26th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
-I desire to inform the House that a delegation from the Parliament of Ceylon, led by the Honourable M. D. H. Jayawardena, Minister for Health, is present in the gallery of the House. I am sure honourable members will join me in extending a very warm welcome to our distinguished visitors.
Honourable members ; Hear, hear!
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. I preface it by saying that I am sure the right honourable gentleman is aware that the economic position of the sugar industry is worsening to the degree that an increasing number of cane farmers are receiving social service benefits. Also, the threat of another drought is clearly evident. In this context I ask the Minister whether he is aware that farmers who have peaks of under 1,400 tons and who have recently expanded their activities find it almost impossible to secure bank credit. The same position applies to the small dairy farmer. Will he give personal consideration to all bona fide cases which have been refused credit by the banks and which I or any other honourable member brings before him? Finally, will he table a statement showing the conditions of borrowing, the rates of interest and the allocation by areas of the Farm Development Loan Fund scheme up to date?
– We frequently hear statements of this kind from the honourable gentleman, who continues to cry poor mouth and to misrepresent the position that exists in many areas of Queensland. In some areas in Queensland there have been beneficial rains, and in some areas we are now handling the problem of floods of unprecedented extent. Special applications have been made to us for funds to help farmers in the areas affected. Nonetheless, if the honourable member informs me of any case whatsoever where he thinks that finance has been unjustifiably refused by the banks, I will do my best to have an analysis made and to let him know the results. In regard to the Farm Development Loan Fund, I will approach the Reserve Bank to see whether I can obtain the information required by the honourable member. If I can get the details, or if I find that the information I obtain may be useful to him, I will let him have it.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation: Is it a fact that the first stage of the terminal building at Tullamarine - the international complex - is already two months behind schedule and that at this rate of progress final completion of the project may be up to two years behind? Is it a fact that the consulting engineers are so concerned that only last week they voiced their doubts to the Department of Works about the competency of the builder to complete on time? Is the Minister considering action through the Department of Works to avoid these delays? Has pressure been applied by Sydney interests to go slow on Tullamarine while work at Mascot proceeds?
– I think I can speak on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Works, in saying that there would be no justification for the suggestion made in the latter part of the honourable member’s question. I do know that there has been some delay in the construction of the main terminal building at Tullamarine. However, the actual contractual arrangements come within the control of the Department of Works, and therefore I will seek some information from my colleague the Minister for Works and see that a reply is provided.
– My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Air in his position as liaison Minister between the Commonwealth Government and the State Government of Tasmania for administration of fire relief to that State. On what grounds does the Minister now base his refusal to provide homes for rural employees especially in view of the fact that on his first visit to Tasmania immediately after the fires he intimated that all would be rehoused? Further, why does the Minister discriminate between employees in industry, such as those employed at the Electrona carbide plant and Cascade Brewery Co. Ltd who will get homes and employees on farms and orchards who will not get homes, despite the fact that in most cases they were not only burnt out of their homes but also burnt out of their jobs? Finally, will the Government review its attitude on this important matter, especially in view of the fact that most of the homestead farmers and orchardists in these cases have also been seriously affected and are in no position to accept loans for the rehousing of their farm employees who have given long and faithful service in this important rural sector of the Tasmanian economy?
– Firstly, let me remind the House that all the requests for aid for those who have suffered from bush fire damage have been made by the Premier of Tasmania. Secondly, on the question of housing, there is no discrimination between people who live in the country and people who live in the city. Aid was requested by the Premier of Tasmania in the first place for people who live in their own homes. All the people owning their own homes are treated in exactly the same way. The question that is being raised concerns rental housing. As the Premier of Tasmania has announced, all requests for rental homes are being considered separately and individually and are being regarded as special cases.
The people living in rural cottages are living there on a rental basis. As the honourable member is well aware, farm cottages have always been treated under the income tax laws as being eligible for special depreciation as farm assets over a period of five years. The owners of the farms have been able to write these homes off under these depreciation arrangements. Therefore these homes are being considered as farm assets, as are all the other assets of rural people, and that is the way in which the request has come to the Commonwealth Government and the way in which the agreement has been worked out.
In regard to the other matters raised, there is no difference in treatment between people in the country and people in the city. Housing is being provided for people who were living in their own homes. The rehabilitation of businesses is being considered in the applications for loan moneys. A Bill will be brought into the House either later this week or next week and the honourable member will then have further opportunity to debate this matter.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for National Development and it refers to the statement by the Minister on the Government’s policy relating to uranium under which only half of any new discoveries may be exported. What is to happen to the other half? Does the Government intend to purchase it? What can the owners - some 15,000 shareholders - do with the existing deposits which they have been sitting on for the last five years because of lack of contracts? Will this decision stifle exploration at a time when one would expect mining companies to be preparing for the renewal of world business which is expected in the 1970’s? Finally, who would be silly enough to invest in exploration if the cost of exploiting a discovery is to be burdened by the high cost of over-capitalisation and the restriction of throughput?
– The Government’s policy decision in this matter was made in order to preserve reasonable requirements of Australian users of atomic energy in the foreseeable future and. at the same time, to encourage exploration and the exploitation and development of any future discoveries. It has been estimated that known resources of uranium in Australia today would be sufficient to fuel only three atomic reactors for their economic life. In view of this the Government felt that it should implement a policy similar to that adopted in relation to iron ore. The honourable member will recall that for a long time the export of iron ore was restricted. In 1960 the Government decided that while it would retain the restriction so far as certain known deposits of iron ore were concerned, it would enable people who discovered additional deposits to export a proportion of those deposits. This was a remarkably successful policy change. I hope the same thing will eventuate with the lifting of the restriction on the export of uranium. I think we would be very foolish to allow people holding deposits of uranium to export the lot. If we did not find new deposits, we would be in a position of having to buy uranium from overseas at increased cost, because the price will undoubtedly go up later. In addition, our use of uranium would be restricted and this will not happen if we conserve our own resources.
– Did the Minister for National Development consult representatives of the uranium mining industry before imposing a partial export embargo on uranium? Will the Minister explain how this partial export embargo will stimulate the search for uranium in Australia? Will it not have the contrary effect of discouraging prospecting and development by uranium miners? When does the Minister expect that there will be a significant demand for uranium by nuclear power stations in Australia?
– This is not a partial embargo. This decision involves the granting of a right to export from any new deposits. Only the large deposits already known cannot be exported. I, as the Minister, will have the right to authorise exports of additional discoveries of uranium. This is a policy which worked particularly well previously and we believe it will work in this case. Already there are indications of a quickening interest in the search for uranium. I believe that something like five different companies operating in Australia today are searching for uranium. We are quite confident that this policy will result in additional reserves being discovered. For instance, although the present known reserves at Mary Kathleen are now restricted from export if any additional deposits are proved there the company concerned will be entitled to come to me and seek permission to export those deposits. I did consult with some people in the uranium industry and with the Atomic Energy Commission before this subject was discussed by the Government.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Minister for Trade and Industry, by saying that indications are that Indonesia will require increased importations of flour. Has this market for Australian flour been fully investigated. If so, with what result? If there is an exchange difficulty, could Australia buy from Indonesia additional raw materials which are not available here and so overcome the problem to the benefit of both countries?
– Indonesia has traditionally been an important export market for Australian flour. There was a period when the Indonesian authorities were so short of foreign exchange that they were not in a position to purchase Australian flour in any quantity. In recent years there has been no cessation of contact at the level of the trade commissioner service, the individual flour producers and, I think, the Australian Wheat Board, with a view to ascertaining the capacity of Indonesia to buy Australian flour and to pay for it on terms that were acceptable to the Australian sellers. Sales have been made recurringly. The Export Payments Insurance Corporation, which over a period was not able to underwrite the sale of goods to Indonesia except by sight draft, has now extended its terms to some degree. I am sure this will facilitate some further sales of Australian flour to Indonesia. I conclude by saying that Indonesia is a market of which we are quite aware and which we want to cultivate, and that no opportunity is being lost at any level, from the Government and its agencies through to the flour millers and the Australian Wheat Board, to keep in touch with and to redevelop what was a very important trade to us in earlier years.
– Is the Treasurer aware that a Reserve Bank directive prevents private banks and life assurance offices from lending to companies which are foreign owned or controlled without the approval of the Reserve Bank? Is it a fact that overseas companies in Australia are approaching finance and hire purchase lenders with growing frequency? If this is a fact, would the right honourable gentleman inform the House what action he intends to take to rectify the position?
– I am well aware of the guide lines that were adopted by the Reserve Bank and approved by the Government to restrict borrowings in Australia by companies that are based overseas. I think that, in answer to a question asked by the honourable gentleman during the last session of the House, I told him what those guide lines were. As to that part of the question which relates to hire purchase companies and finance houses, the honourable gentleman probably knows that we have no constitutional jurisdiction over these organisations. We have a constitutional power relating to banking which is of restrictive application. But I shall ask the Reserve Bank, or if that is not the appropriate authority, then my officials, to find out whether the hire purchase and finance companies are engaging in the kind of transactions which have been mentioned. If I think that these organisations are overstepping the bounds of prudence I will discuss with my officers what action ought to be taken.
– My question also is directed to the Treasurer. Is there any way in which the interests of Australian investors in Pinnock Finance Co. Ltd, an Australian associate of a British company of similar name, which has been reported to be in financial difficulties, can be protected?
– I heard that Pinnock Finance Co. Ltd had suspended payment of moneys due to Australians. Naturally I made inquiries to see whether the Commonwealth had any interest in this problem and whether it could take any action. I am advised that the company is registered in New South Wales under the New South Wales Companies Act and that the responsibility for taking any action, if action is to be taken, resides with the Government of that State.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. I refer to the alarming increase in the cost of all types of home building materials and to the maximum loan for a war service home, which has remained static for years, creating serious hardship for exservicemen who desire to build their own homes. Will the Prime Minister say whether, as rumoured, the Government intends to increase the war service homes loan from a maximum of $7,000 to $10,000, thus helping to close the gap which now exists between the cost of an average cottage and the amount of the loan?
– The matter raised by the honourable gentleman is clearly one of policy. When any statement is to be made in relation to Government action of this kind it will be made as a matter of policy. It would not be appropriate for me to deal with the matter at question time.
– I ask the Minister for the Army a question. Is it correct, as alleged at the 18th biennial conference of the Australian Blinded Soldiers Association, that national servicemen who have received permanent war injuries are being forced to remain in the Army until they have completed their full period of two years service?
– With regard to the category of person to whom the honourable member has referred the Army would have only one thought and one intention. That would be to do what is in the best interests of the soldier concerned. The man’s wishes, the medical attention he might require and all the number of things that would come to the honourable member’s mind would be taken into account in reaching a decision. Ample evidence exists to show that the Army does not have an inflexible attitude about holding a national serviceman for a rigid two years period. It is not uncommon for national servicemen who have been in the Army for a few weeks or perhaps a few months to reveal some medical defect after training which was not apparent and would not have been apparent earlier. Quite a number of such people are put out of the Army when this fact becomes known. If there is concern for somebody who comes within the categories I have just mentioned there would be all the more concern for somebody who comes within the category the subject of the report referred to by the honourable member. All I can say is that if the honourable member or anybody else knows of any soldier who has received a permanent injury and who is thought not to have received the attention that should have been given to him, I will be glad to receive his name so that I may make a personal investigation into the matter. I have seen the reports published in this respect. The names of individual soldiers will not be mentioned in any investigation.
– I ask the Treasurer a question. In view of his recent statement at the dinner held by the Australian Finance Conference does he intend to divert some investment to national development from hire purchase for consumer spending by a reduction of hire purchase borrowing interest rates and does he intend to upgrade interest rates to the bankers development refinance corporation? As he has informed the honourable member for Reid that he has no power to control hire purchase companies, does the Treasurer intend that the bankers development refinance corporation should compete against public loans at higher interest rates?
– The honourable gentleman has misunderstood what I said. I would like to set him straight regarding the statement I made last night to the Australian Finance Conference, lt had nothing to do with interest rates. 1 first pointed out that this problem of diversion of finance had to be considered in perspective. The banks and the hire purchase companies both had increased commitments for finance last year by something of the order of §3, 200m. For this reason any amount that would bc diverted away from hire-purchase companies into the bankers development refinance corporation would be only marginal. I went on to point out that we live in a growth economy and that in this kind of economy we will be looking not at a reduction of the amounts that the finance and hire purchase companies would have, but at the rate of increase in those amounts. It is from the increase in the finance that would be made available that part of the extra funds would be largely mobilised by the corporation. Against this background, I think the question asked by the honourable gentleman is not relevant.
– I ask the Minister for National Development whether it is a fact that in its most recent report the Joint Coal Board expressed some concern at the depletion of Australia’s reserves of coking coal, as used in the manufacture of steel, by reason of substantial and continuing exports to Japan. I ask the honourable gentleman whether he shares this concern.
– The Joint Coal Board has on more than one occasion expressed to me some concern at the reserves of coking coal in Australia, or perhaps it would be more correct to say that it has expressed concern that we have not fully assessed these reserves. The Board believes that there are vast reserves of coking coal in Australia, certainly well over 1,000 million tons and possibly considerably more than this. But the Board believes that there is a need for a more accurate assessment of the reserves. Once the total reserves had been assessed it would be very much easier for a Government to make a correct decision. This is not a simple matter. The development of some new process which reduced the quantity of coking coal needed or even abolished the necessity for coking coal in the manufacture of steel would make us look rather foolish if we had placed an unnecessary restriction on the export of coking coal. Therefore, before we decide our future policy on the export of coking coal, I think we need to know the extent of the reserves. The Government has under review at the moment plans that may enable us to hasten the assessment of the reserves.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Works, ls it a fact that the Premier of South Australia recently approached the Minister with an urgent request that the Commonwealth Government expand its works programme in that State so as to ensure that South Australia’s share of Commonwealth works will represent a fairer allocation, when compared with other States, than exists at present? If this is so, I ask the Minister as a South Australian to give earnest and favourable consideration to the request. In the meantime will he expedite the commencement of any Commonwealth works projects already proposed for South Australia and so give a stimulus to the building industry and provide much needed employment opportunities in that industry?
– The Premier of South Australia did approach me to find out the programme that the Department of Works would be putting in hand in South Australia during the next financial year. He did not approach me to ask whether there could be an increase in these works, and quite properly, if such a request were to be made it should be made by him to the Prime Minister.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Minister for External Affairs, by reminding him of the plan of the United States of America to assist financially those food industries that can produce a high protein product at a reasonable cost for export to countries that are suffering because of their low nutritional standards. Will the Minister consider approaching those Ministers, departments, firms and industries which could embark on a similar project, with the Government taking a leading role in helping to finance such a scheme, and thereby add another contribution to our already fine record of assistance to such countries as India which are in desperate need today?
– The Government is aware of various experiments that are being conducted partly by private organisations and partly under government sponsorship in the United States of America to produce food substances that have a high concentration of protein, the idea being that problems of distribution and cost in relieving the serious food shortages of Asia might be alleviated by this method. I am sure the honourable member will realise that it is not only a question of the production of suitable food substances but also of arrangements for their introduction and use by the countries with food shortages. My own Department has gathered together a good deal of information about these experiments and the way in which the substances can be used. We will be in consultation with other departments to see whether we can adapt them to our own food relief programmes in Asia.
– Does the Prime Minister agree with the Minister for the Army who makes a distinction between men in the Regular Army and conscripts to the disadvantage of conscripts? Does the Prime Minister believe that national servicemen should be used as front line soldiers out of all proportion to their numbers? Does he agree that the Regular Army men should be used in jobs not involving face to face combat with the enemy while conscripts are used to excess in danger zones? Is he of the opinion that conscripts are expendable because they are conscripts while the Regular Army is kept as safe as possible?
– The honourable gentleman has asked a loaded question which quite misrepresents the general position, and has asked it in a manner which is offensive to the thinking of members of this Government on this matter. I know the facts of the situation. I think there is the implication in the honourable gentleman’s question that Regular Army men in some way welcome a means of avoiding the normal hazards of their occupation. That, too, is offensive to a body of men who have shown gallantry and skill of the highest order in the areas where they have been called upon to fight.
I read the explanation given by the Minister for the Army, and as I read it it seemed to me to be a factual and completely fair presentation of the situation. He pointed out that regular servicemen are engaged for a much longer period than the national servicemen and can be given a more extensive training in specialist activities inside the forces and therefore in the interest of the Army’s efficiency can be appropriately employed there. The national servicemen, not being in the Army for the same length of time, are engaged in those aspects of Army work that do not call for the same degree of specialisation. Of course, only a small proportion of the total national service intake becomes involved in military operations. National servicemen are employed in military operations to the best advantage of the service and in the interests of the nation’s external policies. From my own contact with national servicemen I should say that they had cheerfully undertaken these obligations. The complaints that are voiced by the honourable gentleman certainly do not come from them.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is it correct that he made an inspection of Mascot Airport yesterday? Is it correct that he save
Mr Bridges, MLC, an assurance that Sydney Airport would be able to take supersonic aircraft not later than Tullamarine Airport? Can the Minister assure the House that this assurance will in no way delay completion of the Tullamarine Airport and can he advise the House more fully on his statement at Mascot yesterday?
– I did have the opportunity to inspect Sydney airport, accompanied by Mr Bridges and the New South Wales Government members committee and also by three Federal members from New South Wales, and we released a joint statement. I shall let the honourable member have a copy of that statement because it conveys exactly what we said at the time. The information contained in it in relation to runway lengths is subject to a review at the present time because until now we have not been quite certain what the ultimate runway length requirements will be. The same situation applies not only in Sydney but also in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Darwin. In each place we are faced with exactly the same situation. I gave an assurance that the planning is under way at the moment in regard to the situation. If and when there is a requirement for increased runway lengths, I do not doubt that the requirement in Sydney at the time will be met. Undoubtedly, if there is a requirement in Melbourne at that time it also will be met. I may say that we have to face the situation in relation to Brisbane and Perth and we will have to examine the situation at these airports at the same time.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation: Does he recall my written representation to him on 30th March relating to the case of two elderly ladies who, on the evening of 22nd March, were offloaded from a Trans-Australia Airlines aeroplane which was about to leave Sydney and travel to Canberra? Is the Minister now able to say why this action was taken, who authorised the action and who occupied the seats which the two ladies were forced to vacate?
– I received a letter from the honourable member last week and I acknowledged it at that time. In addition I have read some Press comments on this incident. I can assure the House that I was just as concerned as the honourable member was in regard to this matter. I arranged for my Department to ask the Australian National Airlines Commission for a report on the matter. The report was received this morning and 1 had the opportunity to read it before lunch. However, I have not had the opportunity to reply to the honourable members letter, but I shall do so as soon as possible.
This incident was apparently the result of an unfortunate mistake which occurred because, I understand, a booking was made earlier by the two people concerned in the city office and the information was not relayed to the office at the airport. Steps have now been taken by the management of TAA to tighten its procedures. I understand that arrangements were made for the people concerned to be interviewed by a senior officer of TAA. Accommodation was provided for the two ladies during their overnight stay in Sydney and the airline has submitted an apology to them. However, I shall provide the full details in my letter to the honourable member and I can assure the House that steps are being taken to endeavour to avoid this type of problem in future.
– I address my question to the Treasurer. Is it correct that during the past six months the Government has been seeking preferred foreign loan treatment from the United States of America? Is it correct also that the United States Government has made it clear that it will not allow any special treatment for Australia in the administration of its overseas lending controls, such as it allows already for Japan, Canada and less developed countries? If this is so, what reasons were given?
– It is true that Australia has been seeking some exemption from the ambit of the United States regulations that provide for the payment of an interest equalisation tax. We have had correspondence with the United States authorities in order to see whether exemption can be granted. At the moment we are still negotiating with those authorities and until a final decision has been arrived at f prefer not to give an answer to this question.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry a question. I refer to the appearance of his colleague, the Treasurer, on a ‘Meet the Press’ television programme in Melbourne at the weekend, and that honourable gentleman’s statement that Britain’s entry into the European Common Market would not really affect Australia and that the problem would be easily overcome. I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry: Does this mean that his statements of the last two or three years or more no longer give a valid assessment of the situation that would present itself if Britain did enter the European Common Market?
-Order! I do not think the Minister for Trade and Industry is responsible for a statement made on television by another Minister.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Industry. Is the Minister aware of a statement by Professor Campbell that taxpayers, in their ignorance of the economics of agriculture, have been misled in being convinced that the wheat grower needs protection? Does the Minister consider that when the return to growers falls below the officially assessed cost of production, they are producing at a loss? Does the Minister agree with the reported statement of Professor Campbell that the Minister’s present case in the Kennedy Round negotiations seems to be based on fiction rather than on fact?
– For many years we have spoken of the cost of production of wheat in Australia and in this context we have meant the average cost of production. The position is that this Government and its predecessors, both Liberal-Country Party and Labor, have followed policies which require the ascertainment of the average cost of production of wheat in Australia. On every occasion on which the Cabinet has decided that an investigation of the cost of production should be made, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics of the Department of Primary Industry has been requested to conduct a very extensive survey of the costs of wheat growers. These would include all the cash costs such as fuel, corn sacks, wages and fertilisers, together with interest payments or a notional allowance for interest on a farmer’s investment. This has always been at a very modest interest rate. In earlier years it was about 3J% or 3f%. When those costs have been compiled and the Bureau has made a finding, the officers of the Treasury and of the Department of Primary Industry, and finally the Cabinet, have closely studied the situation. Figures have been confirmed and accepted only after scrutiny at this level.
The State Governments, which alone have the power to control prices, have conducted similar scrutinies and as stabilisation schemes have been considered every five years for approval by the Commonwealth and State Governments this whole procedure has been repeated, so that variations in costs from year to year are not overlooked. There is a wheat index committee which meets annually and compares cost movements of the previous year with the basic costs in the particular stabilisation period. This exercise also is carried out by officers of the Commonwealth Government and representatives of the wheat industry, and its results again are accepted by the Commonwealth Government. After all this has been done, if a professor says it is all fiction I am not going to argue with him. My job, on the basis of ali this and the policy of the Government, is to try to defend the interests of the Australian wheat growers. May I remind the House and the community that, when one speaks of the average cost of producing wheat, butter or any other commodity, the very theory of averaging implies that half of those who produce the commodity produce it at less than that cost and half produce it at more than that cost. So for half of the producers the so-called cost of production is less than their cost of production. We have a big enough battle on hand to defend the interests of Australian farmers against the avariciousness of people overseas. I had hoped that we would be spared the attacks of Australians at home.
– by leave - My attention has been drawn to questions that have been asked concerning proposals sponsored by a Swiss-based organisation known as Terre des Hommes and by the Religious Society of Friends that Vietnamese children should be brought to Australia for hospital treatment and possibly for adoption. There have been suggestions that Une Australian Government should involve itself financially in such operations. This has been the subject of consultation between the Minister for Health and myself.
The proposals are well meant and reflect strong humanitarian attitudes, and as such have deserved thoughtful consideration. However, proponents of the idea may not have taken into account the following factors:
It seems to me, and to my colleague the Minister for Health, to make more sense to get behind the existing aid programmes, both private and government, and to push these along to success rather than to spread limited resources over new schemes. Certainly the Australian Government’s aid resources will continue to be spent on projects carefully selected by the Government of Vietnam, including surgical activities in Vietnam. If there were individual cases in which it would be clear that treatment in Australia would be to the advantage of the patient we would certainly give the most sympathetic consideration to them.
– by leave - On 22nd September 1966 I reported to the previous Parliament that an Ansett-ANA Viscount 832 aircraft VH-RMI had crashed approximately twelve miles west of Winton, Queensland, and that all twenty-four occupants had been killed and the aircraft destroyed. I indicated that a technical investigation had been commenced immediately by air safety investigators of the Department of Civil Aviation. On the accident site near Winton I also announced that a Board of Accident Inquiry would be set up later to conduct a public inquiry into the accident.
I wish now to inform the House that I have received the final report of the technical investigation and that I have forwarded a copy of it to Sir John Spicer, Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Industrial Court, who has been appointed Chairman of the Board of Accident Inquiry. The Board will consist of a Chairman who will be assisted by four assessors. It is expected that interested parties will be represented by counsel. Sir John Spicer has advised me that the inquiry will open in Brisbane in the Hawken Auditorium, Institute of Engineers Building, Upper Edward Street, Brisbane, on 26th April at 2.30 p.m. and will sit for three days. It will then move to Winton to take local evidence and to enable members of the Board and counsel to inspect the accident site. Evidence will also be taken in Melbourne, where most of the aircraft wreckage was taken for detailed laboratory examination, before the Board returns to Brisbane for further hearings.
I might tell the House that few people appreciate the mammoth task involved in the technical investigation conducted by the Air Safety Investigation Branch of the Department of Civil Aviation into the accident. It has taken air safety investigators more than 40,000 man hours and involved up to 200 experts in various fields. The Department’s air safety investigators have been assisted by experts from the Defence Standards Laboratory, the University of Melbourne, the Aeronautical Research Laboratories, the manufacturer of the aircraft and many of its components, the engine manufacturer, the Australian Federation of Air Pilots and Ansett-ANA. At one stage during the field investigations at Winton forty-five technical and operational experts were involved, and seven technical experts also were brought from Britain to help. When the inquiry is completed and the Chairman has forwarded the report to the Board of Accident Inquiry to me, I shall bring it to the attention of the House. I present the following paper:
Aircraft Accident Near Winton, Queensland - Ministerial Statement - and move:
That the House take note of the paper.
Debate (on motion by Mr Charles Jones) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 4 April (vide page 871), on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Speaker, I move:
In his second reading speech the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) said:
The Bill before the House includes two sets of amendments to the Social Services Act that are of major significance.
I stress the word ‘major’. The Minister went on to say:
In addition there are a number of items of lesser importance. The first major item will bring into effect the means test proposal on pensions announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) on 8th November last year. The second major item will provide the legislative measures to fulfil the Government’s election promise to pay a special allowance to qualified disabled persons employed in sheltered workshops.
The Minister went on to say:
This liberalisation of the means test represents a continuation of the Government’s policy of progressively extending the range of eligibility.
I shall have more to say on this important subject later in my speech. At the outset, the Opposition does not’ quarrel wilh the Government’s mandate to introduce this legislation. It is a pity that the Government does not act similarly in regard to its mandate to abolish the means test - a mandate it won as long ago as 1949. I think it is important to remind honourable members of that pledge. Somewhere in the Department of Social Services or in the ranks of the Liberal and Country Parties there must be a person who, with fanatical, fiendish ingenuity, from time to time presents to the Minister a plan to provide the minimum of benefits to the minimum number of people, but one which will appeal to the greatest number of voters. Unfortunately, thanks to a gullible public, the plan has succeeded fairly regularly, as it did during the last election campaign. The spirit of the plan is exemplified, as I shall show later, by the legislation before us today.
Let us look at this legislation. How many people does it cover? It covers 40,000 new beneficiaries and 100,000 present pensioners. It will cost 52.5m this year and $13.5m in a full year. The legislation will not affect 93% of pensioners, according to figures given to me by the Department.
This means that 460,000 persons of pensionable age will be outside the new means test limits. I am grateful to the Department for supplying me with those figures. Of those covered by the Bill, namely, the 40,000 new beneficiaries and the 100,000 people who are at present receiving pensions, only a very small fraction will receive the full benefit. This is because - again according to figures given to me by the Department - only 4% of pensioners have incomes of between $7 and $10, thus bringing them within the scope of this Bill. They will receive pro rata increases and probably will lose them at the other end because of some superannuation scheme or other, as has happened in the past.
During the last election campaign the Australian Labor Party made certain pledges to the people about social services. Its proposals were designed to meet the needs of those in difficulty. Members of the Liberal Party and the Country Party were vehemently critical about those pledges and said that Labor could not afford to implement them. Evidently they convinced the people. But whatever might be said about the promises made by Labor, no-one could say that the Liberal-Country Party Government could not afford to carry out its pledge on social services. This pledge by the Government will cost only $2.5m this year and $13.5m in a full year. This means that it will cost, in a full year, about the same as is being spent by the Government on VIP aircraft to fly the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) and other people all over Australia - that is $12m - plus the rebate of customs duty totalling $1.5m, which the Government has allowed Trans-Australia Airlines and Ansett-ANA. That is how the Government regards its obligation to provide social services for the Australian people. In the light of the annual Budget’ provision for social services the increase proposed under this measure is insignificant; it is hardly worth mentioning. It is fair comment to say that this is a confidence trick of the worst type perpetrated on the Australian people. This view is supported when we read the Prime Minister’s policy speech. Dealing with the means test, he said:
We have liberalised the means test progressively … We will raise by 156 dollars the limits both of property and income, within which pensions will be payable to the aged, the invalid and the widows.
He went on to say that he would elaborate on this matter in another statement. He did so and this is what he said:
We now propose to increase these limits still further-
Referring to the means test- to $156 for both single persons and married couples.
There was no indication that it would be cut in half for a married person. It was stated that it would be $156 for married couples and $156 for single persons.
– That is what it says.
– It was never indicated to the people that it would be given to married couples on a one-half basis. I shall again quote what was said in the policy speech:
We will raise by $156 the limits both of property and income, within which pensions will be payable to the aged, the invalid and the widows.
– What is the honourable member quoting from?
– 1 am quoting from the policy speech of the Liberal Party. If the Prime Minister was not putting over a confidence trick why did he not say it would be $156 only for married couples? Even when he elaborated on the subject in his supplementary statement he did not indicate that the Government was breaking away from a principle that has been established as long as social services have been provided in Australia. I say again that is an indication - and a proof - of the confidence trick that has been put over the people.
I wonder why the Liberal Party has been suddenly converted and has decided to raise the means test limit by $156 at this time. Only on 22nd September 1966 I moved an amendment which included the following words:
The Minister led his supporters across the floor of the House to vote against that proposal. Today the Government is implementing that proposal under the guise of a reform in social service benefits, except that it is acting in a niggardly way towards married couples. Similar amendments have been moved in this Parliament by myself and others at least a dozen times in the last dozen years, and on each occasion honourable members opposite have refused to accept the amendments. By their ultimate conversion to the cause they now indicate that they use social services for political purposes instead of for humanitarian reasons.
The Opposition does not oppose this measure but it is very critical of the limited and niggardlly benefit that it bestows on very deserving sections of the community, lt gives the barest minimum to the least number, as required by the Government’s election pledge. Sickness and unemployment benefits, maternity allowances, funeral benefits, child endowment, and a wide range of other social service benefits, all lagging behind in value in these days of inflation and high prices, remain unchanged. At this stage I refer briefly to the provisions of the Bill. As the Minister has already elaborated them 1 will not go to great lengths. As I have said there are one or two major items, as he described them, which will cost the country the very minimum of expenditure. The first major item is the proposal to raise, by $156, the limits of property and income within which pensions are payable to the aged, invalid and widows. This means that a single person, subject to certain property qualifications, may earn $156 extra and still receive the maximum pension of $13. His income may rise to a grand total of $23 before the pension is eliminated. What a princely amount! He may earn an amount of $23 when the average weekly income of a person in Australia is in the vicinity of $52 to $56.
The honourable member for St George is attempting to interject, but if he waits a while I will bring him right up to date. The position is even worse for a married couple. They are subject to discrimination because they are wedded. What a crime it is in the eyes of the Liberal Government to be married. A married couple will be able to receive only $156 extra between them. Subject again to certain property limits they may have a combined income of $17 weekly and -still receive the maximum rate pension. Some pension will be paid to each until their combined income reaches $40.50. This is the price they must pay for marriage. The property asset limits vary in the same manner as with the single pensioner. This pattern of discrimination runs right through the legislation, even down to persons who are being rehabilitated. That is bad enough in itself. But married people have waited since 1954 - a period of thirteen years - for this meagre and miserable increase that is to come to them. They find now that the amount by which the means test is to be eased is to be halved and they will have to suffer discrimination.
The Government proposes, in this age of inflation and affluence, to give to a single pensioner a maximum income of $15, provided he qualifies for the supplementary assistance allowance. A married pensioner with no income is to get $11.75. In other words the married pensioner will be $3.25 a week behind his single colleague. A married couple in the same position will get $23.50. Single persons, be they a brother and sister or two brothers living together, may get $30, or $6.50 more than a married couple. In other words, this Government believes that even two single pensioners living together are entitled to more than are a married couple. That is the basis of its policy. It is bad enough at any stage, but it is particularly so when the allowance is such a miserable pittance. As I indicated earlier, in relation to property this discrimination continues right throughout the legislation.
I want to point out to honourable members opposite just what is happening and to say a few words concerning permissible income. Firstly, as I mentioned, the provision relating to permissible income has not been changed for thirteen years. The Government has continually opposed any increase. Until the last election the Government did not think about increasing the amount of permissible income, despite the fact that over the years amendments seeking to have this done have been moved in this Parliament. I have already said that this Bill perpetuates the vile and repugnant system of discrimination between married and single pensioners. It provides for the permissible income to be raised in the case of a single pensioner and in the case of married pensioners, but in the case of each married person by only a niggardly amount of 50% of the amount provided for single pensioners. One has only to deal with this problem personally in his electorate to realise the injustice and discord that it is causing. The Minister knows of cases that I have brought to his notice.
I repeat that unfortunately this pattern of discrimination runs through the whole pension scheme; it applies also to people in sheltered workshops and to other categories. It perpetuates a system that should have no place in our social services and which is quite contrary to social justice. The Australian Labor Party believes there should be a high basic rate of pension for all age pensioners whether married or single, plus additional special allowances for those who have special needs. This we believe to be the only fair and equitable policy. I might say, as I mentioned in a general way at the outset, that these increases will mean very little to the vast majority of pensioners.
I am grateful to the Department of Social Services for supplying some very interesting figures which I shall refer to for the benefit of all honourable members. First let me refer to the new pensioners who are covered by this Bill to show how few will be affected by this legislation. The document furnished to me shows that 40,000 new pensioners and about 100,000 current pensioners will be affected. Let honourable members listen to some interesting figures in relation to percentages of income. Under a heading ‘Number or percentage of pensioners in income groups’ we read:
Precise figures are not available but based on information obtained in one State, the following estimated percentages relating to age and invalid pensioners may be of assistance:
The estimated numbers of new pensioners under this means test liberalisation proposal are 30,000 aged pensioners, 5,000 invalid pensioners and 5,000 widows, making a total of 40,000. The estimated cost of the proposal in this financial year for aged pensioners, both current and new, will be $2.1m, and from memory I think there are 640,000 of them. A maximum of 30,000 will be affected at a cost of $2m. Honourable members opposite must be grateful that the amounts are expressed in dollars rather than in pounds because, in pounds, the figure would be £lm. The estimated cost for invalid pensioners, of whom there are over 100,000, will be S150.000 or £75,000, and the cost for widows will be $250,000. This indicates the small number of people who are actually covered by the legislation, which brings me back to the point that it is a major political confidence trick. If it deserves nothing else, the Government deserves congratulations for being able so consistently to put it over the people on this all important matter.
I mentioned earlier what the legislation means. To supplement what I have already said, I have taken out some figures from the twenty-fifth annual report of the Department of Social Services for the year ended 30th June 1966. The figures would be slightly greater now because of the increase in the number of pensioners as a result of the last legislation, but I cite them to indicate the position as accurately as possible. There are 636,984 aged pensioners, 106,645 invalid pensioners, 68,606 widows and 40,000 service pensioners, making a total of 852,235 pensioners of all kinds in Australia. In addition, there are 29,921 wives and children of invalid pensioners, making a grand total of 882,156 social service beneficiaries. Out of this increase, only 100,000 pensioners will receive any benefit, that is, 10 out of every 100. This means that 90 out of every 100 pensioners will receive nothing. As I mentioned earlier, only one out of every ten pensioners will receive any benefit out of this legislation. These are astonishing figures. They could result only from the actions of a heartless Government which is determined to represent wealth, power and influence at the expense of the community. The figures I have given demonstrate how the Government is uphill in saying that it has done much for pensioners.
Let us have a look at the changes in the rehabilitation provisions relating to handicapped persons. These changes are not only welcome, but they are a long time overdue. Not since 1955 has any change been made at all in respect of certain conditions for these people. But I will tell the House what the Government does not forget to do in relation to rehabilitated people. It makes a charge for those who are not eligible to qualify for free treatment in the rehabilitation centres.
– But we dispense with the charge for those who cannot afford it.
– Yes, but ‘ I am indicating that the Government makes a charge for them. The first standard charge for Commonwealth rehabilitation centres was set in 1954. Day attendance patients paid $3 per day and resident patients paid $5 per day. Evidently the Government was not making ends meet or, in any case, it thought that the charges should be increased. In 1965 the charges were increased to $4 per day for a day attendance patient and $6 per day for a resident patient. If it was good enough for the Government to increase the charges for those people in those days, it is a wonder that the Government did not consider increasing some of the benefits.
The decision to increase the provision for books and equipment from $80 in the aggregate to $80 in each year of training certainly received due and proper consideration because twelve years passed without any change having been made in that respect. From figures available to me, the cost of that provision will be between $4,000 and $4,500. The Government kindly says that the cost of books is no longer recoverable from the persons concerned. It is difficult to get figures on this matter, but I do not think that one would need a comptometer to ascertain the cost of the concession.
The provisions regarding disabled persons in sheltered workshops are a welcome improvement. I believe - and the Minister can correct me if I am wrong - that broadly speaking this provision would have the approval of the association concerned. I assure the House that anything done regarding that section of the community has the support of the Opposition. We congratulate those who participate in rehabilitating people in sheltered workshops. Another measure dealing with that matter is to come before the House, and I will not go into the details of it now as we will have an opportunity to debate it then. It is interesting to note that the allowance will be known as a ‘sheltered employment allowance’, thus providing for payment to disabled persons in rural colonies, or engaged in general farming, plant nursery or on a poultry farm. The Opposition does not oppose the change in the name, but we are concerned that the definition may allow the exploitation of some disabled persons by some people. It is a subject that might well be more fully discussed at the Committee stage of the Bill. At this point I merely indicate our interest in protecting this section of the community from anything of this nature. We will elaborate on it further.
The rates, of course, will be the invalid pension rate plus allowances, subject to the test applicable to other pensions, except for earnings derived from employment in the workshop. The Minister has outlined the payments that are to be made. I understand that the proposal gives an opportunity to those in sheltered workshops to earn more without being completely eliminated from receiving a pension, as was possibly the case previously. I do not propose to go through the benefits which have been outlined by the Minister in a clear manner, other than to say that we support that section of the measure. But had the Australian Labor Party’s policy on all these reforms, including those regarding disabled persons, been followed it would have been found that they were much more beneficial. Of course, the Government has said that the country could not afford that policy. As I mentioned earlier, the sheltered workshop allowance is a change about which we do not quibble.
The date of commencement of payment of these benefits is something which never ceases to intrigue me. The date of commencement for the increase in the permissible income proposal will be on pay days following royal assent, and the other amendments will apply from the date of royal assent. The sheltered workshop employment allowance will be paid on a date to be proclaimed. What is the reason for this? The Government recently introduced amendments to the Aged Persons Homes Act and a measure relating to sheltered workshops and backdated the provisions in both cases to the date of the general election. This was also done a few years ago with the introduction of the homes savings grant, that great election winner with its cost to the Australian Treasury.
– A beauty.
– It put the honourable member for Mitchell into Parliament. The honourable member wanted a miracle and he got it. Why discriminate in connection with these tiny benefits at this time? Is it too much work for the Department, or does the Government seek to stifle criticism? They are questions that we might well ask. 1 suggest that there is no justification for failing to backdate all these benefits. It appears that the Government is merely taking it out on those who really need them. The Government back dated payment of the homes savings grant and other benefits.
I pointed out earlier that the Government, whilst saying that it is liberalising the means test, continually stresses that the means test will apply in certain cases. We see it in the permissible income proposal. It is included in the proposal relating to rehabilitation in relation to friendly societies, and trade unions. Even the sheltered employment allowance does not escape the application of the means test. This certainly is a contradictotry approach to abolishing the means test. First of all the Bill is supposed to liberalise the means test. Then it is eased slightly. Then the Bill is discriminatory. Then it is rigid. We are told that this is all done on the way to abolishing the means test. 1 refer now to two provisions which 1 have left to this stage of my speech for a purpose. One is to amend the definition of the principal act. Section 4(1) provides that payments made by or through a friendly society or trade union by way of superannuation benefits payable on retirement may without doubt be included as income for pension purposes. I have referred to this matter and have found that the 1959 legislation was opposed by the Labor Party because we believed it was an attempt to take away from trade unions, friendly societies and their deserving members a right for the removal of which the Government has not given any reasonable grounds. This is a matter which I propose to deal with in some detail and other than to advise the Minister that we propose to vote against this clause in the Committee stage I will not debate the matter further now.
The Labor Party also views with concern clause 24, which provides for the recovery of costs of treatment and training where compensation for damages is payable. This is a departure from current practice for which the Minister has not given any reason and unless certain safeguards are assured and a better explanation given, I advise the Minister that it is proposed to move an appropriate amendment to the clause in the Committee stage.
Having given a broad summary of the Bill 1 want to direct a few remarks to matters of particular moment and interest to the people of this country. I refer to the subject’ of social services generally and in particular to the contentious matter of the abolition of the means test, lt has occurred to mc that in regard to the abolition of the means test, apparently the Government changed its attitude. It is interesting to note the Minister’s words on this subject. He said that the Government was extending the range of eligibility. Does this mean that the Government has forgotten its announced policy that brought many of its supporters to this Parliament? I will refer to this matter more fully later. As usual, the election pledges represented the very minimum at the most appropriate time, namely election time. It is worth repeating that those dependent on pensions should forever be grateful that elections are held every three years because an election is the only spur to prompt this Government to do anything for the needy. Of course, there is another reason that prompts the Government occasionally and that is the necessity to stimulate the economy by injecting into it’ some social service benefits. It will be noted that this is an economic reason and not a humanitarian one. This pinpoints the attitude of the Libera! and Country Parties towards social justice.
The Government claims that it stands for liberalisation of the means test, but it eases the means test only a little and then, in the most niggardly way, tightens every loophole and brings within the scope of the means test the most dependent section of the community, notwithstanding that the Government it committed by policy to abolish the means test. Every attempt to relax the means test is welcomed by the Labor Party but it is with dismay that we view the steady reduction to poverty level of those married and single pensioners who have no income or assets other than their pensions while at the same time a married couple with more than $21,880 may receive pensions and enjoy all the accompanying fringe benefits. This Government turns a blind eye to the heartrending poverty of many of our senior citizens who face each depressing day with the melancholy thought that there is not enough to eat, not enough clothing for comfort, not enough fuel for warmth, and not enough Christian charity in this Government to ensure a moderate standard of housing comfort. These conditions cannot be cured by a piece of paper acclaimed as social reform. What is needed is a thorough and humane inquiry into the particular needs of individual pensioners who, through no fault of their own, find themselves discarded by society after a lifetime of useful contribution to the wealth of this nation. History has shown that any government which callously disregards the welfare of any section of the community cannot escape the wrath of all the nation. This Government stands condemned in the eyes of every person in Australia while one Australian goes hungry today.
Let me turn to the other side of the Government’s approach to social services. All of us who have been interested in social welfare can remember when the calculation of pension entitlement was based on simple information. If a person had an income of less than £3 10s a week and property of less than £200 he received a full pension. Questions as to how much a pensioner could earn or how much he could have in the bank were simply answered. This was the pensions means test applied by a government with sufficient intelligence to know that the success of any large scale joint activity between a government and the people depends upon the simplicity of the arrangement. In the two major areas where the people and the government meet - social services and taxation - simplicity was always the keynote of a Labor government’s formulas for collecting revenue or dispensing financial assistance. But what is the position today? If I ask the Minister for Social Services how much a pensioner may earn today without affecting his pension, he cannot answer me. If I ask him how much a pensioner may have in the bank neither he nor his departmental advisers can give me an answer. If I ask the Minister what is the pension rate his answer, when seen in writing, looks more like a bookmaker’s betting sheet than the simple straightfor ward reply which a pensioner is entitled to expect from a government spokesman. All this indicates that the present legislation is too complicated and is almost impossible to follow. If the Minister refers to facts and figures on social services which his Department published some time ago he will see what I mean by my reference to a bookmaker’s betting sheet.
Sixty-seven years ago Australia led the world in this humanitarian field of social services. When it was in power and given the opportunity, Labour overhauled old benefits and introduced new ones, such as widows pensions, unemployment and sickness benefits, free medicine and rehabilitation services. In 1939, after all but eight and one-half years of Liberal-Country Party government since federation, the only social service benefits paid by the Government were age and invalid pensions, involving a total annual expenditure of $36m. In its eight years of office from 1941 to 1949 Labor increased substantially age and invalid pensions, and introduced a wide range of new benefits, increasing annual expenditure by 500% to $176m. Today our social service structure, allowing for inflation, is almost the same as it was in J 949. We have suffered eighteen years of social stagnation.
– Of course the pensioners are getting more money than they got in 1949, but what they get is buying less and less each year. The scheme for the rehabilitation of handicapped persons, which is covered by this Bill, was the last major benefit introduced by Labor in 1948, but the scheme is almost the same today as when the Liberals took over in 1949 and the benefit has not been increased since 1955. Labor intended this scheme to be developed in order to assist every physically and mentally handicapped person in the community who could be trained to do a job but this has not been done and notwithstanding this Bill, we are still a long way from doing it.
– What did Labor do when it was in office?
– It is all very well for Government supporters to ask that question. Let me remind the Government of a few pertinent and important facts. For more years than I care to remember political parties in Australia have been promising to abolish the means test. I want to ask a few pertinent questions of the Government on this subject as it is one of major importance. But first let me say what Labor endeavoured to do in this regard. The Chifley Government instituted the National Welfare Fund, one object being to ensure that we always had sufficient money to obviate the necessity to reduce social service benefits. Another was to build up a substantial fund by paying into it each year a given amount greater than was expended with a view ultimately to abolishing the means test. When this Government came to office in 1949 it froze the National Welfare Fund. It now pays into the Fund each year only what is taken out, give or take a few million dollars. This Government’s action has effectively destroyed this means of financing the abolition of the means test. In 1954, for the first time in Australia’s history, the Australian Labor Party went to the people with this pledge:
Within the life of the ensuing Parliament, Labor will eliminate the means test entirely. A national retiring allowance will be paid to everyone who reaches the statutory age of qualification.
Do not forget that Labor lost that election by only a few seats. Had Labor been elected effect would have been given to that announced policy. That was the only time in Australia’s history that a party has placed that proposal before the people for endorsement. At the last elections the Labor Party promised that ‘it would provide a half pension without a means test for all persons over seventy as a first step towards abolishing the means test’. That again was an indication of Labor’s sincerity. Labor attempted to do something in the matter, but the people who sit opposite and who are now pledged to abolish the means test told the nation that Australia could not afford to give effect to Labor’s promise. At the same time they announced a policy which I have showed will cost practically nothing to implement. What is the policy of the Liberal-Country Party Government on the abolition of the means test? In his policy speech prior to the 1949 elections Sir Robert Menzies, as he now is, said:
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment and old age. It is only under such a system . . . that we can make all the benefits a matter of right and so get completely rid of the means test. During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1952 a scheme for your approval.
That was said eighteen years ago. Many elections have come and gone since then; 460,000 people of pensionable age are still outside the pensions scheme today and the Government is further away than ever from abolishing the means test. The Minister for Social Services has abandoned the previous policy and now refers to widening the field of eligibility. I have heard good speeches from the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) and the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay) on this matter, but they have the delusion that Liberal policy means what it says. They thought that the former Prime Minister was sincere when he referred to social services. The honourable member for Mackellar has sat on the back benches for some years and in that time he should have learned that such was not the case. It is clear from the Minister’s statement today that Liberal policy has been completely changed. I have mentioned these matters to illustrate the hypocricy and insincerity of Government supporters today because they seek to help the people who have at the expense of the people who have not.
Abolition of the means test is by no means a new idea. Advanced countries and many countries not advanced have already provided pensions without a means test. I refer to Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States of America. They are the main countries; with the exception of New Zealand, their pension schemes are based on personal contributions. It is safe to say that we are a long way behind many other countries, notably Sweden, in regard to social services, particularly the abolition of the means test.
What are the problems associated with its abolition? Is it just to abolish the means test? Should we provide more for the affluent, to use a popular word, by giving to those who have and neglecting the needy? What would the cost be? I refer to the practical side; that is, the cost. I have here a table prepared by the Department of Social Services which indicates that the cost would be about $340m. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate that table in Hansard:
I thank the Department of Social Services for providing such an excellent document. We do not quibble over the figures it contains. We are always told that cost is the stumbling block. I believe that should not be the case as we are able to afford expenditure in this developing country for national affairs, part of which are social services. In fact, the return from the increased purchasing power, even according to Government supporters, would almost cancel out the ultimate expenditure that has been submitted to be correct by the honourable member for Mackellar and the honourable member for Evans. I am inclined to agree with their submissions. The question of cost can never be disregarded. It must be considered to be of vital importance, but to say that it prevents the abolition of the means test is to beg the question. At present about five people out of every eleven people eligible because of age to receive a pension are excluded because of the means test. I refer to females aged 60 years and over, and males aged 65 years and over. They are debarred from receiving a pension - either in part or in full - because of the operation of the means test. Therefore it would be fair to say that in this enlightened age the means test should go.
However, there is another side to the picture which must not be forgotten because abolition of the means test means little to people with no other income than a pension. These people cannot always be blamed for not having other incomes as many factors, including two world wars and a depression, made it impossible for many elder citizens today to save for their old age. The figures supplied by the Department of Social Ser vices, which I have cited, and the results of a recent survey conducted in Melbourne, show that about 750,000 people in this affluent age have incomes of less than $33 a week. This indicates that seven out of ten pensioners have no other income whatsoever and abolition of the means test means nothing at all to them. The present legislation means that seven out of ten pensioners have absolutely no interest in it. It is not of much use having the right to earn an unlimited income and remain eligible for a pension if you have no other income. Unmarried and married pensioners in that category are existing in very sub-standard conditions.
Would society support a policy that abolished the means test and gave to those people who have and left 70% of the recipients of pensions living in poverty? I do not think that any member of this Parliament would want that to happen. What then is the answer? I say that we must do as has been done in more enlightened countries. When the means test is to be abolished there must be a base rate pension adequate to meet normal needs with substantial sustenance allowances for people with no other income.
– Which means that the honourable member would retain a means test.
– No. In other words, to abolish the means test at the expense of people living in poverty would be unjust and immoral. The Labor Party believes that, as indicated in our statement of policy of 1954, the means test should be abolished in the ultimate and a special base rate set for people who are in need. Honourable members opposite are interjecting, but I will not be diverted at this stage. I do not want them to put words into my mouth. I have given to honourable members the procedure that should be followed when the means test is abolished. I do not see any difficulty in abolishing the means test and at the same time providing adequate pensions to meet all the necessary commitments of pensioners. This approach to the problem would give justice to those people who feel that at present they are penalised for being thrifty and would ensure for the needy incomes commensurate with their needs for housing, food and other items. That would be a reasonable solution, but I cannot see the Government accepting it because, as I shall now point out, it has departed from its pledge of 1949. Every easing of the means test as instanced in this legislation is followed by a tightening up in the most miserly way and the granting of concessions which are hardly worth worrying about.
A practical solution is available to this Government which has failed for eighteen years to give justice to the poor and needy. If the Government is not prepared to abolish the means test, it is time that it made way for an enlightened government that can give effect to such plans. For the reasons I have stated, I support the amendment that I have moved on behalf of the Opposition. I have outlined the arguments in favour of abolition of the means test. I have no doubt that it can be done while safeguarding the interests of those people solely dependent on their pensions. I support the amendment with pleasure. I hope it will be accepted and do more justice in the ultimate than the legislation before Parliament today, brought down by this Government as a confidence trick to win votes for economic and political reasons rather than in the name of humanitarianism, on which social services should be founded.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak to it.
– The speech which has just been delivered by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) is typical of all the speeches I have heard him make on the subject of social services over the past eleven years or longer. At one stage in each speech he says that the Governments stands condemned or he submits an amendment condemning the Government. It would be far easier if the honourable member were to have a tape recording made and played before he begins his speeches. He has always been critical of the actions of this Government in spite of the fact that it has increased pension rates so that today pensions represent greater value than ever before. They represent a higher percentage of the consumer price index, and the honourable member cannot get away from that fact. They represent a higher percentage of the average male earnings. The amount that this Government makes available through the National Welfare Fund is a higher percentage of the total budget than any amount that Labor made available when it was in office. Although we have introduced new benefits that were never dreamed of by Labor, such as the supplementary rent assistance, guardians’ allowance, homes for the aged and pensioner medical services, to name only a few, and although the means test has been continually eased so that under the Liberal-Country Party Government thousands of people who would have received nothing under Labor now receive a pension, the honourable member for Grayndler believes that the Government must always be condemned and never praised. When occasionally he is caught and must grudgingly admit that a real benefit has been conferred, he claims that this was really Labor’s policy and that the Government has stolen Labor’s policy. Pensioners must be heartily sick of listening to his constant knocking. He has more knocks than a broken down motor car.
He said today that the social services legislation confers minimum benefits on a minimum number of people. This is not borne out by the facts. He said that 460,000 persons of pensionable age cannot qualify for a pension because of the means test. As usual, he quoted just as much as suits him. I cannot say exactly that this is a half truth, although I suppose that is what it really is. The 460,000 persons who do not qualify today for any assistance because of the means test represent 46.8% of persons of pensionable age. What he did not say was that when Labor went out of office in 1949 60.2% of persons of pensionable age were excluded because of the means test. In 1949 there were 403,000 age and invalid pensioners. Last year there were nearly 744,000. We know that the population of Australia has increased, but younger people form the major part of the increase. Half of the increase has come from migration and 99% of immigrants are single people or people with young families. The average age of the population has been steadily decreasing, and the increase in the number of pensioners from 403,000 when Labor went out of office to 744,000 now is mainly the result of the easing of the means test.
The honourable member for Grayndler purported to quote from the policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt). He said that this was a confidence trick used to gain votes. Here again he quoted only the portion of the speech that suited him and again was guilty of a half truth. T will quote what the Prime Minister had to say about the means test in his policy speech. I leave it to honourable members to judge whether there was any confidence trick. The Prime Minister referred to the manner in which the means test has been continually eased since this Government has been in office. He said:
That is, since 1949: these limits have been more than doubled, so that today, pension eligibility is retained by a single person until income, ignoring any income from property-
Labor did not ignore this income; it was included: reaches $1,040 per annum in the case of a single person, and $1,950 per annum for a married couple (assuming that the value of property docs not affect the rate of pension payable).
We now propose to increase these limits still further by $156 per annum for both single and married couples.
That is all that the honourable member for Grayndler quoted. But the Prime Minister added:
The new limits of income before eligibility for pension ceases will be respectively $1,196 per annum for single persons, and $2,106 per annum for married couples.
It is perfectly clear to anyone who can add one and one that the increase is $156, irrespective of whether the people are married or single. The only person who tried to mislead anyone was the honourable member for Grayndler.
He referred to the penalty for marriage and I want to say something about that later. He also raised the question of the date from which the new rates of pension will become payable and he professed to be unable to understand why these payments cannot be made retrospective. If my memory serves me correctly, social services first came within the province of the Commonwealth Government as a result of a referendum. I think it was conducted by a Labor government about 1946. Until then some pensions were paid by the States. During the three years Labor was in office after the referendum was carried, the rates of pension were increased. The Minister for Social Services in the Labor Government consistently refused to back date the increases to 1st July. At that stage, the Labor Government apparently had adequate reasons for not doing this. It had the chance to set a pattern, if it had wished to do so, so that new rates would apply from 1st July, but it ignored the opportunity, lt gave its reasons for not back dating the payments, but ever since then Labor has criticised this Government for following the pattern it set.
The honourable member for Grayndler referred to the fact that under this Bill superannuation payments made by trade unions and friendly societies will count as income. He implied that this is a breach of some principle established earlier that all payments made by friendly societies are exempt. I think it was this Government that made certain payments exempt, and I will give the reason for this. Back in the depression years many people belonged lo friendly societies and contributed to the benefit funds of trade unions so that they would receive some sick pay if they became sick. At a time when the basic wage was not very large the amount of £1 or £2 that they received from these funds was really a considerable amount of money. However, this Government rightly said that payments of this nature made by friendly societies or trade unions should not count as income; but the Labor Government held that they should be counted. It is ridiculous to try to say today that, because some smart person sees a way to receive a superannuation payment through a trade union or a friendly society, such payments should be exempt simply because they are made through a trade union or friendly society. I have been a member of a friendly society for nearly forty years, but I cannot see any justification for exempting superannuation paid through a friendly society. We do not exempt superannuation paid, say, by the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund or by a State superannuation fund or by a private firm. If we exempt trade union or friendly society superannuation payments, should we place any limit on them or should we say that, irrespective of whether a person contributes for superannuation of $20, $30 or $40 a week, we will exempt it merely because it is paid through a trade union or a friendly society? This is just plain stupid.
Only last September, when the honourable member for Grayndler last spoke on this subject, he said that the means test excluded five out of eleven persons eligible for an age pension. The Bill not only increases the benefits paid to 100,000 pensioners but it makes another 40,000 persons eligible for a pension for the first time. Of these, 30,000 will be age pensioners, 5,000 invalid pensioners and 5,000 widow pensioners. Despite this, the honourable member said today that the Government, through this legislation, seeks to help those who have at the expense of those who have not. He wants it both ways. When we refrain from doing something, we are criticised, and when we do something we are criticised.
The Bill sets out to do two things. It sets out to increase the amount of permissible income for single and married pensioners. It permits single pensioners, subject to property income, to have an income of $10 in lieu of $7 and it permits a married couple to have income of $17 instead of $14 when they are both in receipt of the pension. This measure increases the permissible amount of property by $1,560. Not only will 40,000 people become eligible for the first time for a pension. They will be eligible also for all the fringe benefits that go with it. They will become eligible for the benefits of the pensioner medical service, which are very considerable. Many people who have provided for themselves by subscribing to superannuation funds and by investing are denied these benefits though their income is no greater than that of pensioners. Pensioners receive the benefit not only of participation in the pensioner medical service but also of concessions on telephone rentals and on radio and television licences, which are granted by this Government, and of fare concessions, which are provided by most, if not all, of the State governments. These benefits are denied to persons of similar income who are not pensioners.
At this stage it will not do any harm to go through the current limits of income and property and the limits envisaged in this Bill. It is interesting to go back to 1949 and see that Labor permitted a single pensioner to have up to $200 in property before reduction of the pension began. Today the present Government permits a single pensioner to have, not $200, but $4,040. This measure will increase the limit to $5,600 before the pension is affected. In 1949 a single person who had $1,500 worth of property lost his pension rights altogether. Today we do not take away the pension entirely until a single person has $10,800 worth of property. Under the terms of the Bill this limit will be increased to $12,360. I shall give different figures for married couples, because where there is only one pensioner in a married couple’s household we give an additional rate of pension, whereas Labor did not. Under the terms of this measure where one of a married couple is a pensioner they will not lose their right to a pension until they have $23,160 worth of property. Under Labor, the limit was $3,000. This Government at present permits them to have $8,080 worth of property between them before the pension is affected. This excludes their car, home, personal possessions, furniture and everything of a similar nature. Labor, on the other hand, permitted them to have a total of $400.
While I am dealing with property, let us have a look at the position of class A widows. In 1949, under Labor, a widow who had one child and who possessed property worth $4,000 lost entirely her right to a pension. This Bill will permit her to have property worth $16,040 before her pension ceases. Yet the honourable member for Grayndler has the audacity to suggest that this Government has not been far more generous to pensioners than
Labor ever dreamt of being. Let us consider permissible income, for a start. In 1949 a single pensioner was permitted an income of S3 a week before reduction of the pension began. At $7.25 a week the right to a pension was lost altogether. The present Government, under the terms of this measure, will permit income of up to $10 a week without any reduction in the pension and $23 a week before the pension ceases. I know that the value of money has changed, but it has not changed to anything like the degree reflected in these figures. In 1949 a married couple both of whom were pensioners were permitted an income of $6 a week without any effect on the pension and the pension ceased entirely when their income reached $14.50 a week. Under the terms of this Bill, the pension will be affected only when the weekly income reaches $17 and will cease entirely only when it reaches $40.50. Where only one of the couple is a pensioner the pension will not cease entirely until the weekly income reaches $43. In 1949 the pension of a class A widow was reduced from the time she began earning $3 a week. She will now be entitled to earn $13 a week without any effect on her pension. Furthermore, the provision made for children by the present Government is about three times as generous as that made by Labor. In 1949 a class A widow who earned $7.75 a week received no pension at all. She will now be entitled to earn $30 a week before her pension ceases entirely.
A lot has been said by the honourable member for Grayndler and by others both inside and outside this Parliament to suggest that this Government discriminates against married pensioners. A gentleman by the name of Boothey, of Ward Street, Ashburton, circulated a letter in which he takes to task both me and the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair). Mr Boothey said that I implied that it was a kindness to deprive a married couple of $3,380 to $5,070 over a period of ten to fifteen years so that the survivor might receive a higher single rate pension for the remaining months and years of his life. This is a complete distortion of both what I said and what I implied. The point is that this Government has deprived married pensioner couples of nothing. I have already shown that in addition to the amount of pension we pay and in addition to the property and income that we permit them to have we are generous to the extreme compared with the treatment that they were given by Labor. In addition, we have said to single pensioners in effect: ‘We recognise that your needs are greater than those of married couples and we shall give you more’. The reason why we say this is clear. Take the case of a married couple who have two pensions coming into the home. No one can tell me that if one dies the landlord will cut the rent in half because the pension has been cut in half. As I have said before, the survivor cannot economise by removing a 75-watt globe from a lamp - if a pensioner married couple can afford to burn a globe of that power - and replace it by a 20-watt globe. The surviving partner cannot burn half a fire or run half a car. We recognise that the charges that have to be met are not cut in half. Therefore, we pay a little more to a single pensioner by way of pension.
Unfortunately many married pensioners are at present condemning the Government for this. However, the day will arrive - it is inevitable - when one of the pensioner couple will be left as a single pensioner survivor. He or she may then see the justice of what the Government is trying to do. I do not condemn them for the opinions that they hold now. They probably hold them quite sincerely. However, when the sad day that I have mentioned comes to them they may have a better appreciation of the reasons why we give single pensioners a little more assistance. I have discussed these matters with representatives of pensioners associations. I recently attended in Melbourne a meeting at which Mrs Ellis, a representative of a pensioners organisation, was present. I do not know whether she is a single pensioner or one who receives the rate payable to a married person. Neither do I know in which category Mr Boothey comes. I have no doubt that they hold their views sincerely. However, judging by the way they appear to feel, I believe that one or both are married. When I gave Mrs Ellis the reasons why the Government had introduced the additional rate of pension for single pensioners she said: ‘We have a scheme of our own to overcome that. We would pay the survivor of a married couple double the pension for a year. In other words, we would let the pension continue at the same rate for a year’. I told her that I would be prepared to go into this and see exactly what it implied. I am not entirely convinced that there is not some justification for the proposal that she makes, though the double rate of pension should be paid perhaps for only three months, six months or some other period less than twelve months.
Let us have a look at the effect of the proposal made by Mrs Ellis. The conclusion that one can draw from Mr Boothey’s letter is that he is saying that we pay a single pensioner an additional $2.50 a week, which over a year amounts to $130. Mrs Ellis says that we are being unfair to married pensioners because we are giving more to single pensioners. However, she proposes that we give to a single pensioner who is the survivor of a married couple an additional benefit of 52 times $13, or $676 in a year. At present we give such a pensioner an additional $130 a year. Yet she condemns us for treating single pensioners too favourably. Her suggestion, and the suggestion of Mr Boothey and others, is that we should lift the married rate to double the single rate. I do not quarrel with that. I have always advocated the highest amount of pension that the economy can stand, but even if the married rate were lifted 1 would still believe that the single pensioner would be entitled to an amount over and above the married rate. It has been implied that we have taken away from the married pensioner; but we have not taken anything - we have given something extra to the single pensioner. Even if we decided to increase the married rate to double the single rate I would still advocate an additional amount for single pensioners for the reasons 1 have already given.
I do not think that the argument submitted by the pensioners’ organisations are consistent when they advocate that we should give more in one year than we are at present giving in five years. While these people and others hold very sincere views, the views they hold are coloured by their own particular circumstances. I do not condemn them for that because it is human nature. I have in my possession a book that deals with a survey into pensions that was conducted in 1965. The survey was taken with the assistance of the Lions Club of Richmond and it was later subsidised by the Hospitals and Charities Commission of Victoria. The survey was undertaken by Micheline Dewdney and Dr J. S. Collings. It was conducted in the electorate of the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) in the suburb of Richmond. Information was sought from 1,298 persons who were known to be pensioners. These pensioners all resided in Richmond. The interviewing was carried out by senior students of Melbourne University under the direction of the authors. Questions were set out for them. The authors made it perfectly clear that there was no preselection of people questioned. Some interesting conclusions or opinions were given in the book and we should take notice of them because, after all, they represent the opinions of pensioners themselves.
In relation to the means test, 310 pensioners were interviewed and 36.5% favoured retaining the means test. I have no doubt that the majority of those pensioners received the full pension so there would be no particular advantage to them if the means test were eased. Again I am not being critical of them for holding this view. Of those interviewed 59.4% considered the means test to be too severe. Of course, it has been eased somewhat since then. .’. would believe that the 59.4% would be people excluded to some extent by the means test. The interview revealed that 30.3% of those questioned regarded the means test as satisfactory. No doubt they were all well within the provisions applying to the means test and got a full pension. This information is interesting, because we have been talking of discrimination that is being made in favour of single pensioners. This question was not dealt with in the survey, but reference was made to discrimination in favour of a single pensioner who rents his or her premises. The Government introduced the rent allowance a few years ago.
The survey indicated that 25% of the people were not aware that there was a subsidy payable to certain people in respect of rent, but of the 75% who had a knowledge of the rent allowance 60% approved unconditionally the Government paying the allowance. I have no doubt that the majority of those who agreed with the existing provisions and were perfectly satisfied with them were receiving the maximum benefit. On the contrary, of the 310 persons interviewed, 80.3% regarded the pension as inadequate. This is a perfectly reasonable attitude, because if they were getting the full amount of pension and prices were increasing constantly they naturally would hold this opinion. I doubt whether we will ever reach the stage when everyone will regard the pension as adequate. However, the pension rates were regarded as adequate by 17.7%, whilst 2% were uncertain. Reverting to the rent allowance, the survey indicated that 80% of those interviewed and who were aware of it approved of it. Another interesting observation, which does not have a great deal of bearing on this Bill but may have a bearing on a Bill to be debated later this week, was that 84% of the pensioners interviewed preferred to remain in their present dwellings. They did not want to be transferred to another suburb, to another home, or even to a home for the aged. I said at the beginning of my speech that this Bill is designed to do two things in the main. I have dealt with the first - the liberalising of the income means test to the extent of $156 per annum and the liberalising of the property means test to the extent of $1,560 per annum.
The second main object is to provide a special allowance in lieu of an invalid pension for persons in sheltered employment. The Bill, as the Minister explained, specifically excludes reference to sheltered workshops because a narrow definition could be applied to sheltered workshops. The Bill seeks to benefit persons who are normally eligible to receive the invalid pension, and this means persons who medically are 85% incapacitated. It they qualify as 85% incapacitated they can, in most classes of employment, be regarded as in sheltered employment and eligible for the benefit of this eased means test. The proposal is that for a single person in sheltered employment the first $10 a week of his income will be disregarded. Invalid pensioners are permitted to have an income of $10 a week. However, the person in sheltered employment will lose only half of his earnings over this figure - instead of losing dollar for dollar subject to the property means test - until his income reaches $36 a week when he will get no benefit at all. As $36 a week is more than the present basic wage
I do not think anyone can quarrel with the provisions of the Bill in this regard. The married pensioner in sheltered employment, provided his spouse is not a pensioner, will be entitled to earn $47 a week before he ceases to gain from the provisions of this Bill. This is a big step forward since 1949 when the cut off figures were $7.25 a week for a single pensioner and $14.50 for a married couple. The amounts are now $36 and $47 respectively. It is a big forward step, even allowing for the fact that money has changed in value.
The Bill recognises the justice of a disability pension. It recognises also that disabled people - some physically disabled and some mentally disabled - are prepared to help themselves and that they do contribute to the national wealth. The Bill is welcomed by all organisations concerned with the welfare of disabled persons. They are grateful to the Government for listening to their representations and for taking action to help persons in sheltered employment to complete rehabilitation. I support the Bill and I oppose the amendment submitted by the Opposition.
– I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) because it condemns the Government’s handling of social service legislation and draws attention to at least five very important aspects of social welfare. Unlike the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox), who concentrated his remarks on what a pensioner can have, I want to devote my attention to what pensioners can not have. The Bill apparently represents the fulfilment of the Government’s election promise to ease the social services means test and to give a better deal to infirm persons and persons who are disabled through disease and other causes. In that regard it can be seen that members of the Government now rest content in the belief that the Government really honours its election promises. Of course there is every possibility that base rate pensioners might think otherwise. What are the facts? To what extent does this measure really improve the living standard of base rate pensioners, the unemployable or invalids whose sufferings entail a much greater cost than is ever revealed and a cost which is often insurmountable?
With very great respect to the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair), whose sincerity I am sure no one doubts and who, with great clarity, has told the Parliament that the Government this year will spend $757. 8m on social services, an increase which he said was $63. 6m on last year’s expenditure, I point out that to more than three-quarters of the 800,000 or so pensioners and others who depend on the Government for their existence the contents of this measure simply mean nothing. They mean not even a slice of bread, a bottle of milk, an egg or a cup of tea. Those are the things that pensioners strive to obtain to keep them alive. Complementary to this legislation is the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill and the Aged Persons Homes Bill, both of which provide most favoured treatment for the few who are lucky enough to benefit as a result of the present legislation, while thousands upon thousands of other people, many of whom are in more stringent need, are left lamenting with no help whatever, lt is well known that the policy of the Government is to pass the buck in respect of what should be its maximum responsibility in catering for the welfare of the people. Accordingly in the present legislation it passes responsibility in many respects onto private enterprise. 1 am aware also that the Minister and the Government place great credence on the value of the Government’s work in the field of rehabilitation. Only last week the Minister told us that this year the Government will place back in employment through the rehabilitation service more than 1,000 persons who have suffered injury or disease. We welcome anything that the Government’ does or can do to restore the mentally ill or disease afflicted people to normal life, and we welcome also anything that can be done for people who have become paraplegics as a result of accidents. But surely the responsibility of the Government in the field of social services goes much further then that. I do not believe that the Government has done all that it could have done in the rehabilitation of the infirm and for the welfare of the invalid pensioner or the pensioner on the base rate, and it is for this reason that 1 am participating in the debate. Welfare organisations everywhere are continually appealing for financial assistance to help spastic and crippled children, polio associations, the multiple sclerosis sufferers and the many associations which help these people. Newspapers, study groups, churches, university groups and many other organisations are continually carrying out surveys on social welfare. Just how much does the Government give to those organisations? I suggest that the amount would be negligible. Only last Friday on the front page of the ‘Australian’ for everybody to see was an article which stated:
Survey shows one in sixteen live in poverty.
Probably one in every sixteen people in Australian cities was poverty-stricken, a Melbourne economist said yesterday.
He is Mr R. J. A. Harper, senior lecturer in economics at Melbourne University, one of a university team which carried out a survey on poverty in Melbourne recently.
The survey, still unfinished, showed that 133,000 people in Melbourne, or one in sixteen, were at or below the poverty line - receiving the basic wage plus child endowment for two children.
Last Sunday’s ‘Sun Herald’ also highlighted the same problem. There should have been no need for Mr Harper or members of his group to carry out the survey he referred to because the report of the Commissioner for Taxation has always shown that there were more than 2,500,000 taxpayers whose taxable income did not exceed £20 per week or £1,000 per year, and the 2,500,000 referred to does not include the pensioner community.
An article in the Newcastle ‘Morning Herald’ of 4th April, attributed to the President of the Australian Metal Trades Federation, Mr J. Scotford, will be of some interest to honourable members in view of the organisation that Mr Scotford represents. The gist of his remarks shows the devastating effect that the loss of purchasing power has on pensioners’ standards of living. The article stated:
Australians today have less wealth than they should, and that is unfairly allocated between different groups, Newcastle Rotary Club was told yesterday. . . (Mr J. Scotford) placed the blame for this situation on an obsolete and outdated arbitration system.
He said something that most Australian! have known for quite a while - a wage rise seems to be frittered away by loss of purchasing power almost as soon as it is awarded.
And he suggested some system could be set up which would give workers their fair share in increasing productivity and national wealth without this harmful loss of purchasing power.
When prices rose purchasing power dropped and the person hit hardest was the one who could afford it least - the person on a fixed income; retired and on superannuation or a pension.
I suggest that Mr Scotford’s remarks are an acknowledgment that all pensioners could well enjoy much more of this nation’s prosperity. As I see the Bill, it complicates further an already complicated piece of legislation and increases the anomalies which for years past have plagued pensioners everywhere. In fact, it savours of political chicanery and could be said to reek of skulduggery because it disregards completely the basic principles of social welfare and the needs of the majority of pensioners.
In his second reading speech on the Bill the Minister classified two of the amendments to the Act as being of major significance. They were the easing of the means test and a new approach to invalid rehabilitation through the sheltered workshop movement. The honourable gentleman stressed also that in assessing property for means test purposes, the value of a pensioner’s home, his furniture and personal effects were disregarded entirely. Of course, that is not true, and the Minister must surely know that it is not true. However, it is true to say that in 1954, when the housing of the people was at its lowest ebb ever, the Menzies-Fadden Government decided to remove the property means test as its removal would be advantageous to the Government in two ways. Firstly, it would remove a long standing anomaly which up to that time had prevented the owners of property from receiving a pension when other pensioners, who were receiving a small superannuation, were able to supplement their pension income by £2 or $4 per week. Secondly, because of the great housing shortage, the then Prime Minister took the view that pensioners’ living alone in large houses might be encouraged to rent some portion of their homes to others and thus assist in easing the housing shortage, in addition to providing themselves with supplementary income.
For two or three years the proposal worked admirably. Unfortunately, it did not take many years before either the present Treasurer (Mr McMahon) or Hugh Roberton, as Minister for Social Services, took action departmentally which in effect placed a means test on a pensioner’s home, and especially any home which had been structurally altered for tenancy purposes, even though the pensioner had done so to provide himself with a little privacy away from his tenant’s gaze. And so right up to the present time if a pensioner has people living with him in his home, and if separate kitchen facilities have been provided for tha tenant, irrespective of whether the tenant and the owner both use the same toilet, laundry and, sometimes, bathroom, the Government through its social services administration classifies as a flat that part of the pensioner’s home which the tenant occupies. As a result, the pensioner often suffers a reduction in his or her pension. Yet, strange to say, the very same pensioner would be allowed to accommodate three or four people as lodgers without his or her home being classified as a boarding house or a fiat. Only a month or two ago I had to make representations to the Department on behalf of a widow in my electorate who was being paid a pension at a reduced rate on account of the letting of rooms in her home, and I was able ‘.o obtain for the widow a pretty large amount in arrears of pension because the departmental attitude was admitted to have been wrong.
To clarify what 1 have been saying and to refresh the Minister’s memory, I remind him of representations I made to him last year about the case of a widow who had let about one third of the area of her home to a couple by shutting two doors off and providing from that area a kitchenette, laundry, shower and toilet for her tenants. In that instance the area referred to was conceded to be a flat, but the Department of Social Services demanded to know bow rauch rent was being received for it. It took me months to convince the Minister that neither he nor the Department was entitled to learn the amount that the widow was to receive in rent. The Department demanded to know the rental, allegedly so that it could fix a fair and just valuation. Everyone - and the honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) in particular - knows that valuations are not made in that way. However, I am pleased to relate that a valuation of the flat was finally made and its value did not affect the widow’s pension.
I have long held the view that if challenged in a court the action of the Government in classifying as a flat a pensioner’s home in which he lives with someone else and on which he pays only one minicipal rate would be quickly thrown out by the court. I challenge the Minister to say clearly and precisely whether the statement on page 2 of the circulated copy of his second reading speech is correct. If Lt is, I ask him to remove once and for all the embargo that his Department has placed on pensioners by describing as flats the parts of the homes in which they reside and which they have let to tenants.
Another anomaly to be found in the Act is the provision that requires deserted wives to obtain a court maintenance order or a separation agreement when their marriages go on the rocks, especially when both husband and wife are pensioners or of pensionable age. By what reasoning departmental officers determine that separation orders are needed for pensioners 1 do not know. Here is an instance which is typical of the action of government bureaucracy in cases where people have no assets. I have a letter from the Department which reads:
Prior to their divorce on 22 December 1966, your constituent and her former husband were not living apart under a separation agreement in writing or a court order. When she previously applied for an increase of pension in January 1965 it was decided that as she had only been living apart from her husband for a little over twelve months and there was no separation agreement in writing or court order, it was necessary to continue to regard them as a married couple for pension purposes.
For the Minister’s information, let me say that this couple had separated in 1963. The letter further states:
In view of the extended period of the separation and subsequent divorce, approval has been given to increase the pension to the standard rate from 15 September 1966.
Mr Speaker, there are thousands of cases of this type in which the Department does nothing to assist the pensioner to obtain a maximum rate pension. I am aware that the utter disregard which is to be constantly seen in this place of the great diffi culties under which tens of thousands of pensioners and others exist is not wholly shared by Government supporters, because I know an odd character or two on this side of the House who do not believe that pensioners should be feather bedded. The fact remains that of 107,000 invalid pensioners alone over the period of the last four years only 37,966 were referred to the Department for rehabilitation and of those only 1,232 were accepted for actual training. Of the 1,232 persons accepted for training, only 480 commenced their training, and of those only 388 completed it, 92 pensioners having scratched, died or been declared non-starters in the rehabilitation stakes. Of the 388 trained, only 355 faced the employment barrier, which means that 33 rehabilitated invalids were wasted in one way or another.
The annual report of the Department shows that in the same period 474 invalids were placed in employment without any training at all. Other referrals to the Department for rehabilitation and employment in the same period were of unemployment and sickness beneficiaries, widow pensioners, tuberculosis pensioners and special beneficiaries, all of whom occupied the Department’s attention. They numbered 46,692 and it is of great interest to see how they fared. Of these, 4,837 were accepted for training and of this number 1,065 commenced their training and 967 completed it. Of those who completed it 946 were placed in work, which meant that 21 were wasted in one way or another, and 3,120 were placed in employment without training.
The principal aspect of the Bill is to increase the prescribed amount under the merged means test by $156 or £78 a year. Therefore, it is necessary to examine what impact the easing of the means test will have on the 800,000-odd age, invalid and widow pensioners, all of whom have been giving months of anxious thought to the question of how their standard of living was to be affected once this legislation had received the royal assent. It is obvious that the Government, prior to the election, had planned for a small relaxation of the means test, for in the present Budget an increased amount of almost $80m was included for increased expenditure on social services, homes savings grants and health services.
Of course, the present proposal was an issue in the election campaign of last year, but I doubt very much whether there was an elector anywhere who in his wildest imagination thought that the Government would legislate for the easing of the means test without first providing relief for certain classes of base pensioners and in particular for the base pensioner, single or married, who owns or is paying off a home.
Honourable members will know that there are literally thousands of married base pensioners. These include couples who have no assets and who pay rent, and others who either own their homes or are paying them off. There are also widow or widower age pensioners who own or are paying off homes. Tens of thousands of those people are virtually living in a state of debt or are suffering badly from malnutrition in one form or another, simply because their incomes are not sufficient to go round. Rising costs of goods and services, together with property upkeep, rates and taxes, and often pharmaceutical expenses, are taking a heavy loll of their living standards. The Government in 1958 introduced supplementary assistance in the amount of 10s a week to single and widow pensioners who were living entirely on their pensions and who did not own a home or have any other property. The home purchaser was left out in the cold. In 1963 it established a standard base rate pension of Si 1.50 a week for a single pensioner, which was $1 a week more than the amount paid to married pensioners. In 1965 it increased the supplementary allowance for single pensioners to $2 a week. In 1964 there had been an increase in both the married and single base rate pension by 50c which means that following a general increase of $1 in 1966 a single pensioner who pays rent or board and who has no other assets receives a pension income, including the supplement, of S15 a week. On the other hand married aged couples are receiving $11.75 a week each, which makes a couple’s total income $23.50 a week. I often wonder why there is such a difference, because the economics of the whole exercise do not warrant it.
The point I make, Mr Speaker, is that two or more single pensioners living in the one house, both paying rent or board, receive between them $30 a week in pension and supplement, whereas a married couple receive only $23.50 a week between them, and some of them have to pay as much as $10 a week rent from this miserable $23.50. The married couple pensioners who own their home or are paying it off must pay huge and seemingly cruel land rates, water rates, insurance charges, the costs of repairs and renovations to their homes, as well as meeting fuel, heating and light costs.
I often wonder whether the Minister can imagine the adverse effect on some of these old folk of this kind of discrimination between one section and another. I very much doubt it. Does the Minister know that this year, in the district in which I live, it costs the average pensioner couple $200 a year or more for land and water rates and insurance charges if they live in their own home. To this must be added the cost of fuel, heating, lighting and maintenance. After meeting all these charges they commence to feed and clothe themselves. Using a little simple arithmetic, the Minister will find, if he fixes the cost of the items I have referred to at only $6 a week, that married pensioner couples with no income apart from the pension have only $2.05 a day on which to live and clothe themselves. If it is all spent on food it works out at about 34c a meal, leaving nothing at all for clothing or entertainment. Married couples who pay $6 a week rent - and there are literally thousands who do - have virtually $1 a day each to meet all their other commitments, including food, clothing, medicines, heating and any other needs, even to savings towards funeral expenses. Of course, Mr Speaker, there are many pensioners who pay more than $10 a week rent, as the honourable member for Bennelong well knows, so it must be a case of God help them because this Government will not.
Now let us take a brief look at the old widow or widower owning a home, or still paying for it, and residing alone. In my view the conditions of these people beggar description. To say the least of it, their conditions are appalling. The Government certainly pays such a person $13 a week and allegedly provides him with free medical and hospital services, but to many of them this supposedly free medical service is only a myth, as I shall presently show.
In the part of Australia that I represent there are variations in the attitudes of local councils to rates concessions for pensioners. In all cases library, sanitary and garbage disposal rates must be paid. Newcastle City Council offers half rates, while the Lake Macquarie Shire Council has limitations on the amount payable, up to the equivalent of the basic wage, but charges the pensioner fully in respect of garbage removal, sanitary and library rates. A pensioner living near where I reside will pay the Newcastle City Council this year about $35 or $40 in rates. And by the way, Mr Speaker, no local council will accept a pensioner’s cheque if it is for a greater amount than that which is due, necessitating the giving of change. The pensioner is compelled, then, to travel to the council chambers to produce proof that he is a pensioner. He has to meet certain transport costs in order to do this. Of course water and sewerage rates must be paid on the due date, or else. In my area this year the average charge would be more than $60. Applying the charges I have outlined to widowed pensioners reduces the pensions of those people by more than $2 a week, and then there are insurance, heating, fuel and light to pay for.
Of course there are, Mr Speaker, costs other than those I have mentioned. There are, for instance, pharmaceutical expenses. It is well known that pensioners are entitled to the pensioner medical service, but in many instances the formulae listed for various types of illnesses do not have remedial effects. Some drugs cause side effects which could cause the death of a patient who persisted in using them. Time and time again I have brought to the notice of the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) the need to assist such pensioners, if not by the listing of drugs suitable for the treatment of the various diseases from which they suffer, then by remitting to the pensioner the amount that it would cost the Government for the appropriate formula.
Drugs such as betnelan, librium, cortisone, cortico-steroids, pribabolan durabolin and others are used for the treatment of various diseases, but none of them is free. Betnelan, which is used in the treatment of arthritis, costs $7.40 for 100 tablets. This drug is not listed. The alternative listed drugs are sodium salicytate and phenylbutazone, which I under stand cost about $2.80 for 100 tablets, in the case of an 82-year-old constituent of mine these latter drugs cause such harmful side effects that her doctor refuses to let her take them, and she must have betnelan. She takes three tablets a day, which works out at almost 100 a month. The cost of these tablets means that her pension is being reduced by $1.80 a week, simply because the Government will not reimburse her for a charge she must meet in order to live. I suggest the Government might at least allow her the difference between the retail price of the drug that she uses and the price of that which would be available to her under the pensioner medical scheme. A pensioner in this position is virtually being required to live on less than $10 a week, and it seems to me the time is long overdue when the Government should do something to relieve this kind of hardship and also that suffered by widows and widowers who own the homes they are living in and have no other income.
Another matter I wish to refer to, Mr Speaker, is the gross injustice which the Department of Social Services metes out to many retired coal mine pensioners, and widows of mine pensioners who have assets which are not of a value large enough to prevent them from receiving a small Commonwealth pension if the Department of Social Services and the mine pension registrars were prepared to handle the administration of those pensions with sympathy, understanding and justice. So far neither the Minister for Social Services, his officers or the officers of the department controlling mine pensions have been prepared to do this. As a result many mine pensioners and widows of deceased mine pensioners are being deprived of the fringe benefits which flow from being a Commonwealth pensioner. These include hospital and medical benefits, reduced local government rates, rail and bus concession fares, reduced telephone charges, radio and television licence concessions, funeral benefits, sporting events admission concessions, concession rates for theatres and possibly some other benefits. The Coal Mine Superannuation Act requires that a miner must retire from the industry at the age of sixty years. The miner and his spouse receive between them $27 a week and they are allowed to earn a maximum of $11 a week. If the miner earns one shilling more than this maximum permissible amount he may lose his pension. If the pensioner or his wife has no assets on reaching the age of sixty-five or sixty as the case may be, he or she must then test entitlement for a Commonwealth pension. If the pensioner couple have property, including savings, and if they have personal exertion income, and if under the merged means test their merged means reach a particular figure or are reduced through spending or through their having ceased to work, one authority or the other takes over responsibility for the pension involved.
– They will be better off under this new extension. The extension of the means test will help them.
– But you will still find a Commonwealth authority saying: ‘I will handle this’, and the pensioner will be robbed of benefits. As I see it, Mr Speaker, every pensioner who is entitled to any part of a Commonwealth pension should be allowed to receive it, so that he can obtain the fringe benefits. I believe a court of law would uphold my point of view. Therefore, irrespective of the amount of book work entailed in either State or Commonwealth Departments, or the inconvenience caused, I appeal to the Minister to have something done which will allow mine worker pensioners to receive the justice they deserve. Alternatively this Government sooner or later must grant to all mine pensioners of pensionable age the benefits of the pensioner hospital and medical scheme, for they, like other pensioners, have for long contributed to the costs involved, through the taxes that they have paid.
– I am sure we have all been interested in the little speech recited by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths).
– And a very good speech.
– Yes, it was quite good, the kind of speech that he can get into Hansard, so that he can have it reproduced and copies sent around to his electors to show them that he is doing something. But his speech did not contain anything new or anything constructive. I certainly could not agree with bis use of the word ‘skulduggery’ and I do not think he meant that. He is a very nice member and we all like him, and I am sure he did not mean that. He referred to me on the question of valuations, and this gives me the opportunity to say that I believe the Department of Social Services and the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) are extremely co-operative and very sympathetic towards the people with whom they deal in the matter of valuations. The New South Wales Valuer-General makes a valuation which normally is taken as the value of a property. Rent control still exists in that State, and often the revenue from the property does not justify the valuation. However, the Department of Social Services has always been very liberal in its interpretation of the valuation which is imposed for the application of the means test. It is very good in that respect. Quite a lot of people do not know that, if they own a property which is not producing what it ought to produce in accordance with the valuation, they can approach the Minister and the Department and they will get very sympathetic consideration. We have often heard the type of speech which was made by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), who led for the Opposition on this Bill. So there is nothing new about his comments. No-one could honestly support the Opposition’s amendment. I will say something about it later.
We are now dealing with amendments to the social services legislation, which amendments are in strict accord with what was promised by the Prime Minister before the recent election on 26th November. Each three years we have an election. All the parties then come before the people, give an account of themselves, and tell the people what they propose to do. The promises that are given effect by the Bill were made during the election campaign, but I understand - the Minister can correct me if I am wrong - that they will not interfere with what we will do upon an annual review of social services. Notwithstanding that there was an election on 26th November, there will be a -further review of social services in the Budget to be introduced in August. It should be borne in mind that this Bill deals with certain benefits which were promised; but it does not deal with the whole range of social services, which all will be reviewed in August, when the Government examines the overall economy and fixes the taxes which will produce the money to pay for the social services we can afford.
This Government came into power seventeen years ago and has had a term of office which is a record in the history of Australia. No party in Australia had previously been in government for seventeen continuous years. In that period the Government has done some great things. I say quite frankly and with great pride that I believe its record in social services is the most remarkable of all its activities. It has done a magnificent job in providing social services for the people. The Opposition would have the public believe that this Government consists of persons who represent the rich in the community and that its members have no heart and sympathy for the people who face trials and tribulations, economic difficulties, and so forth. So it would be refreshing for the people of Australia to realise that never in our history has more attention been paid to the needs of people who require help than has been paid by this Government, and that that attention has been given in a tremendous amount of detail. I congratulate the Government and the Minister on the work which has been done in the field of social services.
One has only to reflect on the history of social services to realise that what I have said is so. In 1923 the age pension was 17s 6d a week; it rose to £1 a week between 1925 and 1929. When the depression started in 1 929, the pension was reduced to 1 7s 6d. It was only £1 ls when the Second World War broke out in 1939 - not so long ago. When this Government came to office in 1949, after Labor had been in power for a considerable number of years, the pension was only £2 2s 6d. That was not very long ago. The pension is now 313. This is a remarkable achievement, but it is not the only or even the most important achievement of this Government in providing social services.
It is interesting to note that widows did not receive a pension until 1942, when a pension of £1 10s a week was provided. I ask honourable members to compare that amount with the present amount of $17 for a class A widow’s pension. This sum of $17 includes the mother’s allowance. In addition to this pension, $1.50 is paid for each child.
These things are great and wonderful to contemplate and to remind ourselves about at this time. However, as good as this provision is, the most important advance is the wide spread which has been given to social services since 1949. Most of the benefits i will mention have been added since that year. In addition to invalid and widows’ pensions and repatriation benefits we now have legislation dealing with homes for the aged which was introduced by this Government. This magnificent piece of legislation deals with the very heart and core of what old people need - a home to live in, a place where they can lay their heads in comfort. Moreover, this Government has introduced the supplementary rent allowance.
The Government has also introduced legislation dealing with rehabilitation allowances, child endowment, and sheltered workshops, the latter of which we will be dealing with later. It paid great attention to child endowment in the early days of its administration, even though it experienced opposition. We have also the tuberculosis allowance, funeral benefits, unemployment and sickness benefits, and above all the pensioner medical service. On the health side of social services, we have hospital benefits, nursing home benefits, medical benefits and pharmaceutical benefits. Labor had the opportunity to deal with these matters. Labor failed to produce anything in the nature of a pensioner medical service; it was unable to get any co-operation from the medical fraternity because of the way it approached this problem. It is these fringe benefits, as we call them - this wide extension of benefits to pensioners - which have been of greatest assistance to our old people and have made their lives much more comfortable than they were or otherwise would be.
In addition to the widening of classes, as I have mentioned, there has been an enormous easing of the means test. This is greatly to the credit of the Government. It has brought in tens of thousands of additional beneficiaries each year. In each year in which the means test is eased tens of thousands more people become entitled to benefits. This is clearly evidenced when one looks at the 1949 figures, which were mentioned in a different way this afternoon, and one notes that in Labor’s term of office 39% of those of pensionable age were in receipt of a pension but now 53% of such people receive a pension. Of course, this is in addition to being able to own their own homes, as do many tens of thousands of pensioners, their own motor cars and everything else. Under the means test extension each year, as has been mentioned, a single person may now own property to the value of $12,360 or have an income of $23 a week before the pension ceases. This is getting to the extraordinary stage where people cannot say that they have been dealt with in an unsympathetic way. A married couple only one of whom is a pensioner is permitted property to the value of $23,160 or an income of $43 a week before pension ceases.
Surely when one compares those figures that 1 enumerated for the earlier days or in the days when the Labor Party was in power people must stop to think that this Government is at least sympathetic to those who need its help. The really big thing for old people is to know that their health can be looked after. It is the most wonderful thing for old people to feel that they are secure from illness and the causes of illness. It is all very well to say that they can get along with a certain minimum amount of money because when they are old they do not eat quite as much as the young people do and perhaps they do not need as many clothes. While this is true, the great fear in their hearts and in their minds always is that sickness that may come upon them any day. I believe the greatest thing that has been done by this Government is to give the old people security from sickness.
Two particular aspects of this are the security from sickness and the need for a comfortable home. Those are the things that really matter to the old people. We talk a lot about rates of pension, and when we speak to thousands of the older people they tell us that provided they have enough in the way of money for their normal food and clothing the big things to them are relief from the fear of sickness and the comfort of a home. In the latter respect perhaps the most important thing is to be able to keep warm. Unfortunately, many old people in this country today still suffer in cold and bleak winters. Therefore I think this is something to which we could perhaps pay more attention. Although I will not boost anyone’s particular product, and while I do not know what the Opposition thinks of the proposal I am about to make, I think one of the most wonderful things that has been developed is the electric blanket. Many people now are using electric blankets. I believe that old people could be assisted in this respect, because nothing in an old person’s life is more necessary than the warmth that is essential for comfort. I think this is something that ought to be looked at. It would not be a tremendously costly thing and it would assist so many of the old people who 1 believe need that help today. I suggest to the Minister that he might ascertain what the cost would be in providing this additional amenity to old people, because 1 know what it would mean to them.
The amendments proposed by the present Bill are well worth while, as has been stated by the Minister in his second reading speech. Firstly we have the extension of the means test to allow an extra $156 per annum in private income before a pension is affected, and secondly we have the special allowance for invalid pensioners or those likely to be invalid pensioners employed in what are called sheltered workshops. That name is being altered, and rightly so, too. As the Minister has said, in the case of an unmarried person the first $10 a week of workshop earnings plus half the earnings in excess of that amount will be taken into account as income for means test purposes. For a married person the income from workshop earnings that will be taken into account will be the first $17 a week plus half the earnings between $17 and $25 a week, together with earnings above $25 a week. This is very good indeed. Where there are no other means, the sheltered employment allowance will cease when earnings reach $36 a week in the case of an unmarried person or $47 a week in the case of a married person where the spouse is not in receipt of a pension. Blind pensioners, of course, are eligible for the allowance free of the means test. This is an extremely worthwhile provision. I do not propose to say any more about it now because it will be debated separately.
The other amendments referred to by the Minister are also very interesting. There are two minor amendments. One is to allow a period of three months for the lodgment of a claim for a widow’s pension by a woman whose husband is admitted to a mental hospital, and this is something that shows the humane sympathy of the Minister and the Government in relation to this matter. The other small amendment is to provide free of cost certain items necessary for the rehabilitation of handicapped persons, and, in cases where a charge is made to a person not eligible for free rehabilitation, provision whereby the charge may be abated according to the person’s ability to pay. These are the amendments we are discussing at present, and I think they are very well worthwhile.
Mr Deputy Speaker, social services are without a doubt the pivot of what we call our welfare state. 1 know that this is a difficult subject and that it is complex. As an honourable member said earlier, it is necessarily complex because of the different conditions that exist in each family or which apply to each individual in a family. It seems that we are not able to deal with everyone at the same time. There is a line of demarcation, in the same way as the pension disappears at a certain income or property figure. A person who has even $20 more than the prescribed amount misses out altogether and loses the fringe benefits as well. Although people may say that that is wrong, the line has to be drawn somewhere. We are now discussing - and rightly so, I believe - the necessity to meet the needs of people in Australia who require help, particularly old people. The original idea of age pensions or of any pensions of this type was not that they would fully meet the requirements of the people. Pensions were given only by way of assistance. However, we talk of them today in the sense that the needs of the people must be met. There has been a change in people’s ideas and in the psychology of the people.
It is true that because of the benefits that have been given a very large percentage of the population is now planning for retirement on the basis of the receipt of the age pension. People are acquiring their homes and their motors cars and are getting together their furniture, television sets, and in fact all they need. They are encouraged to do this by the system that we operate. They plan that when they retire they will be able to live on the very generous provisions that are now made by way of social services and the fringe benefits that go along with them.
We are always inclined to forget these fringe benefits which, indeed, are most important. Hundreds of thousands of people in Australia are living very comfortably within the framework of our social service legislation. They prepared themselves for it. Of course, there are many cases where there is sadness and grave difficulty in meeting commitments because of special circumstances that arise from time to time in the lives of the people concerned. Social services are great and essential services. Our social services do a lot of good although there are some bad aspects, as has been pointed out by one honourable member this afternoon. One bad aspect is that social services tend to destroy the incentive for an individual to save during his working life. To this extent I would prefer that we had a national insurance scheme. Also, the social services system involves a loss of productive capacity. This is difficult to calculate. Thousands of people are in good health when they reach the pension qualifying age and they could keep on working but there is no incentive to do so. This costs the taxpayers an enormous sum of money which might well be put towards the development of the country. I do not say this is a bad aspect but it does happen because of the system. Of course, the good features of our system outweigh all these undesirable aspects. The important thing is the human factor - the sustaining of human life. By our social service system people are free from the fear of want.
I think it would have been better, if we had had the courage in years gone by, to establish a national insurance scheme to provide for all the needs of the aged, the invalid and those retired compulsorily. Under such a scheme people could be compelled to contribute during their working life. Then everyone could receive a pension at a certain age without a means test being imposed. I believe that this would have been a better system. I do not think it is yet too late to go thoroughly into this matter and to see whether it is possible to establish something along those lines. I believe it is possible. The present system could be gradually altered to fit in with the new scheme. Eventually there could be a total elimination of the means test.
I believe that there is an overwhelming desire in the community for the abolition of the means test, particularly amongst those who pay taxes to meet the cost of social services and know they themselves will never qualify for any benefit. Of course, that is a natural reaction. A very good case can be made out for the abolition of the means test, at least for those people over seventy years oi age, as has been advocated by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). I think this could be done and that it should be looked into. However, whatever scheme we adopt, whether it be national insurance or the abolition of the means test, unusual circumstances will arise and some people will require special assistance or additional help. In such cases a means test will have to be applied. So I hope honourable members do not get the idea that a means test can be completely abolished. This cannot be done. There will always be a need at least for an ancillary means test, notwithstanding all the improvements that have been made and will continue to be made to our social service system.
There are still certain anomalies in our social service legislation. One of these - the lower pension for married people - has been referred to this afternoon. There is no doubt that single people have a special claim for assistance because a married couple can live cheaper than two single persons. It is equally true that, for example, a brother and sister, or two brothers, or two sisters, can live together at a lower cost than that facing persons living alone. If four single people live together in one house they can live cheaper still. Yet each receives the full single rate pension. So there is a penalty involved in our system - what one might call a penalty because of marriage. I think it is necessary to have some difference between the rate for single pensioners and the rate for married couples, but it is a matter which should be watched very carefully.
There is another problem that I would like to refer to. By law a man must support his wife; but a wife need not support her husband. A man may be debarred from receiving social services because he has a wealthy wife. The means as assessed of husband and wife are taken into consideration to determine eligibility for assistance. If a man is debarred from social services because he has a wealthy wife, and she refuses to help him - and I have heard of women who would not give their husbands even money for tobacco or for a beer down at the corner pub - then he has to leave her before he can qualify for social services. This is an anomaly that can and does arise. 1 do not know how we could legislate against it. This would ba difficult. If a man and woman are living together as man and wife and she is reasonably well off, it is hard to imagine that she would not give her husband a meal or look after him. But such things do occur and so the anomaly to which I have referred is created.
The operation of the rent allowance is something that I can never quite understand. Quite properly the Government provided a rent allowance to a single person who is renting a home. In the case of a married couple, one party can receive the rent allowance. But if a married couple pay, say, $50 or even $20 as a deposit on a home and enter into an arrangement to pay off so much a week, these people do not qualify for a rent allowance even though the interest component of the weekly payment may be greater than the amount they would otherwise pay in rent. 1 fail to understand why that should be so. After all, rent is merely interest on capital value. It is nothing more and nothing less. I fail to see why a pensioner should not receive assistance in order to meet the payment of instalments on a property or at least their interest component.
I refer finally to the matters mentioned in the amendment moved by the Opposition. The amendment refers to the elimination of injustices caused by discrimination between pension rates for married and single pensioners. This matter is examined constantly. There is a problem in this area but 1 think that the Government is doing the right thing in relation to it. The amendment condemns the Government because of its alleged failure to ‘increase adequately all rates of pensions and social service benefits to meet the increased cost of living’. This is beating the air. The
Opposition knows that this has been done as far as is possible. The amendment also refers to the institution of a national inquiry into poverty and social welfare. These matters are under consideration continuously throughout Australia. There is no need for a special body to be set up to ascertain the needs of the people. The Government deals with these needs to the best of its ability and it does pretty well for the people.
The amendment also refers to the Government’s stated policy of abolishing the means test. I have spoken on that subject. The Government is continually easing the means test and I have no doubt it will ultimately eliminate it. As to that section of the amendment calling for benefits to be made retrospective to the date of the last election, 26th November 1966, 1 almost agree with it but I do not think it is material to the matter under debate.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The most dramatic development in any field of Commonwealth enterprise has been in the field of social services. This began in 1909 with the age and invalid pensions. Since then the Department of Social Services has expanded its humanitarian work into dozens of additional fields involving personal and family relationships throughout Australia. It has created a social welfare structure of vast complexity brought about largely by the vicious means test to which I will refer later. But we have to acknowledge the tremendous improvement in social services over the years. Many things have contributed to this improvement. Honourable members opposite are merely beating the air and trying to fool themselves if they do not acknowledge that fact. The honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) tried to make out that the Liberal Party is the fairy godmother of this country. He suggested that it is, as it were, playing God. What utter rot that is. I could give a detailed list of what the Curtin and Chifley Governments did in pioneering vast fields of social welfare. The record of those Governments would make some of this Government’s measures look very small, meagre and paltry indeed. Why do honourable members opposite rise in this place and speak as though they are the only people who have ever done anything in the field of social services? They have had eighteen years in which to do something. If they could not do anything in eighteen years they all ought to be sacked and others should take their place. That is all I have to say about the remarks of the honourable member for Bennelong at this stage.
The basis for social services is humanitarianism and the need to help all people who cannot help themselves. The national responsibility for this has been pinpointed, stressed and emphasised over the years. Beyond the States, which provide quite a lot by way of social service welfare, the Commonwealth becomes the main source of assistance. Our national responsibility has been established in relation to sickness, unemployment, age, family breakdown, marriage disasters, children’s needs, death, widows, deserted wives and a number of other areas - a vast range of human complexities. The culmination of all the efforts by Churches, pension organisations, welfare societies and other groups to achieve social justice is to be found in the legislation that is passed by this Parliament. Only here can wrongs be righted; only here can injustice be abolished; only here can security be guaranteed by generous legislation; and only here can distress be alleviated over the whole nation. This pinpoints the vast responsibility that we as legislators have in this Federal Parliament, irrespective of the party to which we belong.
Annual expenditure on social services has now reached the huge total of $ 1,200m. Christian concern for the security and wellbeing of more than 640,000 age pensioners - 53% of all men and women in Australia qualified by age - and more than 150,000 invalid pensioners is our responsibility. This involves bringing into reality all that has been preached in the pulpits of Australia for 100 years. Only in this Parliament can legislation be passed to bring into being the sort of Christian society that has been fought for and striven for over a long period. In addition to these 750,000 persons there are thousands of distressed people who are receiving various kinds of social service payments.
This Bill provides for the easing of the means test to the extent of $156. In effect it raises by $156 the limit of property and income which will permit the payment of a full pension to about 40,000 more people. This may not appear to be a great number, but the increase is a step in the right direction. We on this side of the House acknowledge that. While the means test remains in existence it is our job to ease it, and this Bill is just one small measure towards the easing of the means test. The Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) said in his second reading speech:
Expressed in terms of income this means that a single person whose property is less than $420 in value may have income of up to $10 a week and still receive the maximum standard rate pension of $13 a week; some pension will be payable until his income reaches $23 a week. A married couple whose property is less than $840 in value may have a combined income of up to $17 a week and still receive maximum rate pensions: some pension will be paid to each until their combined weekly income reaches $40.50.
The Minister went on to give other figures relating to total payments to single and married pensioners. This is all very helpful. It is a step in the right direction, even though it might be a faltering step.
I wish to mention an item which is not yet provided for in any legislation. There is a serious blind spot in our social services legislation, in spite of all that has been done by the Government and the Department of Social Services. I refer to hundreds of citizens who are not quite 85% incapacitated and who therefore are unable to secure an invalid pension. They are too old or not fit enough to obtain regular employment. This group contains folk of all ages but particularly folk above fifty years of age. They are the lost souls of our social service society. They live in a kind of social service no man’s land, groping in the shadows between twilight and darkness. If people outside who are listening to me do not believe what I am saying let them go into the office of a member of Parliament and meet these people personally face to face. Then they will believe. All honourable members in this House know what I am talking about.
What is available to these people? They are not quite sick enough to get an invalid pension because they are not 85% incapacitated; yet they are too incapacitated to work. They may not be even receiving a sickness benefit. They are forced to accept the small unemployment benefit and then to tramp the streets from boss to boss, from factory to factory, and from shop to shop seeking work and filling in a weekly unemployment form. They are not wanted by employers because they have some sort of infirmity. They are not well enough but every week they have to fill in this form stating where they have been seeking work. They have to do this if they wish to continue to receive unemployment benefit. They are embarrassed and humiliated and are living on the fringe of poverty. They are frustrated and discouraged, fighting a hopeless battle against their incapacity and feeling snubbed by society in general.
A new division of assistance should be created to help this sad and disillusioned group of citizens. I suggest that it be called a special assistance allowance. The Repatriation Department recognises this group of people, lt handles such cases by providing an unemployability pension. I do not like calling the pension by that name, but that is exactly what 1 mean. Approximately 15,000 ex-servicemen are receiving this unemployability pension. It is a humane action and is greatly appreciated. The Repatriation Department is to be congratulated for taking care of this small number of ex-servicemen who cannot be employed and who are not incapacitated sufficiently to obtain a war pension. Humanity demands that the Department of Social Services consider granting assistance to a similar group in the civil field. The Department should provide an adequate allowance to men and women who cannot find suitable work because of their incapacity and who cannot obtain an invalid pension because their doctor says that their degree of incapacity is only 70%. 78%, 81%, 82% or even 83%. What doctor can draw this fine line of distinction? Here are the lost souls of the Department of Social Services for whom no one is doing anything except paying a miserable unemployment benefit to them while they tramp the streets.
I should now like to approach this matter from another angle. I recommend to the Minister, who at the moment is attending a Cabinet meeting and has apologised to me for not being present, that he review the system whereby persons in receipt of unemployment benefit are forced to send in or hand in to head offices of the Department in all States a weekly record pf their search for work. This is a humiliating, expensive and embarrassing demand. Many of these unemployed men are over fifty years of age; many live in country areas up to fifty miles from a city. Wherever they are and whoever they are, they are forced under the Act to do a door-knocking office and factory crawl every week seeking work and they have to enter the names of the firms they have visited and the reasons for non-employment on the forms provided. I have had and still have on my files many distressing cases concerning these people as have many other honourable members. The people are involved in a wearying and embarrassing weekly grind of interviewing and door-knocking and of being knocked back. They are incapacitated in varying degrees and cannot obtain work, but this is what they have to do. I urge the Minister to consider an amendment to the Act to enable such people to make a fortnightly report of their search for work instead of a weekly one. Why should they be asked to report weekly to the office? Would not a fortnightly report suffice? If my suggestion were adopted the travel costs incurred by these people would be halved. They have little now, but they are asked to pay bus or train fares to get into the city in order to hand in their forms. This is one of the most wicked aspects of social services. We are forcing these people to endure unnecessary agony and embarrassment, To require a fortnightly report would be fairer and more just than requiring a weekly report. I urge the adoption of fortnightly reports instead of weekly ones.
There is a cruel aspect of this experience of our unemployed. If an unemployed person fails to record on the form every week the name of the firm or firms, shop or shops, or business or businesses visited or fails to send in the weekly form to the office, the unemployment benefit may be suspended. Sometimes we as members of Parliament are called upon to assist in having the unemployment benefit restored to these people. There may be good reasons why a man cannot get in to the Department’s office. Sometimes the Department listens to his reasons but sometimes it does not, and then we have to fight for the restoration of the benefit. I am referring not to an invalid pension but to the unemployment benefit. I urge the Government to investigate the matters to which I have referred, namely the lost souls living in no man’s land and the matter of a fortnightly report by unemployed persons instead of a weekly one. 1 would like to say a lot about the way in which the Government discriminates between single pensioners and married pensioners, but time will not permit. One of the worst features of our social services legislation is the Government’s policy of discriminating between single and married pensioners. There have been hundreds of amendments to this particular aspect of the legislation in even the twenty years that I have been in this Parliament. Nobody can justify this discrimination on any grounds, certainly not on grounds of humanity, justice or Christianity. Why did the Government adopt this policy? The Government has stated that it costs a single pensioner more to live than it costs a married pensioner. That has been the Government’s only reason for introducing this policy. In particular cases the Government’s reasoning may be correct, but not always. The Government is creating a caste system in the social services field by this and other anomalies. It is encouraging people . who are not married to live together. The Opposition opposed this provision from its inception. If ever the Labor Party returns to office it will quickly remove this wretched discrimination. That is our promise to all married pensioners in Australia. As the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) said, today under a Liberal Government to be married is to suffer discrimination.
Honourable members opposite have compared social service benefits paid in 1949 under Labor with those paid today. This is where Government supporters bring politics into the subject of social services. The honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) did so. To do that is unreal, irrelevant, cold and unfair. The arguments in this regard advanced by honourable members opposite are icy comfort to pensioners. Of what comfort is it to a pensioner suffering the anomalies of this legislation to compare the amount of the pension in 1967 with the amount of the pension in 1949? It is no comfort at all. The only criterion of any significance that we should adopt is: How much could £1 buy in 1949 and how much will £1 buy today? That is the only criterion by which we should measure the pension. The amount of the pension in terms of money has no significance. Compared with the situation in 1949, inflation today is running mad. In 1949 the £1 was worth 12s 6d; today it is worth about 6s 6d. It solves nothing to make these ridiculous comparisons between the size of the pension in 1949 and the size of the pension today. Nor does it prove anything. Even during war time the Labor Government made many improvements to our social services legislation. In 1944 when we were at war a referendum was held to give the Commonwealth responsibility in the matters of widows pensions and child endowment. That section was carried. We were fighting a war at that time. Between 1946 and 1949 we improved social services, notwithstanding that we had to settle 1,500,000 ex-servicemen in jobs. The Government does not know what difficulty is. Running this country since 1950 has been a Sunday school picnic compared with the conditions under which Labor governed from 1941 to 1949. Some honourable members opposite, who have only recently entered this Parliament, were hardly out of the cradle in those days. Do not let them try to tell me that Labor did nothing about social services. They do not know what they are talking about.
– -In 1954.
– I am referring to Labor’s policy to abolish the means test for ail persons seventy years of age and older.
– This proposal will be announced in the next Budget.
– Yes, the Government will take this proposal from Labor’s policy and announce it when the next Budget is brought down. This will be nothing new. These days it is hard to distinguish Liberal policy from Labor policy. It is a good job we on this side are able to do the thinking for the Government. This is something we have achieved in Opposition. I could spend ten minutes telling Government supporters of how this Government has stolen ideas from Labor’s policy.
I do not have time to provide details of how all these schemes operate in each of the countries I have mentioned but in Canada, the United States and Great Britain there are two pension groups which exist side by side. In one group there is no means test for people of a certain age and in the other group a small means test is applied to people not so old. Even this system is far beyond that in Australia. We could learn a lot from what New Zealand does in the field of social services. New Zealand was among the first countries to give women a vote in 1893 and was the first .country to provide an age pension scheme in 1898. New Zealand is again in the forefront with a social security pension which is provided by means of a compulsory scheme covering the whole population. The scheme is financed from a social security fund, which receives income from two major sources, namely a special tax known as the social security income tax levied on virtually all income of persons and companies, and annual grants from the consolidated fund derived from the general revenues of the government. I am citing a publication entitled ‘The Case for Abolition of the Means Test’, published some years ago by the Public Service Association of New South Wales. It is a splendid document and deals with the whole aspect of the means test and its abolition.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– I had finished the major part of my speech before the suspension of the sitting. I said that, although the Bill improves the overall position of pensioners, much still remains to be done. However, we are thankful for any advance, no matter how small, that will add to the security of the 790,000 age and invalid pensioners in Australia. I pointed out that there was a serious blind spot in the social services legislation and that this has been completely overlooked. I referred to the group of people who are in the social services no man’s land. These are people whose incapacity does not quite reach the required 85%.
They may be only 80% or 70% incapacitated and they cannot get the invalid pension. However, their incapacity is too severe to enable them to work regularly. No employer would consider giving them a regular job. So they are a wandering band, a sort of lost race in a twilight zone. This is a most serious weakness in the social services legislation. Many of these people are over fifty years of age, some over fiftyfive and some over sixty, and they cannot get the invalid pension.
– They get a sickness benefit, do they not?
– Yes, and they may get the unemployment benefit if they can walk. They must walk from place to place looking for work and they must record the interviews that they had and the results of the interviews. They must lodge a weekly report with the Department. I do not think the sickness benefit is good enough and many I know do not qualify for the sickness benefit. The Minister for Social Services is a most sympathetic Minister and I have always found that he is willing to consider any reasonable suggestion, whether it comes from a Labor or a Liberal member. I ask him to consider the possibility of treating the people I have mentioned exactly as the Repatriation Department treats the people in this situation who are within its jurisdiction. The Repatriation Department pays them an unemployability pension. I would call it a special assistance allowance to be paid to these people who are in the twilight zone. The sickness benefit is just not good enough.
I also ask the Minister to consider accepting a fortnightly report instead of insisting on a weekly report from unemployed persons. Then these people would be saved the constant tramping to various offices with the documents that must be filled in showing the employers that they have interviewed and so on. This causes a lot of expense to folk who receive only the unemployment benefit. Some of these people in my electorate travel 30 miles into town to search for work, and they cannot find it. They pay bus fares or other fares each way. This is a grave injustice and I believe that a fortnightly return would adequately meet the Department’s requirements.
I also mentioned the national superannuation schemes in New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Great Britain. The schemes in New Zealand and Canada are non-contributory; the payments are made directly from revenue. In the United States and Great Britain the scheme can be generally classed as contributory. So we have two types of national superannuation funds, the contributory In which all wage earners pay a weekly contribution and the non-contributory in which the superannuation is paid out of revenue. In Great Britain and the United States, the amount paid to the recipients is directly related to the amount of the contribution paid prior to the age of retirement. In each of the four countries that I have mentioned, two schemes are operating concurrently.
It is interesting to note that no means test applies to people beyond a certain age but a small means test applies to those under that age. I have a summary of the ages at which the means test ceases entirely. In New Zealand, no means test applies to men and women who have reached the age of sixty-five years. In Canada, the age is seventy years for both men and women. In the United States it is seventy-two years for both men and women and in Great Britain it is seventy years for men and sixty-five years for women. I suggest that the Government set up a top level inter-departmental committee consisting of officers from the Department of Social Services and the Treasury to examine the social service schemes of other countries with a view to recommending the kind of national superannuation scheme best suited to Australian conditions and whether it should be contributory or non-contributory. I believe that this is the proper way to answer the question that is asked by thousands of people throughout Australia who are deprived of pension rights because of the means test. But the resultant superannuation rate must be an adequate and just one.
Before I conclude, I want to deal with the method of fixing pension rates. This is a hit and miss affair and always has been. No basis has ever been laid down for a fair adjustment of pensions. No formula has been devised and the pension has never been set as a percentage of the basic wage. Who fixes the rate? Someone in the Department advises the Minister. He thinks it over, discusses it with his colleagues and with the Treasury and decides that the increase will be50c or 70c. The amount of the increase is not related to anything; it is simply a figure picked out of the air. Unfortunately, the decision is largely political. Increases come irregularly and bear no accurate relationship to cost of living indices. I suggest that the Government set up a pension rate arbitration court. This would put the fixation of pension rates outside the political arena. The court could have powers similar to those of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It could review pension rates annually in the light of wage trends and cost of living indices. This would for all time remove the decision as to pension rates from the political arena. I believe that this scheme is well worth considering. We are all concerned about the inaccurate way in which pension rates are fixed and about the lack of guide lines for their fixation. A court away from parliamentary control should fix pension rates and make recommendations to the Government. I put this forward as a constructive suggestion to help heal the running sore that is the fixation of pension rates. Pension rates are determined and then six months or twelve months later they are said to be inadequate. But no guide lines for their fixation are used and no basis is laid down anywhere.
I believe that pensioners suffering from diabetes - there are quite a number - need special assistance from the Department of Social Services because of the extra cost of special foods that they must buy. I ask the Minister to look at this problem, too. These pensioners buy special types of food and need extra assistance. I believe it would be humane to give them this help. I support the amendment moved by my colleague, the honourable member for Grayndler.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr Ian Allan) adjourned.
Bill - by leave - presented by Dr Forbes, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to enable the benefits, that are available to pensioners under existing provisions of the National Health Act, to be made available to persons who will become eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the relaxations to the social services means test recently announced. The pensions and allowances that will be affected by the proposed relaxations to the means test are age, invalid or widows pensions authorised by the Social Services Act; service pensions authorised by the Repatriation Act; sheltered employment allowances which will be authorised by the proposed amendments to the Social Services Act; and allowances authorised by the Tuberculosis Act.
At the present time, every person receiving an age, invalid, widows or service pension or a tuberculosis allowance is entitled to all the benefits of the pensioner medical service. These benefits are also available to the dependants of the persons in receipt of these pensions and allowances. The benefits comprise general practitioner medical attention free of charge from a doctor of the pensioner’s own choice, hospital treatment free of charge in the public wards of public hospitals and pharmaceutical benefits free of charge. Persons newly eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the proposed relaxations of the means test will, as a result of this Bill, become eligible for the hospital and pharmaceutical benefits I have mentioned as soon as they have been accepted for pension purposes. The dependants of these persons will also be entitled to the hospital and pharmaceutical benefits provided for pensioners.
Honourable members will be aware that the free general practitioner medical service for pensioners is conducted under an agreement, authorised by section 32 of the National Health Act, between the Commonwealth Government and the Australian Medical Association. Under this agreement doctors throughout Australia provide medical attention for pensioners and their dependants for concessional fees which are paid by the Commonwealth. I have informed the Federal Council of the Australian Medical Association of the proposals for amending the social services means test now before Parliament and sought the concurrence of the Association to the extension of the existing agreement for a free general practitioner medical service to the persons becoming eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the proposed amendments. The Federal Council has advised me that the Australian Medical Association’s policy in this matter can be determined only by the Federal Assembly of the Association, which is meeting in May to consider this and other matters. When the policy of the Australian Medical Association is determined by this meeting in May, the Government will give early consideration to the extension of the free general practitioner medical services to this new group of pensioners and persons receiving allowances.
The new definition of ‘pensioner’ included in clause 3 of this Bill will enable a new agreement to be made with the Australian Medical Association under section 32 of the Act, in relation to all persons in receipt of an age, invalid, widows or service pension, a tuberculosis allowance or a sheltered employment allowance, including all persons newly eligible for pensions and allowances as a result of the relaxations of the means test. In the meantime clause 4 of the Bill continues the effect of the existing agreement in relation to persons entitled to pensions and allowances under the legislation currently in force.
In detail, the benefits that will be authorised by this Bill, are: firstly, hospital treatment in public wards of public hospitals without charge, in return for which the Commonwealth pays the hospitals concerned $5 a day for each pensioner so treated; secondly, an extensive range of drugs and medicines, ordered on doctors’ prescriptions, without charge; and thirdly, free general practitioner medical attention, upon the making of the necessary agreement with the Australian Medical Association.
It is proposed that the provisions of this Bill will commence from the same date as the social services amending Bill so that the new pensioners and persons in receipt of allowances and their dependants will be eligible for the hospital and pharmaceutical benefits from the date they are accepted for pension purposes by the Department of Social Services or the Repatriation Department or the date a sheltered employment allowance or a tuberculosis allowance is granted. The estimated annual costs to the Commonwealth of the measures contained in the Bill are $550,000 for hospital benefits and $380,000 for pharmaceutical benefits. The estimated cost of extending the free general practitioner medical service would be $450,000 in a full year. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr J. F. Cairns) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 1 109).
– The field of social services is now so complex that it is extraordinarily difficult for a layman to follow it through and to explain it in reasonably comprehensible terms to the general public outside this chamber. Debate on the subject always attracts comments from experts here both informed and uninformed, and it is a subject that attracts a great variety of suggestions from experts outside this House. I do not envy the Minister his task in ploughing a straight furrow through this morass of statistical information and of helpful suggestion. I support this Bill which honours the promises of the Government at the last election. It modifies the means test and makes provision for rehabilitation as promised at election time, lt certainly is not a very large amendment to our social services legislation but it is in the right direction, lt is going to be of quite substantial benefit to a proportion of pensioners in Australia.
I believe the most significant fact to come out of this debate today has been that some 90% of pensioners receive no income at all other than their pension. Different figures have been quoted in the debate, but the figure I have is 90%, which is a significant figure. This can be explained in several ways. The people who are now receiving age pensions have been through a very trying period in their working and saving Jives. They have been through a period of depression, which lasted for a number of years after 1930. They have been through a period of war with all its disruption to private lives, and they have been through a very damaging period of inflation. All these factors have contributed to their present situation where they are in receipt of the age pension but are not in receipt of any benefit from savings. Certainly, because of the provisions of our legislation, they may have been able to purchase homes, furnish them and own cars, where they are able to, without affecting their qualification for pension.
To cite another percentage, it is a fact also that in excess of 70% of pensioners either own their own homes or are in the process of paying them off. So very many people who have saved obviously have saved by putting their money into the purchase of a home. But we are living now in a time of full employment, a time which is totally different from the difficult times through which these people who are now drawing an age pension lived. We are living in lush affluent times now and there is really no excuse for people not to save and make some provision for their old age and to augment the age pension when their time comes along to retire from active work. I hope that those people who are able to earn now will not be lulled into a dangerous attitude to life by the exponents of the attitude, principally from the Labor Party in this place, that ‘the State will take care of you; whatever happens, do not make any provision for your old age; do not look after yourself; be completely feckless and reckless; spend whatever you have and the State will ultimately look after you.’ If that attitude becomes general in Australia 1 despair for the future of this country.
It is only our conservative attitude, our thrifty and forward looking habits which will hold this country together- If everyone of us becomes completely dependent upon handouts from the Government I would despair of this country prospering in future years. It is a highly dangerous philosophy to propound and I deplore it whenever I hear it from the lips of Opposition speakers. I believe, on the contrary, that we should be doing far more than we are doing as a Government to encourage thrift and saving in the community of Australia in order to strengthen our country beyond its present position. I think we should make a very close study of our taxation legislation to see where it can be altered to encourage the thrifty. We should look closely at our social services legislation in a similar vein to see where it can be amended in a way which will encourage people and give them an incen tive to save and provide for a comfortable old age - not just an existence in their old age, but a comfortable old age. We can do these things if we apply our minds to them.
I believe that the humanitarian concepts which prompted social services legislation in the old days should now give way in this affluent society to this kind of approach: we should look at social services with the idea of building up the strength and character of our people and not merely from the purely Christian humanitarian point of view which was referred to by the previous, speaker. Certainly humanitarianism, kindness and charity to others will always have their place. There will always be people who have suffered through no fault of their own and who are not able to look after themselves. Certainly those people must be cared for by the community. But equally we must make sure that the preponderance of people in Australia are righting hard to look after themselves.
There is another quite separate and distinct reason why we should encourage more thrift and savings by individuals in Australia and it is simply this: we are a capital hungry country. We are importing capital from other countries and everyone of us regrets that this should be so. We wish that we could finance the great developmental works of Australia entirely from our own resources, but we just have not the money in a capital form. We have not the money available from the Government and we have not the money in banks and insurance companies to put into these longrange developmental works, so we have to import it. I regret that situation just as everyone else in this chamber regrets it. The one way in which we could provide our own capital is by saving more. Savings could be obtained if we went out of our way to encourage people as individuals to save instead of spending their money as they do now on consumption goods, on fast motor cars and things like that, on travel which is so prevalent now among young people everywhere, but especially in Australia. That money should be channelled into useful reproductive venues such as into insurance companies which are obliged by legislation to put 30% of their money into government securities. In that way we would be helping to foster the thrifty habits of our people and, also, we would be doing our utmost to build Australia, to make it a strong, a wealthy and prosperous country.
I am sure that we could do something in the coming year by a modification of our means test to encourage the kind of thrift that I am speaking about. We could make some proportion of benefits from superannuation funds and certain categories of insurance policies free from the provisions of the means test so that people who had saved over a considerable period of years for their old age would be entitled also to the age pension. This would be a great stimulus to the building up of the superannuation funds in Australia. Only one million people in Australia contribute to superannuation funds, yet we have a work force of almost four million people. Obviously there is great room for expansion there. One of the reasons why more people do not contribute for superannuation is the age pension and the fact is that there is no channel through it for people who have saved in this form. A married couple must have an income of $17 per week before they come under the provisions of the means test, but the gap between $17 and $40.50, which removes them from the age pension field entirely, is a very large gap to bridge. Consequently, a man either aims to save a small amount which will give him a small benefit on retirement and enable him to gain a large pension as well, or he is so wealthy that he aims to jump right above the age pension, with all its fringe benefits and its shaded areas.
To jump right above the $40.50 represents a very considerable burden to most people in this community. So there is a distinct bar there to people who want to save for their old age. Should they save an amount of money which would give them more than $17 per week they come within the provisions of the age pension and can receive no more than $40.50. So they can save all that they will, but they will not get more than $40.50 until they get above that barrier. This is the great deterrent to saving by means of life insurance policies or superannuation and is, I believe, something which should be looked at urgently by the Government. I believe the use of superannuation funds could be encouraged also by forming a register of superannuation funds in Australia and by obliging the funds to comply with certain standards and to give certain benefits. If that were done it would be possible to arrange for exchanges between one fund and another, so that an employee of one firm could transfer to another firm and take all benefits and rights under his superannuation scheme along with him. Throughout his working life he could be contributing towards superannuation, and his employer, or his successive employers, could also be contributing. Ultimately he would be able to retire with a substantial income for which he had provided through his own arrangements.
This would be the first stage of a true national insurance scheme. If we could inaugurate such a system of encouragement of superannuation, with the possibility of exchange of benefits from one fund to another, each fund complying with a certain set of standards, we would have the basis of a national insurance scheme which everyone in this chamber agrees is the ideal form of protection for people in their old age.
I have put these ideas forward not as an expert in the field of social services; I put them forward with some humility because I acknowledge the tremendous amount of study that must go into a comprehension of this field by trained and accomplished people. I put them forward because I believe it is essential for Australians to save more money and to make provision themselves for their old age not only in the interests of themselves as individuals and so as components of this great country, but also for the purpose of accumulating more of our own money to develop our own national resources. That is the concept I put before the House and before the Minister. T hope he will do what he can to design our social service legislation around these aims which I believe are more worthy in these affluent times than any others that could be advanced.
– This Bill seeks to amend the Social Services Act by increasing the permissible income for pensioners by $3 a week in the case of a single age, invalid or widow pensioner, from $7 to $10, and in the case of a married pensioner couple by $3, from S14 to $17. There is one salient point of which we can be quite sure: Liberal-Country Party coalition governments can never stand accused of breaking any speed limits, because this is the first adjustment of this section of the means test for nearly thirteen years. Incidentally the proposed provision is not as liberal as the provision that existed in 1954, as I shall proceed to demonstrate. In 1954 a single pensioner received a pension of $7 a week. The permissible income over and above the pension was also $7 a week, or 100% of the pension. Today the single pension rate is $13, and if and when this legislation is passed through both Houses the permissible income will be $10, about 77% of the pension, so that the permissible income has fallen in value since 1954 by 23%. In the case -of a married pensioner couple the combined pension in 1954 was $14 and the permissible income was also $14 or 100% of the pension. Today the pension is $23.50 and this Bill provides for a permissible income of $17, which is about 72.4% of the pension. So the permissible income in that case has declined in value by 27.6%.
It is interesting to note that in the 1949 election campaign Sir Robert Menzies promised, inter alia, that a Liberal-Country Party government would appoint a select committee to examine ways and means of abolishing the means test. The implication was, of course, that the means test would be entirely eliminated. However, no such committee was ever appointed and no inquiry was ever made. This was just one of the vote catching promises made but never implemented, and after a long wait of 174 years we find that very little progress has been made in this field.
This legislation makes provision for the permissible income of a single pensioner to be increased by $3 a week, but that of one of a married pensioner couple by only $1.50 a week. This policy of discrimination appears to be based on the assumption that two can live as cheaply as one. There has been an increasing tendency on both sides of the House to accept the principle that social service payments should be adjusted so that the maximum assistance be given to those with the maximum need. This has been recognised in the policy of the Labor Party which proposed in the 1966 election campaign a base rate of $14 a week for all recipients of social service pensions, plus supplementary payments to those in special categories of need, and also to those pensioners who can establish special individual needs. The basis of Labor Party policy is a standard basic pension payable to all pensioners, plus special payments for special needs.
The Government itself recognised this principle several years ago when it introduced what is widely known as a rent allowance which is based solely on need. As a matter of fact, in order to ensure that it is granted only to the really needy it is subject to a rigid means test. The present policy of the Government separates the age and invalid pensioners into two categories, single and married. This I believe to be unfair and unjust. It certainly is anomalous. For example, two single pensioners residing together, such as two sisters, two brothers or a brother and sister, receive $13 a week each in pension. Yet a married pensioner couple residing together receive $11.75 each, or $2.50 in all less than the two single pensioners residing together. The same principle applies in the case of single pensioners residing together and sharing living costs. Each is allowed a permissible income of $10, or $20 for the two of them, while a married pensioner couple are allowed $8.50 each or $17 in all. I am sure that if this situation applied in Hollywood the married couples would obtain divorces and in each case one would pay board and lodging in order that both could receive the extra payments.
Although the Labor Opposition will support any legislation designed to assist any section of the community of pensionable age or suffering invalidity, we believe this Bill is merely scratching the surface. For instance, we believe in a base rate of pension of $14 a week, which would increase the single pension by $1 a week and the pension of a married couple by $2.25 each per week in addition to the supplementary allowances. We also believe in the grant of half the pension without a means test to all people over seventy years of age, and free pharmaceutical and medical benefits for all people of pension age.
When this policy was announced we heard the old familiar squeals: ‘Where will they find the money?’ This is reminiscent of bygone days when in the mid- 1920s a Labor Government in New South Wales introduced, for the first lime in Australia, child endowment, widows’ pensions and workmen’s compensation, and reduced the working week from forty-eight hours to forty-four. The anti-Labor Opposition at the time said, ‘We cannot afford it. The State will be bankrupt.’ In the late 1940s a Labor Government introduced the 40-hour week. In the 1950s a Labor Government introduced long service leave and compulsory annual leave. On each occasion we were subjected to the moans and protests of the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party. If Labor had been deterred by the attitude of these knockers, the Australian people would not be enjoying the social and industrial benefits they now enjoy. The same applies to Labor’s present social service policy; we will not be deterred by the moans and groans of our political opponents.
Let us now examine some of the things which this Bill fails to do for pensioners. I shall refer first to the supplementary allowance which, as I have mentioned, is mostly referred to as a rent allowance. This allowance applies only to single or widowed pensioners who pay rent; it does not apply to single or widowed pensioners who own or are paying off a home. This is most unfair and unjust, particularly as I see it applied in my own electorate. For example, we have the not uncommon instance of single or widowed pensioners who occupy rent-controlled premises and pay $2 or $3 a week rent receiving the supplementary allowance of $2 a week, while their nearby single pensioner neighbours who own or are paying off a home and are forced to pay council rates, water rates and the upkeep and maintenance on their homes, which in many cases exceed the rental paid by the recipients of the supplementary allowance, do not qualify for it. Some councils, particularly the Labor controlled Sydney City Council, assist pensioners who own a home by waiving the rates or granting concessions, but this does not apply everywhere.
Let me again refer to this Government’s discrimination against married pensioners and some of the iniquities emanating from it. A single pensioner will be allowed to have $5,600 in the bank or invested, to own his own home, and still to draw a pension of $13 a week. Good luck to him, I say; T have no quarrel with that. How ever, a married pensioner couple could be paying up to $6 a week in rent and have little or no money in the bank, and each would draw a pension of $11.75 a week. A single pensioner can own a home, possess $419 in the bank, receive superannuation of $10 a week and draw a pension of $13 a week - a total income of $23. 1 ask you, Mr Speaker, to compare a single pensioner receiving $23 a week with the married couple I have just mentioned who receive a combined income of $23.50 a week. This is surely stretching the two can live as cheaply as one theory a little too far. Anomalies such as those I have mentioned must surely indicate to the Government that it is desirable to revert to a base rate of pension, which I suggest should be $14 a week for all recipients irrespective of marital status. In addition single pensioners who own or are paying off a home should be eligible for the supplementary allowance.
Let us examine the plight of pensioners who have no income other than the pension and have very few or no monetary assets. People in this category comprise the majority of pensioners. With the prevailing high cost of essential foods such as fruit and vegetables, and the high cost of clothing and shoes, I submit that not one honourable member would dare to say that the pension rate is adequate to meet present day needs in keeping with the average standard of living in Australia. I remind honourable members that, when pensioners purchase meat, groceries, vegetables, fruit, clothes or shoes they pay the same price as does any other person. It is interesting to note that often speeches and public utterances are made to the effect that we are living in an affluent society. If this is so, then this Government stands condemned for not having improved the standard of living of pensioners by increasing the pension. Many of these people arc poverty stricken and frustrated, and they have very little hope for the future. I am extremely doubtful whether any Government members have ever experienced difficulty in purchasing essential commodities because of lack of money. I doubt whether many have ever been on the dole with a wife and children to keep; so very few, if any, would know what it is to live in poverty. I have always found that experience is the best teacher in matters of this kind.
I should like now to refer to the class B widow’s pension and I shall point out the Government’s inconsistency in arriving at the pension rate of $11-75 a week for widows in this category. Firstly, the Government informs us that single age and invalid pensioners are in more needy circumstances than are married pensioner couples. Hence the single pensioner receives $13 a week compared with $11.75 a week which is received by a married pensioner - a difference of $1.25. The Government pays a widow a pension which is equivalent only to the pension received by a married pensioner. That does not make sense. A class B widow has to pay the same to live as does any age or invalid pensioner. Labor policy makes provision for the payment of a base rate of pension to eliminate these anomalies and iniquities.
Anomalies always seem to occur very much in favour of the Department of Social Services. Let me give an illustration. Next Thursday, 13th April, is pension day. If a single person posts an application for a pension on Wednesday, 12th April, and it is received by the Department on Thursday, 13th April, the pension will be back-dated to apply from 13th April. However, if the Department receives the application on Friday, 14th April, the pension will be dated from Thursday, 27th April. So, if the application is posted one day later the pensioner is penalised to the extent of a fortnight’s pension of $26, and in similar circumstances a married pensioner couple are penalised by $47. I fully realise that a line of demarcation must be drawn somewhere, but I submit that it should be every Thursday, and not every second Thursday as at present. This would mean in the cases I have mentioned that such people would receive $13 and $23.50 respectively extra in their first pension cheques. This is a sizeable amount for pensioners and it would be gratefully accepted.
Let me remind the Minister for Social Services, as I have done on previous occasions, of the complicated and confusing wording of the means test provision which, as applicable to single pensioners where the standard rate applies, states that if the pensioner’s means as assessed are not more than $364 he will receive a full pension of $676 a year and if his means as assessed exceed $364 and are less than $1,040, a reduced pension is payable. The rate payable is the maximum rate of $676 a year, less the amount by which his means as assessed exceed $364. Similar wording applies to married pensioner couples. I submit that this wording is most confusing and that not many members of this House could interpret the meaning to any person wishing to apply for the age pension. I believe there are many thousands of people in Australia who are entitled to receive a part pension but who do not know about it because they are unaware of the means test. This is simply because they do not understand it. I advise people who are listening to this speech tonight to get in touch with their local members or their senators when this legislation finally goes through and to make full inquiries as to their eligibility. It does not matter whether they are entitled to only 50c or $1 a week; it is their money, they have paid taxation, and they are entitled to it.
I believe it is incumbent on the Minister in all circumstances to make the meaning of these words very easily understandable. We must take into consideration that most of the people eligible for age pensions today, unfortunately, have had a poor education compared with the younger people of today and are not in a position to understand what this means test is all about. I suggest that the Minister should immediately take up with his officers the question of making the wording of the means test provisions much more readily understandable. I believe that not many members of this Parliament understand the full meaning of the means test provisions and that they would find it very difficult to interpret them for anyone applying for a pension. If it is difficult for us surely it must be much more difficult for old people trying to apply for pensions today.
Finally, I appeal to the newspapers to give wide publicity throughout Australia to the bases of eligibility for pensions so that people who are entitled to a part pension may receive it. Many people today who receive pensions are unaware of the fact that they could obtain more money by way of income from properties. Let me illustrate an actual case. A lady who came to see me several months ago had a cottage at The Entrance, a famous seaside resort in New South Wales. The valuation of that cottage was $6,000. This lady had no money in the bank, and while she was living in the cottage she received the full pension. However, her son got married and moved into my electorate, and because he was her only relative she moved down to live with him. Immediately she moved out of her cottage she was penalised to the extent of $196 a year from her pension because the valuation of the property was more than $4,040. She did not know about this provision, and she came to see me about regaining the full pension. I told her there was little she could do about it except to go back and live in the cottage, to sell it and spend the money on her personal needs to get her assets below $4,040, or to let it to somebody. She had not known that she could let the property; she thought she would lose her pension if she let it. Because of her ignorance of the means test provisions she lost eighteen months rental of the property. She could have received an average of at least $10 a week for it, so in effect she has lost more than $700 through not knowing about these things. Pensioners should be made aware of their rights and their degree of eligibility under the Social Services Act. 1 again appeal to the Minister to take the matter up with the officers of his Department and to make the means test provisions much more clearly understandable for the benefit of people applying for pensions.
– Whenever I listen to a speaker on the Opposition side I try to find some point of agreement with him, and I will say that I agree with something the honourable member lor Watson (Mr Cope) has said. I agree that there are many people who do not know their full rights under the Government’s pension scheme and that the sooner they learn about them the better for themselves and for the country. I think that what the honourable member has said in that regard is correct and should be endorsed. The Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) personally has done probably more than any preceding Minister to carry out what the honourable member has suggested should be done. I agree that more publicity is desirable. I also agree that many people who are entitled to pensions under the laws of our land are not drawing them.
To that extent may I mark my agreement with what the honourable member has said.
However, I think that perhaps the honourable member was a little ungenerous in some of the things he said earlier in his speech. One would think from his diatribe that this was a Bill to take away something from the pensioner, whereas in fact the Bill increases by $ 13.5m the Government’s annual expenditure on social services. That is quite apart from the normal increase that occurs by reason of the growing numbers of pensioners. Therefore I think perhaps the honourable member has been misled by the rather extravagant amendment that has been put forward by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) to the motion before the House. This is a Bill which improves the lot of the pensioner. Perhaps it does not offer all that we would desire, but at least it is a movement in a very humane and in some ways, I think, a very enlightened way towards helping those who are most in need of help.
It may be a small thing but at least it is a reasonable thing to do what the Minister has proposed to do in regard to the rights of wives of mentally handicapped people. A period of three months is to be allowed for the lodgment of a claim for widow’s pension by a woman whose husband is admitted to a mental hospital. This is a sensible and humane thing; perhaps it is not of earth-shaking consequence but it is something the Government has well done. Then there is the proposal in regard to the so-called sheltered workshops. Looking back on policy I think the Government may well congratulate itself on the way in which it has co-operated with the sheltered workshops. This situation has not entirely come about because of Government initiative. Let us give direct praise and rightful due to the people outside the Government - the private people - who in their charitable organisations have promoted these schemes. Let us also remember that the Government has co-operated with them and that here again in this Bill before the House it is doing something that will help the sheltered workshops and the people who are working in them for their own rehabilitation. I have been with committees of Government members and have seen the wonderful work that is done in these establishments. I think perhaps that it is very largely by reason of the recommendations by the Government Members Social Services Committee for assistance that this matter has been brought before the Minister and before the Government and has issued in the admirable amendments to the Act which are before us tonight.
Speakers on the Opposition side are perhaps underestimating what the sheltered workshops have done, what they can do, and what I have no doubt they will do. Honourable members opposite might perhaps have been a little more generous not only to the Government but also to the people outside the Government who have been responsible for these organisations. The provisions, small though they are perhaps, mean that more will be given in the way of equipment to those who need rehabilitation. These are good provisions. Why is the Opposition not saying more about them? fs it because the Opposition does not really want to help the pensioner but wants to pose as the champion of the wronged pensioner? If that is so I ask honourable members opposite to search their consciences. I ask them to co-operate with the Government because it is trying to do the best for the Australian people. Opposition members should not be coming forward with this sort of carping criticism. They should be putting forward constructive criticism. They should at least give the Government credit, and give outside organisations credit, for something that has been well done and which is continuing to be well done.
I want to say something about the Government’s proposals in regard to the means test. In strict accordance with what was stated in its policy speech the Government is relaxing the means test. I am one of those people - and I make no secret of it - who think that the Government is not going far enough or fast enough in this regard. I have said so in the past. I believe this to be true even now, and even in the face of the very considerable improvement which will be brought about in relation to the means test by the operation oi this Bill. The Labor Party deceives itself if it regards itself as the fountain of all improvements in social services. It is not. It is a historical fact that most of the great improvements in our social services were brought about by honourable members on this side of the House or on the initiative of honourable members on this side of the House. The merged means test is one example. That happened some time in the past, yes. but perhaps it was the greatest single advance made in regard to the means test. The increase of §156 a year in the permitted income of a pensioner or pensioner couple as the case may be, as set out in this Bill is a tremendous step forward. I do not think that justice will be done by taking something away from pensioners in the way the Opposition apparently wants to take the extra allowance away from single pensioners. Nobody has taken anything from married pensioner couples but the burden of the Opposition’s complaint is. apparently, that single pensioners are getting too much by comparison. I disagree with that view.
The first sentence of the amendment moved by the Opposition calls on the Government to ‘eliminate the injustices of discrimination between the rates of married and single pensioners’. I think exactly the opposite; I think that if the Government paid the same flat rate it would be discriminating against the single pensioner. Two people living together can live a little more cheaply than two living alone. There is a saving, especially for the widower, if two pensioners can put their means together and live on their pension as a combined unit. I think it would be discrimination against the single pensioner to do what the Opposition apparently wants us to do - to take away from the single pensioner in order to give more to the married pensioner. At the present time under the Government scheme the extra amount that is given to the single pensioner merely brings him, in terms of substantial living, up to the same level as the married pensioner. I am afraid that when the honourable member for Grayndler spoke about the injustice of discrimination, in point of fact what he was proposing was the introduction of unjust discrimination.
In substance the Government is trying to hold the balance even. I remember that when it was proposed to give an extra amount to the single pensioner the Opposition said: ‘Give less to the single pensioner and more to the married pensioner.’ That was the view of honourable members opposite when the Government was allocating the available resources so as to eliminate the substantial inequity that was occurring between married and single pensioners. I am reminded by my friend the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) that the pensioner association requested the rent allowance. The association was probably very well aware of the practical circumstances which I have been trying to explain to honourable members. While I think that this so-called discrimination - it is really equity - in pension rates is reasonable, I do feel that perhaps there is not quite such a firm principle in regard to the operation of the means test. I think that when the Government considers the economic advantages of having as many people as possible earning an income, it might re-think its policy along these lines.
When considering advances in pension rates one always has to think of the money that is available - what is the best way of allocating the resources. In this connotation I believe that the relaxation of the means test stands in a rather different category from other increases in social services. If this relaxation is done according to <a plan and a pattern then I think it will be substantially costless; it will not cost money. The reason is that if the means test is relaxed according to a pattern there will be an increased saving rate in the community. There will also be an increase in the productivity of the community because people will be allowed to earn more without losing their pensions.
I noticed yesterday in the Press an article dealing with what the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) had said about the need for a greater savings rate in the Australian community. If the Treasurer is thinking in those terms he might think also in terms of a further relaxation of the means test as one of the methods whereby the savings rate could be increased. The objective that the Treasurer set himself in his speech was altogether admirable, but perhaps he is not being as practical as he could be in the means of attaining that objective. Furthermore, the question of the waste of productive activity has to be considered. This is of special importance because some people, particularly those now receiving small pensions, are frightened of earning more lest they lose their small pension which carries with it fringe benefits which are not small. It may be that if somebody earns another $100 a year he will be substantially worse off, perhaps by as much as $200 a year, because he will lose for himself and his wife the fringe medical benefits and other benefits which come with a pension.
This is an anomaly. It is the kind of anomaly which carries an economic penalty not only for the pensioner but for the whole of the community. I think the Government might well be considering further action along the lines of this Bill to relax and eventually abolish the means test. I know that everything cannot be done overnight. I say this with the very greatest appreciation that this Bill is a move to do something about the means test. I say also that I do not think this goes far enough or fast enough in relation to our present economic circumstances. If our productive capacities are stretched through lack of labour power - we are told that this is so - then surely we should not be discarding the potential labour power of those in the top age bracket who would like to earn but who are debarred from earning by the means test. For that reason I had hoped - and I still hope - that one of the things that the Government would take in hand very soon would be to exempt from the calculation of income for means test purposes a certain amount, say $10 a week, of earned income. We have this concept in the Act at present in that we exempt property. That is a right and proper thing to do. A person’s home is exempt from his means as assessed. It would be a simple extension of that same principle to say that from means as assessed you would eliminate, shall I say as a first step, $10 a week as earned income.
We have had this matter looked at by the Government’s own statisticians and they have come up with the answer that it would cost very little. In point of fact, if you counter-balance against this move the extra economic activity and the extra revenues that would come to the Government by reason of that enhanced economic activity, then I think it is probable that so far from costing anything at all the move might even enhance total revenue. The Government’s own advisers look on the gross cost of this as being quite neglible. The net cost may even be negative, in the sense that it will help and not in any way disadvantage the Treasurer in his preparation of the Budget. I put this forward as being something that is practicable and I put it on the basis of the figures that have been provided by the Government’s own advisers. I am a little bit disappointed that nothing on these lines has yet been done.
There are many other things that I could suggest. I do not want tonight to go into the injustices - and there are injustices - that are suffered by people in receipt of superannuation which sometimes is not princely but which is just sufficient to debar them from a pension. You know, Sir, and I know that people who have a little bit of money are able to invest it in a house or to dispose of it in certain other ways which enable them to draw at least a part pension. But the person on a fixed superannuation which is paid by a weekly, fortnightly or monthly instalment from a fund which cannot be varied, and where there is no right to commute it into a lump sum or into property, is really caught by the means test because there is no way in which he can arrange his affairs so as to qualify for a pension. The honourable member for Watson (Mr Cope) referred to the way in which people who had a little property could arrange their affairs so as to qualify for a pension. He was quite right. The man who is in receipt of a little superannuation cannot do this. I am speaking not of the big man who is right outside the range of a pension altogether or of the man who is getting only a few dollars a week but of the man whose income - even if he is a married man - is a fixed pension which he cannot commute and which is sufficient to lake him just outside the pension range and to deprive him also of the fringe benefits which to many persons are very valuable. This is an injustice which the Government might look at. I am a bit disappointed that so far nothing has been done in this regard. I am not trying to put any blame for this on the Minister for Social Services who I know is rather more sympathetic in this regard than some of his Cabinet colleagues, but I do think that we are not going far enough or fast enough in regard to the relaxation of the means test. Nevertheless, let me not merely carp, as the Opposition has done. I have tried to be constructive. 1 have tried to give credit, and and very considerable credit is due to the Government for what it has done.
There are two other matters which I suggest we might turn our minds to. The first is the provision of accommodation for aged people. Here again the Government has an excellent record. It is of no use for the Opposition to say that it thought of homes for the aged first, because it did not. This was entirely ab initio a move from the Government side. This is one of the great things that has been done for the pensioner and for the person who perhaps is not even drawing a pension but is of pensionable age. I congratulate the Government on the move that it is now making to extend this very excellent legislation. I do not want to trespass on another Bill or another debate, but J think that it is not out of place to remind the House that this very good thing has been done by the Government. I think legislation of this kind was introduced first in 1954; it has been extended and improved since then. Good luck to these aged persons, and good luck also to the outside organisations that have co-operated in this wonderful scheme.
But I am wondering perhaps whether there might not be another accommodation fringe field which we should be entering. I am speaking particularly of those persons whose health is deteriorating - unhappily, this happens to old people - and who are not capable of looking after themselves and may require some kind of accommodation intermediate between a home and a hospital. The Government has done a great deal to help by allowing beds of this character to be attached to aged persons homes. Perhaps we should be thinking also of setting up schemes to ease the lot of elderly people and pensioners in their final years. What are needed are places which are not self contained homes, because these people unfortunately are incapable of looking after themselves in an independent home. What are needed are not hospitals, because these people fortunately do not require or do not want the full routine of a hospital; indeed, they would find it objectionable. But they want something intermediate between the two which would give a great deal of comfort, happiness and security to them in a time of life which lies before us all if we are lucky enough to survive to that day.
The next thing I want to say is related to the proposal I made in regard to the capacity to earn some income free of a means test. All of us in this House have had experience of people in the upper age group who have been retired from their normal jobs - indeed, it is not undesirable that they should retire to make room for younger people - but who find it very difficult to get the employment they want. Can we perhaps have some kind of senior citizens employment bureau to look after these people?
To establish such a bureau would be a futile gesture unless at the same time some modification were made to the means test in the way I have suggested - that is, to allow a certain amount of personal earnings to be exempt income. This is a practical and constructive suggestion. I hope that it will commend itself to the Government and that it may be dovetailed with the senior citizens employment bureau which I have suggested should be formed. I conclude by expressing the hope that my criti”cism has been constructive. This is a Bill which should be welcomed, even if in some cases the rapture could be a little modified.
– The Bill which we are discussing seeks to amend certain provisions of the Social Services Act. One of the more important amendments contained in the Bill seeks to increase permissible income in relation to pension entitlement. It is a long time since a Bill of this nature has been brought before the House. Most people who are now in receipt of a pension or who, as a result of the amendments before the House, will become eligible for a pension or a part pension are not likely ever to witness or to enjoy a further increase in permissible earnings while this Government is permitted to remain in office. The expressions of disappointment by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) because the Government has not moved more quickly cannot be treated seriously because prior to the 1949 elections the present Government parties, which at that time were the Opposition parties, promised that if elected they would, within three years of taking office present to the people of Australia, a plan to abolish the means test completely. To keep the record straight it may be as well to quote from the policy speech delivered at that time by Sir Robert Menzies, as he now is. He said:
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right, and so get completely rid of the means test.
During the next Parliament-
He was referring to the Parliament which would be sworn in after the 1949 elections: we will further investigate this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1952 a scheme for your approval.
That was the promise made by the present Government parties in 1949. It was a promise to take certain action within a specified time. There was certainly nothing indefinite about it. But what has the Government done? It was elected in 1949 and has been the Government ever since. Not only has it failed to honour its promise to submit a scheme for the complete abolition of the means test but worse still, it has made no attempt from 1954 until now to increase permissible earnings. In September 1954 a Bill was introduced by which permissible income was increased to £3 10s for single pensioners and £7 for married couples. Today, 12i years later, the same amounts are in force. It is a shocking state of affairs that the Government parties, which promised in 1949 completely to abolish the means test, have refused for such a long time to increase the amount of permissible income, notwithstanding that their refusals to do so have denied such large numbers of people a better standard of living. But at long last, after 121 years, we are now considering amendments to the Act which will to some extent increase the amount which pensioners may earn without loss of pension or, on the other hand, which people may have without interfering with their right to a pension. The intention of the Bill is to increase permissible income from 37 a week for single pensioners and $14 a week for married couples to $10 and $17 respectively. Honourable members on this side of the House always welcome any legislation which will benefit our senior citizens or anybody else in receipt of or in need of a pension or other form of assistance, so naturally we welcome the Government’s action on this occasion, even though it ls so many years overdue. But we are disappointed that the Government has interfered with the practice by which married couples have always been allowed twice the amount which single pensioners were permitted to have. I was disappointed to learn that the Government has cast aside any intention of introducing a scheme to abolish the means test completely. Further, we are surprised and disappointed that in this Bill the Government has once again failed to measure up to its responsibilities to amend certain other sections of the Act which for a long time have required attention.
There are many pensioners and other people reaching pensionable age who have no money or very little money and who own no property other than the house in which they live. As we all know, many of them do not even own a house and are never likely to own one. These people can receive no benefit from any increase in the amount of money or property that they may hold. Many of them also can receive no benefit from the increase in the amount they may earn for the simple reason that because of age or infirmity they are unable to accept or to carry out any kind of employment. Many of them cannot obtain any benefit from the increase in permissible income for the simple reason that they have no source of income and are not likely to have one. So no matter what is done about the means test, there will be many people whom we cannot assist in this way. These are the people in the greatest need of assistance. We can assist them by increasing the actual pension, by granting some form of supplementary assistance in cash, or by providing some other benefit of that nature. This will have to be done in the near future. It should have been done a long time ago in order to relieve the suffering of so many elderly and invalid people. But we will not achieve this desired result if we discriminate between married pensioner couples and single pensioners or between pensioners who own their own homes and those who pay rent, as the Government has done with its supplementary allowance.
I was referring to people in this category when two or three weeks ago I asked the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) a question on notice about the Government’s intentions towards them. The Minister said that he could not quite get the drift of my question. I thought that the question was clear enough, but apparently the Minister did not. I hope that he will take the opportunity that is presented by this debate to tell us definitely what, if anything, the Government intends to do to help these people. The situation is serious and it is worsening. Many people are affected. In view of the fact that the Minister has admitted in the House that a great deal of poverty exists in Australia, I had hoped that the Government would see fit to deal with this situation on this occasion, at least to some extent. I know that some pension rates were increased late last year, but we all know that the increases were nowhere near sufficient to meet increases that had taken place in the cost of living. We know also that there are circumstances which have been in existence for practically all time. Therefore we know that any adjustments to pensions which simply meet increases in the cost of living since the pensions were last adjusted cannot overcome or even help to overcome the problem. The position is simply permitted to become worse.
I propose to quote from one of a series of articles which appeared under the heading The Face of Poverty’ in the ‘Daily News’, which is a Western Australian newspaper. The article deals with the plight of the pensioner. Some parts of it are well worth reading to the House. It says:
Commonwealth pensions are the clearest evidence available of poverty in Australia.
The very existence of pensions with stringent means tests attached to them admits that many people are under-privileged and in need of help.
How many Australians have qualified for pensions and how do they fare living on them?
The first question is easily answered; the second awaits the finding of some future full scale inquiry.
There are more than 770,000 men and women in Australia who have qualified for age, invalid or widow pensions.
The Minister told us last year that there were then 812,235 pensioners. So I think the gentleman who wrote this article tends to be a little conservative. The article continues:
Thousands more are dependents also living on these pensions. One way or another there are probably more than 1,000,000 men, women and children depending on pensions for their livelihood.
Between 500,000 and 700,000 of them are wholly dependent on pensions. They have no other form of income. . . .
The biggest section consists of the age pensioners who number more than 600,000, and about 450,000 of these have no other income but the pension.
Thousands of them depend regularly on free meals and other help from charitable organisations to avoid slow starvation.
This is real poverty and it exists right under our noses - not in some war-torn Asian country.
There are many private organisations and institutions throughout Australia catering to this desperate need.
Nobody knows how many meals are served each week to the destitute. One of these organisations in Sydney provides more than 200,000 meals a year free to those who haven’t the money to buy their own food.
Countless articles of old clothing are passed on to the poor each year. Many of them cannot even afford the price of a pair of socks.
The Commonwealth admits the need of many aged people for a pension but has imposed a means test which serves, in many cases, only to keep the pensioner in poverty.
The pension itself is not enough to live on, except in the most unusual circumstances.
The author of the article then deals with the rate of pension.
– On what statistics does he base his argument?
– I am trying to show the Minister that the amount paid by his Government in social services to various people is inadequate. The article goes on to say:
All these pensions are subject to a means test which in many cases robs a family of any chance of achieving a decent standard of living.
The biggest defect of the pension system is that it is in no way related to need or to a standard of living.
That is the point that the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) made earlier this evening. The article goes on:
Yet the system is a contradiction in that the necessity for it is an acknowledgment by the community that many people are in need of help.
In many cases the pension is not enough to keep those dependent on it alive.
Past experience has shown that pension rises are few and far between. Pensioners are being forced to pull their belts a little tighter each year as rising prices whittle away the purchasing power of their meagre income.
Their plight is desperate.
Many pensioners cannot afford to buy any of the basic household appliances that most families now regard as necessities.
A Tasmanian survey this year among 139 age pensioners showed that 39 had no stove, 57 had no refrigerator, 77 had no washing machine, 66 had no radiator-
And this in Tasmania. Just imagine a person trying to live in Tasmania without any heating appliance. The article continues: 30 had no radio or television set and 30 had not even one of these appliances.
– Come on, the honourable member can do better than this.
– When I get interjections of this nature, I always know that 1 am scoring a point. If the figures in the article are anywhere near correct - I presume that they were checked carefully - it means that more than 500,000 pensioners today have no income other than their pension. Whilst that number at first glance may appear to be excessive, it is not so high when we remember that the Minister said in 1965 that 105,000 pensioners were in receipt of supplementary assistance then. Of course, we know that supplementary assistance at that time was given when the pensioner had no income other than the pension and only single pensioners paying rent could qualify. Married couples could not qualify and single pensioners or widows who owned their homes could not qualify. So the figure of 500,000 that I gave earlier could well be much below the actual number of pensioners who have no other income. But I do not think it matters what the number may be. We know that the number is large and that they will receive no benefit whatever from the Bill that is now before us. The only way in which these people can be helped is by a direct contribution cither by an increase of their pension or by payment of some supplementary benefit. Until such time as the Government sees fit to grapple with this problem in a proper way, there is no hope for these people, whatever their number may be.
I return to the subject of permissible income. In my earlier remarks I said that pensioners are not likely to witness any further increase in the permissible income if this Government remains in office. I want to show that this was a fair statement. Let us look at what the Minister said when he introduced the Bill. He said:
This liberalisation of the means test represents a continuation of the Government’s policy of progressively extending the range of eligibility.
His remarks give further proof, if proof is needed, that the Government has no intention of bringing down any legislation in the reasonably near future to ease the means test substantially or to abolish it altogether. If increasing the permissible income once in every twelve and a half years is the Government’s idea of a progressive policy, I think everyone will agree with me that it is most unlikely that those who are pensioners now will still be with us to witness another increase in the permissible income in 1980. I want to examine the Government’s so called progressive policy. In 1954 the Treasurer (Mr McMahon), who was then the Minister for Social Services, introduced the Social Services Bill. Anyone who heard him when he spoke in September of that year would have been excused for thinking that the Government was really interested in the plight of the pensioners and in the abolition of the means test. If those same people became aware of the Government’s policy now, they could equally be excused if they were cynical or had some doubts about the sincerity of the Government.
The remarks made by the Minister in 1954 about the means test are significant and I want to quote a few passages from Hansard’ of 23rd September 1954 at pages 1587 and 1588. The Treasurer, who was then Minister for Social Services, is reported as having said:
This is a bill relating primarily to the modification of what is called the income and property means test . . . Modification is desirable because in some cases the test creates anomalies, and is a penalty on thrift, particularly in the lower income groups. It is an essential element of Liberal policy that people should be given incentives to work and save, and by this means to increase the amount of property owned by them. Both work and savings are necessary if we are to ensure full employment and progress, with a reasonable level of stability for the purchasing power of money.
The Government’s economic and financial programmes have been devised in order to encourage savings and investment of private funds, and progressively to remove anomalies and injustices associated with thrift.
Here again we find that magic word ‘progressive’ which is so popular with the Government. Although it is very fond of using the word, the Government seems to have a weird idea of its meaning. The Minister went on:
The modifications of the means test in this bill provide incentives to work and savings. The amend ments will make law the Prime Minister’s policy pledge of ‘continuing vigorously the work of modifying the means test’ to provide these incentives. But progressive reforms of this kind can seldom be introduced as a whole. They must be introduced gradually. A scheme for the complete abolition of the means test in a single budget session is not practicable.
Apparently prior to the 1953 election the pledge made by the present Government parties in 1949 to introduce a scheme to completely abolish the means test had changed to one of vigorously pursuing its modification. A little later in his speech the Minister gave notice of an even further change in policy when he said:
For these reasons the problem of the means test is being approached with caution -
At last the Government Parties found a policy to suit them. We certainly cannot accuse them of not following that policy. They have definitely followed a very cautious line. To increase the permissible income only once in 124 years by no stretch of the imagination could be termed extravagant, and from what the Minister told us when he introduced this Bill, it is the path they intend to follow. This is the Government’s policy of progressively extending the range of eligibility. I suggest that what I have read out and what I have said prove my point that very few pensioners of today will see another increase in the permissible income if this Government remains in office.
As I said earlier, the Government has failed once again to measure up to its responsibility with regard to several other social service benefits that should have received attention well before now. Many of those benefits - if they can still be called benefits - have very little purchasing power today when measured against their value at the time they were introduced. We can talk about such things as child endowment, unemployment benefits, maternity allowances and even the age, invalid and widows pensions. Everybody knows that child endowment, for instance, when used to obtain articles required by or for children will purchase only a small basket of goods compared with what it would buy when it was first introduced. Not only that, but the basket of goods becomes smaller each time the same amount of money is spent by the parent. The same thing applies to the other benefits and pensions I have mentioned. But the Government refuses to make the necessary adjustments or increases even though it has admitted that it is necessary to do so if the true benefits of social services are to be maintained. I want to refer further to what the Treasurer said in 1954 as Minister for Social Services. He said:
In no economic climate is social security less likely to thrive than in one in which there is instability of prices, more particularly when this instability takes the form of a decline of the purChasing power of money. With quickly rising prices the real value of benefits is destroyed or diminished as soon as the rates are fixed. Today, the pensioner is relieved of the fear that rising prices will destroy the purchasing power of his pension and deny to him the goods and services that he needs.
These were very strong words but, of course, the Minister was getting his facts well and truly mixed up when he claimed a stability of prices in 1954 because, despite the Government pegging the basic wage, prices continue to rise. But even had he been correct in 1954, the Government cannot deny the steep increases in the costs of living and the decline in the purchasing power of money since that time, nor can it deny that costs are still rising and that the value of money is steadily declining. While members opposite admit that rising prices quickly destroy the value of any social service benefit, they are not only content to sit back and do absolutely nothing to curb the ever increasing costs of living but, worse still, they refuse to adjust the pensions to meet these rising costs. While costs continue to rise, as they are doing, the problem of providing adequate pensions and benefits will become more and more difficult. The people who are going to suffer the most are those I referred to earlier - those who have no money and no income other than the pension. They will suffer most because the Government has never faced up to its responsibility - and apparently never will - to ensure that every pensioner receives sufficient to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. It would appear at this point of time that over 50% of pensioners are not enjoying a reasonable standard of living.
In addition to increasing the permissible income the Bill also provides for certain other amendments to the Act, and these will cost several dollars. Although the Minister has not given us a detailed account of what the additional costs will be, he has told us that the total cost resulting from the Bill will be about Sl31/2m a year. The actual cost of increasing the permissible income will be no more than about Sim a year spread over the twelve and a half years since it was last increased. Surely $lm a year is only chicken feed. It does indicate that had the Government decided to move regularly each year it has been in office the means test, both in relation to income and property, could have been relaxed much more than it has been relaxed without having any harmful effects on the economy or without causing any great strain. Spread over twelve and a half years it would have been an increase in the permissible income of about 2s 6d a year a pensioner. I should think we should have been able to do better than that, particularly if, as the Government suggested, it was going to deal progressively with this matter.
The Government’s failure over the .years to take any action to restrain increases in the costs of living, together with its failure to properly and regularly adjust all social service benefits, is increasing the problems in this regard each year. If we are ever going to restore the value of social services and ensure a reasonable standard of living for all pensioners we will have to act soon otherwise costs will beat us. To do this immediately would cost a considerable sum. I am not suggesting that it could be done in one year or even two years, although perhaps it can be because I noticed in yesterday’s ‘Australian’ that the Treasurer expressed his pleasure at the state of Australia’s economy and said it was so good that taxes would not be increased if he could avoid it. Does this mean that the economy is such that it could readily stand an additional cost of over $200m this year to meet just a few of the social services needs? Does it mean that the one million people referred to in the article I quoted who are now living in a state of poverty or near poverty can expect a substantial increase in pension or other forms of assistance? If it does not mean that, then I cannot see how any responsible Treasurer could express satisfaction at the state of the economy today. If it does mean that the economy can stand the additional cost, why are members on this side of the House forced to argue the case for the pensioners, the mothers, the children and others who are so desperately in need of assistance? If the state of the economy is as good as the
Treasurer suggests, there should be no hesitation in increasing child endowment, maternity allowances, sickness benefits and pensions generally. The Government’s refusal to do so simply highlights its miserable attitude towards pensioners and others in need.
Ministers and Government members speak of what they term their progressive policy. The fact of the matter is that it is the complete lack of any progressiveness that has caused, is still causing and, in fact, is aggravating hardship and suffering among so many people. If the Government had adopted and put into practice a really progressive policy by making regular adjustments to all pensions and benefits and to the means test the difficulties we face today in relation to social services would be nowhere near so formidable. It has been the failure of the Government to measure up to its responsibilities year by year over the past seventeen years that has permitted the present situation to develop. As a result we are now faced with a position where a large amount of money should be made available in a short space of time if we intend to iron out the anomalies and injustices that the Government has allowed to creep into the Act. This state of affairs just cannot be allowed to continue. Someone has to be courageous enough and sympathetic enough to measure up to the problem, but on past performances I would not like to say that it will be a member or Minister on the Government side. In conclusion I support the amendment condemning the Government for its failure in the field of social services. With the concurrence of the House I will incorporate that amendment in Hansard.
– Order! Is leave granted?
– Leave is not granted.
– I think I have time to read it out. The amendment moved by the Opposition, and which the Government Parties object to my having incorporated in Hansard, is as follows:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill, the House condemns the Government because it has failed to -
eliminate the injustices of discrimination between the rates of married and single pensioners;
increase adequately all rates of pensions and social service benefits to meet the increased cost of living;
institute a national inquiry into poverty and social welfare in Australia;
carry out its policy of abolishing the means test as promised as long ago as 1949, and
make benefits retrospective to the date of the last elections, 26 November 1966’.
I support that amendment and all I have to say about it is that perhaps we have been a little too kind to the Government.
-Like my colleague, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), I should like to think that I am a kindly man. When this debate comes forward at each Budget time and at other times I like tolook for the points, if any, put forward by Opposition speakers with which we can agree. Today I have been searching again to try to find some of these points. I agree with the honourable member for Mackellar that the suggestion made by the honourable member for Watson (Mr Cope) for more publicity of details of the means test would be valuable. However, I suggest to the honourable member for Watson that much can be gained by talking to the local Press on this subject. In my electorate when I have called upon the Press from time to time I have always received the greatest co-operation. They are only too delighted to publicise from time to time new measures which have been introduced or to reflect upon the old ones. This has its value because it is noticeable that after reports in the Press there are considerable improvements or an increased number of visitors to the electorate office. Publicising these matters is, of course, part of the service given by a Federal member.
After scrutinising very carefully the points made in the debate I found another small matter upon which, with a little more pressure, I might have been able to agree with the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly). The honourable member will agree with me that that happens only on rare occasions. I refer to the third item of his amendment in which he suggests that a national inquiry be instituted into poverty and social welfare in Australia. However, I am not prepared to go along with him with his idea of instituting the inquiry. I believe that we are taking steps, such as we take in one of the provisions of the legislation now before us, along the road towards making some impression on this area of poverty. I shall touch upon that matter as I progress. Consequently I find myself in the situation where, again I must reject completely the propositions contained in the amendment moved by the Opposition and support the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) and the Government in this Bill.
I believe that the Bill, in addition to showing that the Government is cognisant of the need to broaden the base of existing welfare values and legislation, represents also the entry of the Commonwealth into the new and somewhat more sophisticated field of social services. On the one hand there is the graphic extension of the means test and its associated fringe benefits, while on the other there is the introduction of a new and graduated scale of permissible income for persons employed in sheltered occupations and known as the sheltered employment allowance. There is a widening of qualification for eligibility under the Aged Persons Homes Act. The subject of sheltered workshops is dealt with in separate legislation so it is not necessary to dwell on this, except to add the observation that the subsidy for sheltered workshops provided in the legislation is, combined with the benefits in this legislation, designed to take its place as yet another successful and valuable innovation to the social welfare legislation of Australia in this period of government by the Liberal and Country Party coalition. For instance, about $63. 6m has been provided under the Aged Persons Homes Act and 25,513 people have received the benefit of accommodation.
If the subsidies provided under the sheltered workshop legislation emulate the extent of benefits provided in its sister legislation it will do a grand job. Its impact may be even greater than that derived from the Aged Persons Homes Act. I believe it will be greater. Although the Government entered the sheltered workshops field earlier, to a minor degree, by way of the $2 for $1 subsidy for accommodation for persons employed in the workshops, the new subsidy, combined with that portion of the legislation which introduces a new sheltered employment allowance, heralds what may well be termed a new deal for the unfortunate persons in the invalid and retarded category and, what may bs more important, the opening of a new phase of social welfare psychology by this Government. I shall discuss this matter also in more detail later.
If I may digress, I believe that it is desirable to pay a compliment to a now retired member of the House, the former member for Sturt, Sir Keith Wilson. I know from my association with him on the Government Members Social Services Committee that the three pieces of legislation which we are debating at the moment and which were the subject of our policy speech were three things in which he had a tremendous interest. If he is listening to the debate or reads about it it must be of great satisfaction for him to know that his work is still being carried on. This legislation is a tribute also to the Minister for Social Services who has had such a receptive mind to broadening the base of social services in Australia. I compliment him also upon the manner in which he has got this legislation under way. I am serious and sincere in the comments that I make about both gentlemen.
This graphic relaxation in the means test of $1,560 or $156 per year of income must be a most unpalatable pill for the Opposition to swallow. For eighteen years this House has been the sounding board for a disgruntled, discursive and disaffected Opposition, lauding its memory and dismayed by its failure. From the discourses of honourable members opposite will emerge two salient points - what the Labor Party did not do from 1941 to 1949 and what it has not done since. In both stanzas the Government’s record overwhelms them.
Contrary to the arguments submitted by the Opposition, the record of this Government in social services far outstrips the record of the Opposition in practice, if not in verbosity. I invite the House, and particularly the new members, to reflect on some established facts extracted from the written records. From 1941 to 1949 - in eight years - the Labor Party managed to establish a base pension of $4.25 for a single person. Today the pension is $13, that is to say, 300% more is being paid by this Government. Allowing for the loss of money values calculated by the Opposition as being 55% over that period, that is, $1 in 1949 would have a value of only 45c today, the $13 single rate pension paid today by the Government still has 50% more purchasing power than the pension paid by the Labor Party when it was in office. If the supplementary allowance is included the increase in purchasing power rises to 60%. For a married couple the pension today has 40% more purchasing power than that paid by a Labor Government.
It has often been said, and was said by the former member for Sturt, that the Labor Party in Opposition is different from a Labor Party in office. Honourable members can be assured that this is correct. I invite honourable members to hear the lamentations and bleatings of Opposition members on the shortcomings of the Government, and then ask them what they did when they were in office in 1949. It is interesting to recall, having heard the discourse by the honourable member for Grayndler, that he was a Government supporter when Labor was- in office in 1949. There have been strong criticisms by the honourable member about what we did in 1966 in the Budget and in the means test, but let us consider what he and the Labor Party Government did in 1949. Did the Government at that time offer anything to the age pensioner? The answer is ‘No’. Did they give or offer anything to the invalid pensioner? The answer is clearly ‘No’. Did they give or offer anything to the widow? Again the only answer can be ‘No’. The best they could do was 40c a week to the dependants of pensioners at that time - 6c a day. That was in 1949, and we were not fighting any war then, as the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) seems to be trying to suggest. The impertinence and hypocrisy of these people must be seen and heard to be really believed.
The whole field of Commonwealth social services reflects the same pattern. Consider the Class A widow with three children. In 1949 she received a miserable $6.75 a week. Today she receives $26.50. Let those figures speak for themselves - 400% more today in terms of cash and 180% more in terms of current prices. There have been some factors contributing to this vast improvement. There has been the emergence of the widow in her own right in the community and the formation of associations to give support to widows. There is a particular service club - I may as well mention it, it is the Apex Club - which does a tremendous job for widows, helping to organise them and letting them realise that they have a future and that they can manage things for themselves. They have presented a clear-cut case to this Government which in 1963, to its credit, gave genuine recognition to the problem. If we consider the progress of civilian widows since 1963 we will realise how impressive it has been.
Let me refer also to the permissible income of the Class A widows. To obtain the maximum value, of course, she must drop $2 supplementary allowance from the $26.50 I have already mentioned. In 1949 she could earn only $3.50. With the passage of this Bill she will be entitled to earn $10 for herself and $3 for each child, making a total of $19. This total is 550% more than the permissible maximum in 1949. Added to the $24.50 previously referred to it gives a potential income of $43.50 a week for a widow and three dependent children - a family which compares with the family unit of four persons for basic wage calculations. This amount of $43.50 is $10 a week, or 30%, more than the basic wage. It is 440% ahead of what Labor provided in 1949 in terms of cash and 200% more in terms of current prices - not to mention the limitations on property that went with the Labor misery.
This extension of the means test throws into graphic relief the difference between the performance of the so-called workers* party and that of this Government. The position will be, after this legislation is passed, that a married couple may have as much as $23,160 in assets and still receive a part pension as well as certain fringe benefits in the health and other fields. In 1949 the Labor Government would disqualify a person after his assets reached the paltry total of $1,500. In fact the .pensioner started to lose part of his pension as soon as his outside income exceeded $3 a week. Even today, as every honourable member well knows, many of the older pensioners still carry in their minds the old fear that if they have more than $400 in the bank the Department of Social Services will be after them. This is a hangover from the bad old clays of the 1940s.
But so much for the Labor Party. I could spend another seventeen minutes of my time telling the House what it failed to do during the 1940s when it was in power and what it has promised during the last eighteen years with no effect whatsoever on the electorate. But’ let me now advert to the means test. This new and wide extension of the property allowance by $1,560 and the permissible income by $156 will allow a considerable number of pensioners receiving part pension to come in under the umbrella and either obtain a full pension or increase their part pension. 1 think that 100,000 persons will receive benefits in this way. The extension will also allow many persons outside the scope of the Social Services Act to come within the penumbra of the Act and receive a part pension and certain fringe benefits. I believe that about 40,000 persons will be affected under this heading. It is to the last category that I now wish to refer, and also, indeed, to those people who now occupy a position just outside the scope of the Act as a result of this legislation.
It is my considered opinion that people of pensionable age who fall within this category from time to time are unjustly treated through the application of the Income Tax Assessment (Aged Persons) Act. It may occur to you, Mr Speaker, that this has nothing -to do with the legislation before the House, but I am leading up to it. An amendment’ to that Act was debated in this House last Thursday, and there is no need to canvass it again, except to say that I believe it was proved conclusively in that debate, by fact and example, that people who lie in what are termed shaded areas - and in the case of single persons even when their income is outside the shaded area and they do not receive any tax relief - are on worse terms than part pensioners, or at least comparatively disadvantageous terms. It was specifically shown in the debate I have referred to that a part’ pensioner is as much as $150 a year better off than many people outside the scope of the Social Services Act. I thank you for your tolerance, Mr Speaker, in bearing with me while I made that passing reference. 1 bring forward this tax question in a debate concerning the means test for the following reasons: firstly, I wish to emphasise that persons whose income lie just outside the scope of the Social Services Act are not receiving consideration proportionate to that accorded the pensioner. Secondly, 1 believe the Government and the Minister for Social Services are losing unnecessary ground because of this imbalance. Thirdly, the impact of the present legislation will be impaired because of continued criticism by the people in the group to which I have referred. Fourthly, and principally, I wish to direct the attention of the Minister to the anomalous situation that exists and to the value of consultations with the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) with a view to devising a more equitable and generous taxing formula for people in this group. I believe, in fact, that action in this field of taxation is really action on the means test. 1 now press on to the sheltered employment allowance. It would appear that the Government, with the introduction of this allowance, and also the subsidy provided under another Bill towards the capital cost of sheltered workshops, is stepping confidently towards what might be termed a more sophisticated form of social services. This, to my mind, is a really good thing. I hope it is the forerunner of much greater participation in this field. I believe also that this kind of action will provide the answers to some of our root problems in social services and social welfare - problems such as that of poverty in an affluent society. Here I come to one of the reasons why I would not be prepared to support the amendment of the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly). I was tempted to support portion of it, but because of the move by the Government I thought this undesirable.
Let us now look more closely at the legislation. While the benefit is called a sheltered workshop allowance it is in fact the former invalid pension plus provision for a pension according to a scale of income - the income being double that allowed under the ordinary means test - provided that such income is obtained in an area of employment covered by the Bill. If I may digress for a moment, it may be well worthy of consideration whether this formula might in fact be applied to the general means test. I recollect that a section of the federal body of the Liberal Party went into this matter and formed certain views. It is my intention to explore this proposition. In layman’s language this briefly is how the sheltered employment allowance will work. After the first $10 of income the pension normally is reduced by $1 for every $1 earned. In this case it will be reduced by 50c for every $1 earned and in the case of a single pensioner will cut out at $36 instead of the present $23. This type of scheme is worthy of consideration and could be extended dramatically. The cost involved, particularly in the health and medical sphere, would have to be computed accurately: but this could well be a field which was more attractive to the superannuated person than a substantial pension would be.
As I said earlier, I believe that this new legislation will have a quite marked effect. I believe it will even have a reverberating effect. It recognises that there are human feelings and reactions - that people cannot just be grouped together and told that they will receive so much because their problems are the same. It is a fact of life that their problems are not the same; they vary by degrees. There is now a financial incentive for the slow learner, the retarded, the mentally handicapped and the crippled to try harder, because by so doing he not only will improve his financial position but also will develop or redevelop his mental attitude towards life.
Education is a field that will feel the effects of this legislation even more widely; it is in respect of this that I use the term reverberating’. Enthusiastic, dedicated and efficient people are leading and organising in the sheltered workshops field. This has been recognised tonight, particularly by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). I know it is recognised by the Minister. Although I have mentioned those who have been doing work in this field, I know he has led and has encouraged activity and research during his short term of office, and he must be satisfied tonight to see this legislation come to fruition.
The people who have taken an active part in organising sheltered workshops relish the subsidy on both wages and capital construc tion. This field will spread and I believe will become much more efficient, because these people will not have to concentrate so intently on the money they receive and on what the budget will show from week to week. Because of this development and an increase in efficiency, I believe that more parents and other people will turn to the sheltered workshops for assistance. They will do so because there will be more accommodation and the workshops will be better organised and better able to handle more people. I believe this is one of the objects of this legislation.
This in turn will create a need for an education system to graduate and to regulate the flow of persons to the sheltered workshop system. I realise that in most States there is already the framework of a system to deal with the slow learner and the mildly intellectually handicapped, and that there are special schools for retarded children and the physically handicapped such as spastic chidren. But so much more is needed in cash and kind to make the system efficient and effective to meet community needs. Whilst principally this is the responsibility of the States through their education systems, if we are to develop a reasonable life for this unfortunate segment of the community there is a strong call for special purpose education grants by the Commonwealth. Again I am asking for your tolerance, Mr Deputy Speaker, to enable me to tie this up with the legislation now before the House. A new stream of society is being developed in our community today. The Commonwealth has recognised this fact in introducing this Bill and the legislation dealing with a capital subsidy for workshops. I hope we will soon be able to enter the field to a greater extent on the lines mentioned.
Here I touch again on the question of poverty. I believe the development which I have outlined will take place in the next few years and that in turn it will assist to bridge the gap which seems to be acknowledged in our affluent society between those who have and those who have not. Some people are left behind in the excitement that is brought about by the advance in technology, which is referred to at times as the rat race of life but which nevertheless is one of the realities of life today. Many want to develop the technological, educational and social sides of our society; but others have not the capacity to keep up with such tremendous progress as has occurred since the war years and certainly during the last seventeen or eighteen years of leadership by this Government. I believe we must graduate our education system and our social welfare system and must take a long term view in the hope that we will develop preventive social service legislation which will assist these people to avoid falling into the pitfalls of life. How can we expect people who unfortunately have been injured at birth or early in their lives and who suffer this intellectual handicap to keep trying and to keep pace with the rest of the community?
This complementary legislation is, as I have said earlier, opening up a new field. It may not be apparent straight away to everyone who studies it now, but 1 believe it will reverberate and will show that this Government is sensitive to the needs of the community in the field of social services. The Government will continue to render to the people of this country the service which has been acknowledged over the last seventeen or eighteen years.
Finally, I remind the House that over the last seventeen years more social service advancements have been made and more legislation on the subject has been introduced in this House than occurred in the period from federation in 1901 until 1949. This record stands on its own. I have much pleasure in supporting the original motion before the House and in rejecting the amendment proposed by the Opposition.
– I have much pleasure in supporting the amendment moved by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), which I seconded. While speaking to this amendment, I shall have much pleasure in answering some of the points raised by the honourable member for St George (Mr Bosman). I draw attention to the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair), in which he said:
Honourable members will recall that in his policy speech the Prime Minister stated that the limits both of property and income within which pensions are payable to the aged, invalid and widows would be raised by $156. This liberalisation of the means test represents a continuation of the Government’s policy of progressively extending the range of eligibility.
In that paragraph we get two half truths which are very misleading to many people who hope to benefit by this so-called liberalisation of the means test. During the Address-in-Reply debate I asked whether the $156 referred to the allowable income of all pensioners or whether it applied to a single pensioner and to a married couple, but I could not get a reply. The Government has been putting a sort of thimble and pea trick over the people in this legislation.
The Minister said that the limits of both income and property within which pensions were payable to the aged, invalid and widows would be raised by $156. But this does not apply to all pensioners, as has been clearly point out by speakers on both sides of the House during this debate. It does not apply, for instance, to married pensioners, who receive only $156 a year between them, or $78 each. This means that a single pensioner may have an income of $10 a week and get a full pension provided that he is within the property limit, whereas married pensioners may have an income of only $17 between them, or $8.50 each. Here again the Government has been responsible for discriminating against married pensioners, as has been pointed out very clearly by the honourable member for Grayndler. This Government was responsible for reducing the value of the married couple’s pension compared with the single pension. Now it has taken the matter a step further and worsened the position of married pensioners in regard to the amount of allowable income that a married couple can have compared with that of two single pensioners.
The ludicrous position arises that two sisters or two brothers or a brother and sister living together are much better off financially than a married couple living in the same dwelling. Subject to the property limitation two single pensioners living together can have an income of $10 each and receive the maximum rate pension of $13 each, or a total of $46 between them and, as has already been pointed out by speakers on this side of the House, they can also have supplementary assistance if they are paying rent. On the other hand, a married couple can receive a total of $40.50, being $17 allowable income between them and $23.50 in pension.
The ridiculous situation arises where two sisters living together can between them receive $5.50 more than a married couple. This does not encourage pensioners who may be interested in one another to marry late in life. The Government should restore the value of the pension to married couples. It should also provide in this Bill for the amount of allowable income to be increased by $156 for each of a married couple instead of $78 each, thus making their total allowable income $20 instead of $17. The Minister should bear in mind that there is a strong case for supplementary assistance to married pensioners who may own their own homes because the cost these days of maintaining a home is in many cases almost as great as the expense involved in paying rent. The second half-truth in the statement of the Minister to which I have referred is the following statement that he made:
This liberalisation of the means test represents a continuation of the Government’s policy of progressively extending the range of eligibility.
This is a step in the right direction, of course. Since 1954 the allowable income has remained at $7. In 1954 it was the same amount as the pension, so a pensioner who received a pension of $7, or £3 10s a week as it then was, could also receive an allowable income of the same amount. However, this Bill leaves many pensioners in a worse financial position than that of the pensioner in 1954. In that year the allowable income represented 30% of the then Federal basic wage. The proposed allowable income of $10 for a single pensioner at the present time represents about 30% of the present basic wage, so as far as allowable income is concerned the single pensioner has been brought back to the standard that a pensioner had in 1954. We cannot complain about that; all we can complain about is the statement of the Minister when he says that there has been a liberalisation of the means test.
We do not liberalise something if we merely restore its value, and that is all that has been done in this measure as far as single pensioners are concerned. The amount of income a single pensioner can have has no greater purchasing power today than had the amount of allowable income in 1954. But what about the married pen sioner? In 1954 each married pensioner was allowed to have $7 or about 30% of the then Federal basic wage. Under this so-called liberalisation of the means test each of them will be allowed income of $8.50, which is 25.91% of the existing Federal basic wage, so whereas the single pensioner is no better off than the single pensioner was in 1954 in respect of allowable income we find that the married pensioner is even worse off with this so-called easing of the means test than was his counterpart in 1954. Yet the Minister - and he was supported by the honourable member for St George - make’s quite a song about this liberalisation of the means test when it means in fact that the single pensioner has gone back to the standard of the single pensioner of 1954 and the married pensioner has not even gone back to that standard.
What has happened regarding the abolition of the means test about which we have heard so much? In 1949 Mr Menzies, as he then was, said as an election gimmick that he would get rid of the means test. The Government, of course, pays only lip service to this long needed reform. The abolition of the means test was planned by the Chifley Labor Government and would have been accomplished had that Government remained in office. The honourable member for Grayndler has already said that in 1954 the plan as far as the Labor Party was concerned was to abolish the means test during the term of one Parliament, and it would have -been accomplished had we been successful at those elections. The Australian Labor Party believes in giving justice to the retired. Even with this proposed amendment to the means test many pensioners will continue to live at a reduced standard at a time when the standard of living is supposed to be increasing.
There is a lot of talk in this Parliament and in other places about shortages in the work force, but here is a source of labour, much of it skilled, which is available and willing. The benefit of this labour force to the Australian economy would offset the cost to the Government if these people were allowed to work and still receive their pensions. With the easing and abolition of the means test these people could earn. Consequently they would pay taxation and the administration costs of the Department of Social Services would be reduced. The abolition of the means test would assist the many thousands of loyal public servants who have paid compulsorily heavy amounts into superannuation funds. It should be emphasised that these people are paying twice, for they have had to contribute to the National Welfare Fund by way of taxation and because of the means test they cannot draw from that fund. In addition they have been compelled to take out units in superannuation funds in accordance wilh their salary range.
I emphasise that the means test is the most frustrating and annoying factor with which retired people are faced. It makes a mockery of thrift and denies age pensions to those who have saved during their lives. We suggest that the means test should be abolished. Surely this is not an impossible objective. Since 1958 age pensions have been paid in New Zealand to all those over the age of sixty-five irrespective of income or assets; in Canada there is no means test after the age of seventy; and in the United Kingdom there is no means test for men over the age of seventy and for women over the age of sixty-five. This also applies to many other countries that have already been mentioned during the course of this debate.
As I have pointed out to the Minister before, every honourable member of Parliament including the Minister at the table has been guilty of advising aged people or those reaching the retiring age how to reduce their assets in order to qualify for an age pension. On the advice of members of Parliament many people go for world tours in order to get rid of their excess cash so that they can qualify for the pension. Consequently money that could be spent in Australia is spent in countries overseas to the disadvantage of this country. People are spending money needlessly in order to qualify, and this has been forced upon them by the means test. Those people say, in effect: ‘What is the use of saving when by doing so I cannot qualify for the pension?’ I suggest to the Minister for Social Services that psychologically this is bad because it does not encourage thrift.
Many honourable members on the other side of the House have supported at various times the abolition of the means test. I remember one honourable member opposite quoting figures to show that a married man would be foolish to try to save much more than $8,080 before reaching pensionable age unless he could be sure that he could retire with more than $30,770. For a single man the figure would be $17,500. The honourable member who gave this information was speaking in a debate similar to this. He has not spoken during this debate as yet. I will not mention his name as this may be an embarrassment to him. He pointed out that if a person had less than the amounts I mentioned, he would have to receive a high rate of interest on his investment - and therefore would have to carry an element of risk - or else he would be worse off than a person who had qualified for a full pension and had the maximum allowable income.
I suggest to the Minister that an investigation be made by the Government into the abolition of the means test and that some proposal be put before this Parliament. Surely to goodness, in view of all the talk from honourable members on both sides of the House on this topic, something could be done. Or has it just been talk? There must be some proposals which could be examined; there must be some information to indicate what it would cost the community to abolish the means test and what scheme could be applied in order to do so.
I want to draw attention to another portion of our amendment. It asks the Government to institute a national inquiry into poverty and social welfare in Australia. A recent survey on poverty in Australia revealed that one person in sixteen lives in poverty. Mr R. J. A. Harper, a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Melbourne, made that statement as a result of a survey carried out by a team at that University. This survey showed that 133,000 people in Melbourne - one in sixteen - lived at or below the poverty line. He said that there was nothing to suggest that a similar study in other capital cities would not reveal the same result. The survey showed that older people were in the largest poverty group. This is a shocking indictment of Australian standards.
I shall cite another authority on this subject. In his book ‘The Hidden People
John Stubbs says that if you lift the rug of the affluent Australian society you can find half a million poor people underneath. They share overpriced rooms, shiver in winter and sometimes live on dog’s meat. Mr Stubbs points out that Federal and State Governments are not interested in finding out about these people and sometimes even conceal the data that they received regarding them. This is true. I have asked the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) to arrange for a full scale investigation of the extent and nature of poverty in Australia but I have had no reply from him. I sincerely hope that I do get a reply and that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Social Services will undertake to have this survey made. A survey should be made, not only in Melbourne where a survey of sorts has already been made, but in every capital city and everywhere else where poverty exists. If such a survey is not made it will mean that the Government prefers to let sleeping dogs lie. Mr Stubbs says that until the Government undertakes a major review of our social security system our poor will continue to live half lives. This is a pretty serious indictment. It is something that the Government must surely answer for.
Advances in medical science and knowledge have led to a rise in standards of health with the result that people are living longer than they did sixty years ago. This is a good thing, of course. But we should be concerned with the way those people are living. If the majority of pensioners are living in poverty and are in dire straits then it is a reflection on our society. Who can deny that a pensioner with nothing more - or little more - than his pension to exist on is living in poverty? lt has been said that the standard of civilisation in a country can be assessed by the way that country treats its old people. There are many thousands of aged people in Australia who are being treated shabbily. Science may be helping them to live longer but it appears that the policy of this Government is directed towards making their extended lives a misery. I think that one of the most shabbily treated groups of pensioners - and I ask the Minister to examine the situation of this particular group - is that group with dependent wives who have not reached the age of sixty. A couple may have married when the woman was very young. The allowance given to that wife, if the husband is an invalid or is of pensionable age, is only $6 a week. This means that an invalid or an age pensioner and his dependent wife, if she is under the age of sixty and not receiving a pension, have to exist on $19 a week. They have to live a substandard existence. Surely a couple in such circumstances should each be paid the full pension rate.
I remember that a former Minister - he is now overseas - said that such a wife was quite able to go out to work. But how could you expect a woman to go out into industry after being away from it for twenty years or so? A woman should not have to look for a job merely because her husband is receiving a small pension and she cannot get anything until she reaches the eligible age. This seems to me to be a situation warranting urgent consideration by this Government. There are many people in that situation. They may not constitute a big group so far as votes are concerned, but so far as poverty and living conditions are concerned they are very significant.
I also ask the Minister whether anyone would argue that pensioners should not enjoy the increased prosperity that this Government is always boasting about. In 1949 - the honourable member for St George spoke about what happened in that year - married and single pensioners received a pension representing 24.8% of the average male earnings. By 1963 that percentage had dropped to 21.1%. That happened under this Government. In 1967 the single pensioner receives about 23.5% of the average male earnings and married pensioners about 21%. So no pensioner today receives as high a percentage of the average male earnings as he or she did in 1949. Some people talk about pensioners being better off today; but how can they be better off, compared to the rest of the community if they are getting a lesser proportion of average male earnings than they did in 1949? These are very important facts and the Government should take notice of them.
I suggest also that every recipient of social service benefits has been short changed since this Government took office. Increases in social services have not kept pace with inflation. They have been continually dragging behind costs. At the same time, people are paying more for the shrunken benefits that they receive. As a result of inflation over the years, taxpayers have passed into higher income tax ranges. Although a taxpayer receives less, in terms of real wages, in bis pay packet, the Government takes more from him and gives him less in social service benefits. This emphasises the misleading statement made in 1949 by the then Prime Minister who said: ‘The value of social services will be at least maintained. Indeed they will be increased. The pensioners can rely on us for justice.’ Is it justice for pensioners in 1967 to live on a standard lower than the average standard of the community when compared with the position in 1949? The answer must be a definite no. The honourable member for St George and previous speakers have claimed that the value of social service benefits to recipients is greater today than it was in 1949. This is untrue and it is known to be untrue by those who made the statement. This has been the theme of Government supporters over the years.
Let me direct the attention of honourable members to certain figures. The proportion of the gross national product provided for social services in 1949 was 3.4%. In 196S it was 3.6% . In 1966 the provision for social service benefits amounted to $757.8m, which was 3.69% of the gross national product. So the proportion of the gross national product spent on social services is not very much different from that which was spent when Labor was in office. There is, however, a very important factor that cannot be ignored. The population in 1949 was 7.8 million; it is now more than 11.5 million. This means that the percentages in the age groups have been disturbed. For example, in 1948 the number of aged persons was equal to 3.93% of the population. In 1949 it was 4.06% or near enough to 4%. But in 1965 the figure had risen to 5.53%. This means that the amount spent on age pensions as a whole in 1965 is spread over 41% more pensioners than when Labor was in office. In other words, where we were supporting eight pensioners the present Government is supporting eleven. The present Government is spending more on pensions but that does not mean that the pensioners can buy more with the money they are receiving. The same argument applies to other social service benefits.
I come now to child endowment. Let us take the year 1951, when there were 2,365,000 children in receipt of endowment. By 1965 the number had increased to 3,546,000. So there were 50% more children receiving endowment. Obviously more is being spent on child endowment, but the recipients are getting less in actual purchasing power. Since 1949 the country has gone through a period of leaping inflation. The consumer price index rose from 61 in 1949 to 138.4 in December 1966. This means that’ the value of money is much less today than it was in 1949. The Minister may argue that the amount spent on social services, has increased, butt he argument is not very convincing to the recipient of social services if the amount received buys less. I emphasise that the total bill for social services does not reveal the value of these benefits to the recipients.
I pose this question: Are mothers getting as much purchasing power in child endowment today as they did in 1949? The answer must be a definite no. The same applies to maternity allowances, funeral benefits and other social service benefits. The value of all these benefits has been clipped since this Government assumed office. When people were contributing to the National Welfare Fund before 1949 they believed that the money they were paying would retain its value and that ultimately they would get value for their money in social service benefits. For years now they have realised that they have become the victims of a thimble and pea trick. They have been giving good money for bad. The value of the £1 has shrunk to about 6s. compared with its value in 1949. The people are losing in two ways. Not only has the value of social service benefits been clipped as though an extra tax has been imposed on the people, but also those people have moved into higher income tax groups without getting any more purchasing power in their pay packets.
Let me emphasise some of the benefits that I have just mentioned. I shall take the funeral benefit first. A short while ago this benefit was increased to $40 in the case of a pensioner who is responsible for the cost of the funeral of a spouse, a child or another pensioner. In other cases it has remained at $20. The funeral benefit was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943. In the latter case it has not been altered for twenty-four years. In 1943 the basic wage was $9.60 whereas now it is $32.80. To retain the same monetary value the funeral benefit today should be more than doubled in all cases and should be about $66. The maternity allowance was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943. The rates have ranged from $30 to $35. For more than twenty years they have remained the same, but during that time the basic wage has risen from $9.60 to $32.80 a week. The basic wage has more than trebled. From the inception of maternity allowances in 1912 until this Government came to office the allowance would always pay expenses associated with the birth of a child. That is not so today. Consequently married couples are putting off having children. We spend a lot bringing people to this country from overseas but we do not worry about helping mothers to bring children into Australia in the natural way. In many cases both parents have to work to get their home together before having a child, and consequently this delays our population growth. Australia was once the envy of the world for its social services.
– It still is.
– No it is not. I can give the honourable member figures to prove that. In Austria 17.6% of the national income is spent on social service benefits. In Australia the comparable figure is 9.1%. I could go through a list of twenty or thirty countries and show that Australia is last on the list. Australia’s expenditure, which includes the States’ expenditure and the expenditure of public authorities on social welfare, comes a bad last in this list. The countries in the list include Austria, Chile, Finland, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Luxemburg, New Zealand and Sweden. All these countries spend more of their national Income on social service benefits than we do in Australia. We are a bad last; this is a record of which the Government cannot be proud.
Debate (on motion by Mr Pettitt) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.48 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1. (a) Electric supply has been provided to railway houses at the following locations:
Kingoonya 2 and 3. Provision has been made in the current Capital Works Programme for the provision of an electricity supply at Kingoonya and Pimba. These projects should be completed during the financial year 1967-68.
Current plans provide for the provision of electricity to selected line camps, and this will be undertaken progressively as funds become available.
The provision of septic systems at outlying locations has previously been given serious consideration, but this facility can only be provided at locations where there is a reliable local water supply.
It is the intention of Commonwealth Railways to continue to raise the standard of accommodation at line camps and as facilities and funds become available consideration would be given to installing hot water services in houses at these camps.
Trans-Australian Railway (Question No. 51)
asked the Minister for
Shipping and Transport, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
With the exception of some of the oldest houses, the accommodation provided along the TransAustralian Railway is satisfactory. A programme of rehabilitation has been scheduled to raise the standard of the older residences and when complete these should compare favourably with the newer houses. Progress in this regard has not been as satisfactory as had been expected but the programme will be continued within the limits of available manpower and capital funds.
Accommodation acquired as single men’s camps in recent years is of a very high standard and is equipped with electricity and water heating units. Subject to the availability of funds the old mobile camp accommodation now in use will be replaced in the near future.
It is proposed to close and/or relocate some of the camps along the Trans-Australian Railway when the rehabilitation and upgrading has been completed. Consequently heavy expenditure on improvements to residences at such locations is not contemplated.
It is considered that the action presently being taken and planned for the future should ensure that a satisfactory standard of accommodation is provided for staff on the Trans-Australian Railway.
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
It should be borne in mind however, that some of the projects suggested by Dr Teller for consideration in Australia may not be permissible under the nuclear test ban treaty to which Australia is a party. Broadly speaking the treaty prohibits nuclear explosions above the ground or under the sea or those held underground which vent to the surface and result in airborne contamination of the atmosphere beyond the territorial limits of the country concerned.
Apart from the effect of the nuclear test ban treaty it is understood that before certain types of projects could be undertaken, it may be necessary for the United States to conduct further experiments to ensure greater control over the radiation released by the thermo nuclear device. In this context, great progress has already been made in limiting the intensity of the radiation generated by this type of explosion and in containing it to a point where the release is practically negligible.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
How many women receive widows pensions as deserted wives, and how many of these support one, two, three and more dependants?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Approximately 14,000 women receive widows pensions as deserted wives. Of these, 11,000 receive the Class A pension while 3,000 receive the Class B pension. It is estimated that, of the deserted wives receiving Class A pension, approximately 3,900 have one child, 3,500 have two children and 3,600 have three or more children.
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
Facilities for formal study of the history, culture, and languages of Vietnam and Indonesia exist to varying degrees in Australian universities, and often form part of other studies such as political science or history. In addition to those who may have taken those studies, some other officers have undertaken studies after entering the Department. In the light of the foregoing, it is not possible to give a precise answer to the honourable member’s question. I have previously answered questions about a knowledge of foreign languages. In the staffing of all overseas missions a balance is sought between officers already well versed in the affairs of the region in which they are to serve and those who are considered to have aptitude to broaden their experience.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 April 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1967/19670411_reps_26_hor54/>.