as the calculation has been checked and not only found to be correct but also certified by accountants to be correct, and as indeed the calculation has been admitted to be correct by the people who originated the allegation, will the Minister examine what steps can be taken to assure growers that the mathematics revealing the high costs involved are correct?
– In answering a question on this subject last week I pointed out that the Commonwealth Government was adopting a neutral attitude in the wool prices referendum. The only thing the Commonwealth Government did when it agreed to both a “Yes” and “No” case being presented was to examine the cases to see that they did not misrepresent the Commonwealth’s position. As far as the cases are concerned I think that those who will vote are capable of supporting or rejecting them.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. I refer to the crisis again facing our fellow Commonwealth country, India. Is the Prime Minister aware that the Indian Prime Minister has been forced to exhort his people, already ill fed, to eat even less? Is he aware that India’s and the Indian democracy’s future is at stake, and that quite apart from the humanitarian aspect what happens in India could have a direct effect upon Australia’s future security? Finally, whether or not the Prime Minister has had a request for it from India, will he offer, now, substantial aid to India on behalf of the Australian people?
– I am not aware of any request being received. The Australian Minister who was most recently in India is the Minister for Trade and Industry. I have not yet completed my talks with him on the discussions that he had there.
– My question to the Acting Minister for Primary Industry follows on an answer he gave a few minutes ago to the honorable member for McMillan. I refer the Minister to the very proper remark made by him last Tuesday in this House when he stated that the Government was neutral in regard to the wool prices referendum and did not support either side. I ask: Is he aware that a high pressure campaign is being conducted for a “ Yes “ vote based upon the false statement that the “ Yes “ case has the Government’s support? If so, will be take steps to see that adequate publicity is given by his Department to the falsity of this misleading and deliberately repeated statement? Is he aware that certain employees and propagandists of the Australian Wool Board have also implicated themselves in the false statement that the Government supports the plan? What action does the Minister propose in order to correct this deplorable state of affairs?
– I say once again that the Government’s policy is to take a neutral attitude. I do not think there is any need to elaborate further on what I have already said. The Government wishes to ascertain what the opinion of the wool growers is, and when that opinion is ascertained the Government will act accordingly.
– Has the AttorneyGeneral examined reports recently tabled in the New South Wales Parliament by statutory investigators regarding Latec Investments Ltd. and International Vending Machines Pty. Ltd.? In view of recent developments in relation to H. G. Palmer (Consolidated) Ltd. and such reverberating crashes as those affecting Reid Murray Ltd., Stanhill Development Ltd. and Sydney Guarantee Corporation, does the AttorneyGeneral adhere to his previously stated reluctance to introduce legislation for an Australian counterpart of the United States Securities Exchange Commission? If so, will the honorable gentleman inform the House of the action he contemplates to impose normal standards of business morality and security on certain sectors of Australian commerce and investment?
– The reports of inspectors to which the honorable gentleman has referred were, as stated, made to the New South Wales Attorney-General and were tabled in the New South Wales Parliament. The New South Wales Attorney-General has provided me with copies of those reports. I have looked at them but not in any detail. As to whether I have changed my views about setting up a securities exchange commission similar to that which operates in the United States, this is a matter of policy and one in respect of which I should not like to give an answer at this stage. I must say that action which has been taken through the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General to consider amendments to the Companies Act which are desirable for fuller and franker disclosure in relation to company matters seems to me at this stage to be the best way of handling the matter.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral a question. Now that subscriber trunk dialling is in operation between Sydney and Melbourne, and a number of towns and cities along the route, is the Postmaster-General able to say when this service will be available between Melbourne and Adelaide? When the service is available between Melbourne and Adelaide will subscribers connected to exchanges en route, such as Stawell and Horsham, be able to enjoy the privilege of using the system?
– A high capacity trunk system is being installed between Melbourne and Adelaide. It is hoped that in 1967-68 subscriber trunk dialling will be available between those cities. The introduction of this service may not mean automatically that each town en route will have this facility, but towards the end of 1968 it is hoped that some of the larger towns, perhaps including Horsham and Stawell, will have the facility of subscriber trunk dialling.
– Do the Minister for Trade and Industry and officers of his Department believe that Australia’s trade position will be assisted if wool growers carry the reserve prices referendum? Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a letter published after his departure for overseas in which the Minister for Supply stated that he sincerely hoped that the reserve prices plan would be thrown out and that the referendum would fail? If so, does the right honorable gentleman consider that the letter is a breach of ministerial responsibility and Cabinet solidarity?
– Order! The honorable member is ranging rather widely with his question.
– Does the Minister for Trade and Industry regard this divergence of opinion on the part of the Minister for Supply as seriously as he regarded a previous divergence in relation to the Common Market?
– I would have thought that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would know that it is not customary for officials of the Government to express a view in respect of Government policies. So the officers of the Department of Trade and Industry will not have views in their official capacities. For myself, my attitude is the attitude of the Cabinet of which I am a member. As for differences, I suggest that the honorable member look at himself and some of his colleagues.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs a question. I refer to the recent abortive coup in Indonesia and ask what state of preparation for an attempt at a similar coup in Australia has been reached by the Communist Party and its allies in this country? In view of the Indonesian fiasco have the Communist Party and its allies in Australia had to revise their plans and set a fresh date for a similar coup here?
– The major difference between the Communist Parties here and in Indonesia is that in Indonesia the Communist Party was a well organised political party with a place in the cabinet and an established position in political life. Although it is possible that the Communist Party in Australia has its sympathisers in Parliament, it certainly has no direct representative in Parliament and it certainly has no part in the government of the country. The Australian people have demonstrated quite plainly that Communism is not a doctrine that appeals to them and that no Communist candidate has a hope of ever getting into the Commonwealth Parliament. Following the defeat of the coup in Indonesia the populace has had an opportunity to demonstrate in a very emphatic manner its abhorrence of all Communist doctrine.
– Has the Minister for Health read that section of the second report of the Committee on Teaching Costs of Medical Hospitals which deals with dental schools and hospitals? If so, did he particularly note the references to the alarming position regarding the supply of dentists in Australia, the absence of research facilities and the departure of so many dentists to practise in the United Kingdom? Is anything to be done by the Government to remedy the situation? More particularly, what progress has been made in the deplorably long consideration being given to the inclusion of dental services within the national health scheme?
– The report to which the honorable member refers, and also the first part of his question, comes under the jurisdiction of my colleague in another place. The second part of the question, relating to the inclusion of dental services in the national health scheme, is a matter of policy which will be considered at the appropriate time.
– Has the Minister for National Development been consulted about pricing arrangements in connection with the export of iron ore from Yampi Sound by the Broken Hill Pty. Company Ltd.? Having in mind the unique and exceedingly favourable situation of these deposits which virtually eliminates costs of transportation between mine and ship, does the Minister consider that the export of ore from these deposits could endanger the economics of inland mining ventures? Will the Minister consider the general principle involved in this problem as it applies not only to iron ore and like minerals but also to oil and gas in off-shore deposits, having particular reference to (a) the defence need to have access to deposits not vulnerable to seaborne attack, and (b) the desirability of widespread development of all national assets, not merely those on our coastal fringe?
– The honorable member’s question is a very broad one. It opens up a great many questions of policy which, quite frankly, I think are not suitable for discussion at question time!
– I direct a question to the Minister for Supply. Now that the Minister has had time to settle down in Australia after his recent return from abroad, I ask him whether he has yet discussed with the Prime Minister the text of his letter which, in a neutral way, he addressed to an organization in his electorate advocating a “ No “ vote in the wool reserve prices referendum.
– This is a matter between the Prime Minister and myself. We have dealt with it very thoroughly and very amicably.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Health. I ask: Did he recently issue a warning against people receiving plants and seeds from overseas? Are plants and seeds from overseas being received illegally in Australia? What additional general precaution does the Minister suggest to combat this definite danger to our flora and fauna and, perhaps, to human life?
– Whether plants or seeds are imported commercially or privately they are still subject to the quarantine law. Recently I took the opportunity to issue a warning on this matter because a journal in Australia published an invitation to people to exchange plants with people in countries overseas. This cannot be done unless the incoming plants are handled through the normal quarantine processes. I think people should understand that quite clearly. The quarantine laws are very strict regarding the importation of seeds and plants, and they will be adhered to strictly.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs a question about the recent vote in the United Nations regarding an oil embargo against Rhodesia. Did Australia vote in favour of an oil embargo against Rhodesia?
– If the honorable gentleman would allow me, I should like to check on this. The resolutions in the General Assembly were put in a rather complicated fashion with several amendments, and I would not trust to my memory without checking.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. I refer to a reply to a question in this House last Thursday concerning the appointment of a senior lecturer within the University of Sydney. Is the Prime Minister aware that the Registrar of the University of Sydney has informed Dr. Knopfelmacher that his-
– I rise to order. What has Dr. Knopfelmacher to do with this Parliament? What has the University of Sydney to do with this Parliament?
– Order! As a matter of fact, exactly the same thing was going through my mind. I do not think the Prime Minister is answerable to this House for what has happened to somebody whose name, incidentally, I cannot pronounce.
– Is the Minister for Labour and National Service aware of reports that Commonwealth Hostels Ltd. will shortly increase its tariffs in all its Canberra hostels by a substantial amount, stated to be £1 a week? Was it formerly the practice to increase tariffs at these hostels in accordance with increases in the basic wage? Will the Minister ascertain whether this practice is being changed and will be say whether or not tariffs at these hostels are to be increased?
– It is not the policy to increase the tariffs at Commonwealth hostels commensurately with changes in the basic wage. All sorts of considerations are taken into account when an increase is contemplated. However, as the substance of the question is whether there is likely to be a rise of £1 in the tariffs, I must say that I have not heard of the proposal. I should be surprised if such a proposal had got as far as the honorable member suggests without my being consulted. I will have inquiries made and will let the honorable member know.
– I ask the Minister for the Army a question concerning the Australian battalion in South Vietnam. Can he inform the House before its rising whether it would be practicable for the battalion in South Vietnam to be relieved?
– I do not quite understand the purport of the honorable member’s question, but if his point is whether if it were thought desirable to relieve this battalion we would be physically capable of doing so, I give him the assurance that we would be.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Has . the Prime Minister been advised that Mr. Eric Butler, of the Australian League of Rights, telephoned Mr. Du Pont, the so-called regent illegally appointed by the illegal government of Rhodesia, last week, to advise Mr. Du Pont that the Australian Cabinet was divided 50-50 on the wisdom of the Government’s sanctions against Rhodesia? Will he reaffirm his statement that the Government is sincere in its declared support of the British Government over Rhodesia? If necessary, will be request the honorable member for Moreton to ask his friend Mr. Butler-
– Order! If the honorable member wants to get away with his question he had better put it.
– Finally, does he agree that Mr. Eric Butler is a security risk?
– I do not have the satisfaction of knowing Mr. Butler. I appear to have had some correspondence with him years ago in which he appears to have expressed views diametrically opposite to my own. As to my statement on Rhodesia, it stands. If I have any occasion - and I do not expect to - to change our attitude, I will inform the House at the earliest opportunity.
– Are you divided 50-50?
– We are not.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has the Minister had brought to his notice any cases of business undertakings refusing to employ diploma trainees who are applying for a position in order to complete their one year in industry because they have received their call up for national service? If this has been the case, or is likely to be the case in the future, will the Minister make an appeal to any industries concerned to exercise tolerance in decisions they make as to whether or not they employ these young men who have been called up?
- Mr. Speaker, I have not had any cases drawn to my attention of business undertakings or corporations refusing to employ diploma students for the reason that the honorable member has mentioned. If this is so then it is to be deplored. If he could give me any cases that he has in mind, or any that may be brought to his attention, I will take it up not only with the Department but with the relevant chambers of manufactures and chambers of commerce as well.
– Does the Minister for Trade and Industry believe that Australia’s trade position would be assisted if the wool growers carried the wool reserve price referendum? Does he himself support the “ Yes “ vote, as his deputy did during his absence overseas, or is he indifferent to the result?
– It is perfectly obvious that anything that would contribute to increasing the price of wool is important to Australia’s trading position overseas. It is equally obvious that within the wool industry itself there is a division of opinion as to whether the reserve prices scheme would increase this or not. This is not the place nor the time for me to express a personal opinion.
– I address my question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. As the Industrial Commission of New South Wales has now given its first ruling on automation in industry, can the Minister say whether the obligations and duties of employers have been varied as a result? If so, should not the Government issue a statement so that industry and management generally will act in concert on these matters?
– As I understand it, the Industrial Commission of New South Wales has issued its first order under New South Wales legislation relating to the impact of automation. I think that if any action is to be taken on an order by the Industrial Commission of New South Wales then it is the responsibility of the New
South Wales Government rather than of the Commonwealth Government. Nonetheless, as the question asked by the honorable member does raise important considerations from the point of view of the Commonwealth, I will have the question very carefully examined in order to see whether we, too, should take any action.
– Was the answer that the Minister for Supply gave to the honorable member for Grayndler intended to imply that the Prime Minister agrees with the views expressed in his letter regarding the wool reserve prices scheme?
– I would have thought the honorable gentleman would have heard the reply in the first instance. If he did not, I refer him to “ Hansard “.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. As there is little recent news on the subject, I ask: Has the strike in Victoria of the Federated Storemen and Packers Union of Australia been settled satisfactorily? If so, to what extent will future wool sales be affected by the hold up that occurred? If it has not been settled, has the strike reached the significance of a national emergency? If it has, what powers has the Government to combat it?
– The wool stores dispute, which was mainly confined to the State of Victoria, has been settled and the men have gone back to work in accordance with the directions issued by the Conciliation Commissioner. That is the position at the moment. I have no knowledge at all as to whether the union intends to take further industrial action. However, I stress that the action taken was contrary to the decision of the Federal Executive of the Federated Storemen and Packers Union of Australia. I hope that the Union and, if necessary, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, will be able to control the Victorian Branch of the Union in the future.
– I ask the Minister for Health: Will he seek the approval of the Presiding Officers of the Parliament to have officers from his Department investigate the need for ventilation in the parliamentary squash courts? Will he stress that action now might save the Commonwealth considerable expenditure on by-elections should some young or not so young members collapse while playing the strenuous game in the humid heat of unventilated courts?
– I am sorry, but this does not come within my jurisdiction. I think I should refer the question to Mr. Speaker.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question. Will the Prime Minister discuss with the Leader of the Opposition the possibility of persuading some of his Australian Labour Party supporters to see the error of their ways in their assessment of the clergy, namely, that the only sensible prelates and Protestant clergy are apparently those who consciously or unconsciously prostitute their pulpits by converting them into sacrificial soap boxes for the propaganda-
– Mr. Speaker, I object to the question.
– Order! I think the honorable member used an unfortunate phrase. The question is out of order.
– My question is directed to the Minister for External Affairs and relates to the United Nations Committee on Colonialism. Can the honorable gentleman say whether the Committee has directed its attention to a consideration of the colonial practices of the Soviet Union and Communist China? If the Committee has not so directed its attention, can the honorable gentleman give an assurance that this is not because the Committee adjudges Communist colonialism to be equipped with a superior morality to that held by other brands of colonialism?
– As far as I am aware, no resolution has been tabled in the Committee on Colonialism of the United Nations dealing with any of the colonial ventures of either the Soviet Union or Communist China. I imagine that this matter is related to international politics rather than to any question of morality.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry a question. How does he reconcile his neutrality on the wool reserve prices plan with the fact that he leads a party which ostensibly is in favour of the plan?
– I shall be very glad to give the honorable member, who was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the Labour Government, the benefit of the attitude of my Party and myself. My attitude is that neither the Australian Country Party nor its parliamentary members should decide what is the correct policy for a primary industry. It has always been the policy of my Party that those who produce, own and sell a product are the best judges of the way in which their own property should be treated. It is the function of my Party to see that the will of those who produce and own the product is carried into legislative and administrative effect.
– My question, which is directed to the Attorney-General, relates to the appointment of receivers of companies in financial difficulties. Can the Minister state how many companies, if any, have been rehabilitated under receivership since this Parliament passed laws in regard thereto? Will he review the qualifications necessary for appointment as a receiver and include managerial and merchandising experience as a requirement?
– I feel that there is in the honorable member’s mind some overlapping between the Commonwealth’s responsibility under company legislation in the Territories and the responsibilities of the State Governments in the States. I should like the opportunity to discuss the matter with him and I shall be glad then to give him the answer that he seeks.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry: In view of the fact that the Minister for Primary Industry, who is Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party, has said that he supports a “Yes” vote in the wool reserve prices plan referendum and in view of the fact that the Minister for Supply has said that he supports a “ No “ vote, where does the right honorable gentleman stand in the matter?
– If the Leader of the Opposition thinks that he can drive a wedge between me and the wool industry or between me and my Cabinet colleagues, he will find that he is just beating the air. He has not a chance of succeeding. As a member of the Cabinet I stand for what the Cabinet stands for. This is perfectly clear.
– What does the Cabinet stand for?
– What the Cabinet stands for is what my Party stands for - the affording to primary industry of an opportunity to decide what policy it wants in respect of the marketing and disposal of its own product.
– Without any advice.
– Not without any advice. This is the policy which I have always stood for, which my Party stands for and which the Government of which I am a member stands for.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Trade and Industry, does not relate to the wool industry. Did the right honorable gentleman, during his recent trip overseas, in any way sense that closer co-operation between trade commissioners representing Australia would be of advantage in maintaining old markets for Australian goods and establishing new ones? If so, will he further consider the suggestion that he appoint a roving trade commissioner who could co-ordinate the work of Australian trade commissioners throughout the world in a way that has proved successful in private enterprise and who could at any time proceed to parts of the world where Australia is not represented by a trade commissioner and where reports indicate that there may be a market for Australian products?
– I have not on any occasion discovered any sense of inadequacy in the contact between Australian trade commissioners stationed overseas. Very seldom are they stationed close together. Not infrequently they are accredited also to countries other than the one to which they are particularly posted. Contact between members of the Trade Commissioner Service is primarily through the Department of Trade and Industry in Canberra. It is the practice of the Department that when a trade commissioner has had a tour of duty - generally three years - in a posting overseas he is brought back to Australia and given the chance within the Department and by contact throughout business and industry in Australia to refamiliarise himself with the Australian scene before being posted overseas again. From time to time a senior officer of the Department from within the Trade Commissioner Service calls upon the trade commissioners at their overseas postings. This procedure seems to work pretty effectively.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that in New South Wales the State Government is curtailing building programmes in State schools to the extent of £4 million because of insufficient funds? As this will have an adverse effect on education in New South Wales, will the Federal Government make a substantial grant to that State so that the education of children will not be affected?
– The answer to the question is that I am not aware of the alleged state of affairs and, therefore, I do not propose to take any action about it.
– by leave - As honorable members are aware, I returned last week from an overseas visit to Britain, Europe, India and Japan. I thought it proper to inform the House of the nature of the discussions I have been engaged in whilst away. The principal specific purpose of my visit was to lead an Australian Delegation to the International Sugar Conference and I shall refer to the outcome of that Conference. I should first, however, like to comment on my visit to Japan.
I had talks with the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Sato, and other members of his Cabinet who had all taken office in Japan since my last visit some two years previously. Since my last visit to Japan, trade between our two countries has expanded considerably. In 1964-65, Australia’s exports to Japan had a value of £221 million, and our imports from Japan amounted to £129 million. This great expansion of trade has made Japan the second largest market for Australia’s exports and, except for Hong Kong, which is very largely a re-exporter, Australia has become Japan’s second largest market after the United States of America. The growth of trade between Japan and Australia has been fostered by the Japanese Trade Agreement, and out of the closer trade ties has developed a whole atmosphere of respect and confidence between the Governments, the business communities and people of our two countries.
Much of my discussions with Japanese Ministers was concerned with the progress of negotiations in the Kennedy Round. Both countries have a vital interest in the objective of the Kennedy Round to negotiate conditions leading to an expansion of world trade. I made it clear to Japanese Ministers that Australia’s main interest in the Kennedy Round was to negotiate arrangemens for agricultural products which would enable us to expand our markets for those products. In this we are looking to Japan as one of the world’s great growth markets, to make such offers in the Kennedy Round as would enable agricultural exporters to obtain improved access and remunerative prices for their exports to Japan. Japanese Ministers on their part made it plain to me that they were greatly interested in expanding the export of Japanese industrial products to Australia. They see the Kennedy Round as providing the scope and the opportunity for Australia to make tariff concessions in return for successful arrangements for expanded trade in primary products. in the course of these discussions, I explained to Japanese Ministers the basis of the preferential arrangements between Britain and Australia and the basis of Australia’s participation in the Kennedy Round. Britain, as I pointed out, gives Australia unrestricted duty-free access for our major bulk export commodities, while maintaining duties on the same products of many of our competitors. No other country gives us similar trade opportunity and this is the basis of the reciprocal tariff preferences which Australia affords imports from Britain. The previous British Government had stated its intention to participate fully in the Kennedy Round of tariff negotiations. Full participation would mean that Britain was prepared, with very few exceptions, to cut her tariffs on imports from non-preferential sources by 50 per cent. Since most of Australia’s exports already enter Britain free of duty, a cut of 50 per cent, in the tariffs imposed on other suppliers would be equivalent to a 50 per cent, cut in the preferences hitherto accorded to Australia. If that should eventuate, Australia would be free to make reductions in the preferences enjoyed by Britain in the Australian market, and would thus be in a position to make a substantial Kennedy Round offer without reducing the protection given Australian industries.
Before I arrived in Japan I had previously had discussions with British Ministers. During those discussions I satisfied myself that the British attitude to participation in the Kennedy Round had not changed as a result of the change of Government in Britain. In other words, the new British Government is continuing the policy of full participation in the Kennedy Round negotiations, on the basis of a 50 per cent, cut in tariffs. Australia would therefore be in a position to make substantial offers in the Kennedy Round and would be prepared to do so in return for worthwhile arrangements in agricultural trade by industrial countries. The Japanese Government perceives the prospect that in the course of a Kennedy Round negotiation successfully taken to a conclusion, on both agricultural and industrial products, preferences in favour of Britain in the present Australian tariff could be reduced. I pointed out, however, that if in the final result the Kennedy Round failed to produce a solution in agriculture, even if it were successful on industrial products, Australia would have gained nothing and therefore would pay nothing in tariff concesions.
I am satisfied that, following these talks, Japanese Ministers appreciated the advantage there could be for their own country in making satisfactory arrangements in relation to Japan’s imports of agricultural products. Arrangements, of course, will be different for the various commodities. At present Japan has a very small quota for beef imports and an even smaller quota on imports of butter. These are two of Australia’s great export commodities on which we would be looking for more liberal arrangements to enable us to expand our shipments to the Japanese market. Japan at present imports substantial quantities of Australian sugar; she is, in fact, our largest market for sugar. However, Japan pays only world prices for this sugar and current world prices at less than £20 sterling per ton are ruinously low and far below the cost of even the most efficient producers. Japan is taking substantial quantities of wheat from Australia and as a major importer could make an important contribution to help to maintain world prices for wheat at remunerative levels.
These are the kind of issues which I discussed with Japanese Ministers. Since I had recently come from the unsuccessful International Sugar Conference, I placed great emphasis on the importance to Australia of obtaining remunerative prices for sugar. I told Japanese Ministers that it was my belief that Japan, as a major importer of sugar, could gain great credit by giving a lead in indicating a willingness to act to raise present depressed world prices for sugar. I am satisfied that Japanese Ministers fully understood the points that I was making.
On the domestic side, the Japanese Government is, of course, concerned to protect its own small farmers. In fact, some 27 per cent, of the Japanese work force is employed in rural industries as compared with some 10 per cent, in Australia. In discussions with Ministers I was able to make it clear that Australia was not seeking to negotiate arrangements that would damage Japanese farmers. Similarly, the Australian Government has its policy of protection for Australian industry and any Kennedy Round offer made by Australia would not be made at the expense of the development of its own industries. Whilst fully accepting the necessity for the Japanese Government to provide Japan’s agricultural producers with stability, I am nevertheless convinced that Japan could adopt more liberal import policies for agricultural products without disturbing the protection given its own agricultural producers.
I mentioned earlier that the main specific purpose of my overseas visit was to lead the Australian delegation to the International Sugar Conference in Geneva. At the end of 1961, following the breach between the United States of America and Cuba, the then current International Sugar Agreement collapsed and export quotas were suspended. Since 1961 there has been a tremendous upheaval in world sugar markets with prices oscillating violently. At one time, in 1963, spot prices in London reached the highest point for over 40 years. At the present time the world price is the lowest for a quarter of a century.
It was the objective of the Sugar Conference which I attended to try to negotiate a new agreement which would effectively stabilise world sugar markets and bring sugar prices to remunerative levels. No country in the world can produce and sell sugar profitably at current prices, which return only about £20 per ton of raw sugar exported. Such low prices for sugar are a great hardship for Australian producers and ours is a very large industry by world standards. Australia is the second largest sugar exporter in the world and our industry is highly mechanised and very efficient. Today’s open market prices involve hardship for Australian producers, but our producers do at least receive payable prices for about half of their production. That half is made up of sales on the domestic market, sales to Britain at the negotiated price under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, and now sales to the United States of America under the United States Sugar Act at something approaching the U.S. domestic price.
But, unlike Australia, many sugar exporting countries are very poor countries and their economies are heavily dependent upon earnings from sugar exports. The present very low world prices for sugar are disastrous for those countries, and there is therefore a great need to arrive at a satisfactory international arrangement that will bring sugar prices to a level remunerative to efficient producers. But the 80 nations at the sugar conference, roughly half of which are sugar exporters and half sugar importers, did not reach unanimous agreement at that first session. There were many reasons for this, which I do not propose to canvass here. The conference will resume when it is clear that meaningful negotiations can be undertaken, and 1 hope this will not be too long delayed.
In the meantime, the countries particularly concerned will be in contact in an effort to establish the basis of a firm and lasting agreement. Whilst Australia must certainly press for an export quota which is related to our actual arranged production capacity, it would be self defeating in present circumstances for Australia or any other exporting country to make inflated export quota demands. An obviously inflated total of such quota demands, would simply provide importers with an arithmetical basis to reject the exporters’ request for an agreement. On the other hand, Australia cannot contemplate a quota lower than would enable us to export in accordance with the industry’s arranged production capacity.
It is already clear, however, that the old types of international sugar agreement will not do for the present situation. Earlier sugar agreements have relied mainly for price stability, on export quotas as the controlling mechanism, with relatively minor commitments on importing countries. When world prices fell, under the old arrangement export quotas were tightened; when world prices rose, export quotas were increased. In other words, it was up to exporting countries to tighten their belts when prices fell in the hope that by so doing they would bring about a rise in prices. Most ‘exporting countries have become disillusioned with such an approach; that is the old approach. They are looking to importing countries to take much firmer commitments in relation to the quantities they will import and the prices at which they are prepared to import, that is, the floor price and the ceiling price. In addition, developing countries are pressing for some recognition, in any new agreement, of their special position as low-income countries.
On this point, Australia, as one of the few sugar exporters that is not a develop ing country, must have recognition for the right of its own sugar industry to develop and share in the growth of world trade in sugar. As the conference progressed, importing countries were brought to accept the importance which exporting countries attach to a remunerative level of sugar prices. What has not yet been negotiated is the means by which a remunerative price can be maintained for sugar sold on the world’s so-called free market.
I pointed out to Japanese Ministers that Japan and Canada were the only two major import markets for sugar enjoying, almost in full, imports at the present disastrously low world prices. I pointed out that Britain, the United States of America, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which are all substantial importing countries, operate arrangements which return to exporters more than double present world prices for at least a large part of their import requirements. Because Japan is one of the world’s major sugar importers and Australia’s biggest sugar market, an acceptance by Japan of the obligation to give a lead in bringing free market prices to remunerative levels would prove to be of tremendous importance to the whole of the negotiations on sugar.
I was very fortunate to have with me in Geneva as my Deputy Leader, the Premier of Queensland, Mr. G. F. R. Nicklin. The strong delegation of experienced industry advisers and Government officials, headed by the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry, Mr. A. J. Campbell, included the Chairman of the Queensland Sugar Board, Mr. O. Wolfensberger and the Queensland Agent General in London, Dr. W. A. T. Summerville.
In London I had talks with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, and other British Ministers. I have already mentioned that one of my purposes in discussions with British Ministers was to comprehend and assess the approach of the new British Government to the Kennedy Round. Another objective was to discuss the implications for Australia of the new British National Economic Plan which had been announced shortly before my arrival in Britain.
The plan is by no means clear in its effects, and indeed will only become clear as it goes into operation. I read in the Press today that some legislation has now been related to the agricultural aspects of the plan. On the surface, however, it would seem that the operation of the plan could significantly reduce British imports of some agricultural products, which Australia exports.
For example, it is at the heart of the plan as put forward that there should be an expansion of beef production in Britain. That may ultimately result in less meat imports by Britain but also, because the calves for beef production will come from the dairy industry, it will probably mean a substantial expansion of British butter and cheese production more or less as a by-product. It could also mean an expansion of British cereals production to provide feed for fattening. At this stage the effects are still largely conjectural. As honorable members are aware, however, a conference of Commonwealth Trade Ministers is to be held early next year, on the decision of the recent Prime Ministers Conference, and this will afford further opportunities to explore the British proposals in greater detail.
While in Europe I conferred with Dr. Hallstein, the Chairman of the Commission of the European Economic Community and with Dr. Mansholt, Vice-Chairman of the commission responsible for agricultural matters. I also had talks with senior representatives of the French Government. The engrossing question in all these talks was, of course, the present impasse in the European Economic Community. While the impasse continues there is something of a stalemate in the Kennedy Round negotiations in agriculture. I was concerned to take soundings on the likelihood of an early solution. It is important for the Kennedy Round negotiations that the difficulties should be overcome before too long, because if the agricultural negotiations are to get anywhere they must make real progress in 1966. The authority of the President of the United States of America to negotiate cuts in tariffs expires in 1967. On the whole, I found that people in Europe who are close to the centre of activities in respect of the European Common Market have a degree of optimism that the impasse will be overcome after the
French elections in December. I also found agreement with my assessment that 1966 would be the crucial year in agricultural negotiations. It is to be hoped that early in 1966 there will again be sufficient cohesion in the European Economic Community to allow meaningful agricultural negotiations to proceed to a conclusion.
After leaving Europe I fulfilled a long standing invitation from Mr. Manubhai Shah, Minister for Commerce in the Government of India, to visit India in order to review progress in the talks on trade cooperation between India and Australia which have been going on at official level for some time. Honorable members will recall that Mr. Manubhai Shah visited Australia earlier this year. The discussions in India were very useful. I had discussions with the Prime Minister, Mr. Shah and other ministers, and with senior officials. My talks were helpful in further promoting the good relations that already exist between our two countries. India is, of course, wrestling with tremendous problems in endeavouring to make the best use of her economic resources. The official talks which have taken place over the last two years have already produced results helpful to India. Australia’s imports from India have been increasing. In 1964-65 alone our imports from India increased by 16 per cent.
Various problems experienced in both countries in increasing trade with each other were examined frankly, and practical ways of overcoming these problems were explored. There were, for example, some problems arising out of the method of valuation of goods for the assessment of duty in Australia and the effect that this has on Indian exports. Details of some actual cases have been provided, and it looks as if part of the difficulties may be immediately overcome. The Indian Government has been pursuing a programme for the modernisation of its wool textile industry with a view to increasing the foreign exchange earnings from exports of woollen textiles. The International Wool Secretariat has helped in the technical analysis of what could best be done. Considerable progress has been made in the modernisation programme. However, the objective of making additional wool textile exports is being hampered by India’s inability to find the foreign exchange for additional raw wool imports. I was very pleased, during my discussions in New Delhi, to be able to announce that in response to a request from the Indian Government, Australia was prepared to make a gift under the Colombo Plan of 4,000,000 lb. of wool to be used in the manufacture of textiles for export. Proceeds of the export sales of these textiles will be used to finance purchases by India of wool. Initially the gift wool will be sold by the Indian Government to textile manufacturers in India who will pay for it in Indian rupees, and the money so received will be used by the Indian Government to set up wool research establishments.
This is a practical example of help given in a way that should enable the people of India to build up a significant export industry and so make an addition to the basic industrial structure in that country. At the same time, as a result of the initial help given by Australia, India will continue as a buyer in the wool auctions for the quantities of wool needed to replace that manufactured into textiles, and in this way Australia gains by having another buyer active on the auction room floor. Indian Ministers expressed their thanks for this gift.
One of the problems that India faces is the necessity to expand its industrial structure. The Department of Trade and Industry is continuing to bring before Australian industry the possibilities for joint ventures in India. Australian industry, I think largely as a result of this is already represented in India by seventeen firms, engaged in joint enterprises with Indian interests. A number of other Australian companies are currently investigating investment possibilities. In my discussions with Indian ministers, they laid much emphasis on their desire to see more joint industrial ventures between our two countries. I assured Indian Ministers of Australia’s interest in extending economic cooperation in this way, and it has been agreed that technical investigations should be undertaken into the feasibility of establishing in India a fellmongering industry based upon Australian sheep skins. Indian Ministers also stated their interest in exploring the practicability of setting up non-ferrous metal smelters and requested that I take an interest in this. This I agreed to do.
We had a very full discussion on Australia’s proposal to introduce tariff pre*ferences in favour of less developed countries. Honorable members will recall that legislation to permit the introduction of these preferences has recently been before the Parliament. Mr. Manubhai Shah had earlier described this action as “bold and imaginative” and he assured me of India’s support of our application under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade for a waiver to enable us to implement the preferences.
All the matters that I have described are of considerable importance to the future of all Australians living in a country which is so dependent on the export of a relatively few primary commodities. Much of my discussions have been concerned in some way or another with sugar. No other commodity has taken the knock in prices so severely in the last 12 months as has sugar. It is a commodity of great importance to the development of population of our north, and to Australia’s balance of payments. Of our total export income last year, a year which did not reflect the full effect of low prices, £56 million came from sugar. The sugar farms and sugar mills are the mainstay of north Queensland. It is of overwhelming importance that importing countries should comprehend the necessity for reasonable access to markets and remunerative prices for sugar and that all countries should recognise the right of the Australian sugar industry, highly efficient and the world’s second largest exporter, to develop and grow and to share in the expansion of world trade in sugar.
Australia needs, and must have, an expanding export income. The bulk primary commodities have always provided the mainstay of our exports and will continue to do so. How much of them we can find markets for, and the prices we are able to get for them, will determine in large measure the pace and the extent of Australia’s future growth and development. The same problems which confront us in getting better trading conditions for primary products also confront developing countries. In working, in our own interests, to secure an improvement in our term of trade, we are able to share our experiences and concert our efforts with these countries.
In this way, as well as in other ways, we are, I am sure, making a contribution both to the advantage of Australia and to the advantage of the developing countries.
I present the following paper -
Overseas Visit by Minister for Trade and Industry - Ministerial Statement, 23rd November 1965- and move -
That the House take note of the paper.
.- The statement by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) is a comprehensive and interesting one. It indicates a number of lines of development of policy which may materially affect the Australian economy some day. There are a number of points to which I should like to direct the attention of the House so that perhaps something might be said or done in respect of one or two matters that I think are quite urgent. The House will recall that earlier this afternoon the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Beaton) asked the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) whether Australia proposed to take any early action to assist India with supplies of food. The honorable member particularly had in mind, I think, a gift of wheat. The honorable member for Bendigo pointed out that the Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Shastri, had recently stated that despite the shockingly low, almost starvation, standards that prevail in India, it had been necessary for him to call upon the Indian people to reduce even the amount of food that they were eating now. This situation had been brought about by the shortage of food. Our Prime Minister informed the honorable member for Bendigo that he had not yet had time to discuss this matter with the Minister for Trade and Industry and, of course, the Minister’s statement is conspicuous for its lack of any reference whatever to the situation.
The Minister told us that he had had long discussions with Mr. Manubhai Shah. I hope that those discussions have improved relations between Australia and India. I think they well may have done so. It was Mr. Manubhai Shah, I think, who recently felt it necessary to emphasise that relations between Australia and India were of a formal nature. The Minister for Trade and Industry told us that his talks had been helpful in further promoting the good relations that already exist between our two countries. Indian Ministers have seen fit recently to imply that those relations are not nearly as good as they might be. I would like to know whether at any stage any Indian Minister or other official with whom the Minister had conversations gave the impression to him that India would be pleased to receive some assistance from Australia in the form of a gift of wheat or other food.
– The answer to that is “ No “
– I would like to know also whether it is necesary for the Australian Government to receive a formal request from India before it will consider sending a gift of wheat to that country. I am well aware that the Minister for Trade and Industry said that he was able to announce that, in response to a request from the Indian Government, Australia was prepared to make a gift, under the Colombo Plan, of 4 million lb. of wool to be used in the manufacture of textiles which in due course will be sold, providing finance to assist India. But how many tens of thousands of people in India will starve to death before this process is carried to its final conclusion? I wonder how urgent the Minister thinks this matter is, having just returned from India. I am very disappointed that he did not refer to this matter in his statement.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that in his discussions with Indian Ministers they had laid much stress on their desire to see more joint industrial ventures. I would like to know whether these ventures are to be set up with private capital or whether the Government will enter into some kind of joint venture which might involve the Indian Government. Will these private ventures be a simple arrangement of one private company with another, or is something else envisaged? I note that the Minister accepts the Indian point of view that joint ventures are needed in India, but so far nothing has been done by the Australian Government in respect of joint ventures in Australia involving Australian capital and overseas capital. I suppose the substance of the statement concerns the lack of balance that exists between the relatively underdeveloped or agricultural producing countries and the developed industrial countries, and the necessity for the advanced industrial countries or importers of agricultural products, particularly sugar, to act in this respect. The Minister has told us that this was the key problem involved in the .discussions, both at the sugar conference and otherwise, but what was the reaction of the industrial countries? What did they say? The Minister told us that he had particularly put it to the Japanese that they did not extend to Australia the kind of preferences that Britain extended. But what responses did the Japanese Ministers make to this specific proposition?
The Minister has told us of some of the things that he discussed, but he did not give any indication of the results of those discussions. Are we to expect before long another statement, giving us some indication of what the Japanese and others are prepared to do, or will the Minister leave us completely in the dark as to the results of his mission? He has given us an excellent statement of the problems discussed but has given very little indication that there have been any results or, if there were results, what they were.
One exception to this claim is the Minister’s statement that Great Britain is prepared to give a tariff concession of 50 per cent, on preferences to products imported into Britain. This, in a sense, will reduce Australia’s competitive situation there. When this preference goes we will be more vulnerable to competing products. The Minister stated that Britain’s action will allow us, in due course, to reduce our preferences by 50 per cent, and that if we do this we should be able to gain important markets in Japan and elsewhere. Insofar as this is a statement of the results of the Minister’s visit overseas it is about the only statement of results that he has given us. Are our chances of gaining better trade conditions in the future substantially confined to the consequences of this proposed 50 per cent, reduction in preferences by Britain?
The Minister told us that his talks in Japan revealed that the Japanese Ministers fully appreciated the advantage there could be for their country in making satisfactory arrangements for the importation of agricultural products. He pointed out to us that the agricultural sector of the
Japanese economy is still extraordinarily large. I think he said that 27 per cent, of the work force in Japan was engaged in agriculture. Did he find out from the Japanese Ministers their attitude to this condition? Can they foresee conditions which would bring about a reduction of the significance of agriculture in Japan? If they can and if those conditions were to come about, the result could be an increased flow of Australian agricultural products to Japan, because the current significance of the primary producing sector of the Japanese economy is one of the things preventing the export of food stuffs to that country in large quantities.
If there were such a reduction in the - significance of agriculture in Japan, followed by an increase in exports of Australian primary products to Japan, would we, in our turn, have to be prepared to extend tariff concessions for Japanese manufactured products? The Minister told us that the Australian Government has its policy of protection for Australian industry and that any Kennedy Round offer by Australia would not be made at the expense of the development of our own industries. It is clear that although developments of the kind I have postulated may not be made at the cost of a lower level of employment in Australia, we cannot move very far in this or any other direction unless it is at the cost of some industry in Australia.
What has the Minister in mind in relation to this problem? Or has it been looked at at all? It seems to me that the Minister’s statement was an excellent one in outlining problems but that it had very little to say about how those problems are to be solved and about the consequences of the solution of them. The Minister told us that while accepting the necessity for the Japanese Government to provide Japan’s agricultural producers with stability - whatever that means - he is convinced that Japan could adopt more liberal import policies for agricultural products without disturbing the protection given to its own agricultural producers. He is convinced about this - and it may be quite right - but he did not give us any reason why he is convinced. Is his conviction the result of a survey of Japanese primary industry by his own Department, or is it the result of something else? Having become convinced of this position and having put it clearly to the Japanese Ministers, what was their reaction? Did they agree? What views have the Japanese Ministers about the future of their own primary industries? This is an important question because in many respects it has to do with one of the most significant barriers to the development of Australian trade with Japan.
Finally I come to the subject of sugar about which, perhaps, the Minister was mainly concerned. He told us that events recently had resulted in a sugar price which was quite uneconomic for the majority of sugar producers and that if it were not for the fact that we have a protected market in Australia and in other places our own sugar industry would have to go practically out of existence. He outlined again very clearly the significance of the problems in relation to sugar. He said there is a pressing need to arrive at satisfactory international arrangements that will bring sugar prices to levels remunerative to efficient producers. He is pretty clear here, and I suppose it must be correct, that the future of sugar can hardly depend to a very great extent on what is done in sugar producing countries, even the ones that are less efficient. Not much can be done on their side. This is a problem - and the Minister made it clear that he recognizes it as such - in respect of the importing countries. He said the producers are looking to importing countries to make much firmer commitments in relation to the quantities they will import and the prices at which they are prepared to import them.
What indication did the Minister get of the attitude of the sugar importing countries to this aspect of the matter? He said that he told the Japanese Ministers that Japan and Canada were the only two major sugar importing countries enjoying the benefit of imports at the disastrously low prices of today. Can he say what the reaction of the Japanese Ministers was to this statement? What are the chances, if any, of a favorable Japanese reaction? This question can also be asked of other sugar importing countries.
On behalf of the Opposition I may say at this stage that I am pleased to hear an account of the Minister’s activities overseas. I do emphasise however, that it seems to me he has given us a much better statement of the problems he encountered than of possible solutions of them. In particular - and in some senses it is only one aspect of the question - I think his story about India seems to be shockingly deficient without some reference to the extraordinary food shortage that exists in that country today.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Fairhall) adjourned.
Assent to the following Bills reported -
Northern Territory (Administration) Bill 1965.
Commonwealth Electoral Bill (No. 2) 1965.
Honey Industry Bill 1965.
Honey Levy Bill (No. 1) 1965.
Honey Levy Bill (No. 2) 1965.
Debate resumed from 12 th November (vide page 2688), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– There being no objection, that course will be followed.
.- The Superannuation Bill particularly is a measure that has been long awaited by members of the Commonwealth Public Service. The main purpose of the Bill is, I understand for the first time in the history of the Superannuation Fund, to distribute what is actuarially called a surplus disclosed by a quinquennial investigation of that Fund. This quinquennial investigation - being an investigation held every five years - was the eighth of its kind. Such investigations are provided for by, I think, section 17 of the Superannuation Act 1942-1959. The date of the eighth quinquennial investigation is given as 18th February 1964 and at its conclusion the hope was expressed that the distribution would be made as soon as possible thereafter. This legislation - in November 1965 - begins that distribution. As the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said, it will take some months before the total distribution is completed because there are many technical details surrounding the distribution. However, I quote from the report on the eighth quinquennial investigation of the Superannuation Fund as follows -
The Quinquennial Investigation required by section 17 of the Act is primarily directed to a periodical scrutiny of the financial position of the Fund to ascertain whether the amount of the assets held by the Superannuation Board is sufficient, after allowing for future contribution and interest receipts, to enable the Board to carry out its statutory obligations.
It is arising out of that investigation that the actuary found there was a surplus of about £5 million in the Fund after providing for all the liabilities it was called upon to meet in terms of the existing number of contributors and their contributions. The task is to distribute that surplus between two groups - those who are pensioners, that is those who have retired from the Public Service and are drawing a pension, and the present contributors to the Fund who have not yet retired. This is summarily explained in the most recent report of the Superannuation Board, that for 1964-65, which was tabled a few days ago. Referring to the eighth quinquennial investigation the Board stated -
In the course of the Board’s Forty-first Annual Report, it was stated that the actuarial investigation for the period 1st July 1957 to 30th June 1962 had been completed by the actuary appointed under section 17 of the Act; surplus assets of £5,674,325 were disclosed.
The actuary’s report, together with sustained growth of the Fund, led to a review by the Government of policy concerning rates of contribution and bases for distribution of the surplus. As a consequence, a ministerial statement was presented to the Parliament on 25th March 1965, which set out the Government’s intention to provide for -
New rates of contributions from 1st July 1962.
Repayment to eligible contributors of excess contributions paid on and after 1st July 1962, together with interest.
Recalculation of the surplus previously reported at 30th June 1962 for distribution, together with interest from 1st July 1962, to eligible contributors and pensioners.
Increased rates of interest for contributors to the Provident Account from 1st July 19S7.
Those who are not eligible for full superannuation, mainly because of health reasons, have the option of paying into a provident fund. It is to encompass all those objectives that this legislation is before us. Those honorable members interested in the administrative details will find them clearly set out in the 43rd annual report of the Board. This indicates that separate calculations have to be made for 120,000 contributors and for each of about 2,000,000 separate units. Although I suppose the results of the calculations of some units will be the same as for others, nevertheless each has to be separately calculated. Obviously it will be a messy business to determine how this £5,674,325 is to be distributed among pensioners, present contributors in terms of the number of units they have, and members of the Provident Fund.
Public Service groups have been suggesting for a long time that legislation should be brought down. They say that after all the report was made over 18 months ago, in February 1964. The Treasurer reported on it as late as March 1965. However, because there was difficulty in obtaining staff in the Treasury for the actuarial computations he has not been able to introduce the legislation earlier. Pensioners who retired prior to 1962 are to be considered first. The calculations for them are to have priority, but as yet there is still no definite timetable for the whole scheme. We hope it will commence within a month or two, although three months was the limit set by the Treasurer. This would take us to January or February, by which time we will have the decimal currency system to further complicate this process, although basically the conversion from pounds to decimal currency with lump sums such as this legislation involves is simple.
I ask the Treasurer to note the suggestion made by members of the Public Service that when cheques are distributed to individual pensioners or contributors a statement should accompany each cheque indicating how the payment is made up - that is, to how many units it applies, over what period, how much is refund of contributions and how much is payment of accumulated interest. People would then be able to check on their individual calculations. I have no doubt that some of the mora mathematically minded of them would have made their own calculations and I am sure that they would like to test their skill against the computer. The fact that the present situation has been reached might well make us ponder about the next five years. In fact, it is not a case of the next five years, because the ninth quinquennium actually commenced on 1st July 1962 and will expire at 30th June 1967. It is likely that a new surplus of considerable magnitude is already being built up, because each time we read an annual report of the Superannuation Board it seems that the average overall rate of interest that the Fund is earning is progressively edging up each year. At the moment I think it is something in excess of £5 10s. per cent, per annum. Until recently, as I understand it, the presumption was that the earning rate would be £3 15s. per cent. I think that from 1962 to 1972 a higher calculation will be in force. There are some public servants who believe that a quite considerable additional surplus will have accumulated and will be revealed at the time of the next quinquennial investigation, which is due to take place some time after 1st July 1967. It seems in all these sorts of calculations that the actuary leans, as it were, on the side of the dead rather than the living. I think it would cause much less complication if the Fund were some few hundreds of thousands of pounds under rather than that it should be some millions of pounds over. I say that because once it gets to the stage of being some millions of pounds over you have these very messy redistributions of those sums and you have to try to adjudicate between the present contributors and existing beneficiaries as to how that surplus should be equitably distributed.
I would hope that in the long run the overall rate if interest should continue to decline rather than increase. I believe, as far as the community as a whole is concerned, that more people gain out of interest rates being low than are advantaged by interest rates being high. After all, the very people who look to the fund in isolation and say that it is a good thing that the average interest rate should be 5i per cent, are, perhaps, not very happy that in their working lives the interest on their mortgage payments may be 6) per cent, or 7 per cent, because the gilt edge rate is 5i per cent. Sometimes I do not think we give enough attention in the community to ascertaining, as between various financial commitments, whether, overall, you are advantaged by the interest rate being a low one rather than a high one. Probably those who are about to take out pensions regard it as a good thing that the interest rate has edged up progressively. I think a table was given in the quinquennial report which shows that the interest rate has edged up from about 3i per cent, in 1942, or thereabouts, to its present average rate of 5i per cent. That is a good thing for the Fund but it is doubtful, if you carry other calculations through in respect of the individuals affected, whether the benefit overall is nearly as great as we think
I think there are some other complaints that ought to be noted here al1 this stage. I think the Board, in one of its reports - I cannot say whether it is the current one or the previous one - suggested that in another 7 or 10 years the size of this fund would double. Progressively, the number of people contributing to it is rising by some 10,000 to 15,000 a year. I think that at the moment there are about 125,000 contributors. According to the latest report the estimated number of contributors at 30th June 1965 was 125,000 where as at 30th June 1963 the figure was 110,000. In two years there has been an increase of some 15,000 in the number of contributors and, of course, progressively more units are being taken out. The estimate is that in 7 to 10 years - without getting the proper reference I am not sure whether it is 7 or 10 years - or in a relatively short time the magnitude of this Fund will be doubled. At the moment, the holdings of the Fund are £130 million in round figures. The net accumulation each year over and above the previous year is approaching the order of £10 million.
So there is a fair task in front of the Board. The constitution of the Board is not very much different in 1965 to that which it had when the Fund was first set up, apparently some 43 years ago. Suggestions have been made that the Board should be reconstituted so as to provide for a wider representation of the interested parties in this Fund. The public servants take the view that the Fund is their fund and is, in that sense, a private fund. Public servants make certain contributions according to their salary ranges and, in anticipation, hope to receive a certain measurable pension at a certain age or on the occurrence of certain circumstances. The Government makes its contribution, as the employer, to that Fund. But the Fund itself, once the terms of participation are agreed upon, is, in the view of the public servant’s, their fund rather than a Treasury fund.
On the other hand, I can see that there are certain significant advantages to the Treasury that it should have at its disposal a quite substantial sum per annum which mainly has to be turned in the direction of gilt edge securities. The rather odd feature is that when one comes to examine the makeup of the investments of the Fund one finds that, preponderantly, the investments of this Commonwealth Superannuation Fund are not in Commonwealth securities; they are in local government securities. The reason for that of course is that local government securities yield an extra i per cent., approximately, over and above that of the Commonwealth security. There are certain people in the community who are advantaged by the Commonwealth bond rate and the fact that they get a rebate on taxation. But bodies such as the Commonwealth Superannuation Board, which is not subject to taxation, find that it is advantageous to get the 5i per cent, on the local government security rather than to take the lower rate of about 5 per cent. - and it has been that figure for some time now - on the Commonwealth security. It is a rather ironical circumstance, it seems to me, that a major part of the funds are in these State securities rather than in the Commonwealth securities. At 30th June 1965, out of total investments of near enough to £131 million, only £33 million were in Commonwealth Government securities and £85 million were held in semigovernment and local government authorities. That was because of the difference in interest rates. That simply shows the rather odd interplay that does occur when a concession is given for one reason and somebody takes advantage of it for an entirely different reason.
There have been suggestions, for instance, that the differential of i per cent, ought to be removed. One of the difficulties if it were removed would be that it would cause some problem as far as funds of this type are concerned. Taxation concessions would either have to be taken away from everybody or they would have to be made applicable to local government securities as well as to Commonwealth securities. That is just another point to note by the way.
Primarily, this Bill is not a general amendment to the Superannuation Act. As has been explained, it is primarily an attempt to distribute this surplus of £5,600,000 among those entitled to it. At the same time, the Treasurer has taken the opportunity to make one or two machinery amendments to the Act. I would like to draw his attention to one or two other suggestions I have had. I am not suggesting that he should include them in this Bill at this stage but at least the Opposition asks that he take note of them. One point that has been brought to our attention is that section 20 sub-section (7.) of the Superannuation Act allows a certain option to a public servant who has attained the age of 40 years. Apparently, prior to reaching this age, a public servant must take all the units consonant with his salary. As his salary rises, he becomes eligible to take more units and, up to the age of 40 years, he is expected to take all the units. Beyond the age of 40 years, he has an option. Many public servants complain that the years from, say, 40 to 55 are the most expensive years in their family life. If they were married when they were 25, 26 or 27 years of age, their children are receiving a secondary or tertiary education and every £1 or so a week is significant. There is a tendency therefore for contributors to neglect some units after reaching 40 years of age. However, when family obligations lessen in later years some public servants would be willing to take up neglected units. In the Superannuation Bill the Treasurer is giving public servants another opportunity to decide whether they will make an additional payment to provide their wives with a pension of five-eighths of the full pension instead of half in the event of the predecease of the husband, and the suggestion has been made that consideration should be given to renewing also the option to take additional units that have been foregone because the public servants concerned could not afford them. A unit from now on will cost less than it did previously.
Apparently a year or two ago the Government agreed to pay its share of the value of units to those contributors to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund who had not been able to afford to pay for additional units. The Commonwealth Government pays about £5 of every £7 that is distributed from the Fund. The payment by the Government of its share of units that have not been taken up is, therefore, quite a significant advantage to members of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. I have not had time to look into the pros and cons of this suggestion, but the request has been made that a similar concession be extended to contributors to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. That is another matter that we have been asked to bring to the attention of the Treasurer. Whilst I do not suggest at this stage that such an amendment should be or could be made to the Bill, we ask that the suggestion be considered. I think the relevant sections are sections 24 and 25 of the Superannuation Act.
I should like to raise one other matter. We will, to some extent, be looking at this when we deal with amendments to the income tax legislation in the next few days. If we are not careful, we will get into some difficulties as a community with private superannuation funds. I use the expression here in the same sense as public servants use it when they refer to their fund. When we take into account the number of people who contribute to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund, to local government funds and to what are called private superannuation funds, we are getting to a rather difficult situation in terms of the total community. I direct the attention of the House to some figures that are contained in “ Insurance and Other Private Finance, 1963-64, Bulletin No. 2 “, which is issued by the Commonwealth Statistician. At page 93, statistics are given showing government, local government and semi-governmental pension and superannuation schemes operated through separately constituted funds at 30th June 1963. According to these statistics, the assets of Commonwealth funds totalled £128 million, of New South Wales funds £131 million, of Victorian funds £93 million, of Queensland funds £18 million, of South Australian funds £20 million, of Western Australian funds £10 million, and of Tasmanian funds £7,500,000. The assets of all these funds totalled £408 million at 30th June 1963. At the same date, the Commonwealth funds, including the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund, had 166,000 contributors, the New South Wales funds 132,000, the Victorian funds 80,000, the Queensland funds 20,000, the South Australian funds 21,000, the Western Australian funds 14,000 and the Tasmanian funds 10,000. Contributors to all funds totalled 445,000. In addition, some 60,000 people were in receipt of pensions. In this group, 500,000 people are either beneficiaries or recipients of pensions through government funds.
At page 98, the document gives statistics relating to what are called private pension and retiring allowance schemes. The statistics show that at 30th June 1963 some 241,000 people were beneficiaries of schemes operated through life assurance offices and that 300,000 people were potential beneficiaries of superannuation, pension and retiring allowance funds. The total assets of these funds reached some £377 million. AH these various schemes - Commonwealth, local government, State government and private - have accumulated assets in the region of £800 million and the potential beneficiaries total some 1,000,000. This contrasts with the present total of some 600,000 recipients of age pensions. I would suggest that the circumstances in the days when superannuation funds were first set up were very much different from the circumstances of today, and I rather think that we have come to a stage in our economic life where some consideration should be given to the future of such institutional schemes. We should not do anything to alter the circumstances of those who are already contributors, because there is a certain contractual relationship between those who contribute and those who subsidise the schemes.
Let us consider the income from the age pension of a married man over 65 years of age and his wife over 60 years. The retiring age for those in Government employment is 65 years. A pensioner married couple can get something like £12 a week without any direct contribution by themselves. In superannuation funds there are two categories of people. There are some whose pension is not very much above that of a pensioner couple under the social services legislation plus what is described as the per.missable income. Contributors to superannuation funds who are in this position feel a certain sense of resentment because they are being asked the contribute - at least to the age of 40 contribution is compulsory in the Commonwealth Public Service - for certain units of superannuation when the only effect will be to deny them certain advantages under the social services legislation. At the other end of the scale in superannuation schemes there is the person who receives a substantial pension. Under the Commonwealth Superannuation scheme persons whose salary is more than £2,500 a year may receive a pension of more than £30 a week. Of that sum, five sevenths or more than £20 is actually contributed by the Commonwealth. So we can see that some people are really being subsidised by the Commonwealth to a greater degree than are age pensioners. Other contributors to superannuation funds are in the middle, and they are probably losers rather than gainers in the net result.
I suggest that all these matters are worthy of consideration in the future. Probably when the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund was established there was a different attitude to these matters. No doubt the idea then was, as the Commonwealth was quick to recognise, that there was some responsibility on the community in the years of a person’s decline to look after him if he had served the community in the years of his strength. Perhaps for this reason government superannuation funds were the first superannuation funds. But equally the attitude to the age pension has probably changed now. I know that there are still some people who regard it simply as a sort of charity payment to be bestowed when necessary and to be avoided whenever possible. But more and more people, by force of the very circumstances of economic life, with the intrusion of inflation and other factors, are inevitably being forced to depend on payment of the age pension at 65. However there are some more fortunate groups in the community, especially at high levels in government service, who receive superannuation based on a government contribution that is often much more than many other people earned for a full week’s wage. There is also the mix-up concerning superannuation funds under the tax laws. Some people are subsidised by the allowance of deductions to enable them to receive on retirement a higher payment either from a private fund or from a annuity purchased from an insurance company. In my view, these things are getting very greatly mixed up and investment funds of considerable magnitude are involved!
It seems doubtful whether the present constitution of the Commonwealth Superannuation Board is adequate to enable it to look after the needs of all the classes of contributors to the Superannuation Fund. The principal Act provides for a quinquennial investigation of the Fund in this instance but who is to say whether or not many of the private funds are in surplus and who is to determine just what is their position with respect to the contributors? Recently we have witnessed the unfortunate experience of one superannuation fund which thought it was clever when it bought debentures in Reid Murray Holdings Ltd. and which lived to rue the day. We have also seen recently the predicament of an insurance company that has strayed into the investment field of a hire purchase company with unfortunate results. Who is to act as custodian, as it were, of the rights of the half million or so people whose interests are involved in superannuation funds? The figure is rising rapidly every year. These days a substantial part of total life assurance business is bound up with superannuation funds. I have not time to go into all that this afternoon, but honorable members who are interested will find the figures in this publication by the Commonwealth Statistician, “Insurance and Other Private Finance 1963-64”, which I mentioned earlier.
We are getting to a stage at which we have accumulated resources totalling about £800 million in superannuation funds. Contributions each year are probably of the order of £30 to £40 million and annual distributions something like £15 million to £20 million. So more than £20 million a year is available for investment, not to mention the reinvestment of part of the £800 million or so of accumulated funds that occurs periodically. Are not these matters of some significance to the overall activity of the economy?
Then there is another point. Is it not time that we began to sift through the interrelationship of the various factors involved? There must be points of contact in a community, whether they arise out of gratitude or out of grudge, according to whether one is a pensioner or a person who is denied a social services pension by the operation of the means test. I am not one who favours the abolition of the means test until the basic pension is first made adequate for those who have nothing else to sustain them. But I believe that in the fairly near future the Government should consider undertaking a comprehensive investigation of these matters. The Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act is at present cluttered up with about 30 or 40 pages of provisions related to attempts by some people to get deductions to which they believe they are entitled and attempts by the Commissioner of Taxation to deny these deductions because he believes that the claimants are exceeding the spirit of the law. The whole thing is becoming top heavy and in many respects incomprehensible to the ordinary person in the community. This situation affects in all something like one million present and potential beneficiaries. Indeed, when one takes into account the fact that a fair proportion of these are probably married men the total number of persons affected is probably about double that number. In addition, there are nearly 700,000 people who at present receive age and invalid pensions. So a fairly substantial proportion of the entire population - between one quarter and one fifth - is affected. In my view the magnitude of the problem is too great to allow it to be regarded in the haphazard way in which it has been regarded so far.
I conclude by expressing the hope that the distribution from the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund now proposed will be made effective as soon as possible. I also ask the Treasurer to note the few amendments that we believe should be made to the Superannuation Act at a later stage. I do not suggest that they be made now but I propose them for consideration later so that some people may be relieved of what they regard as the burden of injustices and anomalies. The Treasurer, in the light of the circumstances that exist now and the likely growth of the Superannuation Fund, for which he has direct responsibility, ought to consider reconstituting the Superannuation Board so as to make it more representative of the contributors to the Fund and perhaps give it wider powers than apparently it has at present to consult with the Treasury.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Wentworth) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 11th November (vide page 2638), on motion by Sir Robert Menzies -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition welcomes the decision of the Government to submit these two referendum proposals to the people of Australia for their consideration and, we earnestly hope, for their approval. We regard it as vitally important to the well-being of the people and the welfare of the nation and the health of democracy that they should be carried. On their merits they deserve overwhelming endorsement. The first Bill, now before us, seeks an alteration of section 24 of the Constitution which states that the number of members of the House of Representatives shall be as nearly as practicable twice the number of Senators. The second Bill proposes an elimination of section 127 of the Constitution which provides that in reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory, Aborigines shall not be counted when the census is taken. I shall deal with this second Bill at the appropriate time.
The proposal to break the nexus between the size of the House of Representatives and the size of the Senate, though simple in Its purpose, is rather complex in the explanation that has to be given in its favour. Unfortunately, certain people have already seized upon those complexities to confuse the public about what is really intended. It would be a tragedy if these politically motivated attempts to confuse were successful. For the choice before the people is simply this: If we do not make this change now our hopes of bequeathing to the next generation a Parliament that is both workable and truly representative will be dashed to the ground. One tiny political group - the only group represented in this Parliament opposing this measure - has already declared what its tactics in the forthcoming referendum campaign will be. It proposes falsely to depict this proposal as an attempt to gain power for an unlimited increase in the number of Parliamentarians, and it hopes to play upon that irrational and, indeed, basically anti-democratic ill-will that regrettably and absurdly exists in some sections of this community. Let it be said at the outset: Far from extending the powers of this Parliament to increase its own size, this proposal places a limitation on those powers, where no limitation at present exists or has ever existed.
Constitutionally, we can enlarge the membership of this House indefinitely and at will. The Constitution imposes no restrictions on our numbers; but in its present form it does force us to increase the number of senators in the ratio of one to two, every time we increase the numbers in this House. Under the proposal now before us, that burdensome necessity would be ended. But the proposal in the Bill goes further. It proposes that for the first time in our history there shall be a restriction placed on the size of the House of Representatives, by establishing that there will be not less than 80,000 people for each seat. I stress the words “ not less than “. It could, at the discretion of the Parliament, be raised to 85,000 or even higher, but it could never be lower than 80,000 people - 80,000 men, women and children, natural born, naturalised, unnaturalized and aborigines. At present there is no such restriction. Let me emphasise and reemphasise that there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent us from deciding that there shall be one seat for every 30 or 40 or 50 thousand people, or whichever figure we might choose. As long as we also simultaneously and proportionately increase the Senate we can make this House as large as we like. I do not think anybody wishes to do that. If this proposal is carried, we shall not be able to do it.
Let me ask this simple question: Does anyone in his senses believe that as the population of this country grows - and it will grow at an increasing rate - there will never be an increase in the size of this Parliament? The population has already increased by 4 million in 17 years from 7i million at the end of World War II to Hi million today. It will grow by at least another 6 million in the next 16 years because the base on which it will grow is larger. It is obvious that there will be and must be an increase if this Parliament is to work and if the people of Australia are to be served adequately in a democratic way. But unless the nexus is broken, this necessary and inevitable increase can be achieved only at the price of a great increase in the number of senators.
It is not those who support this proposal who want an extravagant increase in the number of Parliamentarians; it is, rather those who oppose it who would commit Australia in the quite near future to an excessive, extravagant and unwanted increase of both senators and members of the House of Representatives. This is the inescapable consequence of the opposition of the people to whom I have referred, if their opposition is successful. Fortunately, I believe it will not be successful.
In his second reading speech, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) showed beyond a doubt that section 24 as it now exists imposes a ruthless arithmetic upon us. I do not propose to repeat his lucid demonstration of how the existing requirement of the Constitution, the need for order and stability in Government and practical political considerations operate together to impose on us an inescapable dilemma. I can only say that nobody can deny the conclusion he reached, and it is this: Under the existing Constitution, either the Parliament must be increased by a total of 68 members - 44 members of this House and 24 senators - or it will never be increased at all. This is not a matter of opinion and it is not a matter for argument. It is an incontrovertible fact about the operation of section 24 as it now stands.
Those who oppose the breaking of the nexus are therefore committed to one of two courses. Either they say that there shall never be, at any time in the future of this nation, no matter how large the population of Australia grows, no matter how onerous and complicated the duties and responsibilities of the National Parliament may become, there shall never be any increase whatsoever in the size of the National Parliament. Or, alternatively, they are committed to the proposition that the House of Representatives should be increased by 48 members and the Senate should be increased by 24 members. And who wants either of those things to happen? But if the people do not approve this recommendation, that is precisely, certainly, inevitably, inescapably, inexorably what must and will happen.
This Bill proposes to implement one of the recommendations of the Joint Committee of Constitutional review in its Report to both Houses of Parliament in 1959. We on this side of the House regret that all the recommendations of this invaluable report have been so far ignored by the Government. We welcome the Government’s decision to try to implement at least two of its recommendations and this Bill gives effect to one of them.
The Joint Committee’s report pointed out that, at the time of Federation, the first House of Representatives of 75 members provided one member for every 50,000 persons. Despite the increase in the size of the House of Representatives to 122 members in 1948, because of Australia’s rapidly expanding population the figure in 1965 is now 120,000 people for every member. By comparison, the House of Commons in Britain contains one member for every 81,000 persons, and for the House of Commons in Canada, which has a Federal system comparable to ours, the figure is one member for every 64,000 persons.
I find it hard to understand the argument that in fixing the desirable number of members of this House, we should take into consideration the existence of large numbers of State members of Parliament. This argument, at its shallowest, usually takes the form of adding up the members of the six Legislative Assemblies and the five Legislative Councils in the States, adding to that figure the number of members of the House of Representatives and the number of senators, comparing this admittedly hefty figure with the size of the House of Commons and then using this comparison as proof “that we have too many politicians “ - the expression generally used.
Of course the analogy is completely false. If the comparison is to be made at all, then the councillors of the very large cities of Great Britain should certainly be added to the number of members of the House of Commons. The London County Council for instance, presides over a population equal to that of Australia and administers budgetary expenditure much greater than that of any of our largest States - possibly as great is that of New South Wales and Victoria combined. But in any case this numbers game is quite irrelevant.
The responsibilities of members of this House are not only far greater, more complex and more important than those of State Members of Parliament but they are duties and responsibilities of a totally different order.
Even on the narrowest considerations of the time and detail involved in a member’s work, the most time-consuming matters of all, those in the fields of postal and cutoms services, of social services, repatriation, health benefits, taxation and immigration, are almost entirely Federal matters. And a significant thing is that there is no constitutional limitation on the size of any of the State Parliaments, as we propose to impose on ourselves. Was not the size of the Victorian Parliament recently increased by nine members? Nobody seems to have objected to that.
The other argument used against this proposal is that of State rights, so-called. To the extent that the Senate can in any meaningful sense be said to be the House of the States, those rights are in no way impaired by this proposal. The rights of the States as distinct from the rights of the nation - in so far as that distinction has any meaning - are guaranteed by equality of representation in the Senate. This guarantee is fully maintained in this proposal.
The Constitutional Review Committee went very thoroughly into this question. I can say this because I was a member of it and I enjoyed the company, opinions and confidence of all my fellow members on both sides of that Committee. It proved what we all know to be a fact - that the Senate has never operated as a States’
House, lt has divided, as we ourselves have divided, on party lines and never on State lines. The party system has made this inevitable as the most prescient of the framers of the Constitution foresaw. This was not only inevitable but, to my mind, it was eminently desirable, for nothing has done more to give this nation a truly national conscience and to weld it into a true political entity than the operation of the party system. In any case, the practice does not differ from what happens in the United States, where the Senate and House of Representatives, combining to form the American Congress, operate in the interests of the American people. The United States Senate is also supposed to be a State House. It never has been a State House.
It has been suggested that in some way the smaller States would suffer if the size of the House of Representatives were increased without a counter balancing increase in the size of the Senate. But in fact the smaller States stand to suffer only if the size of the House of Representatives is not increased, for if that occurs they will certainly lose representation. The abortive redistribution plan of 1962 illustrated this quite clearly. Under that redistribution, Western Australia and Queensland would each have lost a seat. And why was this? Because the smaller States, even if their population is increasing, are not growing at the same rate as the larger States. This is a trend which is unlikely to be reversed in the foreseeable future, much as I, for one, would like to see that happen. We would all wish to see this trend reversed, but it is a fact that the fastest rate of growth of population will continue to take place in our already most populous and overpopulated areas.
Each State is guaranteed no less than five members in the House of Representatives, and if the size of the House of Representatives is not increased, future redistributions will inevitably give more seats to the larger, more populous, and more rapidly growing States than to the smaller States. Unless we are able to increase the number of members of the House of Representatives, then the representation of the smaller States in this chamber will decline both absolutely and proportionately.
We have heard in recent weeks, mounting criticism, and we must be aware of growing uneasiness both inside and outside this Parliament, concerning the dominance cf the Executive over the Parliament. I myself have canvassed this matter fairly widely in Parliament and by articles I have contributed to the Press. I have pointed out that unless some reforms are made now then revolutionary changes may be necessary in the future. Whatever might be said for or against other systems, it is certain that the size of the Parliament is directly relevant to the relationship between the Parliament on the one hand, and the Executive on the other. Under our system the Executive is part of Parliament, and is composed of members of Parliament.
It is inevitable that, with the widening of the powers and responsibilities of this national Parliament, the size of the Ministry must be increased. But a large Ministry swamps a small Parliament. Not only must the Parliament be of reasonable size to produce a sufficient number of men of sufficient ability to discharge the complex tasks of executive responsibility, but the non-ministerial remainder must be large enough not to be over-awed or controlled by the Ministry.
One-sixth of the members of this House are Ministers, but what is more relevant to this particular argument, nearly one-third of Government members are Ministers. Quite probably at least half the remainder aspire to be Ministers. This is not to say that they should be Ministers; I only say in this context that a large proportion of Government private members have healthy ambitions and aspirations to ministerial status. I am looking at a few of them now. But in a small Parliament like this, this has the effect of producing what I might describe as a ministerial psychology. The remnant of those who are neither Ministers nor aspiring to become Ministers is too small to provide, within the Government ranks, a vigorous, critical and competent check upon the Ministry.
For all these reasons the proposal contained in this Bill deserves the support of the people of Australia if they believe, as I think they do, that democracy must be preserved and that it can be preserved only by means of an effective Parliament. This is a proposal to make Parliament more effective. It is a proposal to secure adequate representation of the people in this Parliament. It adds guarantees against the abuse of the powers of Parliament which do not at present exist. It is an economical measure because it prevents an extravagant and unwanted increase in the numbers of members. It provides the only way that the representation of the smaller States can be secured.
In fulfilment of the undertakings that the Australian Labour Party has repeatedly given in this Parliament, and in its written policy statements, we pledge ourselves to its support. It is a proud moment in my life when I can join in a bipartisan approach to this question. Only once, and that was in the Communist Party dissolution referendum, have I voted against a referendum to change the Constitution regardless of the political colour of the Government that submitted each of the referendums since I first had a vote in 1917. I must qualify that statement, because I voted against the second conscription referendum in 1917. 1 commend the Bill to the Parliament. I commend it to all supporters of the Australian Labour Party and I commend it most earnestly to all the people of Australia.
.- I hope I can be excused for saying that I was fascinated with the historical reminiscences of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) when he informed the House that save in one or two instances he has supported every referendum held in Australia. The fact is that there have been 24 referendums held in Australia and only four have been carried. I think that the House and the country should take into account the fact that although the referendum proposal has the complete support of all members of the House of Representatives, that does not of necessity ensure its success, although I am bound to say that for my part I warmly hope that this referendum will be successful.
– This is the first referendum supported by both major parties.
– No, this is not true. There was a referendum on the question of air navigation in 1937. All of the major political parties supported that referendum proposal, but it was not carried. Two States carried it and although there was an overall Commonwealth majority of 255,000 the result did not meet with all of the requirements of the Constitution. The referendum proposal in this Bill most deservedly should pass on its sheer merits - whether they are spelt out in terms of the logic of our circumstance or whether they are spelt out having relation to the tremendous change that has taken place between the two Houses of the Parliament since Federation.
One of the fictions which no doubt will be employed in the discussion throughout the country on the referendum proposal will be that there was a steady unanimity of opinion at the time of the founding of Federation concerning proposed section 24 of the Constitution dealing with the relationship between the two Houses. It will be said that the founders of the Federation were of the opinion that the House of Representatives should as nearly as practicable have twice the numbers of the Senate, and that this has been maintained since then. This is simply not the case at all. It is not true. There was a tremendous division of opinion in the Federation discussions on this particular section. We find, for example, that in the draft Constitution Bill of 1891 there was a proposal that there should be a member of the House of Representatives for every 50,000 people in Australia, and that in addition to that there should be virtually an automatic increase of one member for every 30,000 increase in the population.
In 1897 when the proposed Constitution was debated in a convention held in Adelaide, one of the members of the Constitution Convention, Mr. O’Connor, pointed out that on the present rate of increase in Australia, by 1941 if the proposed draft of 1891 were adopted, there would be no fewer than 446 members in the House of Representatives. The proposal was scotched. So as far back as 1891 there was not any unanimity of opinion at all. When we come to the 1897 convention we find that this very section was earnestly debated by none other than Mr. McMillan and the then Mr. Deakin, later Sir Alfred Deakin.
– Deakin never took a title, and he never became a Privy Councillor.
– I am indebted to the Leader of the Opposition. That is the second debt of gratitude the Leader of the Opposition wrings from me on a point of history. Mr. McMillan, speaking on this particular proposed section, had this to say - 1 am rather inclined to believe now that this hard and fast rule of having double the number in the House of Representatives as in the Senate may lead to considerable inconvenience in the future.
I think that he was quite prophetic. Mr. Deakin observed -
None of us can forecast exactly what will take place in the future, but we can foresee that great changes must occur. Why, then, should we endeavour to forestall those changes and not allow the Federal Parliament to adjust itself to altered circumstances? Why should the chamber-
There he was referring to the Senate - not be free to refuse an increase if it does not want it.
The argument that prevailed at the time - and this concerned one of the essential elements of Federation - was that the position of the States would be put in jeopardy. I join with the Leader of the Opposition in asking the question: Can any person seriously contend today that the Senate is a States Houses? There is very little evidence of that at all. The original role of the Senate has in fact changed completely in the 65 years since Federation. The centripetal forces that have been at work within the Federal system have brought more and more power to Canberra. The role of the Senate, as originally conceived back in the days of the Federation debate, has completely gone. If there was any validity at all in the arguments put forward at the Constitutional Convention debates of the 1890’s, I submit with respect that that validity has completely gone today. I am not reflecting on the Senate. Indeed, one could with relish join the exhortation of Alcibiades in “ Timon of Athens “ -
Honour, health and compassion to the senate.
But in terms of the nexus, the link between this House and the Senate, one could, I believe, adopt the language of Pericles -
Who shuns not to break one will sure crack both.
Surely the arithmetic of the nexus between the two chambers must commend itself to the people. If we allow the present position to remain there is no inhibition at all for this Parliament to raise the House to a completely absurd number, and consequently the Senate would have to be raised to a number as nearly as practicable half that of the House. This is something that the people of Australia would not tolerate at all. I believe that if we fail to crack the nexus between the Senate and the House of Representatives we will put both Houses very much in jeopardy in terms of public esteem. What about the arithmetic? I do not want to delay the House very long on this matter. If the Senate were to be increased by two representatives for each of the States, that would mean an increase of 12 senators. I am not arguing the meticulousness of the figures I am giving, I am just giving them as illustrations. If the Senate were to be increased by two from each State that would mean there would have to be an increase of the numbers in this House by twenty-four. If there were three extra senators from each State it would mean an increase of thirty-six in the numbers of the House of Representatives. An extra four senators from each State would mean an increase of forty-eight in the House of Representatives. So one comes to quite absurd conclusions.
The major point that I refer to is the anxiety genuinely held by many people in the matter of new States. The Leader of the Opposition has pointed out that there is a notion that this referendum will strike across the concept of State rights. This is not the case, as is dramatically illustrated in a consideration of the position of new States. I do not suppose the doctrine of new States commends itself to all honorable members, principally because of the tremendous change that has occurred in the Federal system of government. Until such time as there is a clearer relationship between power and responsibility and until the financial relationship of the States vis-a-vis the Commonwealth is put on a new basis, the prospect of having new States is not very real.
I direct the attention of honorable members to what would be the position of new States. If new States are created they cannot claim as of right any representation either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives. The wording of the relevant section deserves to be examined. It is -
The Parliament may admit to the Commonwealth or establish new States, and may upon such admission or establishment make or impose such terms and conditions, including the extent of representation in either House of the Parliament, as it thinks fit.
Many supporters of the new State movement take the view that because each State in Australia today has 10 senators, if a new State of New England or North Queensland were created it automatically would have 10 senators. This is not so. If section 24 remains undisturbed the position of the new State movement is made very difficult because section 7 provides -
Until the Parliament otherwise provides there shall be six senators for each Original State.
Well, the six original States now have 10 senators each. The section continues -
The Parliament may make laws increasing or diminishing the number of senators for each State, but so that equal representation of the several Original States shall be maintained and that no Original State shall have less than six members.
SO, no matter what you did about the numbers coming into the Senate from the States, you must maintain equal representation of the six original States. So if the ratio of two to one is to be maintained I submit for the consideration of those who support the new State movement that their prospects of getting senators from their States would be very remote. This is to be readily illustrated by taking the notional figures and applying them to the proposed new States of New England and North Queensland. If one takes a notional figure of two from each of those States it would mean a membership of the Senate of 64, and so membership of the House of Representatives would have to be increased to 128. If, on the other hand, each of the new States sent 10 senators into the
Senate it would mean that the Senate would increase in numbers to 80 and the House of Representatives would have to be increased to 160. So the prospect of State rights being carried forward in any new State movement in terms of the practicalities of the Constitution would seem to me to be very remote.
One of the commendable features of this proposal is that it gives a sense of reality to the new State movement. I say, with great respect to all those who have supported the movement in the past, that it has had a strange sense of unreality about it in terms of representation in the Senate. The absurd position would have been reached where the six original States would have had the same number of senators as they have now but, due to the sheer arithmetic postulated by the Constitution, new States would have been faced with the likelihood of having no representation at all. I commend the Bill. I hope that the proposal will be warmly supported throughout the country. This is one referendum which most deservedly should pass.
.- The object of this Bill, as stated by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), is to make possible better representation in this place. I think we should consider what constitutes better representation. Will an increase in the number of members in this House add to the liberty of the individual in the community? Will it serve to enhance the security and prosperity of Australia? Or will it, as the Prime Minister himself hinted, simply serve to reduce the work load on members of Parliament? I do not believe that the Bill will achieve any of these ends. It is quite well established that Parliament can be maintained effectively in a country where an intelligent vote is cast by the electors. This occurs only in conditions where the processes of Parliament are understood by the people and where those processes actually enter into the day to day lives of the people. So I do not believe that merely increasing the number of members of this House will add to the liberty of the individual in Australia.
So far as increasing our prosperity and national security is concerned, I find that the Bill does not add to our present situation. Our population is concentrated in the capital cities of the States, and predominantly in Sydney and Melbourne. The effect of this Bill would be to allow a greater representation to be provided by those capital cities. Since Australia is growing rapidly, a greater representation from the cities would not serve the cause of decentralisation; it would not serve to bring about further centres of growth in the community. In fact, it would inhibit the establishment of further centres of growth in this vast continent. Nor do I agree that the provisions of the Bill would reduce the work load of members of Parliament. Anyone who is prepared to look at the situation fairly knows that a member who serves an electorate that is large in terms of numbers has less work to do than has a member who serves an electorate that is large in terms of area. People in the widely scattered areas are more sensitive to the presence or absence of their parliamentary representative than are people who live in dense congregations. This is an observable fact that may be verified by anyone. Merely increasing the number of members from our swollen cities will not serve to alleviate one iota the present burden of work on members of this House.
Is there anything good that can be said about this Bill? I believe there is. This. Bill brings to notice for the first time in many years the needs of Parliament; and the type of parliament the public needs at this stage in Australia’s progress. I hope that when this Bill and the wider subject of the Parliament itself are considered, members of the public will appreciate what I have just been saying. I hope that the people will appreciate that we must have new centres of growth in the Commonwealth if we are to make a great and glorious Australia. We will have these new centres of growth only if we have new States. So we should do nothing in the Commonwealth sphere to inhibit or prejudice the establishment of new States. In fact, since we are parliamentarians and vitally concerned with the success and welfare of the parliamentary process, we should do everything we can to encourage the establishment of new States.
It is - and here I agree with the Government - a matter primarily for the States to hold referendums to test public opinion as to the desirability of new States. At the same time it is up to us to do what we can to welcome their establishment and facilitate their admission into the Federation. It is only through new States, I repeat, that we will achieve true decentralisation, lead industry away from the concentrated areas in which it is located at present, and establish new centres of growth. I trust that in all the public discussions that will follow the passage of this Bill - I am sure it will be passed - people will realise that the true wish of every Australian who believes in the development of this continent and who believes that this heritage we have should be passed on to our children in a better shape than that in which we found it, will be fulfilled only if we are game enough and prepared to get away from the original settlements of Sydney and Melbourne and the other capitals and establish new capital cities for new States in this Commonwealth.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill rend a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr. Snedden) proposed -
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– As this is a Bill to amend the Constitution, the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution must be observed. I therefore direct that the division bells be rung. (The bells having been rung) -
– The question is, “ That the Bill be now read a third time”. As there is no dissentient voice, I declare in favour of the “Ayes”. A division has not been called for, but it is desirable that the names of those members present and agreeing to the third reading should be recorded. I therefore appoint the honorable members for Phillip (Mr. Aston) and Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) tellers. (The following names were then recorded.) (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Sir John McLeay.)
– Order! As 108 members have agreed to the third reading I certify that the third reading has been agreed to by an absolute majority as required by the Constitution.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 11th November (vide page 2640), on motion by Sir Robert Menzies -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– As I have already indicated, the Opposition supports this Bill, which is a proposal to repeal section 127 of the Constitution. We will support its passage through Parliament, and we will support its adoption by the people. As the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) has said, section 127, which prevents the Aborigines being counted among Australian citizens in census taking, is completely foreign to our concept of right and dignity. It is foreign to our aims for our nation and for the Aboriginal section of our population, which forms one inalienable part of the nation. It is unfortunate that such a provision was ever placed in the Constitution. Even the undoubted difficulties involved in taking a proper census among Aborigines that existed at the beginning of the century did not, 1 think, provide an adequate justification for its adoption then nor would they provide an adequate justification for its retention in 1965. But there is no point in applying retrospective judgments. We should not want to make judgments on the past, because we will be judged by history on our own actions and on our own standards. We must therefore act now to remove this blot from the Constitution.
I cannot conceive that this proposal will not be most welcome and will not receive the nearly unanimous endorsement of the Australian people. In his second reading speech the Prime Minister explained why, in his view, the proposal should not be extended to deal with section 51 (xxvi) which prevents the Commonwealth Parliament from passing special laws for Aborigines. This part of the Prime Minister’s speech was, of course, what I might call its negative part; not in the sense that his arguments were not constructive but in the sense that he was explaining what the Government did not intend to do and not something that it proposed to do. The Opposition, as a party, does not find itself in complete agreement with the Prime Minister’s reasoning. As I understood the right honorable gentleman, he believes that to give this Parliament a specific power to legislate for Aborigines would itself be a form of discrimination. There may be a literal and legal sense in which this is true: I cannot see that it is true in any real or practical sense.
The statute books are full of special legislation. The repatriation legislation represents a class of special legislation in itself.
Section 51 (xxiii.) of the Constitution gives us power respecting age and invalid pensions, and surely this cannot in any realistic sense be described as discriminatory. Nor should the practical difficulties mentioned by the Prime Minister be regarded as a final, all-compelling argument against alteration of this section. After all, it should not be beyond our powers of ingenuity to devise a satisfactory form of words to cover all exigencies and to meet all objections. However, the Government has decided against what we would have wished to have seen submitted in this Bill in respect of section 51 (xxvi.). That decision, when we recollect the enormous difficulties in the way of securing acceptance of any constitutional change in this country, is, unfortunately, a more forceful argument than the best reasons that eloquence or intelligence can provide.
I regret that the Government has not seen its way clear to act on many other recommendations contained in the report of the Constitutional Review Committee, but now that at least two proposals are to go before the people, and now that we have achieved the near miracle of agreement between all the important parties on the constitutional question, it is important that our differences on other questions should not obscure our unanimity on the questions actually before us. I wish the Bill a speedy passage through the Parliament. I do not believe, nor does any other member of this Parliament believe, that one Australian worthy of the name will deliberately vote against this proposal to recognise Aborigines as what they are, and for what they are - Australian citizens who should be counted as Australians.
– I find I have no substantial difference of opinion either with what the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) said in introducing this Bill or with what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) said in supporting it. I think that in this case, as the Leader of the Opposition said, there will scarcely be an Australian who will vote against the provisions of the Bill when it goes to a referendum. Nevertheless I am not entirely sharing his pessimism about the possibility of getting a little bit more included in the measure now before the House when it goes to that referendum. I agree with him that if the
Government sets its face against anything further being done, then it will not be practicable to put it forward at a referendum, because a referendum is unlikely to be carried unless it has the support of both Government and Opposition.
One would not wish to disturb the unanimity of that present support. But it still may be that the Government may see fit, itself, to go a little further so that something a little more than this could still be put before the Australian people with some prospect of success because it would be supported on both sides - supported both by the very great personal prestige of the Prime Minister and by the sincerity and eloquence of the Leader of the Opposition. In this case I think one must acknowledge both of these.
I do not think that in intention and, indeed, in substance, there is very much difference between the Opposition and the Government. This proposal that is before us is designed to remove an anachronism from the Constitution. Section 127 is, in point of fact, an anachronism. At the time it was inserted in the Constitution it might have been justified, perhaps, on the ground that the Aboriginals of those days - 65 years ago - were hard to enumerate because some of them were still living under tribal conditions. They could not be adequately counted in the census because no census could adequately count them. This state of affairs has now gone. There are very few Aboriginals still living under nomadic conditions. There is practically none for the purposes of practical census taking. So the physical difficulty of enumeration, which was a formidable difficulty 65 years ago, no longer exists. This section, as I have said, is an anachronism in the Constitution. It may well have been that in those early days there were feelings between the States, and when our own white population was smaller it may have been felt that the balance of Aboriginal population was big enough significantly to have affected the relative positions of the various States. In those days I would think that South Australia, which embraced what is now the Northern Territory, would have had the largest Aboriginal population. Western Australia and Queensland would have had a considerable Aboriginal population. So in those days it may well have been thought that to have counted in the Aboriginals might have imperilled the passing of the original foundation constitution and the referendum which established the Commonwealth of Australia. We can sympathise with these old difficulties but let us realise that they are gone.
But does the taking away of this section 127 go far enough? I do not think it does. The arguments advanced by the Prime Minister in relation to this in his second reading speech might be traversed again by the House. At the present moment, there is another anachronism in the Australian Constitution, namely section 51 placitum (xxvi.). Section 51 is the main empowering section in the Constitution. It sets out the fields in which the Commonwealth has not exclusive but concurrent powers with the States with, of course, the proviso that where the laws are in conflict the Commonwealth law prevails. Section 51 placitum (xxvi.) gives the Commonwealth power to make special laws for ‘the people of any race other than the Aboriginal race. I put it to the House that this whole clause is an anachronism. It has never been used in any way at all. We have not made special racial laws in Australia for any race. It may have been thought originally - and I suppose this kind of thing goes back in the decade even before the Commonwealth was formally established - that a power would be needed to make laws for the Kanakas in Queensland or the Chinese on the gold fields, or something of that character. In those days racial distinctions, unhappily, were greater than they are today. So surely the idea of a racial distinction inside our Commonwealth of Australia is now an anachronism - another anachronism. We have never been called upon to operate any power under this section. It is never likely that we will be called upon to do so. Nor, indeed, is it right and proper that we should preserve this power.
Would it not be better - and the Prime Minister canvassed this in his second reading speech, as honorable members will recall - to excise the whole of section 51 placitum (xxvi.)? I do not think that this would meet the case because if we did that we would reach a position in which the States themselves would have this power to make special laws. Honorable members do not always remember that the powers which the
F.1J691/65.- R.- [Ill]
Commonwealth does not have still reside in the hands of the sovereign States. So if we simply excised section 51 placitum (xxvi.) then the power to make discriminatory laws on a racial basis would remain in State hands and I do not think that this is something honorable members would want to happen. But more than that, if we simply excised this part of section 51 we would not gain any Commonwealth authority in regard to Aboriginal affairs other than in the Territories of the Commonwealth. The whole responsibility and burden of the Aboriginal situation would be thrown into the lap of the States. Therefore to take out the whole of section 51 placitum (xxvi.) would not meet the situation - not if we did this, and this only.
What about another suggestion? Suppose we took from placitum (xxvi) the words * other than the aboriginal race “ so that the Commonwealth would have power to make special discriminatory laws in regard to all races including the Aboriginal race? Here I think that the Prime Minister’s argument, advanced in his second reading speech, was unanswerable. To do this would not be to reduce the area of discrimination; it would be to enlarge it. I do not think that there is place for this racial discrimination inside Australia, whether it be in relation to the Aboriginal people or anybody else. Therefore it is not enough, I think, simply to take out these words because - and I put another argument - even if this were done the powers under section 51 are concurrent .and not exclusive powers, so that the States would still themselves maintain the power to make discriminatory laws. So far, I have been negative. I want to advance some positive suggestions in regard to this matter.
Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting, I supported the Bill before the House, but suggested that it could be improved by going a little further. I made the point that the present position, even if this new provision were carried, would be unsatisfactory because it would still leave the Commonwealth with no specific powers in regard to the Aboriginal question, which, although not exclusively a Commonwealth question, must have vast implication for the Commonwealth. I said also that the Constitution would not then protect Aborigines against discrimination; indeed, the States would retain their present power of discrimination.
My second point was that it was unsatisfactory merely to take out from paragraph (xxvi.) the words “other than the Aboriginal race”. If this were done, the State power of discrimination would still remain, because the powers in section 51 are concurrent and not exclusive. In addition, the principle of racial discrimination would not only be left in our Constitution, but, as the Prime Minister very rightly pointed out, it would be enlarged by bringing Aboriginals within the framework of that discrimination.
The third point I made was that it would be unsatisfactory just to take out the whole of paragraph (xxvi.), because that would leave the Commonwealth still without any specific powers in regard to Aboriginals and would still leave the State powers of discrimination completely unfettered. It is for that reason that I have brought forward a specific proposal.
My proposal is in two parts. The first part is to take out the whole of paragraph (xxvi.) from section 51 - racial discrimination inside Australia has no part, I think, in our national outlook - and replace it with a simple power over the advancement of the Aboriginal natives of the Commonwealth of Australia. The second part is that we add a new section to the Constitution, I think appropriately after section 117-
– Order! I think the honorable member is getting a little wide of the Bill now. This sounds like a subject for Committee debate.
- Sir, if you will bear with me a moment, I will quote my proposed new section and indicate a course that I think will be within your ruling. The suggestion I make is that we add this new section -
Neither the Commonwealth nor any State shall make or maintain any law which subjects any person who has been born or naturalised within the Commonwealth of Australia to any discrimination or disability within the Commonwealth by reason of his racial origin:
Provided that this section shall not operate so as to preclude the making of laws for the special benefit of the aboriginal natives of the Commonwealth of Australia.
This drafting, I acknowledge with gratitude, has been seen and vetted by some constitutional lawyers. I have had some help from the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowen). I think the provision I have suggested is free from the objections that might be raised in this matter. Let me point out that, under the proposal I have made, adequate power will remain with the Commonwealth, including the immigration power. My proposal would establish Australia as a non-racial society, in which we believe. It would give the Commonwealth adequate power, not necessarily exclusive power, to help the Aborigines and would prevent any discriminatory laws against them.
I have been told, and I am afraid that it is advice that I must follow, that my proposed amendment would be out of order because it is not technically within the title of the Bill. The Bill is drawn with a very narrow title. I have been advised, and I think the advice given to me is correct, that the amendment I have suggested is out of order. The proposal I make, therefore, is that, in place of pressing this amendment in Committee, I shall later this week submit a private member’s bill to this House with these identical proposals in it for the amendment of the Constitution. If that bill is dealt with and approved by the House before 28th March next, it will go forward to the referendum of the people that will be held on 28th May. The time from now until 28th March will permit the adequate ventilation outside the House and inside it of the points at issue.
In a constitutional matter, the House does not have the final power to vote. The final power to vote on a constitutional issue lies outside the House and with the electorate. We only formulate the proposals which, in their wisdom, the electors either approve or disapprove. If during the time between now and 28th March it should become apparent that there is in the electorate any substantial feeling for the proposals that I have put forward, I have no doubt that the Government will see fit to allow them to be passed through the House before the critical date of 28th March.
I sympathise very much with the practical objections that no doubt have lain in the Prime Minister’s mind about the possibility of going too far with these constitutional amendments and therefore putting himself in a position where the whole may be turned down. I can understand that he wants to keep this as simple as possible and therefore it may not be a bad idea if on 28th May we were to put before the people not two questions but three. This would not prejudice anything that the Prime Minister has in mind at present. It might even help him, because there are some critics - they are the only critics of the legislation before us now - who are affronted because, in their view, it does not quite do enough. They believe it is good, but it does not go far enough. If, between now and 28th March, these people can make their voices heard, they will be able to assure the Government that it can go through with this extended proposal without any risk of jeopardising the other questions put forward.
Indeed, if it should be that the Opposition has it in its heart to support this, we would be able to get it through without difficulty. I do not think it would be practicable to put to a referendum a proposal that did not have real bipartisan support in this House. Therefore, I shall later this week endeavour to lay the bill before the House. I hope that the expression of public opinion outside the House will be sufficiently strong to induce the Government to let the bill be dealt with sometime between now and 28th March.
In this matter of Aboriginal welfare the present Government has a good record. It has given Aborigines the right to vote, it has extended the social services accorded to them and it has reduced discrimination. I believe that by establishing the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies the Government has recognised the importance of the background and culture of these people and has restored to them something of their inherent dignity. This is perhaps only a psychological factor, but I believe that it is of great importance if we are to make these people fully participators with us in the benefits of Australian citizenship.
– The present Government has not done all this alone. The Labour Government extended social services to the Aborigines.
– To some of them, Sir. As I have said, the present Govern ment has enlarged the social services accorded to the Aborigines. I am not saying that the present Government is the only-
– Order! I ask the honorable member not to open up this subject matter too widely.
– Thank you, Sir. This Government has a good record, lt is not necessarily the only one that has a good record in this matter. Here surely we can get the co-operation of all members in this House for a purpose that is truly Australian. 1 appeal first to the Prime Minister in this regard. I believe that the only thing that has deterred him from going further than he has gone with the present proposal relating to section 127 of the Constitution is the fear that he may lose the whole of what he seeks by asking for too much. I think that 1 can appeal wilh some confidence to the Opposition, and I do so, because I believe that what I have suggested is in line with what Opposition members have put forward. They are not the only people who have proposed it, but they have put it forward over the last year or two. Above all I appeal for support outside this House to the people who must vote at the referendum. Without their support the proposal must come to nothing. I believe that unless support for the proposal that I have outlined is made sufficiently evident between now and 28th March it would be wise for the Government not to proceed with the proposition. Unless support is available when the proposal goes before a referendum of the sovereign electors it must fail. So above everything I appeal for support outside this House on a constitutional matter, as distinct from a vote of another kind in this chamber. I seek support before the ultimate court of appeal, the electors, whose support is required.
I believe that Australia can show herself, in accordance with the principles now established overseas, as a non-racial, homogenous society. I believe that within our borders there is no room for discrimination on racial grounds. There are people, such as the Aborigines, who need special help and support. I believe that we have to give to them certain privileges that will help them to make good the gap that still exists between them and us in their present stage of development. But I do not believe that there is any room for discrimination against Aborigines or anybody else inside Australia on racial grounds. For that reason I ask the House, I ask the Opposition, I ask the Prime Minister and I ask the country for support, if people can find it in their hearts to give it, for the very definite and concrete proposal that I shall bring before the House later this week in the form of a bill.
.- Mr. Speaker, it is not often that I rise in this House to support wholeheartedly the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), but on this occasion I do. Indeed, I think that the history of motions and petitions put before the House shows that in this instance he is supporting honorable members on this side of the Parliament. We are speaking here about an issue that has been raised in the public life of Australia in so pressing and continuing a way as to result in the present widespread demand that this Government accept full responsibility for the Aboriginal people of Australia just as it does for any other citizens. Section 127 of the Constitution represents one of the mysteries of Australian public life. The reason for our having allowed such a discriminatory and, I suppose, offensive section to remain in our Constitution for so long is indeed a mystery. But although it is important for the Aboriginal people of Australia to be counted, there are many in the Aboriginal community - I know a great many members of that community - who want not only to be counted but also to count. And they will not count until the Commonwealth accepts a greater and wider responsibility for these people. The need for this greater acceptance of responsibility for the Aborigines by the Commonwealth has been before this Parliament continually, for my part, for eight years. I believe that it had been raised even earlier. But it has certainly been brought before the Parliament continually over the last eight years.
This evening, Mr. Speaker, in a sense I speak in support of the proposal put forward by the honorable member for Mackellar. I think I can say on behalf of my colleagues that we on this side of the chamber do not care who brings forward a proposal if it carries with it the proper spirit of a homogeneous community and the purpose of abolishing racial discrimination so as to make all Australians one people. If a proposition is advanced in that spirit we on this side shall be for it. We will not discriminate in any way whatsoever. I take for the moment the points that were raised by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies). I recognise, I believe that my colleagues on this side recognise and I am sure that most honorable members in this House recognise that no political party and no social group - not even the Churches - has any great record of successful amelioration of the lot of the Aborigines in the past. Here there is an appeal to the conscience of the people of Australia. I hope that people in every community and every electorate throughout this country will realise where their responsibilities lie and take up this matter with their representatives in this Parliament. I shall not quote any honorable member opposite in such a way as possibly to embarrass him, but I am pretty confident that honorable members on both sides to whom I have spoken privately on this issue are completely in accord with the motion proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) which has been on the business paper for some time under general business and which calls for an amendment of the Constitution, and with the sentiments expressed tonight by the honorable member for Mackellar.
I am disappointed that the Prime Minister has not taken the opportunity to take the constructive step that has been proposed. I believe that he has allowed something that amounts almost to a legal quibble to cloud the issue in such a way as to cause him to refrain from moving in the matter. Let us examine for a moment what he said in his second reading speech. He stated that some people want to eliminate from section 51 (xxvi.) of the Constitution the words “ other than the Aboriginal race in any State” on the ground that these words amount to discrimination against Aborigines. He said that in truth the contrary is the fact. But this is not true for the Commonwealth itself. It is not true that the Commonwealth has not discriminated against Aborigines because of the existence of this provision in the Constitution. I believe that on the morning of the day on which this measure was introduced there were removed from ordinances of the Australian Capital Territory provisions that were definitely discriminatory. In other words, it is not a fact that the existence of this provision in the Constitution prevents the Commonwealth from discriminating against Aborigines. So if that argument is discarded there is a strong case for placing on the statute book a measure that will prevent future governments of the Commonwealth from discriminating against Aborigines.
Nor does the simple fact that discriminatory provisions are removed from statutes, as has happened in the Australian Capital Territory, mean that all discriminatory provisions in Commonwealth legislation have been removed. I am now answering the points made by the Prime Minister, and in doing so I refer to section 137a of the Social Services Act, which reads -
An aboriginal native of Australia who follows a mode of life that is, in the opinion of the Director-General, nomadic or primitive is not entitled to a pension, allowance, endowment or benefit under this Act.
This provision was written into the Social Services Act some years ago when the Act was amended in an attempt to extend the availability of social services to Aborigines. In the process, this section, which in my opinion is plainly discriminatory, was inserted in the Act.
– Order! I point out to the honorable member that although he may make passing reference to what the honorable member for Mackellar said the remarks that he is now making have nothing to do with the Bill now before the House.
– I am speaking now, with due respect, to the speech of 2i pages delivered in this place by the Prime Minister.
– Order! I think the honorable member has gone a little beyond that. He is now referring to social services.
– No, Mr. Speaker. With due respect, this is what the Prime Minister said -
They want to eliminate the words “other than the Aboriginal race in any State”, on the ground that these words amount to discrimination against Aborigines. In truth the contrary is the fact.
In support of my view that this was an incorrect statement, I am citing acts of the Commonwealth which, surely, is valid in this instance. The Prime Minister said that if we removed section 127 we would allow the Commonwealth to discriminate, but I am pointing out that at the present moment there are discriminatory clauses in acts of the Commonwealth, despite this provision and that therefore the existence of this section, as it stands at present, is no protection for the Aborigines of Australia. I refer to regulation 18 made under the National Service Act as further support for that view. I believe that the Prime Minister has evaded a great responsibility and lost an opportunity in that regard. As I said earlier, it is not a question of the Aborigines just being counted - they must also count. This evening I rise to ask that the right honorable gentleman, his party and his Cabinet colleagues, give serious consideration even at this stage to producing the necessary legislation to allow a reference to be put forward on section 51 (xxvi.). If I may refer to other things mentioned by the right honorable gentleman, he said -
What should be aimed at, in the view of the Government, is the integration of the Aborigine in the general community, not a state of affairs in which he would be treated as being of a race apart.
The Commonwealth is able to assist many groups in the community, but this does not mean they are being discriminated against. One of the most successful referenda conducted in Australia was in relation to social services and the power of the Commonwealth to implement a social services system. This system allows the Commonwealth to discriminate in favour of invalids, children and students. Under the defence power we discriminate in favour of servicemen. Under the migration authority we discriminate in favour of migrants. It is one of the sad facts of Australian legal life that the Commonwealth is unable to act in this positive way for the Aboriginal people.
I believe that if we are going to take the step of removing section 127, a step which will give Aborigines a place in the census and on the electoral rolls in such a way that they are counted, it is important that we also take the positive step of enabling the Commonwealth to accept full responsibility. I am confident that the people of Australia would support that proposal. In the last eight or nine years I have taken a very active part in public organisations associated with Aboriginal affairs. As far back as 9th May 1957 I brought before the
House for discussion a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The failure of the Government to care for the well-being of persons of Aboriginal and part Aboriginal blood by not providing State Governments with sufficient funds and not extending the payment of social services benefits to or on behalf of these persons.
Since that time I have found that despite the aberrations of politics and so forth, large groups in the community, representing people of all political, religious and other persuasions, have rallied to the support of this view. In fact, only a week after I raised that matter for discussion the former member for Parkes, Mr. Haylen, presented a petition from certain electors of the State of New South Wales praying that the Government would, at the earliest practicable date, take legislative action to effect the amendment of the Constitution for the purpose of removing social and political disabilities on aborigines. Although I have not made a count of the petitions that have been presented to the Parliament, I am fairly confident that the number of petitioners would now total more than a quarter of a million. My personal experience of these matters has been that when a petition on this subject has been placed before citizens, when they have been given a form, have been asked to read it and have been told what it is about, in 99 cases out of 100 they have signed it.
I believe that the Prime Minister could accept the legal challenge involved in this question. I realise that there are always difficulties in such a step. He has taken the step to place the Aboriginal people in a proper place in the Australian sun. I know that the moment this measure was announced, my telephone rang and people wrote to me asking what they could do to help. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, no special group can write itself great references in the field of advancement for Aboriginal welfare. In the long run it will be only the Commonwealth, with the resources at its disposal, which can take up the challenge. That has been the case with housing, education and health. I cannot see how it can possibly take up the challenge in respect of Aborigines unless it takes to itself the power to do so. I can see too many difficulties flowing from the States grants provision by which we pass the responsibility into the State system with legislation in each State and State administrations here and there. I think it is true that, in the past, even that proportion of the finance for housing which has been made available to the States under the Loan Housing Act has not been ploughed back into the Aboriginal community.
– Order! I draw to the honorable member’s attention the fact that I have been waiting for him to come back to the Bill. I am still waiting. The Bill relates to the counting of Aborigines. He may make a passing reference to those other matters.
– The counting of Aborigines is particularly relevant on the question of housing.
– The counting of Aborigines is the only question. The Bill does not relate to housing.
– The States of Australia have been able to ignore their proper duty to the Aborigines.
– Order! If the honorable member persists with that line of argument I shall have to ask him to resume his seat. The subject matter before the Chair must not be departed from.
– Speaking to this point, may I say that of the 100,000 Aborigines in Australia, 50,000 or so are in Queensland. The fact that they have never been counted, and indeed have not counted much socially either in fields such as housing, where the Commonwealth has made definite grants for housing to the States, and that a sum relative to their proportion of the population has not been made available to the Aboriginal people, is relevant to the whole system. In fact, we cannot solve the problem-
– Order! The honorable member is now developing an argument on housing.
– The Aboriginal people of Australia are the ones who matter when debating this measure. I realise the narrowness of the question before the House and I think that is condemnation enough of the attitude of the Government. The facts are that this measure will do little for the Aboriginal people. It is time we took some positive action. I believe that an alteration of section 51 (xxvi) is the only way that we can take such action.
.- The Constitution Alteration (Repeal of Section 127) Bill which is now before the House seeks to delete from the Commonwealth Constitution section 127, which states -
In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.
This provision was originally put into the Commonwealth bill of 1891 by Sir Samuel Griffith, one of the delegates from Queensland. The section provoked so little debate in the 1891 convention that we scarcely know Griffith’s motives in putting in the section, but we do know that at that time in Queensland no attempt was made to count Aborigines, that in Western Australia only Aborigines in contact with civilisation were counted - this was a very few thousand compared with the numbers who then lived in the State - and that Aborigines were not counted in South Australia, which then included the Northern Territory. But estimates of the number were made. In New South Wales and in Victoria they were counted, and in Tasmania, of course, they were extinct.
We are conferring nothing tangible on Aborigines by deleting section 127. That does not alter the fact that the Opposition is strongly in favour of its deletion and will strongly support the Government when this matter is before the Australian people. I think that, psychologically, the section is very important. Nevertheless, we should recognise that, strictly speaking, this is not an amendment of the Constitution relating to Aborigines; it is an amendment of the Constitution relating to the census. At the time when this section was finally adopted by the Constitutional Convention of 1897 the number of Aborigines in Australia was estimated at 59,603. When Section 127 - then section 120 - was before the Constitutional Convention, Dr. Cockburn, one of the most prominent members of the South Australian delegation, questioned its Tightness. He feared it would debar Aborigines from the right to vote. He was assured that it did not affect the voting rights of Aborigines. I remind the House that Aboriginal men had the entitlement to vote in South Australia in 1859, that is 103 years before the Commonwealth enacted that right - save where it followed a State aboriginal franchise under section 41 of the Constitution - and 35 years before European women, and Aboriginal women of course, gained the right to vote in South Australia. In 1894, South Australia became the first Australian colony to grant voting rights to women. Dr. Cockburn’s instinct to oppose the proposed section 120 - now 127 - was sound because the wording of the section has helped to spread the delusion in Australia that Aborigines are not British subjects. I was told this by a member of Legislative Council for the Northern Territory, not in evidence but in conversation when I was on the Select Committee on Aboriginal Voting Rights.
I should like to read to the House how briefly the Constitutional Convention of 1897 discussed this matter and the interesting observations that were made. Dr. Cockburn rose to question the clause, which was then clause 120, and the record reads as follows -
Dr. Cockburn: As a general principle, I think this is quite right. But in this colony-
He was speaking in Adelaide and was referring to South Australia - and I suppose in some of the other colonies, there are a number of natives who are on the rolls and they ought not to be debarred from voting.
Mr. Deakin: This only determines the number of your representatives and the aboriginal population is too small to affect that in the least degree.
Mr. Barton: It is only for the purpose of determining the quota.
Dr. Cockburn: Is that perfectly clear? Even then, as a matter of principle, they ought not to be deducted.
Mr. O’Connor: The amendment you have carried already preserves their votes.
Dr. Cockburn: I think these natives ought to be preserved as component parts in reckoning up the people. I can point out one place where 100 or 200 of these Aboriginals vote.
Mr. Deakin: Well, it will take 26,000 to affect one vote.
I think Deakin meant one seat -
Mr. Walker: I would point out to Dr. Cockburn that one point in connection with this matter is, that when we come to divide the expenses of the Federal Government per capita, if he leaves out these Aboriginals South Australia will have so much the less to pay, whilst if they are counted South Australia will have so much the more to pay.
I can see one South Australian member laughing. Evidently he feels that the reference acknowledges that the right way to appeal to South Australians is through the hip pocket nerve. Anyway, there was no further querying of this section from South Australians or anybody else.
I think the section has been tragic in its effects. The allusion to an amendment that Dr. Cockburn had already carried, was a reference to section 41 of the Constitution which says -
No adult person who has or acquires a right to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of a State shall, while the right continues, be prevented by any law of the Commonwealth from voting at elections for either House of the Parliament of the Commonwealth.
That section 41 which conferred upon Aborigines the Commonwealth franchise in all those States where they had the State franchise - that is, Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia - was somehow or other interpreted to mean that the Commonwealth had to follow the States. And we did follow the States until 1962. We gave Aborigines a vote in States that had already conferred the State voting right and denied them a vote in States that had not conferred the State voting right.
There seems to have been a fatal trend. Every reference to Aborigines in the Australian Constitution has been interpreted in some way to deprive them of some right all through the years. I encountered the damage that section 127 has done to Australia’s standing when in India in 1954. I travelled through India and I think I met the leader of nearly every important trade union in that country. There had been a visit of some Australian Communist women just previously and they had informed the Indians that in Australia Aborigines were constitutionally declared not to be people. This is not the meaning of the wording, but it can definitely be construed in that way. The section simply states that in reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth or of a State, or of any other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted. The deletion of the section will, therefore, make for a valid census. It has never been a valid census without the Aborigines. Secondly, it will remove a seeming insult. Thirdly, it may lead, psychologically though not legally, to an improved status of Aborigines.
The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) referred to certain of the statements of the Prime Minister in which the Prime Minister explained why he had not extended the referendum proposals to include other sections of the Commonwealth Constitution which relate to Aborigines. I do not intend to labour this, but I do want to answer the Prime Minister. The section which has been under discussion reads as follows -
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to: - (xxvi.) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.
This also originated with Sir Samuel Griffith of Queensland. It originally read in these words -
The Parliament shall, also, subject to the provisions of this Constitution, have exclusive legislative power to make all such laws as it thinks necessary for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to the following matters: -
The affairs of people of any race with respect to whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws not applicable to the general community; but so this power shall not extend to authorise legislation with respect to the aboriginal native race in Australia and the Maori race in New Zealand;
There is no doubt that when, at the 1891 Constitutional Convention, it seemed that New Zealand might join the Federation, one of the motives of Sir George Grey, a representative of New Zealand, was to keep Maori affairs in the hands of the New Zealand Government. Then, when New Zealand withdrew, the conception of depriving the Commonwealth of power over indigenous people remained. Thus there exists the proviso that the Commonwealth can make laws regarding races but not laws regarding people of the Aboriginal race.
The honorable member for Mackellar has spoken of the actions of the Government with respect to Aborigines. I think every advance in Aboriginal welfare in this Parliament has been bipartisan, and I hope it stays that way. For instance, the proposal to confer voting rights where the States did not was enacted by the Government, but this had been advocated for some time by the Opposition. The extension of social service benefits to Aborigines had been begun by the previous Labour Government and was continued by this Government, and extended after advocacy by the Opposition. I remind honorable members that the former
Minister for Social Services, Mr. Roberton, who is now Ambassador in Ireland, used to say that he was up against the difficulty of this section of the Constitution. There is no doubt that it was misinterpreted to produce adverse discrimination against Aborigines for many years. This is just another of the sections of the Constitution where a reference to the word “Aborigines” has had an unfortunate effect on the fate of the Aboriginal people. We agree with the honorable member for Mackellar that the Constitution would be improved by his suggestion that there be conferred upon the Commonwealth a positive power to make laws for the benefit of Aborigines.
The other thing to which I want to refer very briefly was also discussed at the Constitutional Convention. It is what the honorable member for Mackellar has to propose about section 117. Section 117, in so far as it confers a right, seems to me to be like the peace of God - it passeth all understanding. The section reads -
A subject of the Queen, resident in any State, shall not be subject in any other State to any disability or discrimination which would not be equally applicable to him if he were a subject of the Queen resident in such other State.
There is no doubt that Aborigines are subjects of the Queen. This was one of the points that the Select Committee on Voting Rights of Aborigines stressed. The status of “ Subject of the Queen “ does not confer intrinsic rights. Since our conception of nationality is, at root, feudal, any person born in the Queen’s dominions is born with an obligation to allegiance. Aborigines, as subjects of the Queen, have an obligation to an allegiance. Whatever rights he has thereafter are conferred by the deliberate enactment of law. He is not in the position of an American citizen who is guaranteed certain rights under the American Constitution. The whole debate on citizenship in the Constitutional Conventions raged around this section. The House of Assembly of Tasmania wanted a section based on the XIVth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and had the House of Assembly of Tasmania succeeded it would have achieved what the honorable member for Mackellar is now endeavouring to achieve by one of his proposals. The XlVth
Amendment of the American Constitution reads -
All persons born or naturalized in the United States-
The Tasmanian Assembly would have substituted “ Australia “ for “ United States “- and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
I quite sympathise with the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in his desire not to collide with any State Government. I realise also that he wants to reduce the referendum proposal to the simplest, clearest, most unanswerable and defensible terms. I do not underestimate the psychological importance of deleting from the Constitution a section which appears to declare that Aborigines are not people, but at the same time I think it is regrettable that it is quite possible for the States to continue what are marked discriminations against Aborigines, and that we as a national Parliament, supporting a national Government - which is answerable internationally on race issues - are so powerless to legislate to make a meaningful Australian citizenship not only have force in the Commonwealth in regard to voting rights but also where a State has not enacted voting rights for people who are fully of the Aboriginal race.
With these observations I congratulate the Government for providing for a referendum proposing to delete section 127. The Labour Party believes that this referendum proposal should be carried by the people. I hope it will be carried by an overwhelming majority. I believe that the Bill will be carried unanimously by the House of Representatives and that this part of the referendum proposals will also be carried unanimously by the Senate. I understand from the Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden) that a unanimous vote will leave no opportunity to prepare a “ No “ case from the Parliament. That is not to be regretted. There is no case for not counting Aborigines as Australian people.
– I should like to support the remarks of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) and the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) and to say a few words on an aspect of the Bill that puzzles me somewhat. First of all, of course, there is the question of relevance. You, Sir, have made a ruling on this matter. 1 notice that in his speech the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) used about 270 words to tell us why he was introducing a Bill to provide for a referendum to repeal section 127 of the Constitution, and used about 900 words to tell us why he was not going to provide for a referendum for the repeal of section 51 (xxvi). It seems to me to indicate that on the bases laid by the Prime Minister, a discussion on why the right honorable gentleman was not prepared to put a question on the repeal of section 51 (xxvi) has some considerable relevance to the debate. I should like to follow the Prime Minister for a moment or two in his examination of this section, because what he had to say puzzles me very considerably. He said -
Some people wish - and indeed the wish has been made clear in a number of petitions presented to this House - to associate with the repeal of section 127 the removal of what has been called, curiously to my mind, the “ discriminatory provisions “ of section 51 (xxvi). They want - and 1 understand their view - to eliminate the words “ other than the Aboriginal race in any State “, on the ground that these words amount to discrimination against Aborigines. In truth, the contrary is the fact. The words are a protection against discrimination by the Commonwealth Parliament in respect of Aborigines. The power granted is one which enables the Parliament to make special laws, that is, discriminatory laws in relation to other races - special laws that would relate to them and not to other people. The people of the Aboriginal race are specifically excluded from this power. There can be in relation to them no valid laws which would treat them as people outside the normal scope of the law, as people who do not enjoy benefits and sustain burdens in common with other citizens of Australia.
It seems to me that we have already passed laws to do precisely what the Prime Minister says we cannot do in respect of this. The honorable member for Wills referred to section 137a of the Social Services Act of 1 947-64 which provides -
An Aboriginal native of Australia who follows a mode of life that is in the opinion of the DirectorGeneral nomadic or primitive is not entitled to a pension, allowance, endowment or benefit under this Act.
We have made laws discriminating against Aborigines and section 51 (xxvi) has not prevented us from doing so. It is one argument to say that these laws are necessary - that section 137a is necessary in the opinion of the Government because it would be wrong to try to pay a pension to nomadic natives. That is one argument that may be admitted and accepted, but the truth of the matter is that we have made laws discriminating against Aboriginal people and that section 51 (xxvi) has not prevented us from doing so. In other words, it seems to me that the proposition is just the opposite to that put by the Prime Minister in the long statement from his speech which I have just quoted.
This, of course, raises the question: Is section 137a of the Social Services Act valid if, as is the opinion of the Prime Minister, section 51 (xxvi) prevents us making such laws? If we have made such laws, are they valid laws? As the honorable member for Fremantle pointed out, the laws that have been made by the Commonwealth - and the honorable member for Wills cited a number of them - have always discriminated against the Aborigines. I do not know of one that has provided something for Aboriginal people that has not been provided for other people. What we are asking is that the Government consider providing for the removal of something that has discriminated against the Aboriginal people. This seems to be a fairly simple thing to do. 1 agree that when we in this country are designing a referendum proposal we have to design it as simply as possible but I do not agree with the proposition put by the Prime Minister in respect of this additional question. I do not agree with the Prime Minister’s other argument that it is unnecessary to put the question. I agree that what should be the aim of the Government is the integration of the Aborigines in the community generally. There should not be a state of affairs where the Aborigines are treated as being of a race apart. I think it is rather stretching the argument to say that it would be wrong for the Commonwealth to make particular laws in favour of the Aboriginal people, to assist them to become integrated. I think it would be wrong to say that such a favourable law would be a law that treated them as being a race apart.
I think we can justify discrimination in favour of people and I do not think we should get that argument confused with an argument that we should be against discrimination against people. Therefore I think that the argument on which this proposition is based by the Prime Minister is not sound. In his speech the Prime Minister said -
Returning to the Bill before the House, the matter can be simply put by saying that section 127 is completely out of harmony with our national attitudes and with the elevation of the Aborigines into the ranks of citizenship which we all wish to see.
Of course we do. The Prime Minister continued -
To sum up: - Three possibilities have been examined. First, to omit from section 51 (xxvi) the words “other than the Aboriginal race in any State”. This would give the Commonwealth Parliament power, a plenary power, to make laws, unlimited except by such general provisions as those of section 92, with respect to Aborigines - for example, industrial laws, social services laws and so forth. Is this desirable?
Contrary to the conclusion drawn by the Prime Minister, I think it is desirable. I do not think we need worry about creating for the Commonwealth power to do something for the Aboriginal people. Surely this is not a legitimate concern or something that we should be unwilling to do. Certainly our overall objective is to treat the Aborigines as on the same footing as the rest of us, with similar duties and similar rights. But surely this is not an argument against providing for the Commonwealth a simple power to be able to do something for the Aborigines. I do not suggest that, technically, this is necessary. I think there are other ways of going about it. The Commonwealth could, for example, make grants to the States. Anyway, we should do something directly for the Aboriginal peoples. I do not think anybody would object to that. There are other ways of doing things for the Aborigines. I would not object to their being adopted. The proposal to remove discrimination by repealing placitum (xxvi) is justifiable. The Prime Minister said -
The second proposal was to repeal placitum (xxvi) altogether. Quite frankly, this has its attractions. The power has never been exercised.
I have suggested that it has been exercised by the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister continued -
Yet, in the modern and complex world which changes around us almost every week we might conceivably wish to employ it. For example, we have great obligations in the case of Nauru. We might, some day, under some circumstances, wish to pass a special law with regard to Nauruans -
I do not think Nauruans are aboriginal people of a State in any sense of the word, but 1 concede that we may wish to pass laws with regard to them. The Prime Minister continued -
The third proposal that has been made … is to add a new provision rendering invalid laws regarding Aborigines by, for example, invalidating any Commonwealth or State discrimination on the grounds of race.
In my view, the proposal submitted by the honorable member for Mackellar in a suggested amendment is the most desirable course to adopt. I cannot see the validity of the Prime Minister’s reasoning with respect to placitum (xxvi), nor can I see that it is necessary to have a specific provision to make laws in respect of Aboriginal people, because we can achieve our purpose by grants to the States or directly.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr. Snedden) proposed -
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– Order! As this is a Bill to amend the Constitution, the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution must be observed. I therefore direct that the division bells be rung. (The bells having been rung) -
– Order! The question is “ That the Bill be now read a third time “. As there is no dissentient voice, I declare in favour of the “ Ayes “. A division has not been called for but it is desirable that the names of those members present agreeing to the third reading should be recorded. I therefore appoint the honorable members for Phillip (Mr. Aston) and Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) tellers. (The following names were then recorded.) (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Sir John McLeay.)
– Order! As 108 members have agreed to the third reading I certify that the third reading has been agreed to by an absolute majority as required by the Constitution.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed (vide page 3059).
.- I do not propose to detain the House for any length of time. My first duty is to thank the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) for adopting the suggestion I made some time ago to arrange for an interim payment to those people entitled to a share of the surplus in the Superannuation Fund. The Treasurer said in his second reading speech that he hopes to commence these payments before Christmas, and I want to take this opportunity of thanking him for making these arrangements.
Secondly, I think the House should have a look at this legislation as a whole. The surplus that is now to be distributed was disclosed in the quinquennial investigation carried out in 1962, more than three years ago. Contributors were then entitled to a share of the surplus, but it took some two years for the Actuary to make the necessary report, and it was proposed to delay the distribution of the surplus for longer than it has already been delayed. Indeed, correspondence that I have conducted with the Treasurer suggests that it might have been quite some time before the distribution could have been finalised. I therefore think it is a very good thing that the Treasurer has agreed to this interim distribution.
However, it appears to me that there is something wrong with the legislation if the distribution of a surplus such as the one that has been disclosed is as complex as it appears. If, as the Treasurer said in his speech, it is necessary to make two million individual calculations before distributing the surplus, then obviously there is something wrong with the framework of the legislation. I suggest to the Treasurer that it should be possible either to simplify the Act basically or to amend it in such a way that the necessary calculations can be fed into a computer and carried through with expedition. In 1967 - only a short time ahead of us - another surplus will emerge and there will be more trouble about its distribution. Those delays are unfair. Many of the people who are entitled to a share of the surplus are of an advanced age. Some of those who are entitled to a share will have died without receiving it. It is unfair to have an Act which is so complicated that it cannot be administered with expedition.
I do suggest to the Treasurer that it is time to overhaul the Act itself, either to simplify it or, alternatively, to put it in such a form that the calculations can go through a computer and future surpluses be distributed immediately after they have been disclosed by an investigation. There is altogether too much complexity about the present procedure. It is time the Treasurer looked at some of these Parkinsonian propositions which stretch out and make complicated the necessary work instead of simplifying it.
Finally I would like to advert for a moment to what was said earlier in this debate about the operation of the means test. Obviously a superannuation pension is not worth very much to people in the lower pension ranges. For a married couple a pension of £12 a week or so does not help because its effect is virtually to debar that couple from receiving the ordinary social service pensions, the age pensions that otherwise they would have been able to obtain. Indeed a superannuation pension might act adversely against them. As well as preventing them from getting social service pensions it could exclude them from other allied benefits. In the higher ranges the superannuation pension is worth something, means test or no means test, because it may be of an amount which, even when the normal age pension is deducted from it, is still significant. But I do direct attention to the substantial injustice that is being done to those on the lower ranges of superannuation pensions. They pay for their pensions for considerable periods and in fact get virtually nothing for their payment because they are debarred from receiving the age pension that otherwise they could have obtained. I think this aspect of the matter might well engage the attention of the Government.
.- As the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said in his second reading speech, the main purpose of this Bill is to give legislative effect to decisions announced in March 1965, first, by a reduction in the rate of contributions that is to take effect as from 1st April 1962 and, secondly, to authorise the cash distribution to eligible contributors and pensioners of shares of the reassessed surplus which is to be calculated in the light of revised assumptions about earning rates. Contributors to the Provident Account will be credited with interest from 1st July 1957 at the average rate earned by the Fund in each financial year. These additional amounts are to be paid in cash to those who have now ceased to contribute. The Treasurer said -
Although the legislation will provide the authority for the payments, there is still a considerable volume of complex actuarial calculations and administrative arrangements to be completed before the surplus can be finally distributed to individual contributors and pensioners.
The delay in finalising the payment of the surplus is a disgrace. I agree with the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) that the delay is unfair. The eighth quinquennial investigation of the Superannuation Fund showed the state of the Fund as at 30th June 1962. On 18th December 1963 the Commonwealth Actuary reported to the Board that there was a surplus of £5,674,325 in the Fund as at 30th June 1962.
The House is aware that there has to be an actuarial investigation of the Fund every five years. The next investigation will take place after 30th June 1967. The fact that there will be an investigation so soon - possibly even before the final distribution of this present surplus - emphasises the shocking delay that is taking place in finalising the 1962 investigation. The investigation prior to 1962 was on 30th June 1957 when there was left unallocated a surplus of £500,000 so the 1962 surplus of approximately £5.7 million represents an accumulation of over £5 million in additional surplus for the five years ended 30th June 1962. For the purpose of both the 1957 and the 1962 investigations the Commonwealth Actuary assumed that the investments of Fund moneys by the Board would earn interest at 31 per cent. Section 11A of the Superannuation Act guarantees the Superannuation Board a minimum of 31 per cent, earning rate for its investments. In support of his continued use of the 3i per cent, interest earning rate the Actuary stated in his 1957 report -
For this valuation I have retained an assumed rate of interest of 3J per cent, per annum. Any excess obtained will emerge at each future valuation as surplus.
In his 1962 report he stated -
Members of the Fund are not penalised if a somewhat cautious approach is adopted in times of high interest earnings, provided that the resulting surplus is distributed.
In 1962 he adopted the 3i per cent, rate in the face of his knowledge that Fund earnings were, during the previous five years, continually rising and continually and largely in excess of £3 15s. per cent, per annum. The rates of interest during those years were, in 1957-58. £4 10s. 8d. per cent.; 1958-59, £4 14s. 6d. per cent.; 1959- 60, £4 16s. 6d. per cent.; 1960-61, £4 19s. 2d. per cent, and in 1961-62, £5 4s. 4d. per cent. Before his 1962 report was made in December 1963, the Fund earnings for the then completed 1962-63 year had increased further to £5 9s. 6d. per cent. Apart from the £5.7 million surplus to 30th June 1962 there is, therefore, quite clearly a new surplus developing at a faster rate than before. This gives added significance to the report by the Actuary that -
Members of the Fund are not penalised . . . provided that the resulting surplus is distributed.
Actually members of the Fund can be penalised by an overcharge for superannuation benefits. The figures quoted show that the rates of contribution were higher during the years 1957 to 1962 than was necessary to provide the benefits that the contributors were purchasing. This is emphasised more so since 1962 by the fact that the Fund’s interest earnings have continued to rise. This measure provides for a reduction in contributions. The cost of superannuation contributions is heavy, particularly in the light of other costs that are increasing year by year. The penalty on contributors is emphasised, too, by the shocking delay in distributing the surplus in the Fund. True, there is going to be an interim distribution of the surplus, but no-one knows when the surplus set in the 1962 investigation will be finally distributed.
The Treasurer states that the cause of the delay is the difficulty of securing trained actuarial staff. He said -
Extensive advertising in Australia and the United Kingdom has so far failed to produce suitable candidates for two vacant positions for qualified actuaries.
Surely there have been other reasons for the delay. The Treasurer told us on 25th March that the Superannuation Board was not unanimous in its view about the best and most acceptable method of utilising the surplus. Has it taken the Board from December 1963 until now - almost two years - to decide the best and most acceptable method of utilising the surplus? It has been suggested that the task is beyond the capacity of the Board. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) made some comments on this.
In 1939 a board of three members handled contributions amounting to £500,000. Today, the same sized board is handling more than £10 million. Similarly the amount for investment has grown - from £6.7 million to over £100 million - yet the Board’s membership remains the same. Surely it should not be a big problem to handle the distribution of the £5.7 million that is involved as a result of the 1962 investigation. I think the delay is worthy of some inquiry so that a similar delay will not occur after the next quinquennial investigation in 1967 by which time the Fund could have grown from £100 million to almost double that.
On the question of reduced contributions the Treasurer said -
Preliminary work towards reducing the fortnightly contributions of current contributors with effect from 1st July 1962 is also under way. The new lower rates of contribution will be applied by departments to all units taken up since 1st July 1965, and to all future units immediately the Bill becomes law. Once the interim payments to pensioners have been made the next step will be for the Superannuation Board to reduce contributions for units in force at 30th June 1965 and to refund to contributors, and former contributors now in receipt of pension, or their widows, the excess contributions paid since 1962, together with earnings thereon.
It is clear that contributors prior to 1962 and those contributing after that date have paid premiums much in excess of the amount required for the benefits due to them or that will be duc to them. When a contributor becomes entitled to take out further superannuation units it is important for him to know how much it is going to cost him. Units become very expensive when a contributor is reaching retiring age. The reduced rates, plus any refund due, will assist contributors to take out additional units which otherwise, possibly, could not have been afforded.’ The honorable member for Melbourne Ports also drew attention to this matter. The older a contributor is when he receives a promotion the more he has to pay for each additional unit of superannuation which his salary on promotion entitles him to purchase. Until he reaches 40 years of age the number of units he is compelled to contribute for is fixed by reference to the salary he is receiving. But after reaching 40 years of age he is permitted by the Superannuation Act to elect not to contribute for any additional units of pension to which he may become entitled by reason of an increase in salary. The whole purpose of the superannuation scheme is to permit a contributor to retire on a pension sufficient to enable him to live decently having regard to his salary on retirement. His compulsory contributions up to the time he reaches 40 are calculated so as to secure for him a pension equivalent to a specific proportion of his salary. By that time he could well have been contributing for 20 or more years and the amount of his investment in the fund could be quite substantial.
To preserve the value of that investment he must continue after 40 years of age to contribute for the maximum pension to which his salary entitles him. Moreover, the closer he gets to retirement, the more urgent becomes the need to secure his future. He is therefore under very real pressure to make the sacrifice involved in purchasing the additional units at an increased cost. This often poses for him an economic problem at a time when his other financial commitments, such as housing and the education of his children, are usually at their height. This was referred to by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who suggested that there should be amendment to the Superannuation Act to give a member of the fund the opportunity to take out the additional units which he was entitled to take out upon reaching 40 years of age but which, in some cases, he could not take out because he could not afford the high cost.
On present day classifications, well over 90 per cent, of clerical and administrative positions in the Commonwealth service carry salaries of less than £2,500 per annum. Generally speaking, officers do not obtain the top positions in this group until middle age or later. Prior to the margin increase in 1959, a position which now carries a salary of £2,491 was classified at £1,935, including cost of living adjustments in both cases. In December 1959 an increase in margins raised the level of that position by £265 per annum to £2,200. Small cost of living increases and a further margin increase in May 1963 lifted the salary by another £239 to £2,439. Last year’s basic wage rise added £52, to bring the position to its present day rate of £2,491.
On the face of it, an occupant of that position would appear to have done fairly well. He had received a rise of £5 per week in 1959, £4 10s. a week in 1963 and a further £1 last year. However, in order to maintain the relativity between salary and pension the scale of superannuation entitlements was radically changed in 1959 and again in 1963. If there had been no change in the scale of entitlements a contributor on the salary in question would have been eligible to take up an additional two units of pension after the margins increase in 1959. In fact, as a result of the change, he became eligible to take up seven additional units. If this new scale had remained unaltered he would have been eligible for a further two units after the 1963 margin rise. In fact, the scale was changed so that he was entitled to take up five more units. After last year’s basic wage rise he became entitled to contribute for a further unit of pension.
If the age of the occupant of the position at his next birthday was 45 in 1959 and he had a dependent wife and two dependent children and planned to retire at 60 years of age, the extra seven units he could have taken up in 1959 would have cost him £2 13s. Id. per fortnight. In addition, because of his salary rise his tax deductions would have increased by £2 per fortnight, making a total of £4 13s. Id. and leaving him with only £5 6s. lid. out of his salary increase of £10 per fortnight. To take up the further five units in 1963 would have cost him £2 10s. because he was three years older, and his tax deductions would have increased by £2 16s., making a total of £5 6s. out of his salary increase of £9 per fortnight. If he took up the additional unit after the basic wage rise last year of £1 per week he would have paid an extra 12s. 5d. in superannuation and an extra £1 8s. per fortnight in tax, making a total of £2 0s. 5d. out of a salary rise of £2 per fortnight. So out of a gross increase in his salary of £10 10s. per week since 1959, this man’s actual take home pay would have increased by only £4 10s. 3d. a week.
In the case of a man who was 54 in 1959 and is due to retire this year, the position must have been difficult. Although his children would probably no longer have been dependent on him he would have been faced with the stark reality that in a short while there would be no further margin increases and no further opportunity to maintain the value of the pension upon which he and his wife might have to live for another quarter of a century. If he elected to take the seven extra units in 1959 he would have had to pay £9 6s. 8d. per fortnight plus a further £2 6s. in tax deductions, making a total of £11 12s. 8d. out of a fortnightly rise of only £10. He may have managed that but by 1963, when he received an extra £9 per fortnight, he would have had to pay £17 2s. 6d. for his five additional pension units and £3 6s. in increased tax deductions, making a total of £20 5s. 6d. The basic wage rise of £2 per fortnight last year would have entitled him to lay out another £7 4s. 5d. in superannuation and an additional £1 10s. in tax, making a total of £8 14s. 5d. Out of his gross rise of £10 10s. per week since 1959 he would have received not Id. extra and, in fact, would have been £9 16s. 3d. worse off.
I am emphasising these examples to show how important it is that the cost of the units should be kept as low as possible. They also support the view advanced by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that the Act should be amended to allow those members of the service over 40 years of age to take out any additional units which they may have missed, as a result of the cost of the units at that time being excessive, and which are to be reduced as a result of this measure.
Although current contributors have been disadvantaged by the delay, the plight of existing superannuation pensioners is also very bad, if not worse than that of the current contributors. For them, time is running out. A maximum age pensioner, retired just before the end of June 1962 - that was the end of the five year period during which the surplus was created - would be over 68 years of age. Many are much older. As the honorable member for Mackellar said, many have passed on and others will pass on before the matter is finalised. It is small consolation to pensioners to know that the moneys due to them will go into their estates.
The delay in distributing the surplus cannot be explained away. The five year period analysed by the Government ended in June 1962. The Actuary’s recommendations were made available in December 1963. In March 1965 the Treasurer announced that he had directed a recalculation of the fund as at June 1962 and the assessment of new contribution rates to apply after that date, using an assumed earning rate of 5i per cent, instead of the 3£ per cent, used by the Actuary. Why did the Treasurer take 15 months after receiving the report to arrive at the decision announced in March 1965? The Treasurer must bear some of the responsibility for the delay in distributing the surplus revealed by the quinquennial investigation following 30th June 1962. I ask him: Has any consideration been given to obtaining the services of actuaries in private practice? Such specialists are to be found in the business world and their services could possibly have been obtained to help with this matter and so have avoided the long delay that has taken place and apparently will continue. The Government cannot justify the way it has treated Commonwealth public servants in this matter. Their loyalty and efficiency cannot be questioned and in my view they deserve much better treatment.
.- The purpose of the Bill is to distribute the huge sum of approximately £5,700,000 that has been built up in the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. I think we must ask ourselves why this surplus has been allowed to build up. Putting it bluntly, the answer is that the civil servants have been called upon to pay contribution rates that have been too high. The interest that it was assumed the Fund would earn has been too low and the pensions paid to Commonwealth civil servants have been too little. The present surplus has been disclosed as a result of the quinquennial assessment made by the Commonwealth Actuary in 1962. I suggest that this should have been disclosed long before that date. Almost year after year I have called the attention of honorable members to this growing surplus. I was looked at by honorable members from all sides as if I did not know what I was talking about. At the outset, I refer to my remarks on 10th October 1957 - 8 years ago. I said -
I direct attention to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund, and I propose to make some suggestions for reform in relation to it. At the outset I make it clear that I do not criticise the system of Commonwealth superannuation nor do I criticise those people who are administering the fund at the present time. On the contrary, I say that Commonwealth superannuation is one of the finest of all possible schemes of age security. It is on a contributory basis, which means that all
Commonwealth public servants contribute to it. Secondly, it is compulsory; and therefore, all permanent Commonwealth public servants have to make provision for their old age. Thirdly, it is subsidised in that the contributions that are paid in by Commonwealth public servants are subsidised by grants from general revenue. Fourthly, it provides age security as of right and not because of destitution. Fifthly, it is free of means test and therefore does not discourage saving.
On 30m June, 1937, according to the report of the Auditor-General, the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund contained £49,901,000, approximately £50,000,000.
That was the surplus that I referred to in 1957-
During the year the fund received a total of £11,000,000 and the payments out of it totalled £5,500,000. lt will be seen therefore, that the income to the fund was approximately double the payments out of it. As I have mentioned on previous occasions, the same sort of thing has been happening every year that this fund has existed, and consequently this reserve of £50,000,000 has accumulated in the fund since its inception. I suggest that this fund, at the present time, has adequate reserves and that the time has arrived when it could be administered a little more liberally for the benefit of the Commonwealth officers who are substantially its owners.
I have here, as you will see, Sir, another five volumes of “ Hansard “. They contain reports of speeches in which I have referred each year to this problem. Notwithstanding that, the trustees of the Fund and those responsible for the administration of it have allowed the reserve to grow, have continued to call upon civil servants to make higher contributions than they should have been making, have continued to credit interest to this Fund at less than the ruling rate of interest in the community and have paid inadequate pensions to civil servants. As a result, at the quinquennial investigation, the Actuary could do nothing else but say, in effect: “The contributors have been overcharged £5,700,000 and something must be done about it”. I am glad, therefore, that the Government has introduced the Bill to deal with the surplus.
I would have liked to have seen the surplus distributed in increased pensions to Commonwealth civil servants. I wrote a letter to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) asking that that be done or, alternatively, that the civil servants be given the option of taking out the amount they have overpaid in cash or taking a higher pension. In his reply, the Treasurer stated that this will not be done because, he said, it is not the wish of the civil servants. His actual words were -
Briefly stated, the principal reason is that this was not their wish.
Since this huge surplus was disclosed, numbers of civil servants have come to me and asked: “ Could we receive bigger pensions instead of taking this money in cash? If we have cash, there will be a very big temptation to spend it.” But I am told by the Treasurer, in answer to my suggestion, that this is not the wish of the civil servants.
Earlier today we passed legislation providing for the holding of two referendums which will call on some 4,500,000 people to exercise their vote in relation to certain questions. There are 125,000 members of the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. Is it too much to ask them whether they would rather receive cash to spend or the worthwhile benefit of better superannuation for themselves on retirement or higher benefits for their widows? Even at this late stage I ask the Government to reconsider my request that civil servants be given the option of either receiving cash or having increased benefits.
I repeat what I said in 1957 and have said, I think, almost every year since: Superannuation is one of the finest things for the country. It is a means by which small sums deducted regularly from employees’ incomes and contributions by employers are put together to form a huge pool of capital for investment to promote the growth of Australia. Without superannuation Australia could not have grown at anything like the rate at which it has grown. Here, Sir, I should like to quote some observations contained in a paper prepared by an organisation composed of people who are probably the most experienced experts on superannuation matters in Australia - the Association of Superannuation and Provident Funds of Australia. Representatives of our leading banks and insurance companies and of big industries and commercial firms are associated in this organisation for the purpose of giving guidance and assistance in the administration of superannuation funds. I should like the House to listen to the principles laid down in a report presented by the Eastern Division Legislation Study
Group of the Association, from which I have extracted these observations -
Saving is usually accepted as a desirable requirement in any modern community but where there is a continuing shortage of capital funds as in Australia it is necessary to consider the reasons for and the method of achieving this.
If the social economy is to have the necessary capital available for its enormous development requirements then the appeal to save must be made to the little man.
Superannuation funds provide the most valuable medium because they involve regular deduction from the employee’s remuneration before he receives it and they represent an effective manner of consolidating the funds of many personnel into one group.
Past history has shown a deficiency rather than an excess of available capital so that from a savings aspect only a compelling argument can be sustained for an extension of the encouragement rather than any reduction.
Let us now look at the amount of capital that has been provided through the medium of superannuation funds, Sir. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) dealt with this earlier today. Government, local government and semigovernment pension and superannuation schemes operating throughout Australia had assets totalling £408 million in 1962-63. This is the amount of capital that has been provided for Australia’s growth by governmental and semi-governmental superannuation funds. So we are not dealing with little amounts. We are dealing with vast sums that play a vital part in the development of Australia. Without these moneys we could not have grown as we have grown. If we do anything to destroy superannuation we shall destroy the very thing that has enabled us to grow. Let us now pass to private superannuation funds. In the financial year 1962-63 there were 296,800 persons covered by such funds, which had assets totalling £377 million. When we add to this the £408 million accumulated in the assets of governmental and semi-governmental funds we can see the enormous amount of capital that has been provided through the medium of superannuation funds.
In recent years, Sir, there has been a tendency by means of taxation to penalise superannuation funds or direct them in various ways. The first effort to do this occurred not very long ago when a penalty tax of 10s. in the £1 was imposed on superannuation funds that did not invest their money in governmental or semigovernmental securities as directed by this Government. The requirement then introduced became known as the 30/20 rule. I do not propose to deal with that as it has now become the subject of an appeal to the High Court of Australia and judgment in the appeal has been reserved. We do not know whether the Court will declare the legislation beyond the powers of the Commonwealth. Last year there was before this House a measure that virtually imposed a penalty tax of 10s. in the £1 on the income of superannuation funds that did not comply with directions given from time to time by the Commissioner of Taxation.
I do not propose to deal with this at greater length. I merely mention it to make the point that if we discourage investment in superannuation we shall strike a death blow at the growth and development of Australia. Without capital we cannot grow. Australia is a capital hungry country. We are always short of capital. Therefore, instead of imposing penalties on superannuation funds, we should do what this Government did from the time it assumed office at least until the last few years. We should provide incentives to people to invest in superannuation. We provide substantial incentives in relation to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. The Commonwealth subsidises, if one likes to use that term, very substantially the contributions of Commonwealth employees to that Fund. Nearly all private employers subsidise their employees’ contribution in a very substantial manner. The Government gives incentives by allowing as a tax deduction moneys paid by employees to superannuation funds and allows companies to make certain deductions for payments to superannuation funds on behalf of their employees. As a result of the incentives that have been given by the Government, this huge amount of capital has become available to the community for the development and growth of the country. Therefore, we must look with the greatest suspicion and horror at any policy that tends to place a penalty upon investment in superannuation funds.
We must guard against a repetition of what has happened in the Commonwealth
Superannuation Fund, which has been allowed to build up a surplus of £5,700,000 more than ever should have been collected. It cannot be said that this was done without warning. I shall not bore the House with all the things I have said, which have been reported in “ Hansard “ since 1957. But why is it that when public attention is called in this House to a growing surplus, it is allowed to go on - anyway, since 1957 - so that today we are in this extremely difficult position of having to refund £5,700,000 which never should have been collected. If we look at the Treasurer’s second reading speech we notice the difficulties that are involved. He said - . . t announced the Government’s decisions in relation to the surplus in the Superannuation Fund that was reported in the eighth quinquennial investigation of the Fund as at 30th June 1962. The main purpose of this Bill is to give legislative effect to those decisions, first, by reductions in the rates of contribution, which are to take effect from 1st July 1962.
So it is acknowledged frankly that since July 1962, and before, the contributions have been too great, and the Treasurer says that it is now proposed to adjust the contribution as from 1st July 1962. What a terrific task that is. He continued -
Secondly, the Bill authorises the cash distribution to eligible contributors and pensioners of shares of the re-assessed surplus which is to be calculated in the light of the revised assumptions about earning rates.
How ever could the trustees of the Fund have said that the Fund would earn only 3£ per cent, when the rate of interest on Government bonds through most of that period ranged from 4± to 5i per cent.? Yet the interest seemed to have been pegged at this ridiculously low earning rate of 3i per cent. The Treasurer continued -
As explained in the March statement, those revised earning assumptions and these reductions in the rates of contributions which are based upon them will be reviewed at the next actuarial investigation of the Fund at 30th June 1967, in the light of circumstances then existing.
Later the Treasurer said -
Although the legislation will provide the authority for the payments, there is still a considerable volume of complex actuarial calculations and administrative arrangements to be completed before the surplus can be finally distributed to individual contributors and pensioners.
If the surplus had never been allowed to accumulate, all these difficult actuarial calculations to which the Treasurer has referred would have been avoided. He said -
The task of distributing a surplus of this magnitude in cash payments to so many contributors and pensioners, or their dependants, is quite unprecedented.
I think, Sir, we would agree with him. At this stage to distribute that huge sum of money among so many people does create a problem of the greatest magnitude. AH this could have been avoided, first, if the surplus had never been allowed to grow to the extent that it has grown; and secondly, if my present suggestion to the Treasurer had been accepted, namely, that the surplus had been used for payment of increased superannuation. In that event the time factor would not come into it because the Fund could take a year, two years or three years as the payments would be made by higher pensions at a later date.
Therefore, I ask the Government again to reconsider this matter and to ask the superannuated officers, the beneficiaries of this Fund, what they really want. They have never been asked. It is all very well to say that the trustees of the Fund, or some of those who are heads of the Association of Superannuation and Provident Funds of Australia, have come along to the Treasurer and said: “We will take the cash”. That reminds one of the question: “ Money or the box? “ I should think that the rank and file, the people who rely on superannuation upon their retirement, would much rather have it in increased pensions than in a lump sum at this stage. If they receive it in a lump sum a large amount of it will be spent and the country and individual will both suffer. The country will lose because it loses that amount of capital, and the individual will lose because much of what he receives will be spent unwisely, whereas if it remains in the Superannuation Fund it will provide improved living conditions on retirement. Therefore, I can only trust that this will not happen again. I think it is completely inexcusable that those responsible for the Fund should have ignored the warnings that had been given year after year over 10 years and allowed this surplus to build up. I know that it is very easy to be wise after the event, but in this matter I have not been wise after the event - I have told the House year after year that this situation was developing. My warning was ignored and now the Actuary has proved what I said. So the Government is in this difficult position of refunding contributions which should never have been collected.
In conclusion, I welcome the introduction of the Bill to deal with this matter. If the Government is determined to make the repayments in cash, I hope an early interim payment will be made. I am glad to see the additional benefits that are to be provided for children under the Bill. But my main point in rising on this measure was to make it clear that our responsibility is to give encouragement to superannuation and not to do anything that will discourage people from this very desirable means of marshalling small funds into big funds so that Australia can grow.
.- I shall speak only briefly to the Superannuation Bill. I think those honorable members who have already spoken in the debate have clearly demonstrated the miserly approach to superannuation benefits that has now produced the complication of a surplus in the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. Some of the operations of the Fund are designed to confuse and confound and I am afraid that they give a little less than justice to the people involved.
I agree with the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) that most of the contributors would prefer an increase in benefits to a lump sum refund, although a number of those who have been in touch with me - those who have been retired for some years - are very anxious to get their lump sum payment before Christmas. It is very disappointing indeed that after our long experience of handling the Superannuation Fund, and despite the very large administrative apparatus that is available, it has not been possible to resolve the difficulties connected with repayment of the money long before this.
I want to refer particularly to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Bill which is also before the House. It concerns a particular group of people. I do not think this is a field for actuaries, economists or accountants; this is a field for special consideration. Every person who joins the Services of Australia accepts an absolute commitment to the community. He may well spend a great deal of his service, or all of it, in reasonable comfort in a capital city, living at home; but at any time he may be called upon for the absolute commitment to the community. He can be fighting for his life and the country’s survival the next day, without any warning whatsoever.
This is a completely different operation from any other superannuation fund which is being administered by this Parliament, whether it be the fund relating to Parliamentary pensions or the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. I believe that we have introduced into our treatment of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund some actuarial considerations which, considered in the context in which Service personnel operate, are completely invalid. I turn for a moment to the question of children’s pensions. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) tells us that the Bill proposes to increase children’s pensions, as announced in the Budget speech, from £1 a week to £2 a week, for a child whose mother is still alive, and from £3 a week to £5 a week for a child who has lost both parents. My colleagues and I have considered this and we regard it as miserly in the extreme. In the face of present day costs and the. demands of modern living it is completely unreal.
Let us consider the position of the mother who has been widowed. She receives fiveeighths of her husband’s pension. She may have children between 15 and 18 years of age. I agree with the principle adopted in both these Bills of raising the eligible age to 21 years where the child is undergoing fulltime education. That is a good principle, although even 21 years is not a reasonable limit these days.
But what are the costs of maintaining a child of 15, 16, 17 or 18 years of age? Let us assume that the child is attending a university. At the Monash University in Melbourne, I think the fees are something like £170 a year. The average cost of transport would be between £1 and 30s. a week. So the mother is up for between £4 10s. and £5 a week to meet the ordinary cost of full time education. In addition, she is faced with the cost of maintaining the child. These days, it costs anything from £15 to £20 for an ordinary suit of clothes for a youth. I have no experience of the cost of young women’s clothing, but I should think it is just as expensive. An allowance of £1 or £2 a week is completely unreal when related to the requirements of such a child. My remarks now relate to both Funds. They are immensely rich. I think the amount involved in the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund is between £23 million and £24 million and the number of contributors is between 40,000 and 50,000. Yet continuously this House has placed before it recommendations relating to payment of benefits which are unreal and unworthy of the nation. Certainly they are completely unfair to the people who accept the complete commitment to the community. The community accepts from them an absolute commitment but gives to them only a qualified commitment.
I come now to the child who is completely orphaned. We are congratulating ourselves upon the fact that this child is now to get £5 a week instead of £3 as hitherto. What possibility would a guardian have of maintaining a child on £5 a week once he or she reaches 10 or 11 years of age? Honorable members on the Government side may quote all the statistics they like about families of three, four and five living on the miserable basic wage, or something near it, but it is absolutely impossible for a guardian to maintain a lonely orphan on £5 a week. We on this side believe that the pension payable to the orphan child should be at least about £10 a week. This would be somewhere nearer the cost of keeping a child who is moving on to secondary and tertiary education. In fact, I think that these children should be brought into a scheme similar to the Repatriation Department’s scheme for educating the children of exservicemen. The Repatriation Department accepts full responsibility for educating the child. It pays fees and all other costs.
If a child is completely alone and has to go into the average boarding school, I understand the cost runs into something between £170 and £200 a term. That represents the best part of £600 a year just for the maintenance of a child who is left completely orphaned and who has nobody at home with whom to live comfortably or peacefully. I place before the House the submission that the proposal contained in the Bill with relation to the pension for children is completely unreal.
I am disappointed that the authorities responsible for drafting the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Bill have not included the same principle as is embodied in the appeal provisions relating to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. Let me quote one case as an example of what can flow from this. A constituent of mine had served for 16 years in the Royal Australian Air Force. He joined the Service at the end of World War II at the age of 18 years or thereabouts. He became a pilot at the end of the war in, I think, Canada. He saw service in Korea. I think he was a Flight Lieutenant and became a training officer, teaching others to fly. Suddenly, he was invalided. According to his papers, he was discharged as medically unfit for further service. He was categoried as class B, with a 30 per cent, to 60 per cent, disability. He went out of the Service on a pension of £640 a year. He was able to find satisfactory employment but unfortunately it was in one of the Commonwealth’s instrumentalities with the result that his pension was reduced by £140 to £500 10s. a year. He suffered that reduction because he was working for the community which he had previously dedicated himself to defend. I do not know whether this anomaly has now been removed from the Act. Clearly a person should not be prejudiced because he accepts employment with a Commonwealth instrumentality.
Recently this man was called up for his periodical medical examination. After the medical examination he was advised by a curt note that accompanied his last cheque that his disability had been assessed as less than 30 per cent, and he had been put in class C. I am advised that he had had an interview lasting only about 20 minutes with a medical officer. Suddenly his pension was stopped. His income was reduced by the £500 10s. that he had been receiving as a pensioner. He was not even advised at the time of his rights of appeal.
What are his rights of appeal? First he can appeal to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board. Then he can appeal, I think, to a Judge of the Supreme Court in chambers. This is beyond the financial capacity of a person who is placed in the position in which this man finds himself. In my view, this is a complete reversal of all the principles upon which justice is administered in this community. This man was in receipt of a benefit for which he had been contributing. He had been a contributor to the Fund. He was one of the people who had given it stability. He was advised that he was no longer fit for service - he was flying at the time - and was discharged on a pension. That may have been a satisfactory arrangement in a sense although it was a serious blow to the person concerned. His future is prejudiced; there is a different future offering to him now. He is in a similar financial position, although not quite. Suddenly, as a result of a review by a person not particularly responsible to anybody, who does not have to answer in a court of law and who does not have to face up to any real challenge on his judgment, this person’s income stops. Thereafter it is a case of an appeal from Caesar to Caesar. This, I think, is a complete reversal of what should be the situation. We should be writing into the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act some provision whereby an authority can reduce a person’s pension only subject to an appeal to a court. In other words, there should be some legal provision imposed upon the Board itself rather than upon the beneficiary. That is the only way in which people can be protected.
Time and again honorable members on both sides of the House have dealt with these continuing anomalies and grave injustices. They might not appear to be much to a person merely hearing about them, but to the person suddenly involved they are a disastrous blow. Cases like this are referred to honorable members continually, and I believe that there can be no justice while these things are allowed to continue. Consider the man to whom I referred. He has been adjudged too fit to receive a pension and therefore it is stopped. He applied to the Department of Air for re-employment in the Royal Australian Air Force, but the R.A.A.F. would not have him back. Apparently he is not fit for the R.A.A.F. and not fit for the pension. The result is that he is completely excluded from all future benefits. All the things he had been paying for, all the security that he thought he had obtained by joining the Service and ail the commitments he accepted when he joined have gone for nought. There is no return to him. I understand that if he had been employed in the Commonwealth Public Service, and his disability had improved to a certain extent he could go back into the Public Service.
Surely to goodness, at a time when we are calling for people to join the Services, when we are publishing advertisements calling for people to be recruited, to take up the challenge of the modern serviceman and all the rest of it, we should at least be making sure that the person who does accept that commitment has a reasonable security against this kind of odds. I hope that in the near future we will give consideration to providing in the Act provision for an appeal from a decision of the Board such as the one to which I have referred. It is the Board that initiates the kind of operation to which I have alluded. It is the Board which ought to have to prove a case, and not the serviceman. Apart from the provision for an appeal there ought to be an opportunity for a serviceman to return to the Services when he has reached the stage where he has no longer a pensionable disability. Obviously there must be plenty of places in the Services where a person can be employed despite physical incapacity, but if he cannot be returned to the fighting Services some niche should be found for him in the Public Service itself. The Commonwealth Public Service with its ancillaries is the largest enterprise in the nation. There is ample opportunity for us to act in a humanitarian and commonsense way. I believe that the great disability of all these pension and superannuation funds - and it is magnified, compounded and exaggerated in the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund - is that there are too many actuaries and not enough human beings implementing the funds, and disbursing the money.
.- I agree with much of what the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) has said. There are perhaps a few points on which, to a degree, I do not agree with him, but generally what he has said is true. It is my intention tonight to speak mainly on the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Bill (No. 2) and not on the Superannuation Bill. I should like to commence by comparing the treatment meted out to D.F.R.B. subscribers - the regular members of our forces - with the treatment given to members of the Commonwealth Public Service, but before doing that I should like to say that I am sure that this Bill will be welcomed by honorable members on both sides of the House. I pay a tribute to the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes). I am not suggesting that one particular person has done a better job than anybody else; but I should like to pay this tribute to the honorable member, who is at present abroad, for what he has done with respect to the D.F.R.B. scheme. I am sure that the association which has been formed within the Services will agree wholeheartedly with what I say concerning the work that the honorable member has done.
I have worked on the Government members’ committee associated with this matter. I know that the honorable member for Wills has worked on a similar Opposition committee. Over the years these committees have been bringing anomalies that they have considered to be most unfair to the notice of the Treasury, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and the Defence Forces Retirements Benefits Board. I express gratitude to the Treasurer for introducing these amendments. I think it is fair to say that the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Bill has always been a poor cousin of the Superannuation Bill. The history of the D.F.R.B. scheme shows that formerly all members of the regular forces were covered by the superannuation scheme. I think it is fair to say that the manner of life of the members of the regular forces and the things they are called upon to do in times of war and times of national emergency are very different from the things that members of the civil service are called upon to do. It may be said that a corporal, a sergeant or a lieutenant in the Army is still a public servant and is treated on the same plane, but if something happens in New Guinea or somewhere else and a unit of the Regular Army is sent out, a member of that unit is certainly not in the same position, in respect of the risk he is running, as a public servant.
The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) spoke about the surplus in the Superannuation Fund. He said that the Fund should not have been allowed to get into such a condition, that certain things should have been done and that people should not have to wait for undue periods for something to be done, as has been the case in the past. When introducing the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Bill (No. 2) the Treasurer said -
The purpose of this Bill is to extend to members of the Defence Forces a number of the changes in retirement benefit provisions just intro duced in the Superannuation Bill, with the exception, of course,-
I have not yet seen a bill introduced relating to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund which has not followed the introduction of a bill relating to the Commonwealth Public Service. Perhaps this is normal procedure. Perhaps it is the reasonable thing to do, but it seems to me that nothing is ever done specifically for the Services. The people in the Services are asked to enlist at an early age and to devote their time to serving their country. They are prepared to take risks which have not to be taken by members of the Public Service, yet they have always to wait until the Superannuation Bill is introduced before anything is done for them. I think that is unfair and that it is a bad way to encourage young people to make the Services their career. If the Government wants people of the right type in the Services there is only one way to get them. It is not by always playing on their loyalty, underpaying them and undercutting their privileges; it is by giving them good privileges and making them proud of the Services to which they belong.
As I have said, the provisions introduced by this Bill are most welcome. I understand that the Treasurer has said that sometime in the future a new bill will be Introduced amending defence forces retirements benefits. Such a bill is so long overdue that it amazes me that we are still talking about introducing it sometime in the future. If honorable members compare the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act with the Superannuation Act, the size of the two Acts and the number of amendments that have been made to rectify anomalies, they will find that the Superannuation Act is a fraction of the size of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act although it has been in operation for a much longer time. Very few people in the Services have a clear understanding of their entitlements under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act. Neither I nor members of the Services say that this is a bad Bill, but servicemen do say frankly that they do not understand the legislation. The representative of the Army on the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board is usually the Adjutant-General. He has his ordinary duties to attend to and never has time to gain an understanding of the legislation. He sits on the Board with permanent Treasury officials who may understand the legislation but who blind the Army representative with science and seek to buffalo him. In my opinion, the Services are inadequately represented on the Board.
Every person who joins the Commonwealth Public Service is given a booklet which sets out the provisions of the Superannuation Act and outlines the operations of the Superannuation Fund. The booklet clearly sets out the member’s rights from the beginning of his appointment to his retirement. I can see no reason why a similar booklet should not be presented to every serviceman upon enlistment, giving details of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefit Fund, unless it be that the authorities do not want servicemen to understand their entitlements or that the powers that be do, not understand them. I do not wish to be rude or to goad honorable members, but I wonder how many of us understand the provisions of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act. I do not think any of us do with the exception of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes), who has spent a lot of time on this legislation. At a time when Australia is threatened on all sides and is trying to build up its forces the Government should adopt a different approach to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. It should give the Fund some pep from underneath. It should suggest to the actuaries that they devote a little more time to this Fund. It should receive some priority in consideration. It should not always run second to the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Fund or to the Superannuation Fund because in my book - I do not want to sound hackneyed - the people in the Services deserve better treatment »han they have had in the past.
I turn now to a statement made on 14th March 1939 by the Hon. G. A. Street, Minister for Defence, on the report of the Inspector-General of the Australian Military Forces. I referred to this report in a debate some time ago. The Minister stated -
The Inspector-General noted that at present the Staff Corps-
The Staff Corps is, for purposes of today, the Regular Army - were within the scope of the Commonwealth Superannuation Act which was based on a minimum retiring age of 60. Under this scheme an officer could only receive the full pension for which he subscribed by serving until 60, and, in order to do so, must hold the rank of substantive or brevet lieutenant-colonel. If he was compulsorily retired at the age of 55 he received only the actuarial equivalent of the pension for which he was subscribing, while if he elected to retire before his specified retiring age, he merely received back his contributions in a lump sum.
The Inspector-General went on to point out the anomalies of the scheme. He stressed that there was in 1939 a need to review the scheme. He pointed out that the serving soldier was in a different position to that of a member of the Public Service in a government department. The Minister continued -
The Inspector-General recommended that for officers of the Staff Corps such modifications be made in the existing Superannuation Scheme as would allow of the grant of an equitable pension or gratuity under the conditions and on the lines already indicated, and regarded it as an essential proviso in any modified scheme that may be adopted -
These observations seem typical of some of the observations that we have heard since that time. The statement continued -
The Minister stated that it had been realised for some time -
Why the devil nothing is ever done when it has been realised for some time I will never know. The statement continued -
The Minister stated that it had been realised for some time that the present public service superannuation scheme which was designed to meet the cases of officers retiring at ages 60 and over was not suitable in the case of those whose retiring age was less than 60 years. The general conditions of retirement benefit which had been suggested by the Inspector-General would be considered by the Treasurer -
I presume that whoever has been Treasurer since that time has considered, perhaps, two sections of the Act in one year, another two sections in the next year and so on. There is a vital need for the Act to be rewritten in clear and precise language. The anomalies must be removed from it. I know that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has said that this will be done, but at this time I feel that there is a requirement for speed. When the pay of servicemen was increased last, although a serviceman may have received an increase of £1 or 22s. 6d. a week, after he had paid a little more in tax and in contributions to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund he was actually, say, 4s. 6d. a week worse off than before he received his increase. I think many people know that this state of affairs cannot be avoided but it is difficult for the serving soldier in the ranks to understand why something is given with one hand and taken away with the other, leaving him behind on the deal. A little more co-operation between the Treasury and the Service departments in respect of such matters would be a good thing.
I would now like to raise another matter which, in my opinion, represents an anomaly as far as this legislation is concerned. I would not blame some people for thinking that the Parliament had forgotten about this matter. I refer to the matter of an officer who has served for a period of years and who, through circumstances beyond his control, seeks to resign. I refer to the case which we all know of Captain Robertson of the “ Melbourne “. This House could well be reminded that Captain Robertson is no longer a member of the Services, whose members we are here to minister to and to look after, not only as members of the Services, but as individual voters and as people with rights in this country. We all know that with 34 years service in the Navy, after an incident which was filled with unfortunate occurrences and actions - perhaps with some wrong actions - Captain Robertson found that he could no longer serve in the Navy and, accordingly, tendered his resignation. Since that time a book has been written by a vice-admiral who seems to think that Captain Robertson was badly treated. That book has been reviewed by another vice-admiral who does not seem to disagree with the first vice-admiral. After reading reviews and comments on publications about this matter I am sure that the people of Australia, and particularly members of this House, do not realise that here is a man who with distinction served his country for 34 years. He decided that, because of the circumstances, he could not continue. The Government, perhaps rightly and perhaps wrongly, said, in effect: “By all means resign, Captain, but you get nothing except the pennies that you spent on your superannuation scheme over those 34 years from the time you joined the Service at the age of 13 until you retired at the age of 47.”
I ask honorable members of the Opposition: Would this kind of thing happen in a union? Would honorable members be sitting here and not saying anything, with the exception of my distinguished colleague over there who says a few words occasionally, if a unionist had been sacked after 34 years and told that he had no rights and that he could get back only the money he had put into the scheme, but without any interest? For 34 years, the Commonwealth has had the use of Captain Robertson’s money, and I presume it has been earning interest, but now the Government says: “ Captain, you are out. Here is what you put in to the Fund. Thanks for your 34 years.” This is the gratitude of the Government. .
Let me read what was said in a review in “ The Bulletin “ of 20th November 1965, under the heading “ Disaster Compounded “, by T. B. Millar, who is quite a noted defence authority in this country. He said -
Captain Robertson was relieved of his command, and he subsequently resigned his commission after 34 years of distinguished service. Because he resigned, he was deprived of the very considerable pension rights he had accumulated. Had he been compulsorily retired for inefficiency, he would have kept his pension. This disgraceful action by the Government went almost unchallenged by Parliament or the Press. The Government thus retained its ability to enforce conformity among all but the most independent or determined senior officers by what is little short of economic blackmail.
I agree wholeheartedly with that description. Captain Robertson might perhaps have allowed himself to be dismissed, and I understand this was put to him. In other words he was told: “ Captain, if you allow yourself to be dismissed for the good of the Service - and we think this may be possible - you will be entitled to your full pension.” But Captain Robertson felt that he should not have to submit to such treatment and decided to make his choice, as a man of honour, to resign and not accept such a compromise. Because he did so he is deprived of everything.
The relevant clause in the Act is, 1 think, clause 48. It means that if we have a government that neglects our defences and is not prepared to accept the advice of its experts, and if a senior officer in one of the Services is prepared to come out and say that the Government is endangering the country, the Government can say: “As far as this Government is concerned, General - or Admiral or Air Marshal - you take this action at your peril because if you later submit your resignation, which you will have to do, you will be paid not one penny in pension after all the years you have served this country “. Perhaps it is necessary that this Bill be amended, but I am not sure how one has bills amended in this House.
Let me conclude by saying that I have heard people on both sides of this Parliament suggesting that we have no power in this place, that the power is all with the executive and that perhaps we should adopt the American Congressional system. In my view the power in this Parliament is in the hands of each one of us as individuals, and perhaps we should be prepared more often to state that unfairness, maltreatment or the like shall not be allowed to pass. But what happens when the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) or somebody else says: “This is the case; what is the next business on the agenda?” Honorable members sit down as meek as mice and we never refer to the matter again. Some people then say: “ It is too late now “. It is never too late to correct an injustice, and I think that Captain Robertson has suffered an injustice. I believe that this House at some future time should look at this matter and at the whole question of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. If a captain after 34 years service wishes to resign, why should he not be allowed to do so and still receive his pension, say at the rate of a commander? Captain Robertson was a good commander. He served this country as one. Because he did not serve on until the age of 55, or whatever the retiring age for a captain is, does this mean that he cannot get any recognition for the time he served as a sub-lieutenant, lieutenant, lieutenant-commander and commander and for the risks that he took for this country? This is quite incredible and, quite frankly, it fills me with shame.
It is not only Captain Robertson who is involved; this injustice may be visited upon others in the future who wish to take action similar to that taken by Captain Robertson. In my view what has happened has done this country no credit. All we have done is to prevent many people resigning who might otherwise wish to do so, because the threat of hardship is held over their heads and those of their families. It is nothing for us to be proud of.
.- I can go along with most of the remarks made by the honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess). It is worth noting that Captain Robertson at present is on the emergency list of the Royal Australian Navy. That means that in an emergency he could be called upon to go onto the active list once again. This officer has shown his willingness to serve when required and I think it is up to the Government to have another look at the case of Captain Robertson. I am not going to debate at this stage, because it has nothing to do with this Bill, the question of who was right and who was wrong when the accident took place, or whether Captain Robertson was right or wrong when he decided to resign from the Service. We on this side asked him not to resign but he felt that in the circumstances he should do so. As the honorable member for La Trobe has said, he has left the Navy after 34 years of distinguished service, and because he resigned he gets no pension under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act. I make a plea for the Government to look at this matter again. If the Government docs not know, it should know that there is uneasiness in the Royal Australian Navy because of Captain Robertson having been deprived of his pension. Many people in the Navy think that he should receive his pension. I also think he should. We on this side of the House have discussed this matter in our committees and we think that after 34 years of distinguished service a man surely has earned the right to a pension. I again ask the Government to look at this matter again, review its decision and make the pension retrospective.
One of the aspects of this Bill which we find hard to understand is the provision that is being made for orphans. The Bill does not describe them as such, but it refers to children whose parents have died. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said in his second reading speech -
The Bill increases children’s pensions, as announced in the Budget Speech, from £1 per week to £2 per week for a child whose mother is still alive, and from £3 per week to £5 per week for a child who has lost both parents.
It would be impossible for those having the care of children whose parents have died, whether they be relatives, friends, homes or other institutions, to keep those children until they reach the age of 16 years on £5 a week. It cannot be done. I realise that child endowment is also payable, but I still say that the Government is not treating these cases generously when it increases the provision for the orphans of servicemen to £5 a week. We hope that the Government will have another look at this. We inquired to see whether we could move an amendment to increase this amount but were told it was against the forms of the House and that as money was involved, and it would upset the Budget and all the millions of pounds associated with it, a new bill would have to be introduced. I make the plea that the Government re-examine this matter and increase the allowance beyond £5 a week, because a child cannot be maintained until 16 years of age on that sum. I commend the Bill as far as it goes. It needs some polishing. I hope the Government will heed the remarks of the honorable member for La Trobe, and also my remarks about officers and sailors - they are no longer called ratings - and servicemen generally who, in many instances, are forced to resign before they are due to retire. I hope that their needs will be met by the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Dr. Forbes) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 12th November (vide page 2688), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Dr. Forbes) read a third time.
House adjourned at 10.43 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated -
b asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1 and 2. The Commonwealth unemployment benefit scheme, as with similar schemes in other countries, is designed to meet the needs of an industrialised society. This means not that rural workers are excluded from the benefit but that it is directed to assist members of the work force whose earnings have been temporarily interrupted by unemployment. The first essential qualification is that the claimant must be unemployed. A person who is employed, even though his wage may be low according to urban standards, cannot be said to be unemployed, In addition, unemployment benefit does not extend to persons who are not unemployed or to persons who are not normally employed.
The welfare of Aborigines in the States is the responsibility of the State Governments. This does not preclude Aborigines from receiving Commonwealth social service benefits where they are so qualified. However, where any person is unable to satisfy the conditions for a Commonwealth benefit his welfare and maintenance remain the responsibility of the Slate Government.
The officers of the Western Australian Department of Native Welfare understand the qualifications for unemployment benefit. Consequently there would be no point in their obtaining claims from persons who are not qualified for benefit. Any person without regard to his race who becomes unemployed may lodge a claim for unemployment benefit and where necessary he will be assisted in completing the application form. When the claim is lodged it is investigated in the normal manner and determined on its merits in accordance with the provisions of the Social Services Act. 3 and 4. My Department is not responsible in any way for wages policies.
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1, 2 and 3. Teaching rooms such as general purpose rooms, sewing rooms and manual arts rooms, which are not normally provided in primary and infants’ schools elsewhere, are provided in Canberra schools. It has always been expected that these would be used as classrooms to meet pressures due to additional enrolments until extra classrooms could be provided. Such rooms have been or are being used for this purpose in the majority of primary schools in Canberra. At three schools - Hackett, Forrest and Yarralumla - two classes are accommodated in the general purpose rooms which have been partitioned off for the purpose.
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
Primary and secondary schools are generally constructed in stages as an area develops. In infants and primary schools two general purpose rooms arc provided, one in the infants’ department and one in the primary department, either of which can of course be used for assembly purposes. At high schools assembly halls are considered essentia] in the ultimate development of the school but these are not necessarily provided in the first stage of construction. All existing primary schools have general purpose rooms and all but two high schools, namely Watson and Campbell, have assembly halls. At present the two latter schools have only first and second year students totalling about 300 at each school. The ultimate development of each school will provide for students in each year up to sixth year with a total enrolment of over 1,000 students. An assembly hall will be provided at each in due course as the school develops.
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice - 1.. Have some public infants schools in Canberra had to limit the entry of five-year-olds from pre school centres because of lack of classroom accommodation?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, 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 -
Western Australia in occupations as shown in the table below -
In addition to the foregoing, two non-official post offices in Queensland are conducted by Aborigines while in South Australia an Aborigine is employed part time as a cleaner.
3 and 4. Arising from the full employment situation, the Commonwealth labour market is extremely competitive, particularly in the more populous States. In this situation, the Department, in common with other public and private employers, is experiencing difficulty in recruiting staff in numbers and quality to meet all requirements at all times.
In an undertaking employing more than 90,000 persons throughout Australia, there are inevitably vacancies at any point of time. The number, nature and location of these vacancies, however, vary from day to day.
There are persistent vacancies in all States for skilled tradesmen; in the metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne for junior staff for telegram delivery duties; and in Canberra for postman, mail officer and postal officer. However, overall the staff is adequate to operate, maintain and develop Departmental services.
d asked the Minister for Ship ping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
Queensland- Three (3) Aborigines are at present employed aboard M.V. “A. H. Swingle” based at Thursday Island. Of these, two were engaged this year.
Western Australia - Ten (10) Aborigines are normally employed at Cape Don Lightstation, during the unloading of the Lighthouse vessel, and six (6) were employed over a tenday period in February 1965, on maintenance of the landing at Cape Don. One (1) was employed in June 1965 on clearing the airstip at Cape Leveque Lightstation. Engagement in these cases is on a casual basis when required only.
South Australia - No Aborigines are employed by the Department in South Australia.
All sections of the Department with a requirement for Aboriginal labour are up to strength.
Queensland - No Aborigines are employed by the Commonwealth Railways in Queensland.
Western Australia - Three (3) Aborigines are at present employed in workshop, goods shed and stores labouring, and on maintenance of the permanent way. All were engaged this year.
South Australia - Fifty-six (56) Aborigines at present employed in workshop, goods shed and stores labouring and on maintenance of the permanent way. Of this number twenty-six (26) were engaged this year. The Workshop, Train Running, Stores and Permanent Way Sections of the Service do not have a sufficient work force at the present time and labour is required for tradesmen and unskilled support staff, station duties, stores labouring and track maintenance.
m asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
What is the history, scope and justification of the practice under which the Registrar appointed under the Australian Capital Territory Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Ordinance notifies the police of registered births to young unmarried mothers?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
There is no such practice, although I understand it has been suggested mistakenly that there is.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 November 1965, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1965/19651123_reps_25_hor49/>.