26th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to inform the House that the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) left Australia this morning on an official visit to Europe where he will attend the Kennedy Round negotiations in Geneva. He expects to return to Australia in approximately six weeks time. During his absence the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) will act as Minister for Trade and Industry.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation a question without notice. I remind the Minister that last Thursday, during the Grievance Debate, I quoted from a letter which I had received from Mr Thompson of Thompson’s General Store, Lord Howe Island, in which Mr Thompson asked me to ascertain whether the flying boat service to the island will be discontinued after 1970. Will the present service be discontinued as anticipated? If so, will the Minister say what plans the Government has for continuing and improving the air service to the island?
– I know that the honourable member has raised this matter in the House on several occasions. He certainly takes an interest in what is quite an important matter as far as the island is concerned. Airport facilities on the island are substantially the responsibility of the New South Wales Government and there have been discussions with that Government about this matter for some time. It is a fact also that the present flying boat service will terminate in about 1970 because that may be the end of the useful life of the aircraft concerned. After that date the aircraft may not be re-registered and may not be available for service. This matter is well in mind at the moment. In view of the question that has been asked I will have the matter discussed further with the State authorities and see what additional information can be provided.
– I ask the Minister for National Development a question arising from his statement that the world price of uranium will undoubtedly rise in the future and that Australia’s currently known resources are inadequate for the projected or anticipated programme. While restrictions on exports of uranium are current, will the Government purchase all Australian produced uranium at world prices current at the time of purchase? May I ask the Minister how the Australian Government could be involved in any loss if it did this since he says world prices will rise, since the Government will need the uranium, and since it can always avoid further stockpiling simply by removing the control on exports so soon as enough uranium is stockpiled?
– The question obviously raises a matter of policy. The Government looked at this matter some time ago in relation to Mary Kathleen and at that time decided not to stockpile uranium. However, it decided that it would continue to stockpile uranium at Rum Jungle, where it has carried out exploration at a cost of about S360.000 per annum for the last decade. By stockpiling, we now have uranium there to the value of about $30m and the Government decided that it would not stockpile beyond this level. The honourable member has said that the world price of uranium will rise and that therefore stockpiling would not result in any loss. Generally one would expect the price of uranium to rise, but there is no guarantee that this would be so. Some quite large discoveries of uranium have been made in Canada and further discoveries could result in a glut of this material. In this event the price might not rise as we expect.
– Mr Speaker, I have been misrepresented. I did not say that the world price of uranium would rise. I said that yesterday in the House the Minister said that undoubtedly it would rise.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. I refer to the recent visit to Australia by the United States Marine Corps brass band and the international visits of the Red Army Choir and
British bands. In the knowledge that good music knows no language barriers will the right honourable gentleman seriously consider extending the overseas visit of the Royal Australian Air Force band conducted by Squadron Leader Hicks beyond the short period that it will be playing in Montreal at Expo 67 and arrange for its return to Australia via the United Kingdom and Europe? This will foster goodwill and add weight to the search by the Department of Immigration for suitable migrants from these countries. Will he investigate the possibility that an organised tour will recoup most of the expenses associated with the tour?
– I will be glad to examine the proposal put forward by the honourable gentleman and discuss it with the Minister for Air who would, of course, be interested in the matter.
– I wish to ask the AttorneyGeneral what progress has been made with the drafting of the new bankruptcy rules and when he expects that they will be available.
– Considerable progress has been made with the drafting of these rules. I am not yet in a position to give the honourable member a precise date. I could perhaps add that the existing rules number some 481 and in addition there are more than 220 forms and also a number of schedules. This is a very long and substantial job. The drafting section of my Department is under considerable pressure as a result of the present legislative programme. It has not been possible to proceed entirely without interruption with the preparation of the rules, but this is well in hand.
– I address my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. It relates to the sale of thirteen war service land settlement blocks south of the main road at Togari in Tasmania. I ask the Minister whether he has received representations from the Settlers Association regarding the sale of these blocks on Friday and whether, in view of the existing drainage difficulties, which would be aggravated by the development of the blocks after the sale, he will withdraw them from sale until alternative drainage outlets are provided.
– I received a letter on this matter, yesterday I think, and I have asked for further comments from the Department. I would think that there is no real reason to assume that conditions in this area will be worsened by the sale of these blocks if the drainage conditions are applied. I would think too that the flood conditions that are feared would not be worsened just because the blocks are sold to individuals. However, I am looking at the matter and I will advise the honourable member further.
– I address a question to the Minister for External Affairs. I refer to the treaty dealing with the peaceful uses of outer space, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December last, and of which Australia was a co-sponsor. I understand that this treaty will come into force if and when it is ratified by five governments, that the treaty was to be opened for signature early in 1967, and that Australia has, in fact, signed it. Which other countries have now signed it and does it now bear the required five signatures?
– The treaty was opened for signature in Washington on 27th January this year and on the opening day the Australian Ambassador in Washington signed it on behalf of Australia. It was open for signature at the capitals of the three depository nations. In Washington on the opening day I think sixty-two nations signed; in London, twenty-six nations signed; and in Moscow, twenty. I think those are the correct figures. They may be at fault in some small degree. Since then, I understand, there have been other signatures but we have no information from the depository countries about those further signatures. So far as we are aware no country has yet gone through the constitutional processes of ratification. I will have prepared for the honourable member, as far as we are able to prepare it, a list of those countries that have signed, but it will be 100-odd countries.
– The Minister for Civil Aviation will recall that last Wednesday I made a statement about Viscount aircraft VH-RMP which made trips between Sydney and Canberra with a leaking fuel tank. In reply the Minister said:
As far as I can find there is no substantiation whatsoever for his assertions in this instance.
The Minister went further and ridiculed my allegations. As my allegations have now been confirmed by the general manager of the airline concerned and have been supported by a Sydney businessman-
-Order! The honourable member will ask his question.
– Will the Minister explain why he gave false and misleading information to the Parliament and to the people of Australia?
– The reference I made to this matter when it was raised in the House was that the incident, as such, had not been reported to the Department of Civil Aviation. I indicated also that I would make some further investigations as the matter had been raised in the House. This, of course, is clearly demonstrated by a reference to Hansard. The indication was that if the matter had been sufficiently serious the normal procedure was for the pilot or the company concerned to refer it to my Department. I indicated also that the terms that were used - saying that this was an indication that an aircraft had flown in an unsafe condition - could not be borne out.
The practice is for a matter to be referred to the Department if there are any problems of the serious type mentioned associated with an aircraft. I also indicated that the statement was a reflection on the pilot who is bound, by DCA regulations, to report the matter himself. It was in these particular circumstances that I indicated that the statement of the honourable member was exaggerated and was not a correct interpretation of the situation. I did say, and I have repeated it, that a member has the perfect right to raise matters that he thinks are of public interest at any time and that he can do so in the correct way. In these circumstances the honourable member could have raised the matter any time and it could have been clarified without the reference that was made in this House and which, as the facts presented afterwards show, was entirely incorrect.
I did receive a report on this matter after a full investigation, and in view of the fact that the allegations had been publicised so widely I released that report last Friday morning when I received it. It gave a full and factual interpretation of the situation and clearly indicated that neither the pilot nor the company thought the matter serious enough for a report to be made to the Department of Civil Aviation. We do not believe in undertaking an investigation unless it is done thoroughly, and in pursuance of this policy we arranged for the pilot to report to the Director-General of the Department in Melbourne, and the pilot was interrogated about this matter. I would like to read very briefly the result of this interrogation. I think it is vitally important to clear the pilot of this aircraft who is under a cloud following the allegations made in this House by the honourable member for East Sydney. I also think it is important to clear the maintenance engineers who have also been placed under a cloud by this allegation because they have direct responsibility in this matter. This is the report which I have received:
The pilot, Captain E. Maskell, flew the aircraft from Melbourne to Sydney via Canberra on January 26 and later on the same day flew it from Sydney to Canberra and then back to Sydney. Captain Maskell told the Director-General that he was perfectly satisfied that the aircraft was safe and in an airworthy condition. He stressed that he would not have flown the aircraft if he had thought otherwise. Captain Maskell also refuted any suggestion that he was in any way intimidated by the Company -to make the flight. Captain Maskell recalled discussing with the Company engineer in Canberra the presence of fuel on the under-surface of the port wing. He recalled the engineer taking steps to locate the source of this fuel inside the wing and of consulting his superiors on the action he should take. Captain Maskell confirmed that it was the view of the engineer that there could have been a slow leak around the filler neck and that he should, therefore, defuel the tank concerned by some SO gallons and balance this wilh a similar amount of defuelling in the corresponding tank in the other wing. Captain Maskell also said “that after this defuelling, he was perfectly satisfied that the aircraft was completely safe for flight, was in an airworthy condition and that he would not have considered beginning the flight unless he was so satisfied.
That is an extract from a fairly lengthy report regarding this matter. The DirectorGeneral of my Department and all my other officers concerned in this are fully satisfied that the aircraft was completely airworthy at that time and that no risk at all was taken by the pilot. I would say in conclusion that when attacks of this nature are made on members of these union organisations they should be given an opportunity to defend themselves. They have not had that opportunity. I hope that what I have said today will show that the pilots and engineers involved did do their jobs on this occasion.
– Can the Minister for Territories tell the House whether reports of the numbers of people crossing the border from West Irian into New Guinea and seeking asylum there are correct? If they are correct can he give us the reason for these movements?
– During the last fortnight considerable numbers of West Irians have crossed the border into New Guinea. The reasons are not very clear, but the general indication seems to be that these people believe they have better economic opportunities on the New Guinea side of the border. However, it is our policy - and I think this House would agree with it - that international boundaries have to be respected, and the conventions normally observed in matters of this kind are followed in these cases. The majority of these people have been persuaded to return to West Irian. Any cases which may call for humanitarian considerations have been closely examined, and while these examinations have been going on the people concerned have been adequately succoured on our side of the border.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation say what procedures are now in existence which will prevent a repetition of the incident which occurred at Canberra airport on the morning of Tuesday, 16 November 1965, when the air controller closed the airport because of high cross winds which were far in excess of the wind velocity permissible under Depart ment of Civil Aviation regulations for the safe landing of aircraft under cross wind conditions but was later instructed by a high Department of Civil Aviation official in Sydney to reopen the airport?
– I replied to this matter, too, when it was raised by the honourable member for Newcastle last week.
– The Minister did not have the opportunity. He spoke before me.
– That is so, but I replied in a statement which I made on Friday last, because it is a fairly important matter. This incident relates to the closure, because of heavy cross winds, of the north-south runway by the officers of my Department who are in control of traffic at the Canberra airport. After the aircraft had made a circuit in the district, officers of the Department requested the Royal Australian Air Force to allow the aircraft to use the eastwest runway. Permission was granted, and the aircraft was brought in on that runway. This meant that the aircraft landed into a head wind and that the operation was completely in accordance with regulations. As honourable members know, the Canberra airport is a joint airport, and what occurred on this occasion was evidence of the co-operation which exists between the RAAF and my Department. We appreciated the co-operation of the RAAF on this occasion. The controller of the airport has the final authority in these matters. No officer, even a senior officer, can issue instructions to the controller, who has sole command just as a pilot has control of an aircraft in the air and a captain has control of a ship at sea. Nobody has the authority or the capacity to interfere with the air controller. This operation was perfectly safe and in accordance with regulations.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is it proposed that the Government shall build flats or home units and furnish them for the temporary occupation of immigrants when they arrive in this country? Before entering into a new undertaking of this type, which is a further intrusion into the operations of private enterprise, will the Government investigate the availability of suitable properties for sale on the open market and thus assist established builders who may be finding it difficult to dispose of buildings they have already constructed with the result that they cannot continue to hold their organisations together?
– As the Minister for Immigration and I said in a recent statement, we propose, as an experiment, to build blocks of flats at certain points for the transitory accommodation of migrants. The honourable member will recollect that not long ago this was urged upon us by members of the Public Works Committee. An interdepartmental committee has investigated the proposition closely. I might emphasise again that the Public Works Committee is representative of both sides of the House. The honourable member for Bennelong has pointed out to me that there are a number of blocks of home units in Sydney which at the moment are difficult to dispose of. In one respect I find that good news, because in our immigration programme one of the problems is to find good permanent accommodation for migrants which they can arrange themselves at reasonable prices. What is mentioned does suggest that there is currently in Sydney an opportunity for these migrants to obtain permanent accommodation.
Not very long ago we established in Commonwealth Hostels Ltd a service specially to try to find and to arrange permanent accommodation for the migrants after they get here and are in hostels. I should be particularly glad if the honourable member for Bennelong who is connected with this industry, would follow up bis question and let us know about all these units that are difficult at the moment to dispose of. We have in Sydney some thousands of migrants who need permanent accommodation. The building of these fiats is an experiment and only for transitory purposes.
– That is a terrific commentary on the Minister’s economic understanding.
– The more opportunities for permanent accommodation that are offering the greater the chances are that the accommodation we intend to provide will prove transitory.
– Why does the Minister not have some economic understanding?
-Order! The honourable member for Reid will cease interjecting. I ask him to restrain himself, or I will have to deal with him.
– We are making an effort to provide migrants arriving in this country with separate family accommodation, where they can look after themselves, instead of the communal type. As I have said, it will be only transitory. I am glad the honourable member has raised the matter. I hope he will follow it up and that we can fill some of these new blocks of flats with newly arrived migrants.
– My question of the Minister for Civil Aviation is supplementary to that asked by the honourable member for Bonython. I ask: Are tape recordings taken of conversations in control towers? Was a tape recording taken of the conversation in the control tower at Fairbairn Airport, Canberra, in November 1965 and would it still be available? If a tape recording was taken and is still available, will the Minister give honourable members the advantage of hearing a playing of it in the precincts of the House so that they may learn for themselves what happened on that occasion?
– Generally the tape recordings are maintained to cover conversations between crews of aircraft and the air traffic controllers. The tape recordings are not maintained, of course, for conversations which go on outside of that; at least, that is my general impression. However, I will check and see whether any recordings were taken of conversations which would indicate the situation at that time, and if it is possible to have them available. I will certainly obtain them. Tapes generally are held for s limited period. Those that record messages between aircraft and the air traffic controllers are held, I think, for twelve months. Obviously they are held in case an investigation is required at a later stage, but I do not know whether they would be held beyond the specified time. However, I will make some inquiries and let the Leader of the Opposition know.
– I address my question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is it a fact that South Australia and Queensland were not included in plans for migrant flats, and is this primarily because the housing position in those States is better able to cope with migrants as they arrive? Has the Minister taken into account the recent slump in confidence, and thus in home construction figures, apparent in South Australia during the last twelve months? Does he anticipate that, in lieu of capital for flats, a similar amount will be given to South Australia as a stimulus to the housing position there, since South Australia has been taking in the past up to 20% of migrants although it has only 10% of the Australian population?
-Order! The honourable member is now giving information. I suggest that he ask his question.
– ls it not a dangerous principle to penalise efficiency in fields such as housing and put yourself in the position-
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– The four sites for these flats - and I must emphasise that at this stage this is only an experiment - were chosen because the needs and pressure were greatest at these locations. I have noticed that there has been comment as to why the Government has not decided to build some of these units in Queensland. The answer to that is that the Government has spent a lot of money at Wacol, Queensland. At the moment there are 300 vacancies available for people in hostels in Queensland. The pressure is very much easier there than elsewhere. It is worst at Perth, so the Government has decided to build some of these flats there. In South Australia the position as at 1st April was that we had only about a 50% occupancy of existing hostels. We have recently spent quite a lot of money at Smithfield and Pennington in that State. The work there has just been completed. We have plans for improvements at Glenelg, which will soon be commenced. Currently the average occupancy of hostels in South Australia is a period of only fifteen weeks. The fact is that the economy of South Australia is lacking some of the ebullience which it enjoyed under the entrepreneurial guidance of Sir Thomas Playford and others when things were expanding and strong efforts were being directed towards economic growth. If resources are siphoned away from housing and other construction activity to provide social handouts and so forth, whatever the advantage at election time the effect does not promote economic opportunities. The flow of migrants and provision for their accommodation has to be guided by economic opportunities, and because we have at the moment so much surplus accommodation in South Australia it would hardly seem appropriate to build these flats there when we have a great shortage of accommodation elsewhere.
– I would like to ask a question of the Minister of Civil Aviation. Has the Department of Civil Aviation decided to relax - or is it considering relaxing - its strict regulations controlling instrument flying and night flying by pilots of light aircraft? Has a strong objection been lodged by the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots against a relaxation of regulations, and is this objection supported by evidence of over twenty near misses in full daylight between commercial and light aircraft in Queensland over the last twelve months? Is the Minister also aware that commercial pilots are now reluctant to report these incidents because of lack of response by the Department of Civil Aviation?
– Mr Speaker, I do not feel that these incidents should be merely stated without some substantiation to support the statement. I have no way at the moment of checking the information given. Whether or not twenty incidents of that type have been reported I do not know, but I can check and find out. Regulations covering general aviation are constantly under review. For some time now we have been reviewing all regulations covering general aviation. No changes are made unless there has been a full and penetrating discussion with the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots, with representatives of general aviation in various fields and with other bodies concerned. So when and if changes are made either to relax or tighten regulations this happens only after very careful discussion with all parties concerned.
I should also state quite clearly that a pilot would not fail to report any incident on the ground that was suggested by the honourable member - that no notice would be taken of his report. I can assure honourable members that careful attention is given to every incident reported. Throughout the years we in Australia have been able, by our system of incident and accident reporting, to collate and produce reports which have been of extreme value to aviation generally.
Every week a report comes onto my table. I have the opportunity to learn about every incident and accident that is reported. By following this system we are able to keep a running check and to try to avoid similar problems in the future. In addition we have our Safety Digest’, which is circulated regularly to many sections of the aviation industry and which incorporates information about the problems that have been raised. Under the regulations the responsibility is on the pilot and the other people concerned to see that incidents are reported. I do not know of any circumstances where this would not be observed.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Prime Minister, by referring to the wide recognition throughout Australia of the importance of the recent visit and previous visits which the right honourable gentleman has made to Asian countries. Will the Prime Minister consider ways and means of stepping up the flow of information to Australia about Asian countries for the purpose of giving impetus to a greater understanding and awareness in this country of our nearest neighbours?
– I welcome the question. One of the incidental purposes of my own visits, which have been attended by a considerable number of Australian journalists, journalists of the countries concerned and others representing various agencies, has been to bring to the Australian public a better knowledge of countries in the Asian and Pacific region that are of special interest to Australia. But there may be other ways in which our embassies could assist, including the dissemination of information through the Department of External Affairs in Australia. I shall be glad to explore this aspect of the matter
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether it is correct that no country airport has visual glide slopes for night operations. Has the Australian Federation of Air Pilots been complaining for some considerable time about the absence of these important and essential night flying aids? In view of the air safety factor involved, can the Minister say why these landing aids have not been installed?
– I appreciate this newfound interest in aviation by the Opposition. The position in relation to aids is that our requirements for aids at airports are up to the highest standard. In the international field the problem experienced is usually of a reverse kind because our pilots are a little concerned about the fact that the aids at many of the overseas airports do not come up to this standard. Visual glide slope equipment is installed at our major airports, and later will be installed at some of the country airports such as Canberra, which is in a country region, and in other areas where jet operations take place. We have laid down in our regulations that for jet operations it is necessary that this particular type of aid be provided, and in all areas where jets operate these facilities are provided. In other centres the equipment provided is adequate and quite suitable for the operations which are conducted. With the advent of the DC9, which I am happy to say will be arriving in Australia tomorrow, perhaps further airport facilities of this type will be required. We will see that they are provided as they are required. We do insist that they be there when jet operations take place. Otherwise, the types of facilities which are provided for the other registered and licensed airports in Australia are quite adequate for their purposes.
– I ask the Minister for National Development whether it is correct that agreement has been reached between the States and the Commonwealth on a common code for the exploitation of offshore oil and gas. If this is so, can the Minister indicate the nature of the agreement and when legislation on this subject is likely to be brought before this House?
– Yes, agreement was reached at a meeting held between the State Ministers for Mines and the State AttorneysGeneral in Sydney last Friday on all outstanding matters with the exception of two minor matters which concern the boundaries between some States. We are told that these will be agreed to very shortly. Apart from that, complete agreement has been arrived at.
The main matter which was decided last Friday related to the question of interstate sales of gas. The States have now agreed that they will add an annexe to the agreement which will say that there will be no discrimination in interstate sales, that they will encourage these sales, and that they will not seek to restrict them. Therefore, the way is completely open to proceed with the preparation of the Bills. I understand that the Commonwealth Bill is now 80% prepared and will be completed by about mid-May. This will enable the State Bills, which are to be mirror image legislation, to be prepared. I hope that in the spring session they will be introduced into every one of the six State Parliaments and the Commonwealth Parliament. The legislation has, of course, to pass through thirteen Houses of Parliament before it becomes law.
I do believe that this was a red letter day and quite a milestone in StateCommonwealth relations in that we have sought to provide that there should be no litigation to decide who has jurisdiction in this matter. We have seen what has happened in the United States. I understand that at the present time in Canada litigation is listed with the Supreme Court between one of the provinces and the Federal Government. I believe that the fact that the Australian States have been able to get together in this mater is quite remarkable. We have already had a number of inquiries from overseas as to the scope of this legislation and the way in which it will be brought into effect.
I want to congratulate my predecessor, Sir William Spooner, who started off this matter, and my two colleagues, the present Attorney-General and the previous
Attorney-General, who is now Minister for Immigration, on the tremendous help they have given in the preparation of this legislation.
– Can the Minister for Civil Aviation say whether the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots has been pressing for a reduction and review of the permissive unserviceability with which a commercial aircraft can be flown? Can he say what action has been taken by his Department satisfactorily to answer these complaints on this important matter?
– I do not know whether any representations have been made by the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots to my Department on this particular subject. It could be that the Federation has referred matters from time to time in relation to permissive unserviceability, and no doubt the lists are changed from time to time. The lists of permissive unserviceability items are pretty substantial because they cover virtually everything on the aircraft. They are worked out between the manufacturers, the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots, the Department of Civil Aviation, the component manufacturers and quite a wide group of people associated with the aviation industry. The important point is that these lists are checked very carefully and regularly. I shall make some inquiries to see whether any recent representations have been made by the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots. If there have been, I shall provide the honourable member with some information.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question following upon the question asked by the honourable member for Angas. Has the Minister seen a statement by officials of the Queensland Good Neighbour Council that although facilities at the Wacol migrant camp are very good, migrants there experience considerable difficulties in travelling to and from their places of work? Will the honourable gentleman investigate this matter with a view to ascertain whether the difficulties referred to are responsible for the number of vacancies at this camp?
– I am well aware of the position at Wacol migrant hostel. The honourable member will know that the Government recently spent a lot of money to improve conditions at the hostel where some of the accommodation is very good. I appreciate the difficulties referred to by the honourable member. One of the problems in building migrant hostels is to locate accommodation near places of work and where long term opportunities exist for making satisfactory housing arrangements. The average stay in Queensland hostels is twenty-three weeks, which is ten weeks fewer than the national average. The location of Wacol may have prompted a few migrants to leave. I think we are fully discharging our responsibilities in Queensland quite well. After all, we provide and plan to provide only transitory accommodation for migrants. The housing position in Queensland does not appear to be very difficult but if Queensland starts to develop rapidly and extra accommodation for migrants is needed, we will meet the need. Our job is to develop Australia rather than to pour water into particular parish pumps. When pressure for more migrant accommodation begins in Queensland, as I hope it will, we will deal with it.
Bill presented by Mr McMahon, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act to provide for the exemption of motor vehicle seat belts in all circumstances. Seat belts have for some years been exempt from sales tax under a provision which applies to certain classes of protective equipment but that exemption is fully effective only when the seat belts are sold as separate items of merchandise. This situation arises because seat belts, in common with other components for vehicles, lose their separate identity when they are fitted to a motor vehicle. If already fitted to the vehicle at the taxing point, which is normally the point of sale by the vehicle manufacturer or wholesaler to the retail dealer, there is only one article, a motor vehicle which falls for taxing. The seat belts, as part of the complete vehicle, then bear tax at the rate applicable to the vehicle. This has deterred Australian vehicle manufacturers from fitting seat belts to vehicles on their factory assembly lines. Manufacturers who specify seat belts as standard equipment for their vehicles have, as an alternative, adopted the practice of selling the belts as separate articles and arranging for their dealers to fit the belts after the vehicles have passed the taxing point. By this means they are able to arrange for their vehicles to be supplied to customers with seat belts fitted while at the same time preserving the exemption of the belts.
As honourable members will know, it is beyond question that the wearing of seat belts contributes significantly towards reducing the risk of death or serious injury in road accidents. We would like to see seat belts in all vehicles and consider that, as a step in this direction, vehicle manufacturers should be encouraged to provide seat belts as standard equipment with all vehicles.
Although, as I have mentioned earlier, vehicles fitted with seat belts are now being supplied to the public under arrangements whereby the belts do not attract sales tax, there is little doubt that there are advantages in having the belts fitted in the course of vehicle assembly operations. It is then that the fitting can be most efficiently and economically carried out. There is the added advantage that drivers delivering vehicles from factories to dealers’ premises will have the protection of seat belts. The Government accordingly decided to initiate action to amend the sales tax law to remove the present deterrent to the fitting of seat belts to vehicles in the course of factory assembly operations.
Shortly stated, this Bill will provide that sales tax will not be payable on so much of the sale value of a vehicle fitted with exempt seat belt assemblies as is equal to the amount which would have been the sale value of those assemblies if sold as separate articles. In other words, the value upon which sales tax would otherwise be payable will be reduced by the value of the seat belt assemblies incorporated in the vehicle.
The Bill will also provide for the specific exemption of seat belt assemblies which have hitherto been exempt under the more general provision to which I referred earlier. The exemption will apply to all seat belt assemblies, including those of the harness and sash type, that are designed for the protection of persons in motor vehicles. Parts and fittings for exempt seat belt assemblies will also be exempt. In order that there should be no delay in the implementation of these proposals, the Bill provides that they shall take effect immediately. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 11 April (vide page 1135), on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr Daly had moved by way of amendment:
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”.
– The Bill before the House provides for a further liberalising of the means test and carries into effect the promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in his policy speech. It is another advance towards the eventual elimination of the means test, to which the Government is committed. Many of us would like to see a much faster movement towards the elimination of the means test, but we realise that there are tremendous difficulties in the way. I believe, and I know that many honourable members also believe, that a national superannuation scheme would provide a much better service to those in need than our present pen- sions system does. Many of us would like to see the introduction of a national superannuation scheme as soon as humanly possible. As I said, we realise there are difficulties in the way.
It has been estimated that the initial cost of eliminating the means test could be in the vicinity of $8m a year. I believe that much of this cost would be absorbed by a national superannuation scheme and that such a scheme would eventually be selfsupporting. All democratic communities have accepted the responsibility of providing for those who are in need and those who cannot provide for themselves. One of the difficulties that faces us in a private enterprise community, and faces a private enterprise government, is to do this without removing all incentive. We must encourage people to be independent as far as is humanly possible. We must encourage initiative. We should be careful to foster the desire to provide adequate means for advancing years - to encourage people to make better provision in their working years so that they can live a comfortable, satisfying and full life in their advancing years.
In a community such as this, and under our present system, we have the difficulty of the person who makes no attempt whatever to provide for himself. He spends all he earns, often foolishly, and on reaching retiring age he becomes eligible for the full medical, hospital and old age benefits. In other words he is more or less a parasite living on the efforts of those who have made a serious attempt to provide for themselves. This does not apply only to the man on the basic wage. I am the first to admit that a man on the basic wage or on a salary near the basic wage, especially if he has a family, has very little chance of making any provision for the future. However, I believe that we could, by imposing a special tax on a sliding scale on all wages, make it possible for every man to receive superannuation by right.
I know of many men who have saved enough to provide their own homes, who have obtained some capital that they have invested wisely, who have denied themselves many things during their lifetime, who thereby are not eligible for the age pension and who have found that men, who have been on an equivalent salary and have not saved, are getting full medical, hospital and pension benefits. This argument applies, too, to men who are drawing superannuation. I am very conscious of what has happened in my own town, which is largely a railway town, where many a man who has been prudent has found, on retiring after long years of faithful service, that his comparatively small superannuation together with any savings he may have precludes him from receiving not only the age pension but all the benefits that go with it. This is something in our modern community that we must seriously consider. We should make provision for the man who is prepared to provide for himself. We should encourage him and help him to do so without penalising him.
It we had a satisfactory superannuation scheme and people drew superannuation by right irrespective of a means test it obviously would encourage a lot of people to continue working, part time at least, after they reached the retiring age. Surely this country, and any developing country - but particularly Australia - needs the knowledge, skills and experience of so many of its elderly citizens who are still fit and able to do quite an effective job. It is a fact, of course, that busy people are generally happy people. Busy people are very often much healthier, and enjoy much better health, than those who have nothing to do. All of us are familiar with the case of the person who has lived a full and happy life in employment but who in retirement becomes an ill man in no time whatever and thereby an added cost to the Government.
In a country like Australia we must continually stress the need for thrift. This is where Socialism falls down. Socialism just does not work and never has worked. It tends to destroy initiative. As I have said, Socialism is something we cannot afford to adopt. I think it was Churchill who once said that he who was not a Socialist at eighteen had no heart, but he who was a Socialist at thirty perhaps had no head. Sometimes I wonder in relation to this matter, how many eighteen-year-olds with grey heads are still on the other side of the House.
Today age pensioners in Australia total about 640,000 or about 53% of those of pensionable age. In 1949 they represented 39%, so the burden is becoming increasingly heavy. This Bill proposes to extend the means test and to raise the amount it will be possible for a pensioner to earn before he is precluded from receiving any pension. Many more persons will become eligible to receive a pension under the provisions of the Bill. It is rather interesting to note the amounts, particularly of assets, that a person can have. At present a single person can have property assets totalling $5,600 and still get a full pension. Before he is precluded from any part of the age pension his assets have to exceed SI 2,360. A married person receives a full pension when his assets are not worth more than $9,640 and a pensioner couple receive some pension until their assets exceed $21,880.
We must take into account the fact that income from property is, to a very large extent, not assessed. No account is taken of a home, a car, furniture or personal effects or life assurance up to $1,500 for each of a married couple. These represent quite considerable fringe benefits. When people compare our pension provisions with those of other countries they often tend, as is the case with honourable members on the other side of this House, conveniently to forget the fringe benefits. There are also considerable medical and hospital benefits available for pensioners. I believe, too, that there is a case for phasing out taxation of pensioners. It seems to me a very hard system indeed which provides that when a pensioner earns more than the permissible amount he immediately becomes liable to very substantial taxation payments. I believe that in the interests of encouraging thrift we should look very carefully at the possibility of phasing out such taxation.
The elimination of the means test and the introduction of a national superannuation scheme would remove the stigma that many people feel attaches to them if they apply for an age pension. Such a scheme also must effect tremendous savings in administration. All Federal members are familiar with the problems that arise from time to time in the adjustment of pensions. The elimination of the means test would also encourage people to retain their capital instead of dissipating it so that they may become eligible for a pension under the present system. It would also remove, as I have said before, the penalty on thrift.
The Bill provides also for other benefits. It improves the position of widows and particularly of those women who become entitled to a benefit when their husbands are committed to mental institutions. This is one field of social services which I think deserves very sympathetic consideration, which it has obviously been given by the Government. The Bill also provides for certain assistance in the rehabilitation field. It provides for surgical equipment and aids for those who have become incapacitated through illness or accident, and it enables those persons again to become fit and to earn a decent living. It provides also, in the case of people who have a compensation claim or are not covered under an accident policy, for the recovery of certain compensation costs. In the case of those who are being rehabilitated the legislation makes provision for tools of trade and for the books and equipment which in many cases, of course, are necessary for the successful rehabilitation of these people if they are again to take an active part in the community.
One of the important things for which provision is being made is the payment of special allowances to people in sheltered workshops. This is very important indeed. The Bill not only makes provision for special allowances; it makes special provision for tax concessions as well. This encourages people who have been disabled to seek again to become useful members of the community. The provision is very careful to extend the definition of those in employment so that it is not confined to those in sheltered workshops but, as the Minister has said, covers also those who are engaged in general farming, perhaps poultry farming or in a plant nursery - the kinds of jobs that people seeking to rehabilitate themselves can very often do quite easily.
I believe there is a case for the establishment of more sheltered workshops in country areas. I am very conscious of the situation in many country centres and I think there is a case for the establishment of sheltered workshops in selected areas so that people seeking rehabilitation and in need of employment can be drawn from the surrounding districts. When one con siders that the proportion of people in the community who are incapacitated in some way or another is about 3% one realises that there must be great numbers of those people living in districts from which they cannot possibly reach the sheltered workshops that are operating at the present time. Many of these people are capable of doing various jobs, and doing them perhaps more efficiently than some who are in full possession of all their faculties. Those of us who have visited sheltered workships in the various capital cities have been most impressed by the keenness of those who are working there and their obvious pleasure at being able to do something well and to operate as useful members of society. They realise that they are no longer misfits and they strive particularly hard to become proficient at whatever job they may be doing. I remember seeing the work being done in a number of these workshops and thinking that it compared more than favourably with the work done in many open factories. I believe that in this direction there is still a very wide field open for development in our social service programme.
I have noted all the work that is being done for handicapped children. Here again the Department of Social Services is doing a tremendous job. In my own country electorate more and more homes for handicapped children are being established. Very often if these children can be taken in hand early enough in life their disabilities can be almost completely overcome. At least they can be given useful places in the community and can enjoy much happier lives.
When one looks at the expenditure on social services by the present Government one sees a rather staggering figure. Last year the estimated expenditure was about $757m. The proposals under this Bill will increase, the total by about $ 13.5m, bringing it up to about $770m. I believe that this Bill serves a very useful purpose. It fulfils a promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in his policy speech. I commend the Government for pushing on - perhaps not as fast as it should; the progress will never be as fast as many of us would like - with this tremendous job of looking after those who are not able to provide for themselves. I commend the Minister for the tremendous job he is doing and for his sympathy for and understanding of many very difficult problems. Too often he is criticised for things for which he is not to blame and which arise simply because there is not sufficient finance to enable his Department to carry out the job. I commend him for his work, the interest he is showing and the sympathetic consideration he gives to any proposition that is placed before him by honourable members on both sides of the House. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting this Bill and in complimenting the Government on its progressive attitude to the whole social service problem in this country.
Mr HANSEN (Wide Bay) [3.4 lj- This measure, as has been stated by many Government members, puts into effect a promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) before the last election to increase by $3 a week the income which can be received by pensioners without their pension being reduced. I do not know how many people who voted for members of the Government Parties at the last election realised that the increase in permissible income would be only $3 a week for married couples. The Opposition believes that a further wedge has been driven home in discriminating between single and married pensioners. By comparison, the Australian Labor Party proposed a base rate pension and additional payments in circumstances where they were warranted.
The Minister pointed out in his second reading speech that 53% of the adult population who are qualified by age and residence to receive an age pension are actually in receipt of a pension. Some of these people do not receive the full pension, and there is a great difference in the circumstances of those who do. For this reason, I support the part of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) which seeks to have instituted a national inquiry into poverty and social welfare. Most honourable members speak of an affluent society and say there is no reason why anyone should not be able to save for his old age, but they must have in mind different electorates from those I know. Their statements are not entirely correct. Many people, particularly those who are trying to rear a family, cannot provide for their old age. The awards of wages tribunals do not make provision for insurance or superannuation payments, although moves have been made to introduce superannuation schemes. Every local government employee in Queensland contributes to a superannuation scheme. However, the employer does not contribute in all schemes. Honourable members are privileged to be able to participate in a scheme into which is paid contributions other than those which they make. Those most in need of superannuation are the ones who are least able to afford to pay contributions; so there are cases of hardship.
Some honourable members have referred to people who pay $10 a week for a serviced room and have to live on the balance of their pension. Most of these people are single pensioners who, although they receive the maximum supplementary assistance of $2 a week, have not very much left to live on. At different times the newspapers and various organisations within a particular area make inquiries about the way in which such people live. Some time ago the television programme Four Corners’ dealt with this matter. People who had meals provided by such organisations as the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Salvation Army were interviewed. These men said that they had no time to look for a job because they had a full time job in going from place to place to get a meal so that they could exist. It is terrible that this should happen in what we regard as an affluent society.
Much has been said about a national contributory scheme. I point out to members of the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party that the Chifley Government introduced the income tax and social service contribution scheme, under which taxpayers made a contribution based on income to a social service fund. The Labor Party envisaged that this fund would provide many of the social service benefits for which we are striving today. It was intended that the amount in the fund would be known, because the collections would be kept separate and would not be lost. But they have been lost since this Government took office.
The honourable member for Grayndler said that pensions bear no relationship to the cost of living but that they bear a strong relationship to the date of election campaigns. Perhaps pensioners feel a little happier than many honourable members feel about the relationship between elections for the House of Representatives and for the Senate, because Commonwealth elections are held regularly and the pensioners have more chance of obtaining increased pensions. Pensions should have some relationship to the cost of living. I know that social service payments are governed by the amount allocated and that the Minister for Social Services probably meets strong opposition from his colleagues when he seeks a larger vote. No matter how sympathetic he is, he is tied down. However, if the social service contribution envisaged by the Chifley Labor Administration were paid, we would know how much money was available and the Minister would have a strong case to put to his colleagues. That scheme envisaged that a contribution would be made on a national scale in proportion to income.
Contributors to the superannuation schemes conducted by the Public Service of a State, the Commonwealth Public Service and many large firms think twice before they change jobs. Even if an employee thinks that he can benefit himself by taking another position, he must take a long range view and consider how he and his family will be affected. He knows that if he changes jobs he will lose the amount that his employer has contributed to his superannuation. It may be possible, as I think the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Ian Allan) said, to transfer from one employer to another and keep contributing. The only answer seems to be a national fund which would be administered by the Government.
I feel that a similar situation applies with sick leave. I do not know what this costs the Department of Social Services, but I know that under some awards in Queensland one can accumulate sick leave indefinitely while in other cases one cannot do so. My previous employer had men working for him who had accumulated up to twenty weeks sick leave; some had not missed a day’s work for years, and others had missed only an odd day here and there. They were regarded by some people as being rather silly for not taking sick leave. When the employer contracted to do a job he made provision for these people to draw five days sick leave a year, so one wonders who gets the benefit from this. These men left the job. They did so in many instances because there was not employment for them there and they had to seek it some where else. I know of one man who accumulated ten weeks sick leave and then left and started work with someone else, with whom he had no accumulated sick leave. Sickness then struck him down and he lost about six weeks work - one week on sick leave and the other five weeks on sickness benefit. I consider that if a man is qualified he should be entitled to carry over this accumulated sick leave. These people were being thrifty in saving up their sick leave in case sickness struck them down, but unfortunately they never benefited from it and it was all lost.
I think most people are thrifty, but I also think that probably we find this thrift more amongst people on low incomes than on high incomes. People on higher incomes are usually able to make some provision for themselves. I do not know how many members of Parliament, towards the end of the month, are able to write cheques in the knowledge that they will be able to carry on into the next month. They know that some provision is being made for mem. I notice at least one Minister smiling. If a person is lucky enough to have qualified for a pension some provision is made for him, but for other people there is no provision. Therefore, thrift comes to them of necessity.
It has been said that the Government is honouring a promise made at the last election. I direct the attention of honourable members to one clause of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) referring to the promise made by the then leader of the Liberal and Country Party coalition at the time of the 1949 election that he would move for the elimination of the means test. That was about seventeen years ago. The present measure is one of the first steps since 1954 towards elimination of the means test, so at this rate the century will be up before we see the complete elimination of the means test. I point out that many pensioners will not be able to benefit from this measure to ease the means test. Many age pensioners are now in their eighties and have been drawing the pension for twenty years. Many of them are women whose husbands have died, and if they had had some little money saved up and they owned their own homes they would have been forced to pay the cost of many repairs. What little those people could have saved would gradually have been whittled away over the years, so they will not get much benefit from this measure.
I know of cases of people who are in fact living in poverty even though they are debarred from receiving a pension because of the means test. During the recent drought in Queensland I referred a number of cases to the Director of Social Services in that State; I did not worry the Minister with them. These cases concerned people, mainly widows, who had sold farms and who were to be repaid when the purchasers received their cane cheques from each annual crushing. Because of the drought, there was no crushing, so there was no payment to those people and they were forced to live on their children. The people who had purchased the properties had not been able to pay a high deposit, and in any event the deposit was used to purchase a home in the town or city area where some amenities were available. However, when they found that they could not get the money that was owing to them, they suffered real hardship. The money that was owing to them was not forthcoming because of the drought, and those people then had no way of getting it back. Therefore, there were cases of poverty amongst people who owned property and who were barred from the pension because of the means test.
Much has been said about shaded areas and shaded benefits for pensioners. It is true that the Government saw the folly of its ways and re-introduced medical benefits for all pensioners. The pensioners are able to participate in those benefits. There are other benefits for which the Commonwealth Government can claim no credit. I refer to such small benefits as those that are handed out by the States in the way of free travel. In Queensland every pensioner can avail himself or herself of free second-class rail travel to any part of Queensland. However, not all those people are able to travel. Because of their health or their age, some do not want to travel. They are probably in a similar position to many members of Parliament. I notice that one of the newspaper feature writers has made great play of the fact that members of Parliament can go to any part of Australia for the weekend. I wonder how many really do this. If members of
Parliament were doing their job I cannot see that they would have the time, and even if they had any spare time I think they would spend it with their families. This is a benefit that I do not think is availed of very much.
Last Monday I met a deputation of retired railway workers who pointed out to me that because of their length of service in the railways they were entitled to a free pass. However, the State Government said: ‘That is enough; you are not going to get another pass because you are pensioners.’ Therefore, this benefit does not apply to them. Local councils give benefits by way of remission of rates, but of course the ratepayers have to meet the cost. There is a great variation in benefits available in different areas. I think a load is being placed upon non-governmental institutions. It is good to see charitable and other organisations doing this work, but I do not think it is their duty. I think the matter can be succinctly put by repeating the words of the Queensland Treasurer, when replying to these retired railway workers. He said that these fringe benefits are in effect social service payments and it was not within the province of the State Government to make them available.
I am pleased that this measure has been introduced. At least it will give some assistance and relieve hardship in some cases. But I do not think it goes far enough. I would like to see a committee - an allparty committee if need be - appointed to investigate poverty, particularly in our larger cities, and the conditions under which pensioners live. After such a committee had presented its report we would see that there is a need for further fringe benefits or supplementary benefits, for our pensioners. I do not believe that we should group all pensioners together. We should not say that a single pensioner is able to live on a certain amount and that a married pensioner couple is able to live on a different amount. There are many pensioners who are able to live in reasonable comfort. But if people are on the pension for twenty years or more this comfort decreases at a very fast rate. I know from my own experience that there are many pensioners suffering hardship today. They are in need of further supplementary assistance, and for this reason I support the amendment moved so ably by the honourable member for Grayndler.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sorry that the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), who opened the debate on this Bill on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition yesterday, is not in the chamber. Perhaps he will return before the debate concludes. The honourable member for Grayndler, as spokesman for the Opposition, received a very good Press last night and this morning. His comments were widely reported. There is a presentable photograph of the honourable member in one newspaper. I want to comment on the headlines. I want to say that some, if not all, of the remarks of the honourable member were on very shaky ground. For example, one headline reads: Labor urges immediate inquiry on poverty’. I must deal with this later, because if the impression given by the honourable member is not corrected some people in Australia may get an entirely erroneous idea about living conditions and poverty in this nation. I believe that the honourable member has an entirely erroneous idea of conditions. Another headline says: ‘MP says social service system a confidence trick’. A very wide connotation can be placed on the words in that headline. Therefore I feel it is only fair to draw attention to the very good Press coverage that the honourable member received, so that honourable members on this side of the House may proceed to remove the wrong impression and emphasis that the honourable member has brought to this debate. The sensationalism of the honourable member for Grayndler is well known to honourable members. This is not the first occasion that we have found it necessary in a social services debate to expose his views as fallacies.
The honourable member, on behalf of the Opposition, moved an amendment to the motion for the second reading of this Bill, calling on honourable members not to oppose its provisions but to condemn the Government because of its failure to act in regard to five matters. No member of the Opposition could with sincerity oppose these measures. Whether or not we agree with them in detail, the basic principle behind every item dealt with in this Bill is to be commended. We may have differing views about how these matters have been dealt with. We all have our ideas about the formulas for dealing with charitable measures, and we are free in this debate to give expression to those differing views. Basically this is a sound Bill. It confers a liberalisation of the means test. Providing such a liberalisation does not go too far our system can only be improved by such measures.
I see that the honourable member for Grayndler has now come into the chamber. I want to draw attention to the points covered in the amendment moved by him. In the first place, honourable members on this side of the House believe that one pensioner living alone should receive more in the way of benefits than each of a married couple living together. I say that, because the first point mentioned in the amendment was to the effect that the Government ought to be condemned because of its failure to ‘eliminate the injustices of discrimination between the rates of married and single pensioners’. This principle of having different rates for single pensioners and married couples has been debated before. It has been debated effectively, and the Government and its supporters have declared themselves firmly for the principle. We believe that it is clear to any logical thinker that one person who is dependent upon a social service benefit has a greater problem than a married couple who have two pensions coming into the household. Therefore a differential rate of basic pension was introduced by this Government. I think that principle is sound. I do not believe that there should be a variety of differentiations. If we can keep the differentiation to this one point, that will help towards simplicity.
The Government responded to the need to help single pensioners by introducing supplementary assistance. This was its action to overcome the problem of the single pensioner living alone as against two pensioners living together. Supplementary assistance, as my colleagues well understand, is designed to help the single person dependent on a pension who is also faced with the payment of rent. Later today we will examine the aged persons homes legislation. In the debate on that subject we will be able to draw significantly upon the experience of thousands of people who have been given the benefit of living in low rental units. Pensioners in those units are able to live at a reasonable level upon their pension even if that is their sole means of income. But if a person dependent on a pension has to move out into the community and pay extortionate rent, often for a sub-standard flat, then the pension income is inadequate. So the Government believes in helping single pensioners and has done this by the differentiation in the rate of pension and by the introduction of supplementary assistance.
The second point in the amendment to condemn the Government relates to pension rates themselves. The Opposition would like the Government to increase these pension rates continually and jo develop the concept of a welfare state. They would like the Government to hand out money to everyone. They would like to see the Government doing more than what self-respecting people want. We on this side affirm that the Government should stand ready to assist people in certain situations. That is why we have the Department of Social Services. That is why we are proud of the social service scheme we have, which this Bill will expand. We should stand ready to meet the needs of the people. The whole concept of the scheme today is that need is the basis for assistance. We disagree with the Opposition’s amendment at this point and direc attention to the fact that, from time to time, where the economy of the country has permitted, the Budget has provided for an increase in the basic pension rale. We believe that we are meeting the situation in a very satisfactory way. This is not just the view of honourable members who support the Government; it is the view of thousands upon thousands of satisfied recipients of social service payments.
I come now to the third point raised by the honourable member for Grayndler in his amendment. He referred to the need for a national inquiry into poverty and social welfare. He asks the House to condemn the Government because it has not instituted such an inquiry. Alas, we do not find a similarity of views here between Her Majesty’s Opposition and the Government as we did last week when we debated an immigration measure and when we were able to point out that our views were not widely divergent in that very interesting field. Surely we should not use social issues as a political football. But we find that over very many years representatives of the Opposition invariably have made this a strong political issue. My friend from Grayndler must therefore not be surprised when I come into the debate and join issue with him on so many of the points that he has raised. I take cognizance of what the previous speaker, the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) said. I have great respect for the sincerity of the honourable member. He said that as he moved around his electorate during the recent flood difficulties in Queensland he met people who had a distinct need. I acknowledge this. We all meet such people. Perhaps in that emergency in Queensland a few more were affected. But I ask the honourable member: Does this justify a national inquiry? Where is the outcry .based upon need and poverty in relation to social services to justify this Government, or any other government, instituting a national inquiry?
I am one who believes that honourable members who are doing their jobs are those best qualified to direct the Government’s attention to areas that might need investigation. But others, too, do excellent work in this field. I refer with appreciation to certain: social workers who not many years ago investigated with all sincerity the needs of widows, particularly those with children, who were in receipt of social service benefits. I believe it is fair to assert that the Government was greatly influenced by the reports that were then presented in one form or another. The Government acted upon the representations of members and of such people, and it introduced probably the most outstanding improvements in benefits for widows that this Parliament has ever seen. This action of the Government was applauded by many sections of the community if not by the whole of the community. Widows with children in their care entered into quite a new era in the education and care of their children.
I believe that poverty or serious social conditions throughout the various communities - in capital cities, the provincial towns and even the smaller villages and towns of country districts - will be drawn to the notice of an understanding government such as the present Government and that appropriate action will be taken. But I cannot find any evidence at all to justify the political catch cry which emanated from the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell) when he was Leader of the Opposition. He was the first, for political purposes, to call for a national inquiry into so-called poverty.
I come to the fourth point raised by the honourable member for Grayndler. He endeavours to reprimand the Government for not abolishing the means test. He said that this was a declared objective of the Government parties many years ago but that supporters of the Government had allowed the Government to do certain things in this field without making any attempt to abolish the means test completely. He said that because of this we are deserving of condemnation.
– So you are.
– The honourable members comes right into the trap; that is where we wanted to lead him. If he is contending in this National Parliament that conditions today necessitate the complete abolition of the means test I suggest to him that dozens of his own supporters will rise up in anger against him when they realise just what this would involve. The abolition of the means test will do nothing more than put a pension into the hands of people who cannot establish need and who have no entitlement to any government assistance. It will mean taxing the very people, the workmen who the honourable member for Grayndler erroneously thinks vote for his Party. Many of them vote for the Government because they have come to see that the present Government is the soundest one that the country can obtain. Many of those whom he thinks support him would say to him, in effect: ‘We are not prepared to have our income more heavily taxed to pay social service benefits to those who have an independent income and who have no need at all’. If the Opposision intends to give a pension to everyone in the community under those conditions it will part company with many of its erstwhile supporters. The honourable member for Grayndler well knows this, and he knows the danger. I believe firmly that if he were fortunate enough to be a member of a government in this country today he would not lend his views to the abolition of the means test.
So that the honourable member does not think that what I am saying is just my own personal view, let me go a little further. I find that Professor R. I. Downing lends very great support to the view I have expressed. He supports the conviction which some of us have consistently expressed, namely, that if all are to participate in the pension scheme it must be through means different from the abolition of the means test. In September of last year, just prior to the last Federal election, the Professor contributed an article to a newspaper which had previously published the views of one of my colleagues who had advocated the abolition of the means test. My colleague had said: This, I think, would be a good move’. He linked his scheme with a very interesting scheme for annuities which would require a contribution by all workers within the community. The opposing view was brought out in this article by Professor Downing, the Ritchie Professor of Research Economics in the University of Melbourne. He replied with a categorical ‘No’ to the question: Should we abolish the means test?’ He then went on to say:
The age pension is already paid to nearly 700,000 people in Australia-
When this legislation is implemented the number will be 740,000. The professor went on to say that the 700,000 people to which he referred represented about 53% of those eligible by age. He then continued:
The Government now spends $478m a year on pensions for the aged and for invalids (also subject to the means test). This is about 2)% of gross national product, 10% of total Commonwealth expenditure and 11% of its tax revenues.
To abolish the means test would mean nearly doubling all these figures.
Abolition of the means test would mean, therefore, a large increase of taxes on the lower incomes which are now relatively lightly taxed in Australia.
The revenue would be used to pay pensions, not to the poor who already get them, but to those who are now deemed not to need them.
Abolishing the means test means taxing the poor in order to pay pensions to those who are not poor.
We should be willing to spend more on age pensions through the Commonwealth budget. But we should devote this increased expenditure to raising the basic pension rate, improving the present allowances for rent and for single pensioners without extra income, and liberalising the means test.
It is this professor whom I mentioned who, in the same article said:
I am a believer in a different system -
– Who said that?
– Professor Downing said:
I suggest that every income recipient should be required to contribute to a National Supplementary Superannuation Fund throughout their lives from age twenty-one to age sixty-five.
This leads me to mention, because of my own consistent conviction in this view, that I have been greatly attracted by what has happened in recent months in Canada. The pension plan in Canada, I believe, is something that represents within itself a challenge to our own Government and country. I find that the Canada pension plan is recognised as the most complicated piece of legislation ever passed at the one time by the Canadian House of Commons. I do not applaud it for being complicated because in a moment I want to express some views about keeping this type of legislation as simple as possible. But it is complicated in this case, I believe, because the legislation that has been introduced embraces so much.
I find that this plan went into effect on 1st January of this year. It covers all employed persons in Canada who are between the ages of eighteen and seventy and who earn over £200 per year, and all self employed persons in Canada who earn over £266 a year. It is a contributory plan to which all employed persons pay 1.8% of wages of £200 and under £1,666 a year. The maximum contribution is therefore only £28 8d. a year. The employer pays an amount equal to the payment by the employee. The self employed person pays 3.6% of earnings between £200 and £1,666 a year, the maximum being £52 16d. May I draw attention to the fact that the Canada pension plan provides retirement pensions, disability pensions, widows and orphans pensions and a lump sum benefit. There is a ten year transition period before the full benefits are paid on retirement. When the transition period has been completed the contributors will receive a pension equal to 25% of their earnings, to the Canada pension plan maximum earnings base.
I am so attracted by this that I have sought some research on all that Canada has done in recent years, and in particular on this new legislation of 1966, and I would hope to deal with it in some detail on a later occasion when social services once more will be before the House.
– Has the honourable member any figures in relation to the cost of the scheme to the Canadian Treasury? I understand it is a fairly expensive proposal and the taxpayers of Canada not unnaturally are concerned at the cost to their pockets as well as they are with the end result in the return to them as pensioners.
– I should think that in the long article which has caught my attention the cost is brought out, but I am not in a position, in a few words, to draw attention to the cost. When I speak on the subject again I will endeavour to bring this back to reality and apply it in the concept of the Australian economy. I am not one who will wildly applaud a scheme that another country has adopted if its economic position is different from ours substantially and I can see no justification for advocating that we should follow along similar lines.
– But are we not an affluent state?
– We are reasonably affluent, but do not let the honourable member forget what I enunciated earlier. Do not let him forget that the whole basis of Australian social services is the need of the individual, not the normal concept he follows of a welfare state doing so much so often more than the individual needs. The Bill implements, as I emphasised at the beginning, steps to liberalise the means test, and incorporates some other desirable amendments.
I come back to a statement I made earlier. I am not one who is pleased at any point when I see a piece of legislation that is complex to my own understanding, and, because I am a full time parliamentarian, if it is complex to me then I should say I am right when I suggest it is more complex to the man or woman outside in the community who tries to interpret, by reference to the legislation or newspaper articles that may be written relating to it, just what it means. I believe that we in this House have a responsibility to keep our legislation as simple as possible. It was only last week, when dealing with income tax, that I drew attention to the fact that our income tax legislation had got out of hand. We now have to employ a lawyer to interpret the meaning of so many of the points of income tax. When we were talking last week of the age allowance - and this is related to those people who receive social service pensions - I found it necessary to deplore the formula, a piece of legislation which has become more than complex.
I say in all sincerity that in liberalising the means test in this Bill we have, in my opinion, gone to a point of complexity that could well have been avoided. I have said that I applaud the liberalisation of the means test. It is a very helpful liberalisation of $156 per person except that it does not apply per person to the two partners of a married couple. If the honourable member for Grayndler thinks I am now coming over to his side to join forces with him, he is wrong; but I do have a difference of opinion here with what the Minister and the Government have done.
I was busy enough during the course of the election campaign not to have time to read with minute accuracy just what the Prime Minister’s policy speech said. As the means test has always been based on the individual pension, I interpreted the policy speech as meaning that the $156 would be applicable to the husband and wife individually, not to be shared by them. I told a lot of people this. I do not like having to go back and say that I was wrong. Therefore I would pass some of the responsibility on to other people and say I wish that this had been spelled out much more carefully. As a matter of fact, when the Minister brings out this point again in his splendid second reading speech he does not spell it out as I wish he had. I have read his speech very carefully and I make the point now that if we had intended to help the single pensioner as against the married couple then I believe the best way to do this would have been to amend in some satisfactory way the base pension rate. Here we are setting up a differential between the single pensioner and the married pensioner rate.
This is the first time we have fiddled with the calculation on the means test. It would be best for the means test to be equal on all people. I have made my point on this. I simply express the wish that the intention to encourage the single pensioner again had been put into effect in a different manner from that which we see in the Bill. I want to register my very sincere pleasure at what is being done and what is being put into effect now through this Bill with respect to people who are disabled and who seek the assistance of a sheltered workshop. The Minister in his speech draws attention to this with some pride. He knows that very many of the members who support the Government have been doing research in the sheltered workshops over recent years. We have been greatly impressed with the excellent service that these organisations offer this disabled group who are deserving of our assistance. He points out here that the Government is providing a completely new allowance to disabled persons employed in sheltered workshops. I studied his speech with interest and noticed, as I suppose other members did, the very careful wording which emphasises that the allowance is not restricted to just those fortunate enough to be able to go to a city and find training and employment in a sheltered workshop. I applaud this provision. Of course, further assistance will be forthcoming in separate legislation in the provision of capital and in other forms towards the expansion and establishment of sheltered workshops. Within my electorate I am glad to have sheltered workshops and I am happy to number among my friends those who are associated with the highly satisfactory conduct of organisations of this kind. I know I speak for these people when I express to the Government appreciation for the provisions contained in the Bill relating to sheltered workshops.
May I summarise my remarks by saying that this is a commendable measure. It liberalises the means test and introduces certain other improvements and allowances in our social services structure. I just take issue on the point relative to the way in which the liberalisation has been effected, namely by a differential within the means test construction. I would have wished that the differential could have been applied in a different way, preferably related to the different rate of pension which this Government introduced not long ago. I support the measure. I have raised points of criticism. I believe that the Minister and the Government will accept them in the spirit in which I have offered them.
– The Parliament has been listening to a man who is well known to us; a man who delivers a very carefully prepared speech; a man who we understand is a former preacher and a qualified accountant. From what I near: of his speech he would have us believe that there are no poor in Australia; that no cases of hardship exist here and that everything presents a rosy and pretty picture. 1 would remind this gentleman who once preached from the pulpit that the basic principle of every Christain faith, from my learning, is that the rich shall contribute more to the poor. I would have expected the honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver) to be able to point to some sad and tragic cases among our pensioners, due principally to the fact that no provision is made in our social service legislation for free specialist medical treatment of pensioners. When one partner of an aged married couple becomes bedridden the other partner must care for his or her spouse because the cost of accommodation in a private hospital is beyond their reach. There are many tragic cases of this kind in .my electorate and I guess there are similar cases throughout the length and breadth of Australia. But apparently there are no cases of this kind in the electorate of the honourable member for Swan. If there are, he either does not know about them or is not prepared to mention them in the Parliament for fear of causing embarrassment to the Government which he supports.
This Government was elected to power in 1949 on a promise given by Sir Robert Menzies, as he now is - he was then Leader of the Opposition - to introduce a system of national insurance. In a splendid speech yesterday the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) quoted from the policy speech delivered by Sir Robert Menzies prior to the 1 949 elections in which he said:
Australia still needs a contributory system ot national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right, and so get completely rid of the means test.
– Who said that?
- Sir Robert Menzies, Warden of the Cinque Ports, Q.C., former Prime Minister and head of the Liberal Party. The right honourable gentleman continued:
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.
The honourable member for Swan said that he was opposed to the total abolition of the means test. He said - I interpreted these remarks as an argument against his own argument - that this is very complex legislation the ramifications of which even a member of Parliament has difficulty in understanding. He said that it must be almost impossible for the man in the street to understand the legislation. But the very thing that makes this legislation difficult for anybody to understand is the means test. It is my view that if you abolish the means test the legislation will not be complex at all.
– Does the honourable member not agree with his leader’s statement that you must have a differential rate of. pension for some people?
– The Minister will know what I. mean as 1 continue my speech. This debate affords members on both sides opportunities to point to the anomalies that exist in our social services legislation. Like some of my colleagues on this side and some Government supporters I hope to point to some of the serious anomalies that exist. We on this side rejoice in the Government’s decision, to which expression is given in this Bill, to liberalise the means test but we emphasise once more that the legislation does not go far enough. To penalise any section of the community for its thrift is not only extremely unfair in my view but also shows that the Government is devoid of the principles of true justice. The persons affected by the injustices to which I refer in many cases would be the quality citizens of this or any other country. They are citizens of which any country would be proud. I refer particularly to superannuitants such as retired public servants, teachers, railway employees and employees of child welfare and social service departments.
Let us look at Labor’s attitude towards the abolition of the means test. In 1954 the Labor Party, under the leadership of the former right honourable member for Hunter, Dr Evatt, whom I succeeded in this Parliament, assured the Australian people that if Labor were elected to office the means test would be abolished within three years and a national retiring allowance paid to everybody on reaching the statutory qualifying age. Notwithstanding its expressed desire to abolish the means test, this Government has done very little in the matter in all its years in office. It has been in office for eighteen years but has not been able to achieve what Labor would have achieved in three years. Of course, the Government makes sure that there is no means test in respect of parliamentary pensions. Labor’s proposal in 1934 to abolish the means test was the first such proposal put to the people of Australia and on that occasion Labor was narrowly defeated at the polls. In its policy speech delivered prior to the elections on 26th November last Labor promised to grant, if elected, a half pension to all persons over seventy years of age as a first step towards abolition of the means test. In my view this was proof of Labor’s sincerity. But with false and misleading propaganda the Government told the people that the nation could not afford such a policy. Some gullible sections of the community believed the Government’s propaganda on this point.
The Liberal Party was elected to office in 1949 on a promise that it would abolish the means test, but now after eighteen years it is just as far away from doing so as it ever was. Many evils flow from the means test. It virtually encourages decent citizens to tell untruths to the Department of Social Services when they apply for a pension. A country so well endowed in natural riches as Australia is should have abolished the means test years ago. New Zealand is ahead of us in this field. So are the United States of America, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, which is our mother country, Canada, France, Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Though we do not agree with the political ideology of the Soviet Union, we should recognise the value of its pension scheme. When a person reaches the retiring age in the Soviet Union he receives a pension of about 70% of his salary. If he wants to continue at work, he can draw a pension of about 60% and still receive his ordinary wage.
– What would the ordinary wage be?
– The ordinary wage is only about £20 a week.
– Does the honourable member think that would buy more there than it would here?
– No, it certainly would not, because clothing is especially dear in the Soviet Union. Children’s clothing is quite reasonable, but adult clothing is expensive. The countries that I have named have led the way in the abolition of the means test and I believe that Australia should follow their example. The costs of the Department of Social Services would be considerably reduced if the means test were abolished. The Department now has a larger number of investigators who examine claims to determine whether applicants are entitled to a pension. Decent investigators must find that some of this work is very embarrassing. They must adopt a system of snooping on people to see whether they are trying to obtain a pension unlawfully. A woman in my electorate who was in very indifferent health sought to regain her pension after it had been stopped. She had no relatives in the district and a male friend whom she had known for many years gave her shelter. An investigator from the Department went to see her after a complaint had been made. With her permission he entered her bedroom. He found certain items of male clothing there and as a result she was deprived of the pension. The Department regarded her as a de facto wife and held that as the male partner was employed she was not entitled to a pension. I thought the evidence was very flimsy. This incident happened shortly after the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) took over the portfolio. I raised the matter in the Parliament and the Minister looked into it. The woman’s pension was restored. After investigating the situation, I was positive that she was not the de facto wife of the man who had given her shelter, despite the Department’s accusation. The evidence on which the Department stopped the pension was flimsy. It is only seldom that we have cases such as this, but one important feature of our democratic system is that the humblest person in the land can have his grievances ventilated in the National Parliament when he considers that he has been unjustly treated.
Because of the means test, decent people who have been thrifty all their lives sometimes squander their savings when they reach retiring age so that they will be eligible for a pension. This must cause them some concern, because squandering their means would be completely at variance with their character. Unfortunately, some of them are determined to get a pension because they believe that they are entitled to it after having paid taxes to the Government over a long period. They should not be required to resort to these tactics to obtain a pension. However, the legislation as it now is causes decent people to commit a crime and then we punish them for doing so. Any law that is easily broken is a bad law and should be removed from the statute book. The sooner the Government abolishes the iniquitous means test, the happier the community will be. I believe that the aim of any government should be to ensure that the senior citizens, on retirement, enjoy the most peaceful and happiest days of their lives. As one writer said, we know that we shall not be here for very long before that kind old nurse will come along and lay us to rest. If it is possible for the healthy and financially secure people to relieve the suffering of the unfortunates, they should do so. Let us help one another now because our time is running short.
I should like to express my resentment of the manner in which the Government discriminates against married pensioners. When a pensioner marries his pension is reduced. If he loses his partner his income is increased, but if he remarries, whether for affection, companionship or to banish loneliness, his pension is reduced. The Government’s social services legislation distinguishes between single and married pensioners. The Government says: ‘If you live with a woman as a de facto wife we will pay you more. Do not marry, because if you do we will reduce your pension. Of course we are Christians. We condemn sin on the one hand and encourage it on the other.’ That is virtually what the Government does through its legislation. The former member for Eden-Monaro, Mr Allan Fraser, who was a member of the Parliament for twenty-three years, wrote a worthy article for the Sydney ‘Sun’. It was published last Tuesday. In it he bitterly condemned the Government for discriminating against married pensioners.
– Is that why he was defeated at the last election?
– I would not think so. He was defeated because of the propaganda of the Government, supported by the powerful
Press and by the wealthy people. As ?ne writer said, the pleasures of the rich are bought with the tears of the poor. That is true.
– Allan Fraser was decent. He put the Minister’s photograph on his article.
– Yes. That showed his impartiality. I would like the Government to give serious consideration to gi anting medical entitlement cards to retired mine workers. This matter was mentioned by my colleague, the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths), in his worthy contribution to this debate. If we gathered the facts and figures showing the way that other countries treat their retired miners, we would find that our people are treated much worse than are the people in America, West Germany and other countries that engage in coal mining. Miners retire at sixty years of age and have a mine workers’ pension. Many of them are suffering from dusted lungs, bronchitis, arthritis and other ailments connected with the coalmining industry. They have to meet a heavy burden of medical costs. These men have often been described as the salt of the earth, and they are entitled to a better deal. They are entitled to draw their full superannuation and, on attaining sixty-five years of age, should receive the full age pension. They contribute, like other superannuitants, to the national income - to Consolidated Revenue - but are deprived of the full age pension because of the superannuation they get on reaching sixtyfive years of age.
We have learned from this debate that there are in Australia 460,000 persons of pensionable age who are outside the scope of the pension scheme, yet for years they have contributed to Consolidated Revenue and the cost of social services. The Government should consider sending a committee, comprising representatives from both sides of this House, to view the conditions under which some pensioners are living. There are tragic cases in my own electorate, and there must be many similar cases throughout the length and breadth of Australia The honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver) did not refer to the research that was undertaken in Melbourne. Earlier this month an article by Mr Bob Johnson appeared in the Press. He flew from Sydney to Melbourne to study the situation in view of facts revealed by research undertaken by the Melbourne University. His article stated:
In the affluent society of Australia 1967, bleak, empty-belly poverty probably blights the lives of nearly 750,000 people.
Poverty certainly affects one in every sixteen people in Melbourne.
Until these things are brought to our notice we tend to believe that everything in the garden is rosy. Members of the Government would have the people of Australia believe this is so. Of course each day we drift more towards the American way of life. America, which is looked upon as one of the richest countries in the world, has this problem of poverty to an even greater extent than does Australia. Mr Allan Ashbolt, a forthright author who wrote the book ‘An American Experience’ published in London last year, pointed out that after four years of careful research in the United States of America it was established that 50 million to 60 million people there were living on the fringe of poverty and starvation. In our affluent society we have many cases of sadness and hardship, and the Government should do more to relieve- the situation than it is doing.
The Government’s legislation in respect of sheltered workshops should go much further. At Cessnock, in my electorate, public spirited people are establishing a sheltered workshop. This will relieve the burden of parents having to look after mentally and physically retarded children who remain at home all day and who cannot be gainfully employed. It is tragic that public spirited citizens should have to cadge or sell raffle tickets in the streets in order to get sufficient money to finance this sheltered workshop especially when the Government is pouring SI, 000m annually into defence, and is engaging in particularly heavy expenditure on its participation <n the Vietnam war. It should be completely unnecessary for people to have to cadge in order to establish sheltered workshops. These public spirited citizens should be highly commended for their efforts and the Government should do its utmost to relieve them of the embarrassment of having to cadge to establish something that should be wholly and solely the responsibility of the Government and in respect of which the cost should come from Consolidated Revenue.
At present young mentally retarded people who are unable to secure employment are deprived of social service benefits because it is alleged that they have been on the unemployment list for too long. Two such cases in my electorate were brought to my attention last weekend. They had been taken off social services because they had been out of work for three years. They are definitely mentally retarded and I could not imagine any employer, unless he were an extremely charitable person, engaging them. This places a heavy burden on their pensioner parents. They are unable to get work. There seems to be no half-way house in this situation. These persons do not qualify for an invalid pension because they are not 85% totally and permanently incapacitated.
– They are unemployable.
– That is so. They are virtually unemployable, as the honourable member states. I believe that strong action should be taken against the no-hopers, loafers or vagrant types who are too lazy to work, but the mentally retarded person who is unemployable should receive greater consideration from the Department of Social Services before his social service benefits are discontinued, particularly if his parents are pensioners or are on the low income level. I hope that the day is not far distant when the Government will yield to the requests of the Opposition and remove the means test from the social service legislation. I hope, too, that the Government will see fit to sponsor or financially aid the worthy organisations that are conducting Meals on Wheels and thereby helping unfortunate age pensioners who are in indifferent health. Meals on Wheels should be subsidised and given greater encouragement by the Government for the great work that is being done.
I hope that the Government will consider the many anomalies pointed out by the Opposition in the social services. There are strong pockets of poverty in Australia and these should not be permitted in such affluent times. We know that poverty breeds wealth and that wealth, in turn, breeds poverty. The earth to form the mould is taken out of the ditch, and whatever may be height of the one is the depth of the other. I hope that the Government will try to relieve the hardship of many unfortunate people in our community today and will implement some of the suggestions put forward by the Opposition.
– 1 rise to support the Bill and to oppose the Opposition’s amendment. The honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) spent his time in changing from one topic to another. In one breath he criticised the Government on the ground that it had failed, according to him, to increase the benefits of persons now entitled to the pension; in the next breath he criticised the Government because it did not further liberalise the provisions for eligibility to pension entitlements. Throughout its years in office, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Government has kept the needs of both groups in the forefront of its considerations. It has managed to grant benefits to a wider field of eligible persons, and at the same time it has increased the real benefits available to those eligible.
The Bill before us includes two major amendments to the Social Services Act, the effect of which will be to make more comprehensive the already extensive social service programme which has been largely developed by the Liberal-Country Party governments which have been in office since 1949. Of the two major amendments to which I refer, one introduces a novel benefit to provide qualified disabled persons not only with security but also with a sense of purpose and a feeling of usefulness. The other results in a major liberalisation of the means test. It is to the proposal for the liberalisation of the means test that I primarily wish to direct attention.
In 1960 the Menzies Government removed from the means test the severe penalty that it had imposed upon the thrifty. Before that time there were separate tests applicable to income and to capital. The effect was to place a person who had saved capital to provide for his old age at a considerable disadvantage as against another who had provided for his old age by contributing to a superannuation fund from which he received an annual income after retirement. Those who had made provision for old age by direct personal savings could become eligible for a pension only if they re-arranged their affairs by using all their savings to purchase an annuity providing them with not more than $14 a week during the joint lives of the annuitant and his wife and $7 a week during the life of the survivor. If, as was often the case, such an annuity did not require the expenditure of all their savings, the amount by which the balance exceeded $400 in .the case of a single pensioner caused a reduction in pension entitlement at the rate of $1 for each $10 of assessable assets. It was also reduced by $1 for each $1 of assessable income over the specified limit.
The merged means test is based upon the proposition that at the age of sixty-five a man may purchase an annuity or an income for life of $1 a year for a capital payment of $10. After the introduction of this test a person of pensionable age who had accumulated personal savings was given a fair and just choice. He is now able to retain the assessable assets and if he has no assessable income his pension will not be affected unless those assets exceed under present law $3,640, or under the Bill now before the House $5,200, to which in each case can be added the totally exempt assets of $400; or he can purchase an annuity of $7 a week or, under the legislation now before us, $10 a week. In the former case his pension is not affected by his possession of assessable assets, whereas before the introduction of the merged means test it was. Indeed if he possessed assessable assets to the value of $3,640 his pension entitlement was reduced by $7 a week. If under the merged means test he chooses to retain these assessable assets in preference to purchasing an annuity or an income for life he will, if he is a prudent investor, find that the income derived from these assets is less than the annuity income which they would purchase. This is the price he pays for the retention and continued control of his assets. Prior to the introduction of the merged means test he had no real choice. He was immediately penalised by reduction in pension entitlement because of his retention of assets which had a value equal to or less than the capitalised value of permissible income under the income means test then operating.
The Government having thus introduced justice into the means test as it operates as between persons entitled to superannuation and other annuity payments and those who make direct personal savings, there are four ways in which the means test :an be liberalised. In making progressive steps towards the abolition of the means test, the test as it applies from time to time must be designed so as to avoid placing any burden on incentives. Indeed it should be designed to encourage personal responsibility whilst ensuring a basic minimum level of security. The four methods by which the means test may be liberalised are: Firstly, by increasing the categories of exempt assets and exempt income; secondly, by increasing the amount of income or means as assessed which, though not completely exempt, is permissible before full pension entitlements are affected; thirdly, by increasing pension rights and thereby extending eligiblity to part pension; and, fourthly, by making structural changes in the means test now being applied.
The permissible income or means as assessed could be categorised as totally exempt. The difficulty inherent in adopting such a course would be that the relationship between capital and income established by deeming $10 of capital to represent $1 per annum of income might be lost sight of unless exempt income were increased by $40 per annum to counter-balance the now exempt $400 worth of assets. By this Bill the Government proposes a liberalisation of the means test by the application of the second of the four methods to which I have referred, that is by extending the amount of income which, though not completely exempt, is permissible before full pension entitlement is affected, with a corresponding increase in the value of assessable assets which may be held in lieu of income. The Bill proposes to increase the permissible income of a single pensioner from $7 a week to $10 a week and to increase the permissible income of married couple pensioners from $14 a week to $17 a week. Corresponding increases are to be made on the property side of the test.
This Bill extends eligibility to part pension to persons now ineligible, and at the same time it makes many part pensioners eligible for full pension. All single part pensioners whose pension is reduced below full pension rates by $3 or less will become entitled to receive full pensions, while at the same time many single persons who are now not pensioners and whose means as assessed disqualify them from eligibility because those means exceed the present maximum limits by $3 a week or less will become entitled to a small part pension and, in time, to fringe benefits.
The third method of liberalising the means test is to increase pension rates, thereby increasing the number of persons eligible to receive part pensions. Rates of pension have been increased from time to time. The last increase was made during the last Budget session. Surely a Budget session is the time to make such increases. Increases in pension rates have taken care of the effect of inflation not only for those in receipt of full or part pensions at the time of the increase but also for those whose means as assessed are less than the permissible income plus the new annual rate of pension. Thus, if prior to the last Budget a single pensioner who had no assessable capital was receiving superannuation or wages at the rate of $19 per week, he would not have been entitled to any pension. As a result of the Budget increase in pension rates from $12 to $13 per week to take account of rising costs and to provide a real increase in the value of pensions, the person formerly ineligible became eligible to receive a pension of $1 a week and fringe benefits. The Government has a proud record in relation to the maintenance of and, indeed, improvement to the real value of pensions. I feel sure that the Government will jealously guard this record by introducing legislation to increase pension rates as and when the circumstances warrant it.
The fourth method of liberalising the means test involves making structural changes in the test now applied. Such a change is being made by this Bill in that it introduces a structurally different means test to be applied in determining the pension entitlement of those who will claim the new sheltered workshop allowance. The Minister in his second reading speech explained this new means test as follows:
The allowance will be payable at the rate of the invalid pension, plus allowances, and will be subject to the same means test except for earnings derived from employment in the workshop. In the case of an unmarried person the first $10 a week of workshop earnings plus-
This is the significant change - half the earnings in excess of that amount will be taken into account as income for means test purposes.
As the Government continues its policy of progressive liberalisation of the means test, I urge it to keep under constant review the needs of those who for the time being ate entitled to pension benefits and those who by the operation of the means test are excluded from pension entitlement.
In both respects, the record of the Government is a good one. It has fulfilled its responsibility of ensuring a basic minimum level of security and has, whenever possible, raised that basic minimum level. When it came into office the age pension was equal to 34.27% of the basic wage. In October 1966 the standard rate pension was equal to 37.6% of the basic wage. A rent paying single pensioner who was entitled to the supplementary allowance received pension and supplementary allowance amounting to 45.73% of the basic wage. Indeed, to make a true comparison account must be taken of the increased real value of fringe benefits that are now available to pensioners. Not only has the real value of pensions been increased but the means test has been liberalised. So after the passing of this legislation an even larger percentage of persons of pensionable age will be eligible for whole or part pensions.
In 1947, 37.46% of persons of pensionable age were eligible for pensions. In 1966, before this legislation was introduced, it was estimated that 53% of persons of pensionable age were eligible for full or part pensions. The liberalisation of the means test contained in this Bill will give encouragement to those who are interested in providing through pension funds for their retirement. The legislation will enable them to extend fund benefits to the limit of $17 per week for a man and his wife and $10 for single pensioners without the additional provision causing a dollar for dollar reduction in pension entitlement, unless the claimant has other assessable income.
If one studies the large number of government and semi-government sponsored superannuation funds and private superanuation schemes, one finds that built into many of them is a differential between hus- band and wife to provide for the husband and wife together to receive a benefit which is reduced on the death of one spouse to an amount which is more than one half of the total benefit. The extension of the amount of permissible income brought about by this Bill will to some extent complement this type of provision in superannuation funds.
In 1954 the permissible earnings of a single person represented 29.6% of the basic wage; this had fallen to 21.3% as at October 1966. The increase to $10 per week for a single pensioner restores the value of permissible earnings to those pensioners to 30.5% of the basic wage. So that people will be encouraged to provide for their own retirement, it is to be hoped that the relationship of permissible earnings to the basic wage will be kept under more regular review than has been the case in the past, so that those providing for retirement may do so at rates relative to the basic wage. I am sure that this would facilitate the co-ordination of private retirement schemes with the Government’s social security programme.
In addition to preserving the real value of both pension rates and permissible earnings, I hope that in its consideration of ways and means of liberalising the means test the Government will evolve a scheme which will contain incentives to all to provide for their own retirement. This view was supported and expressed in another way by Mr R. C. Gates in an article headed ‘Superannuation: Principles and Policies’ in the March 1965 edition of the publication ‘Superfunds’, when he said:
At the very least, however, society should look kindly on the attempts of the individual to spread his purchasing power over his life in a way that satisfies him best.
Until the economy can afford the abolition of the means test, let every endeavour be made to remove from it all aspects which stifle individual initiative. At the present time there is a wide area of circumstance where individual initiative and personal responsibility are discouraged by the operation of the means test. For many the means test is a burden on their incentive to continue working, to make direct personal savings or to make provision through pension funds.
For both social and economic reasons encouragement to remain in the labour force should be given. Much needed capital would be provided for Australia’s future development and expansion if more encouragement were given to the individual to make provision for his retirement. Any couple whose means as assessed exceed $17 a week but are less than $40.50 a week and any single pensioner whose means as assessed exceed $10 a week but are less than $23 a week, receive no greater benefit than if they had made a smaller provision. They are penalised dollar for dollar on the additional means within the range to which I have referred. If fringe benefits are taken into account there is no incentive to make greater provision than $17 a week, for husband and wife and $10 a week for the survivor unless savings can be made to provide pension rates significantly higher than $40.50 a week for husband and wife and $23 a week for the survivor.
It is most undesirable that those with a sense of personal responsibility to provide a supplement to the basic minimum level of security provided by the Government scheme should find, when endeavouring to integrate private provision for retirement, that for all practical purposes there is, in the case of many, a ceiling beyond which their thrift is discouraged by the means test. This discouragement could be removed by extending the operation of the new test now to be applied in determining entitlement of those employed in sheltered workshops. Age pensions could be made payable subject to the present means test except for earnings and income derived from approved superannuation funds, pension funds and annuity schemes. The permissible weekly income plus half such income in excess of that amount could be taken into account for means test purposes, or alternatively reduction of pension entitlement for means as assessed over permissible income could be at a rate less than a $1 reduction for each $1 of means as assessed over permissible income.
As a result of such structural changes in the test, men and women would be encouraged to participate in savings plans designed to spread income over their lives so as to avoid serious forced reduction in standards of living on retirement from the work force. Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend the Government for the progressive measures contained in the Bill as being part of a programme for the extension of our social security programme, and I hope that’ in the future we will see this progressive liberalisation of the means test continued, whilst keeping in mind the needs of those persons already receiving pension entitlements.
– I rise to support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly). I think that during the course of this lengthy debate most of the shortcomings of the Government and its sins of omission and commission have been dealt with, particularly with regard to the obvious confidence trick that was worked on the people of Australia in the Prime Minister’s policy speech before the last election.
– That is not right.
– It is.
– The honourable member did not read the policy speech.
– No-one reads the fine print in hire purchase contracts. The Prime Minister’s policy speech in several respects was on a par with those.
– That is a distortion.
– It is nothing of the sort. If the honourable member were to halt a hundred people in the street today and ask them to state their understanding of the Prime Minister’s policy speech they would say it promised equality for married couples under the means test.
– It was all spelt out in detail in the policy speech.
– The Minister may say what he likes, but that is the understanding pf the ordinary person in the street. Henry Lawson said in 1890:
They lie, those men who tell us,
For reasons of their own,
That want is here a stranger,
And that poverty’s unknown.
Sir, I intend to deal more specifically with the section of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Grayndler in relation to poverty, because poverty is the parent of the situation in which the people of Australia find themselves today. I am speaking of the pensioners, of course. The post-war boom has ended. It has been wei and truly written that the infrastructure, the base and the boom on which Australia has ridden in the last twenty years, thanks to the Chirpy Government, has ended, Sir Robert Menzies, the former Prime Minister, timed exactly the period of his exit and has left the growing social problems which now exist in our community to the present Government and its leader.
Poverty, of course, was hidden during the immediate post-war period. It was hidden by over-award wages and by overtime. We have now passed into a period of profitless prosperity when through the world as a whole we find that economic competition is increasing and that trade competition is becoming literally vicious. For that reason the people in Australia who were lulled into a false sense of security now find that they are really up against it. We have heard much of the great society in the United States of America, but that country is very different from Australia. The Americans equate success with virtue and failure with shame, but our traditions in Australia of egalitarianism and mateship I hope will provide something better for the people than success abounding or, the reverse, grinding poverty.
This is something that is to the disgrace of this Government. I do not necessarily include the present Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) in my strictures, because 1 think he is a young man of considerable sympathy. He can do no better than the allocation that is given to him by the Treasury, his own Party and the Government. Nevertheless in a country such as Australia we have reason to be ashamed of where we stand in relation to the rest of the world. The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) in his speech which he was not able to complete, quoted certain figures. He referred to expenditure on social services, and he included the total expenditure by the Federal and State governments. The honourable member pointed out that where Australia spent only 9% of its income on social services, a country such as Austria spent 17%. I am quoting from the World Bank ‘Atlas of Per Capita Production and Population’, an authoritative publication issued in September 1966. This shows that Australia’s gross national product per capita, in United States dollars, was $US1,730m a year. Yet we are exceeded in social service expenditure by such countries as Austria with SUS 1,020m, Finland with SUS 1,440m, Holland with $US1,260m, Norway with $US1,520m, Belgium with $US1,460m, and even Ireland with $US800m. That is the measure of where Australia stands in the world today, in the world social services league, if one could use that term. We have no reason to be proud of our present situation. This Government, or its former leader at least, never acknowledged poverty. As a matter of fact I thought the former Prime Minister rather regarded poverty as the deserved fate of the unindustrious Running through Liberal thinking is, unfortunately, a deep contempt - the Puritan ethic, if you like to call it that - for people who cannot achieve a modest degree of success in life. To Liberal Party members poverty is a nuisance, if possible to be swept under the carpet. If any social research worker wanted to describe poverty and misery in Australia correctly he could certainly get his material from a summary of the speeches made in this debate by supporters of the Government.
– That is a bit sweeping, is it not?
– I do not think so. I would say that the whole approach of this Government is on a par with that of a parish beadle under the Poor Law of a former generation in the United Kingdom. I represent an area where literally more wealth is produced and there is more grinding poverty than in at least any other industrial area in Australia.
– Of course, that is natural in industrial areas.
– It is not. The wealth is being produced there and the people are not getting a fair deal. There is serious industrial unrest in my constituency, and the root cause of it is nothing more or less than the paltry wage structure and the advantage being taken by the most powerful company in Australia - the seventh State of Australia - of the delays and frustrations facing the trade union movement under the present arbitration system. I want to cite a typical instance of poverty in my district.
I noted the remarks of the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Ian Allan), who recommended that people should save for the future, particularly for their old age. I have a letter which I am authorised to read out in full. It is from Mrs M. Jones, of 21 Keerong Avenue, Russell Vale, which is within my electorate. It is dated 21st March and is addressed to me. She wrote:
I may be wasting time and paper but at least I’ve got this off my chest. After being in Australia 12i years I realise now that we are not bettering our standard of living, but it is declining. Labourers aren’t human beings, just clock numbers. Without overtime, life is just an existence.
I am reading this letter to illustrate the situation, particularly as it applies to widows receiving the pension, and the expectation of such people securing employment in a district where conditions like this prevail. She continued:
My husband brings home $73 per fortnight, 3 of which he takes for his fares to work for the next two weeks. This has been going on for months now and there are men taking home less than this.
I interpose there to say that in a recent survey conducted in Melbourne it was considered that the poverty line was $33 a week. Yet the take home wages of the average unskilled steel worker in my constituency - and there are 14,000 of them - is no more than $33 a week, and that is after off-takes. Mrs Jones’s letter continued:
I wish the people who arrange this basic wage would try living on it, but they don’t even retire on it. I hear there’s going to be a raise of 40c. That will maybe put us in a higher income bracket and will go for tax. . . . I try to bring up my family in a decent way and make them good citizens but worry makes most people sick and bad tempered and spoils the home life. My husband doesn’t drink or smoke and we have no car. All I’m asking is that the men in Government and Industrial positions should stop and think if they could live an $70 a fortnight and still keep their pride and dignity, instead of sinking lower and lower. I owe four weeks rent and don’t know where to get it, till next pay day. If we get evicted I’ll just give up the struggle. My husband, daughter and son don’t know how I feel. We have no relatives here and I wouldn’t ask them in England, as we’ve always written and said what a great place Australia is, and the ordinary people the best in the world. But I do think in some ways, or some firms, the labourer is classed as an unwanted necessity. If things don’t get any better I am going to write to the people in England and give them a few facts, through the papers, to think twice about coming out. I went to work but had to give up through sickness. What a rat race life is. I wish my husband was a Member of Parliament.
Mrs M. Jones.
That letter is typical of the attitude at present of the people within my area. In contrast we have comment associated with a plan by the Government to construct modern flats for migrants. The President of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council said yesterday that a further three surveys had been started to assess migrant integration problems. He said that a national survey of returnees showed that few of them had sought assistance during their stay in Australia from welfare officers of the Department of Immigration. It was found that their reasons for returning to Britain were not primarily economic. That contradicts what Government opponents say, and I have heard thousands of people speak in similar terms. Yesterday there was a futher industrial stoppage and 14,000 men engaged in a heavy industry came out on strike, because that is the quickest way to get their demands met. They are acting in that way out of desperation. Trade union leaders do not lead men into making unnecesary sacrifices. They do not lead them to the slaughter. But they have no alternative, under” the present situation in my constituency.
Another typical case was reported in the Sunday Telegraph’ of 31st January 1965 when Mr Hurrell, Assistant National Secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia commented on the tales told to intending migrants in the United Kingdom by officers of the Department of Immigration and agents of the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. He said that this seemed very dishonest. He said that if he were offered $45 a week before leaving England he would expect to get it, but if these people wanted to be honest why did they not quote a wage of $37 a week, less tax, which is the guaranteed wage that a labourer earns. We can see the reflection of this situation on the number of naturalisations in my constituency.
-Order! I am finding it difficult to ascertain the relevancy of what the honourable member is saying to the Bill under discussion.
– I am speaking in support of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Grayndler. One of the matters mentioned in that amendment was that the Government should conduct an inquiry into poverty in Australia.
-I find there is little relevancy to the debate in what you are saying about immigration.
– I would like to develop this point. Within my constituency there are some 30,000 migrants but only 6,500 have sought naturalisation. I would say that of the remainder a good 80% are residentially qualified for naturalisation. When I have asked them why they have not become naturalised the answer in almost every case has been this: ‘We intend to go back to our country of origin. We have worked in Australia, and like Australia, but the social services are better in our country. You people here do not understand the meaning of social security.’
I want to mention another group of people who have not been dealt with in this debate. I refer to the retired mine workers who live in my constituency. In 1941 the New South Wales State Government passed legislation which set up a miners superannuation fund. Contributions were paid by miners and by employers. At the time the miners and their leaders thought that the millennium had arrived. But as the years went by and inflation reduced the purchasing power of the £1 and attacked the value of the money in the fund, it was found necessary to supplement the miner’s pension by the payment of an age pension when the man reached the age of sixty-five years. But the rub is this: Under the terms of the legislation these men have to retire at sixty years of age. Whereas they thought they were retiring to a position of relatively modest comfort, they now find that they are denied social services when they are compulsorily retired at the age of sixty years. They are denied any of the fringe benefits, in particular the benefits of the pensioner medical scheme. They are denied also the concessions which are given by most of the councils in New South Wales by way of reduced rates. This concession is given by the Council of the City of Greater Wollongong.
With the advent of a Liberal Government in New South Wales they found that the last increase in age pensions was denied to them until a fight was put up on their behalf. A trifling point was taken under certain miners superannuation legislation in New South Wales with the result that for a number of months the State Government refused these men the benefit of the increase. These men will be similarly affected in relation to the liberalisation of the means test. The S3 per week increase in the case of either a single or a married man literally will benefit the fund because as the Commonwealth benefit is increased the fund benefits will be reduced. No doubt another fight will have to take place with the government which is tampering with this fund. The Liberal Government of New South Wales has tried to reduce the amount the men receive, to alter the retiring age and generally to minimise the benefits which were intended by a Labor Government of a generation ago.
I have a letter here from Mr Timmins, the secretary of the retired mineworkers organisation in the Wollongong district in which he asks that the liberalised means test should be extended to retired mineworkers. The position in my constituency is that two and a half thousand retired coal miners are drawing a miner’s pension. Something needs to be done for these men because by statute they are placed in a much less favourable position than any other section of the community. They are forced to retire at sixty years of age and cannot qualify for an age pension until they reach the age of sixty-five. I ask the Minister to examine their position and on a subsequent occasion to give them some relief.
The Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) is going abroad today to discuss the export of our primary products. If we want any proof of our ability to feed our people, let us consider that we have in Australia about fourteen sheep and about three head of cattle to every person. At present we are giving handouts to all sorts of people - wheat farmers, sugar farmers and others. Practically every section of our rural industry is subsidised. We are running round in a dither looking for ways and means to get rid of our primary products. Something should be done to make concessions to the average pensioner. The diet of pensioners in this country in many cases is protein deficient. I do not know - 1 am subject to correction on this point - whether any inquiry has ever been instituted by a Liberal government into the plight of the pensioners. What has been done really to make a survey of their health? What has been done to make a survey of their standard of nutrition? What has been done to make a survey of their housing conditions? What has been done to make a real survey of their relationship to their children?
I think Mr Townley suggested in about 1953 that certain responsibilities attached to the children of pensioners to supplement in some way the income of their parents and thus alleviate their problems. If we look at the age groups concerned we find that the average man and woman who becomes eligible for an age pension at sixty-five years of age probably has a son or daughter who is forty, forty-two or forty-three years of age. That son or daughter in turn will be feeling the full impact of placing his or her family in life - of giving them a high school education and in some cases supplementing a scholarship to get them through a university. There will be no time in the whole cycle of the income of the son or daughter when he or she will be less able to assist the parents.
Let us take the case of a person seventy years of age who is in receipt of a pension. I remind the House that it was for this group that the Opposition, in its policy speech, promised to abolish the means test. This group would have been born at the end of the first great depression round about the middle 1890s. Men in this group would have been liable for war service in World War I. They would have come back and would have felt the full impact of another depression. They would have then experienced the inflation which followed World War II and which this Government did nothing to stop. Today these people would be in a worse position than any other seventy-year age group within the last thirty years. As usual the whole mentality of the Liberal Government is a very simple one. It is somewhat similar to that of the squire’s wife who seeks to supplement the local charities by taking her place at the church door on a Sunday morning and by standing over the squire’s tenants to make sure that they kick some thing into the bowl. That is precisely the mentality of this Government, and it is a standing disgrace. I would say that of all governments in the English speaking world this Government has less reason to be proud of its standard of social services and ils approach to poverty, hardship and suffering than has any other government.
– The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), who moved an amendment on behalf of the Opposition, played the same old record that we have heard him play in this House for many years. He often used his favourite phrase, saying that the Government stands condemned or that it should be condemned for its record in social services. He said that that was particularly so in relation to this measure, because it does not go far enough. Actually the real position is that over the whole range of social services the amount paid in social services at the present time represents a greater share of the national Budget and of national earnings than at any time when a Labor government was in office. I do not want to go into the details, because it is not necessary. Many speakers on this side have drawn a comparison between the position in 1949, when Labor was last in office, and the position now.
This Bill which will increase the national expenditure by about $13im a year dims to do two things, lt seeks to increase the permissible income of both the single and married pensioner and to increase their permissible property by $1,560. It provides also for a special allowance, instead of an invalid pension, for persons who are employed in sheltered workshops. There will be an extension of the number of people who will qualify for full pension rates. About 40,000 pensioners will be entitled for the first time to receive a full pension. In addition they will receive many concessions which are available to pensioners, such as a reduction in telephone rentals and radio and television licences. The Bill also allows people who will receive the pension to earn $3 a week more than they can earn at present. It is estimated that this will assist 100,000 people.
One of the amendments the Australian Labor Party has moved deals with a national inquiry into poverty. The Government is well aware that poverty does exist in this country. It is not possible to eliminate poverty completely, but I feel that the Government is very conscious of the fact that there is poverty in this country and that it is making every effort within ‘its power to eliminate poverty. I agree that many people in Australia, married people in particular, who have two or three children and who are earning less than, say, §2,400 a year must be having a very hard battle to get all the things that we expect in this society in which we have such a high standard of living. In spite of this, I do not think there is any necessity for a national inquiry. There are facts and figures relating to both income and expenditure available to the various government instrumentalities such as the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and so on. I feel that a national inquiry into poverty, like so many of the other national inquiries, would only absorb a great deal of time, cost a lot of money and then not be of much use in the long run.
The Labor Party says that there should be no discrimination between married and single pensioners. I do not agree with this opinion, and never have done. I think the single pensioner is entitled to separate consideration. I remember that the first meeting I ever attended as a member of Parliament was a meeting of the pensioners association. Those present were very strong in their belief that there should be a differential between married and single pensioners. I believe in this, also. I raised the matter from time to time during the previous Minister’s term of office and something was done about it just before he resigned. There is no question but that it is wrong to argue that single pensioners have to meet only half the expenses that married pensioners have to meet. Single pensioners need the same heating and lighting facilities, and their motor car expenses are the same as those of a married couple. Why should there not be a differential between the pension rate for single pensioners and that for married pensioners?
Another aspect of the Bill with which I am particularly pleased is the proposed increase in the permissible income of widows. This is another matter in which I have been extremely interested. Of course, any honourable member would be foolish to claim that he alone was responsible for any new measure that was introduced, but the Minister will recall that when I congratulated him upon being appointed Minister for Social Services the first thing I said to him - I was strongly supported by my wife on this occasion - was: ‘Please do something about the permissible income for widows during your term as Minister for Social Services’. I remind the House of that conversation because, believe it or not, it is true.
Now that widows who have three children can earn about $33.50 a week, their situation is much more realistic than it was. It was not at all to the credit of the Government that this position had not been altered between 1954 and last year. There was an improvement last year, and a further improvement is being effected now. Surely the widows are entitled to be able to provide for their children and themselves alt the facilities that a married couple would expect. They should be enabled to give their children adequate food and proper clothing and to rear them with a good sense of dignity. Indeed, they are probably even more entitled to do that than are married couples because they have lost their husbands.
Reference has been made to the abolition of the means test. There are points for and against the. proposition. The amount allocated to social services is approximately $815m out of a total Budget of $6,000m. Surely that is a reasonable proportion of the Budget to allocate to the various aspects of social services. It was estimated last year that the complete, abolition of the means test would cost $340m. That is a huge sum of money and I do not think this country can afford it at the moment. I am opposed at present to the abolition of the means test. I want to make it quite clear that. I do not think we can afford it. Until the productivity of this nation increases to such an extent that any money available for social services goes to the people who really need it, I will continue to oppose the abolition of the means test. I have always considered that the people who have been born with natura] advantages over other people should be prepared to pay to help those who have been less fortunate, mainly through no fault of their own.
It has been suggested that the people who drink, smoke and do what has been described by some people as wasting their money should not be entitled to receive a pension. I point out that the people who drink and smoke are contributing to the revenue of the country anyway, for they pay excise on their tobacco, cigarettes and liquor. If they were to stop drinking and smoking the Government would have to find other means of replacing the revenue now derived from excise.
Having commented on those few points, let me say how pleased I am to see some provision for people who work in sheltered workshops and some recognition of the determination of these people to help themselves to become useful members of the community, and to contribute to the production of the nation. The Government has a good record in the field of social services. I should still like to see some consideration given to the question of permissible income of widows, but, relating real money values to the social services setup at the moment, and comparing our record with the performance of the Labor Government, I firmly believe that what this Government has done in the field of social services stands far in front of any effort made by any Labor Government. I do not think the proposed amendments should be accepted. I certainly intend to vote against them and to support the Bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr Irwin) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– by leave - Mr Speaker, this Australia of ours is a vast island continent inhabited largely by people of British or other European stock and with a heritage of national freedom, personal liberty and the institutions of a British parliamentary democracy. But geographically we are part of Asia, and increasingly we have become aware of our involvement in the affairs of Asia. Our greatest dangers and our highest hopes are centred in Asia’s tomorrows. Already one Asian country has become established as the largest purchaser, in terms of money value, of Australian exports. The only military operations in which we are now engaged or in which we have been engaged since the Second World War are located in Asia.
It is a basic tenet of our national policy to live in friendship and understanding with our Asian neighbours, but the very word Asia’, while a convenient general description, is itself misleading. There are greater diversities of race, religion, tradition, appearance and national economic development to be found in Asia than in any other region on earth. These differences establish the importance of better knowledge of those amongst whom we live and the value of our friendship with them.
It was with these thoughts in mind that 1 set out recently to see at first hand more of the friendly nations I had not visited before, to meet their leaders and their people, to remind them where Australia stood in her friendships and to learn something of their own attitudes. I visited, in that order, Cambodia, Laos, Taiwan and South Korea in the course of a thirteen days tour. The circumstances of travel enabled me to have useful talks also in Singapore, Hong Kong and Manila, and at a fuelling stop-over in Okinawa, an island of strategic importance in the Second World War, I was able to see the considerable defence base which is still maintained there. I returned heartened by the reception which I and my official party received. I was greatly encouraged by the warm and kindly spirit in which Australia has been accepted as a good neighbour and a good friend.
Our place in Asia is no new discovery, but its significance has become heightened for us over recent years. The nations which I visited are ancient lands with rich and colourful histories. Some of them trace their histories back 4.000 to 5,000 years. For some time I have felt that great benefits were to be won by a more personal demonstration of our nearness and our interest. In recent months my colleague, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck), has visited the same countries. In the last two years joint parliamentary delegations also have travelled to them. The sum of our knowledge as a people is growing and is assisted by the reporting in the Australian Press and on radio and television around visits such as that which I have just accomplished. So is our knowledge as members of this Parliament. My own visit was part of the pattern we are developing and as head of the Australian Government I sought to underline the warm and genuine interest we have in the security, progress and prosperity of the countries of the Asian and Pacific area.
It was, incidentally, the first visit of an Australian Prime Minister to each of these four countries and my third journey as Prime Minister to the area. I hope that there can be two-way traffic in personal exchanges, and my Government will welcome visits to Australia, as opportunity offers, of leading public personalities from these and other countries of the region. Our interest in Asia is deep. It must be developed and it must be permanent, for my Government and I believe that Asia is now the crucial area of the struggle to preserve the values of independence, liberty and social justice for which we have previously fought in two global wars. I believe also that it offers bright prospects, if peace can be secured and maintained, for spectacular economic progress.
I believe that for all the shift and change in the world, none is more important to us in Australia than the shift of international tensions from Europe to Asia. We have to be active on several fronts - on the armed frontiers where we stand in support of a small country and with a great ally and other friendly forces against aggression; on the frontiers of progress to a better life for the emerging nations of Asia; and on the frontiers of our culture and theirs - for it is by these things, too, that we know each other better and learn, as different people with diverse interests, to live peacefully together.
There is, of course, a continuing preoccupation with the course of the war in Vietnam. This was a central point in most of the talks I had with the statesmen of these Asian nations. My first persontoperson talks were in neutral Cambodia with Prince Sihanouk, leader of 6i million people, whose country is bordered by Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. The long history of the nations of Indo-China has been beset with difficulties. This helps us, I think, to understand Cambodia’s determined neutrality. There has been the long struggle to preserve the Khmer race with its own traditions and cultures. The North
Vietnamese and the Vietcong at times transgress Cambodian borders for military purposes - to move men and supplies to their forces and, at other times, when they are driven back by the fighting in South Vietnam. But Prince Sihanouk asserts that he resents the intrusion of any foreigners and he insists that he would resist and use force to remove any alien force which continued to occupy Cambodian soil.
Australia and Cambodia, to quote Prince Sihanouk, exercise different options in their foreign policies. His friendly attitude to us is clearly not based on an identity of views on political and other questions. Because he opposes any foreign intervention in the affairs of Cambodia, he opposes any foreign intervention in the affairs of Vietnam or, for that matter, anywhere else. He feels that the people of Vietnam as a whole should resolve their differences, however tragic and bloody the process might be.
We differ on these points. We joined with others in resisting aggression in two world wars. We have long been committed to an intervention in response to an appeal for help against Communist aggression, and we believe also that the Vietnamese should choose in a democratic way how they should live and who their leader should be. We nominate nobody in advance of the event. But these differences, I am happy to say, and as I found, are differences, although important differences, among friends. In simple terms the Prince says that he has had friendship from Australia and he gives friendship in return. This is why he accepted Australia as the channel between Cambodia and the United States of America when diplomatic relations between those two countries were severed, and why we act in the same way for him in South Vietnam.
Prince Sihanouk is a popular leader and takes an enlightened view of Cambodia’s domestic needs. He has a vigorous programme of economic development, and his administration has happily married the practical and the aesthetic with modern buildings having imaginative aspects. At Sihanoukville a modern port and town, largely created as a product of his own inspiration, have been hewn out of the seaboard jungle in a few years and have given Cambodia a strategic water supply route formerly confined to the Mekong, which passes through territory he would regard as hostile with its unsettled surroundings.
I mention these things in passing as a reminder that though this neutral country lives uneasily in the shadow of war. it is concerned, as we are, with programmes to improve the lot of its people. We found there a lively enthusiasm to make a better life. There lie opportunities for Australia to continue to express her friendship in practical ways. It was perhaps significant that, although Cambodia retains a ban on the journalists of many countries, this was waived in the case of the large party of Australian journalists which accompanied me. They, too, found the reception cordial, and said so, through the president of the Press Gallery, Mr John Bennetts, in a special message of thanks to Prince Sihanouk. Each gesture like this adds something to the mainstream of our effort. I carried no brief for other nations in Cambodia, or the other countries 1 visited, and I hope the sum of all I said in many frank and friendly talks helped to underwrite the independence of our thinking and our policy-making.
In Laos, also neutral and also welldisposed I had significant discussions with the Prime Minister. Prince Souvanna Phouma, and King Sri Savang Vatthana, and other Ministers. I learned that, as on my last visit to Thailand, I was the first Prime Minister or Minister from any country to bc invited to attend a meeting of the Cabinet.
This small, land-locked country is struggling to preserve its neutrality. This is threatened only by North Vietnam which maintains more than 20,000 regular combat troops on Laotian soil to guard the supply route to the battle areas in South Vietnam. As Prince Souvanna Phouma himself said at the General Assembly of the United Nations in October 1966: ‘ft is no longer a secret to anyone that entire North Vietnamese battalions are operating in our country’. He also said: ‘The Ho Chi Minh trail over which foreign troops and weapons pass is in our territory’. The prince claims that the Pathet Lao has no base of popular support, is not prominent in military operations, and has no substantial political significance. I quote a passage from his talk with me. He said: ‘If we kill an enemy soldier, we find he is a North Vietnamese; if we wound one, he is a North Vietnamese; if we take one prisoner, he is a North Vietnamese. But if the North Vietnamese make some military gains, then the Pathet Lao move in like a lot of crows.’
Laos, due not to lack of enlightenment but largely to the aggression it has had to withstand, is poor and underdeveloped. With peace, I am sure Laos could make substantial progress. I assured its leaders that Australia will continue to make its contribution to the economic development of Laos and the stability of its currency through our contribution to the Foreign Exchange Operations Fund. I was assured, not only by the Laotians but by our Ambassador there, that this is the most valuable way in which we can give practical help at present - by helping to stabilise and strengthen the currency. I also assured the Laotian Government that it had our sympathy and support in its resistance to attacks on its sovereignty, its territorial integrity and its neutrality.
This completed the first half of my tour which embraced the non-aligned countries. I went then to Taiwan and South Korea, both aligned with the United States in relation to events in Vietnam.
In the Republic of China I had frank discussions with President Chiang Kai-shek, as well as with the Vice-President, Prime Minister Yen and other Chinese Government leaders. The island under its present Government is stable and prosperous. There is an air of vitality in what is being done and obvious evidence of economic progress. It is a going concern and is no longer receiving American aid. I was also glad to find the Republic of China strengthening its position internationally by its active participation in the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, the Asian Development Bank and the Asian and Pacific Council. Members of the Government see good prospects of a substantial growth in trade between our two countries. President Chiang expressed his admiration and that of his Government and people for the stand we had taken over Vietnam and for the significant military aid we were giving. 1 was impressed by the lead the Republic of China is giving in the field of overseas aid, especially in a number of African countries. Technical advisers as well as persons to work in the fields with the Africans have been successful in a number of African countries in demonstrating how agricultural productivity, particularly in rice growing, can be increased. I was told that in some instances production had actually increased tenfold as a result of this technical assistance.
I also had opportunities for frank and informative discussion on internal developments on the mainland of China. Living so close to mainland China, receiving refugees and defectors from the mainland, the Government of Taiwan has access to useful information and intelligence on the present complex situation on the mainland. The establishment of an Australian mission in Taipei last September, which was warmly welcomed by the Republic of China, should help the Government in its quest to acquire more information about developments in mainland China.
Despite some predictions to the contrary, neither our trade with mainland China nor our recent decision to accord diplomatic recognition to Outer Mongolia were raised in official discussions. I did, however, have occasion to refer to the latter question when asked at a Press conference in Taipei. I explained at that Press conference that this was an Australian decision and that it was of value to the Republic of China to have a country like Australia, making its own decisions on the merits it saw in particular circumstances, generally supporting the position of the Republic of China in other areas.
In Korea there was much I found impressive. The Republic has strength, is democratic, stable and going ahead. It has made a good recovery from the ravages of war in the early 1950s when it was a victim of Communist aggression. Australian assistance in resisting that aggression is gratefully remembered and has laid an enduring foundation for the warm friendship Which undoubtedly exists between our two countries. On the evening I arrived in Seoul I drove through what was estimated as half a million welcoming and obviously friendly people lining the streets. The size and warmth of the welcome were exemplified by one Australian flag I saw which hung the full length of seven storeys on one building. This amazing welcome was a measure of the regard in which Australia is held in Korea. When I visited the industrial centres of Pusan and Ulsan in the south it was moving to see thousands of people in total standing in heavy rain in small groups in the villages en route to wave a friendly welcome as our party passed.
At the United Nations cemetery at Pusan where one grave in six is that of an Australian the thought was deeply with me that those who had given their lives in this country had done so for a good cause. The present free and progressive society in South Korea is the outcome of that sacrifice. Members from this Parliament who have been to this country, no matter on what side of this House they sit, will confirm the friendliness of the people and the progress that they are. making. A 20-minute helicopter flight from Seoul took me to an observation post on the border of the Han River where the demilitarised zone begins.
Across the river literally a few minutes jet flying time from Seoul, the capital of the country, Communist strongpoints were established and could be seen. The people of the Republic of Korea have this everpresent reminder of the continuing Communist threat to their national independence and their separation from a significant part of their former territory and their kinsmen. It is not surprising in the circumstances that their armed forces totalling more than 600,000 should rank amongst the bravest, the toughest and the best trained in the world. On this border a marine group gave a demonstration of their methods of unarmed combat. Tae kwon do they call it. It is the forerunner of karate adopted in Japan. I saw men with their bare hands smash building bricks and thick wooden pieces. I tested the objects myself and there was no doubt that they were genuine. They were able to achieve these feats with their bare hands. One fellow did it with his forehead; others did it with their elbows.
– The Prime Minister should have tried his forehead.
-4 think- that the thickest heads in the Parliament are on the Opposition side, but even they would have had some difficulty in accomplishing this feat of toughness and endurance.
While in Korea I had profitable exchanges with President Park and Prime Minister
Chung. As comrades in arms in Vietnam we reaffirmed our resolve, proclaimed at the Manila Summit Conference in October 1966, to continue our efforts until aggression ceased and an enduring settlement had been reached which respected the wishes and aspirations of the Vietnamese people. We agreed that the Vietnamese Government should be a full participant in any negotiations to end the conflict and that the nations which have contributed to the defence of Vietnam should also participate. We cannot, of course, lay down in advance what form this might take.
I believe the remarkable progress evident in Korea is of relevance to Vietnam and gives us hope, by its example, that beyond the clouds of war there is a horizon of peace, political stability, social justice and economic advancement.
I comment now briefly on the attitudes to our position in Vietnam as they were given to me at various points in my tour. In both Taiwan and Korea there was strong support of the stand we have taken in Vietnam. In Laos, there was understanding of our action and in Cambodia, which has publicly expressed its opposition to United States policy in Vietnam, I was able to confirm that our own policy towards Vietnam and our actions in that country have not damaged the good relations which exist between Australia and Cambodia. As I said earlier. Cambodia bases its attitude to us on a principle of reciprocity: if we are friendly to it and behave as a good friend to it Cambodia is friendly and behaves as a goood friend to us.
Generally, I am reinforced in my judgment that Australia is not - as is sometimes alleged by critics of my Government - damaging its image in Asia because of our action in respect of Vietnam. Many countries in the region publicly support our position. Others have expressed, in private, understanding of our reasons for our participation in Vietnam. To speak of Asian opinion in this context as though there was a general view prevailing throughout Asia is totally misleading. As I have said earlier Asia, except as a geographical description, is a practically meaningless term. Each country in Asia has its own identity, its own policies, and its own views on Australia’s actions in Vietnam or, for that matter, anywhere else.
One of the things which impressed me on this visit is the degree to which national identities and national cultures are flowering and being rediscovered, following the end of the colonial era. I have now visited Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Each of the countries visited has its own quite different language, its own national culture, and its own identity. It is not very long ago that Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos were all grouped together by their colonial administrators as Indo-China. We must, while the war drags on, be vigorous in our planning for peace. We put roots down a long, long time ago with the Colombo Plan, and as I moved from country to country I saw something of what we were doing.
In Cambodia, Government leaders spoke highly of the value and effectiveness of -Australian aid. Prince Sihanouk personally gave to the hydrographic survey vessel we presented, which is doing such valuable work in the harbour of Sihanoukville, the name ‘Khmer-Australie Amitie’ - or, in our language, ‘Cambodian-Australian Friendship’. In Laos, Prince Souvanna Phouma expressed his profound gratitude for what he referred to as ‘the positive and constructive’ aid given by Australia.
In South Korea, I saw the contribution which we were making to Korean technical progress through the supply of machine tools and other equipment to Yong San Technical School.
Generally, I formed the impression that our aid programmes in these countries, though modest, have proved valuable and effective. One of the reasons for this is that our aid is all in the form of grants. It is given without strings - with no conditions. It usually takes a highly practical form of identifiable items or of the technical assistance given by Australian personnel. Aid-receiving countries accept that we see the raising of Asian living standards as a desirable end in itself, and not simply a means of making gains in the cold war. Communist countries which attack the giving of aid by Western nations as a form of neo-colonialism are themselves seeking to deny these countries the assistance which the countries need to progress and develop. By their attacks they would perpetuate an economic and social backwardness from which those in need of aid hunger to free themselves.
We should not be deceived by Communist jargon. So when they talk of neocolonialism they tend to mask their own efforts to bring newly independent countries under their own direct sphere of influence. When they talk of wars of national liberation, they abuse the English language in that the wars they have in mind are in essence both anti-national and opposed to genuine liberation. Again, they seek the establishment of docile Communist regimes under this slogan.
We are not opposed to the social revolution which has been taking place and is continuing in South East Asia. This social revolution reflects long suppressed yearnings for national identity, social betterment, and economic progress. We seek these things for ourselves. What we are opposed to is the perversion of the forces of social revolution in Asia to establish through indirect pressures, through subversion, through insurgency, through terrorism and aggression, Communist regimes which are neither sought nor wanted by the majority of the people in the countries concerned.
What results can fairly be claimed from this journey? I believe my visit has contributed to the consolidation of our relationships with each of the four countries concerned. I believe it has strengthened our stature and influence with the four governments with whose leaders I conferred. Moreover, it has given added backing to our diplomatic effort in Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Taipei and Seoul.
I believe the visit was of value to me personally in an educational sense. I feel I now have a greater understanding in depth of the problems which affect us in each of the four countries, just as I feel that they now have a greater understanding of us. Knowledge strengthens understanding and understanding strengthens friendship. I believe that thanks to an excellent coverage by Press, radio and television, these countries and their problems and potentialities have become better known to the Australian people. I believe that, through my visit, further progress has been made along our chosen path of securing the acceptance of Australia by the countries of the Asian and Pacific region as a co-operative and useful member of the region.
I visited two countries which are closely allied, like ourselves, with the United States of America, and two countries which seek to preserve a status of neutrality. Our relationships with other countries are not determined solely on the basis of whether they are allied with us. We accept diversity. In our search for a stable, secure Asian region, growing in economic prosperity, we promote the closest relations with Asian allies in collective defence organisations. But we also seek to promote the best possible relations with countries which have chosen the path of neutrality. We support and seek to uphold the national integrity of all countries in the region. And beyond this, we look to a future settlement with mainland China without which there can be no lasting peace in Asia.
The success of my visit to these four countries, the warmth of my reception in each one of them, and the genuinely friendly attitude towards Australia which I discovered, are due in some measure to the years of patient effort put into developing personal contacts with these countries through the efforts of the Department of External Affairs and our diplomatic representatives in the area. I cannot speak too highly of those who, sometimes under arduous conditions and at times conditions of danger, represent Australia in such a dedicated manner in these countries. It is a matter of some pride to me, and a measure of the focus of our interest in the. Asian region, that with the establishment of our embassy in Taiwan last year, we are now represented in every independent country in the Asian and Pacific region which we recognise, except Mongolia, which we have only recently recognised.
There has been silly comment in some quarters to the effect that in undertaking journeys of this kind I am, in some way, usurping the role or functions of the Minister for External Affairs. This is nonsense. The Prime Minister as head of his Cabinet has an important responsibility for the foreign policies of his Government and its relations with other countries and the view held of his own country by them. A government’s foreign policy is no more divisible from the central problems of government policy-making than its domestic policies.
In some countries, the Prime Minister holds the portfolio of foreign affairs; in others, the Minister for Foreign Affairs tends to be not much more than an echo of the views of his head of state or Prime Minister. In Australia, the position is much more closely identifiable with that of the United Kingdom where it is customary to find a strong personality holding the foreign affairs portfolio, capable of interpreting articulately the foreign policies of his Government, negotiating for it, and holding meetings at the highest level. This situation has never excluded journeys or attendances by the Prime Minister on occasion, sometimes accompanied by his Foreign Minister, sometimes not. My own overseas journeys during my term of office have principally been of an educational kind, with the added objective of establishing personal relations with heads of government in other countries. On the only two occasions when I have attended conferences, both conducted at a level of heads of government - the Prime Ministers Conference in London and the Manila Summit Conference - I arranged for the Minister for External Affairs to accompany me.
In the modern world where international contacts tend to proliferate, a Foreign Minister is busily occupied throughout the year. Our own Minister for External Affairs has personally represented us at meetings of the United Nations, of SEATO, of ANZUS, of ECAFE and of ASPAC, and at the conference establishing the Asian Development Bank, as well as accompanying me to the conferences I have mentioned and conducting many discussions on visits to many countries in Asia, Europe and North America at Foreign Minister and, indeed, higher levels. I believe that our activities have usefully supplemented those of each other in our respective spheres.
There has been another purpose in my own journeyings, and that is to focus public attention in the countries visited on Australia’s viewpoints, and also to build a better informed Australian knowledge and opinion about countries - some of them little known - of special importance and interest to us. As the size of the Press parties accompanying me on my own tours would confirm, there is, by virtue of the office of Prime Minister, a more concentrated and wider public notice taken of a visit by a head of government than by any of its other members. We know from our own experience that delighted as we are to receive a visit from a Foreign Minister, or a Finance Minister or a Trade Minister, there is an even greater interest in the visit of a head of government or head of state. This is one of the well-recognised facts of political life. Undoubtedly, my own visits have brought Australia more prominently under notice in each of the countries I have visited and have helped to make those countries better known here at home.
We Australians can count ourselves fortunate to have a Foreign Minister of the experience, intellectual quality and sagacity of our present Minister. He not only enjoys the full confidence and respect of his colleagues of the Government and of the Government Parties, but I can vouch from personal knowledge that he is held in the highest regard by his opposite numbers wherever he moves. His job is made no easier nor are Australia’s interests abroad advanced by stupid comment of the kind to which I have referred.
No account of this journey would be complete without my thanks to the very able team of officials who accompanied me, to our medical adviser, who so promptly attended to the minor disorders which affected most of us in what was a very strenuous tour through a variety of climatic conditions, to the aircrews whose skill invariably brought us to a happy landing, and to the large Press party which assisted our general purposes by a coverage that was, generally speaking, fair, factual and comprehensive. I publicly say my thanks, also, to my wife, who made her own distinctive contribution to the success of the tour. There must be thanks, also, to all our hosts, whose hospitality we shall always remember with appreciation, and which we shall find it difficult to emulate.
There is no shadow of doubt in my mind that this was a valuable journey for Australia. The Prime Minister of South Korea summed up the visit as an important milestone in the history of the relationship between our two countries. I believe that can be said of all the four countries visited, and I hope this will be the judgment, also, of this Parliament and the Australian people.
– by leave - My statement will be on the main subject matter of the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr
Harold Holt). The final and the fullest part of his statement was directed to what he described as silly and stupid comments about the respective roles of himself and the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck). He is anticipating criticism on this score which nobody was prompted to offer. At least we may hope that in that passage the Prime Minister has brought peace of mind to his Minister even if he has not in any other part of his statement assisted in bringing any peace to this region.
As a result of the Prime Minister’s visit Australia is better known in the four countries he surveyed. His Government is better regarded by the governments of each of those countries. Australians know more about each of those countries. However, do Australians really know any more about the Prime Minister’s attitude to those countries, or about the efforts he intends to make on behalf of Australia in the future? The Prime Minister was always the perfect guest in each country he visited; he responded to the known, and expressed, views of the government of that country. In fact, he endorsed them. In Cambodia, for instance, he supported the Government’s policy on neutrality. He emphasised Australia’s respect for neutralist policies in Cambodia. At least in his public statements in that country he scarcely mentioned Vietnam. After the scorn so often poured by himself and his predecessors on neutralism, this represented a change of attitude. But was it a real change of policy or merely a matter of saying the right thing in the right place?
The next port of call was Laos. There he spoke of his Government’s support for the neutralist solutions which followed the 1962 Geneva Accords. At the next stop he said he was not embarrassed by the British Government’s refusal to send troops to Vietnam. But where did he say this? It was in Hong Kong. Worried, however, lest some might think his statements in Laos and Cambodia showed any weakening, he reverted to his old ways in Hong Kong and proceeded to denigrate U Thant’s peace proposals.
Then he went to Taiwan, and while there he was always careful to refer to it as the Republic of China. Elsewhere on his visit, and elsewhere in his speech tonight, he referred to Taiwan by that name, not as the Republic of China. Having been warmly praised in reports sent back to Australia for his sympathetic understanding of Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia and Prince Souvanna Phouma in Laos, the Prime Minister now won praise for his sympathetic understanding of Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan. The Prime Minister emphasised the way Australia had supported Taiwan in the United Nations.
In Korea he escalated to the more familiar cold war cliches about ‘Communist terrorism and aggression’, ‘free people and free forces’. After all, Seoul was a week away from Phnom Penh. Would he have spoken in the way he did in Taiwan and Korea if he had still been in Laos or Cambodia? For each country he had a different speech. We all knew that the Prime Minister was an urbane and courteous man, but politeness is no substitute for policy.
Let me refer again to the neutralist attitudes in the first two countries I have mentioned. Not long ago the Prime Minister’s predecessor, who the Prime Minister correctly points out never visited any of these countries, and the Minister for External Affairs were constantly emphasising the fact that Cambodia and Laos were not prepared to stand up and be counted, that they were dragging the chain, that they were wanting in moral fibre and that they were not contributing to the cause of the free world. Now Prince Sihanouk and Prince Souvanna Phouma have been asked to visit Australia. This would never have happened a few years ago. Again I ask: Has there been a real change or is it merely courtesy? lt is important to recall the attitudes expressed by Mr Casey, as he then was, and Mr Menzies, as he then was, about those countries, because their misjudgment, their misdescription and their misconception of the attitudes of Cambodia and Laos go far to explain the mistakes which we made about the other successor state in the former French Indo-China - that is Vietnam.
The Government used to condemn, despise and disparage the whole idea of neutralism. In 1959, when Lee Kuan Yew was elected Prime Minister of Singapore, our representative there refused to call on him because he regarded him as a dangerous extremist and reported him back to Australia as .being perhaps proCommunist. Now he is a distinguished Prime Minister and the Australian Government is relieved that he has been able to restrain Communist pressures in his island stats. The Government was wrong then about Singapore. It it more likely to make correct evaluations and judgments about Vietnam now?
In Laos, before the Geneva Accords of 1962, the United States of America, -and accordingly Australia, opposed Prince Souvanna Phouma. The United States was instrumental in seeing that he was displaced from power and in securing a successful coup d’etat against him. Again he was regarded as being a dangerous person, potentially a Communist supporter. But in 1962 the Kennedy administration encouraged the reinstatement of Prince Souvanna Phouma, although not in as strong a position as before he was displaced. Subsequently the neutralist solution which included the Pathet Lao in government has worked not altogether badly in Laos. The Prime Minister now admits that the Australian Government was wrong in regard to Laos before 1962. He said, when addressing Prince Souvanna Phouma in Vientiane:
We are confident that under your leadership your country will grow in strength. We respect the neutrality which is the official policy of your Government. We accept the 1962 Geneva Accords and have respect for them.
After professing for years that Cambodia was lacking in moral fibre, now the Prime Minister takes pride in describing the friendship between that country and Australia, despite differences in policy. What the Prime Minister has not said is that relations between Australia and Cambodia are due as much as, if not more than, anything else to our present and immediate past ambassadors in that country.
– Not a word.
– Yes, I did - in my speech.
– The Prime Minister praised the Diplomatic Service in general, but the present and preceding ambassador received very little encouragement from Canberra.
– I have a very high opinion of Mr Deschamps and think he has contributed notably to the good relations between our two countries.
– He has. I appreciate the Prime Minister saying it now. And his predecessor, the right honourable gentleman might add.
– Our ambassador has achieved this in spite of the previous lack of enthusiasm by the Government. The Prime Minister properly expresses his admiration for him now. He says that Cambodia and Laos understand some of our attitudes to Vietnam. But neither of those countries has ever expressed, or is likely to express, approval of the extreme means which we support to carry on the war in South Vietnam and North Vietnam.
– Talk to the pressmen who interviewed Prince Souvanna Phouma.
– I have spoken to many people who have interviewed Prince Souvanna Phouma. It is true that he agrees with what the Prime Minister has said about the incursions of the North Vietnamese. But the Prime Minister has not proceeded to say how the Prince views overflights of his country by aircraft flying between Thailand and North Vietnam. Prince Souvanna Phouma condemns these in just as many places and in just as forthright terms.
Let me refer again to the precise terms used by the Prime Minister at the gala dinner given by Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia. He said:
We have complete respect for the national policies of neutrality, and non-alignment, which countries like Cambodia have adopted . . . diversity can become a source not of weakness but of strength.
Tonight the Prime Minister refers to differences - important differences. He says, in effect, that we agree to disagree. So there is a difference in the emphasis tonight; but again, of course, the audience is different. The basic question is this: Is there any real difference between the attitude of the Prime Minister and the Government to Cambodia and Laos now and the attitude they took before the visit? Was he expressing courtesy or conviction or merely extending courtesy when he spoke in those two countries?
The next point of call was Taiwan. The Prime Minister should never have visited Taiwan. He was responsible a year ago for extending our diplomatic representation to the Republic of China. This was a decision made by the Prime Minister himself, not on the advice of his Minister or the Department of External Affairs. He felt apparently he must justify that decision by visiting Taiwan. In further justification he now says that Taiwan serves a purpose as an intelligence centre, a listening post for mainland China. But in fact Hong Kong is a much better and a more reliable listening post for what goes on in China. I will admit that the Prime Minister avoided any contentious issues in that country. For instance, he said that ‘despite some predictions to the contrary neither our trade with mainland China nor our recent decision to accord diplomatic recognition to Mongolia was raised in official discussions’. These are matters of importance but they are contentious. Like a good guest, he does not mention ‘politics or religion in another man’s house’. To show the unreality and absurdity of the position in which he finds himself, I quote the following comment from the Melbourne ‘Age’, whose reporter was named in his address:
The Prime Minister’s plane headed north east to Hong Kong keeping a safe distance from the Chinese mainland.
As Mavis Bramston was moved to say: ‘Mr Holt saw China but did not recognise it’. The Australian Government is much more anti-Chinese and much less flexible on the Chinese question than the American Government. A month ago I quoted our record in the United Nations where the Italians moved to set up a study committee for this year’s General Assembly on the question of the admission of China. The Americans supported the proposal. But Australia opposed it. It was significant that at the time the Prime Minister was saying the appropriate things in the Republic of China - Taiwan - the Minister for External Affairs in Tokyo was saying:
Communist China could not be conquered and could not be bottled up. China has to come into world affairs, into the life of the world in which it ceases to be a cause of fear to its neighbours.
The Minister for External Affairs was clearly right. But did the Prime Minister express these views in Taiwan? In his speech tonight, however, he did say:
We look to a future settlement with mainland China, without which there can be no lasting peace in Asia.
Did the Prime Minister express this view when he was in Taipeh? Or was this another one of those indelicate subjects which he avoided in the presence of his hosts? The emphasis was different tonight, but then again so is the audience.
I pass to the question of Vietnam, which was freely mentioned in public statements in Taipeh and in Seoul. The Prime Minister told the Press before he departed that he did not expect he would be raising the subject of Vietnam and, as I see the transcripts of his addresses in Cambodia and Laos, scarcely referred to Vietnam. I admit that tonight in general terms he said that he did so.
– We did not talk for one and three-quarter hours about the state of the Prince’s health.
– But there is nothing in the Prime Minister’s speech tonight to show that he took the opportunity to explore the prospects for peace in Vietnam. In none of these four countries, taking different attitudes as they do, did he mention this question. As far as he is concerned it .is an open-ended war. In the two neighbouring countries, he did not discuss the possibility of peace. Does the Prime Minister doubt that Laos and Cambodia want peace in Vietnam, and that they would help to bring it about? However he did not refer to that in any of his speeches of which we have transcripts, and he did not speak about it tonight.
In its dealings with this question the Government always highlights the maximum that North Vietnam asks for, rather than seizing upon the most favourable and conciliatory statements that are made. The worst construction is always put on anything that comes from that source or from any of the secret talks that are said to take place. But the real attitude of the Prime Minister was shown most dramatically in his visit overseas in his comments on U Thant’s statements. When he was in Hong Kong the Prime Minister continued his war against U Thant. This is not the first attack he has made upon the SecretaryGeneral. Last January the Prime Minister attacked U Thant on his statement on the significance of South Vietnam to the security of South East Asia. He repudiated U Thant’s rejection of the domino theory. Last month
U Thant put forward new Vietnam peace proposals. The United States responded to them and endorsed them, but the Prime Minister and the Australian Government remained silent. Then when most recently U Thant made a further statement urging unilateral suspension of bombing in Vietnam the Prime Minister attacked him. Asked in Hong Kong about this the Prime Minister said: ‘We find no encouragement from our past experience to adopt such a course’. When the United States supports U Thant’s peace negotiations, the Australian Government hangs back. When, however, the United States repudiates a suggestion by U Thant, the Prime Minister is the first to support it. That is, the Prime Minister will never endorse U Thant, even when our greatest allies do so. But the Prime Minister is always among the first to denigrate him. There have been two occasions this year when he has taken this deliberate attitude to U Thant.
In Seoul the Prime Minister commented on the proposal for a truce on Buddha’s birthday on 23rd May next. The United States agreed to the proposal. Our Prime Minister said: 1 have no confidence that any suspension of the bombing of North Vietnam would produce an atmosphere of peaceful settlement of hostilities.
I am quoting from the ‘Australian’ of the 10th of this month. That newspaper proceeded:
Mr Holt, the Australian Prime Minister, seemed yesterday to be the odd man out in allied willingness to accept the truce.
Once again we have another -example of the Prime Minister’s hawkishness. It comes, significantly, in Korea. During his visit to Cambodia and Laos he might not have endorsed the proposal, but at least he would have remained silent about it; but in the more congenial climate of Korea he expressly rejected any such proposal. Clearly, the Prime Minister on this visit to these four countries has taken different attitudes in each of the countries. He could not have made the speeches he made in Taipeh and Seoul in Vientiane or in Phnom Penh and he would not have made the speeches he made in Vientiane and Phnom Penh in Taipeh or in Seoul. Has he reconciled his attitudes in his speech tonight? U Thant has made it quite clear that unless there is a unilateral cessation of bombing of the North then there is no hope for negotiations. The Australian Government should use its unique influence to this end instead of throwing its whole weight in completely the opposite direction. At the very least the Prime Minister should remain silent when there are any proposals for a cessation of bombing, but he always comes down firmly and expressly to repudiate such suggestions. Even when the United States supports the proposal for a cessation on Buddha’s birthday the Prime Minister disparages the suggestion. He will not back the United States when it shows any flexibility, approachability or malleability on this question.
All honourable members are familiar with the statements made overseas. In all the countries with which we compare ourselves views are forcefully expressed that some initiative should be taken for peace. These views have been expressed often enough in this country, but because we are engaged in hostilities it is regarded as unpatriotic to say here what can freely be said in other countries, including the United States of America and the Philippines. But here in Australia we dare not say it, or we are discredited if we try to say it. Fortunately, today in Australia the Catholic bishops released the statement that they prepared on this subject at their annual conference last week. They quoted, inter alia, what Pope Paul has said:
A settlement should be reached now, even at the expense of some inconvenience or loss, for it may have to be made later in the train of bitter slaughter and involve great loss.
The bishops themselves added:
As well as supporting and urging all reasonable initiatives for the restoring of peace all citizens must share the responsibility cif reviewing constantly the moral issues involved in the conduct of war.
There is no country with which we compare ourselves which will endorse all the methods being adopted in this war which we are condoning. Cambodia and Laos will not endorse these methods.
– North Vietnam?
- Sir, I am prepared to ignore the Taiwan lobby. This war is different from any war in which Australians have previously been involved. Australians have volunteered in their hundreds of thousands to fight in wars in the past, including the Korean War. There were as many Australian troops under United Nations auspices in Korea as there are in Vietnam now, and all of them were volunteers. Australians have engaged in wars of that character in well established causes. But the war in which we are engaged now is different. It affects civilians more than ever before. It affects women and children more than it affects the combatants themselves. By this time tomorrow more hundreds of men, women and children will have been killed in Vietnam.
Before most of us were born, before the First World War, at the Hague conventions the civilised nations of the world took steps to ameliorate the effects of war. Those nations were concerned with such things as poisoned gas and dum dum bullets. In more recent years the advanced nations have been trying to outlaw nuclear war, which is the least likely of all forms of hostility now; but we have become inured to possible bacterial and current incendiary warfare in a way that would have made our fathers and grandfathers squirm. Now, in this country, we are not sufficiently frank or honest or candid in discussing these matters which much of the rest of the world condemns. War is now concerned - to an extent which has never happened before - with scorched earth, scorched children and scorched civilians. In these matters, to quote the Australian bishops, we have to review constantly the moral issues involved in the conduct of War
The Prime Minister did not help to review the moral issues involved in this war while he was in any of the four countries. In fact, it may be said that in two of them he competed in endorsing some of these methods. It has been said - but I do not believe it - that the Korean Government does endorse all the forms of warfare that have been adopted. But certainly in Cambodia and Laos, the neighbours, the people close to China, the people next door to Vietnam, the Prime Minister did not take the initiatives he could have taken to review the moral issues in this war. He did not do this overseas. He has not done it tonight.
Debate resumed (vide page 1172).
– The Bill before the House is a good one though as concerns the means test it does not go as far as most honourable members would like. The highest commendation should be given for the decision to pay a special allowance to qualified disabled persons in sheltered workshops. However, this is not a review of social services. This Bill contains provisions which are an addition to what was done in the Budget session last year. The promise given by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in his policy speech - that the limit both on property and income within which pensions are payable to the aged, the invalid and the widows would be raised by $156 a year - is being put into effect at the earliest possible moment. The Government is to be commended in so doing.
The Opposition has taken a peculiar attitude to this Bill, as it has done with other bills giving some benefit to those Australians who are in need of assistance. It has moved an amendment the opening phase of which is: ‘Whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill, the House condemns the Government because it has failed . . .’; then it lists five clauses, four of which have no bearing on the Bill whatsoever. The fifth clause deals with the suggestion to making the benefits retrospective to 26th November 1966. That clause has some merit. I regret that the Government did not make the benefits payable under this Bill as from the Monday following the general election.
I cannot help but admire the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly). He is typical of the solid Labor Party member, a man who, most of us would agree, has always been sincere and genuine in endeavouring to improve the lot of those he represents, although we differ substantially from his views and believe that he has often pursued wrong ideas. The honourable member for Grayndler is one of the few remaining men of this type, which is a pity for the Labor Party and for the nation. He grew up with the Labor Party. He is not an opportunist. If other members of the Opposition were to emulate him instead of going out for self gain the Opposition would be much better and would offer much more constructive criticism than it is now doing.
Despite that, I have to oppose the amendment moved by the honourable member for Grayndler, especially the first part which says that the House should condemn the Government because it has failed to ‘eliminate the injustices of discrimination between the rates of married and single pensioners’, I cannot understand his attitude towards the extra payment that the single pensioner gets. I assure honourable members that the extra money was granted at the express request of the various pensioner organisations in Australia. I have been actively associated with age pensioners organisations for twenty-five years. I well remember how they made representations and implored the Government to grant extra pensions to single persons. Those of us who have been actively engaged in social work realise the necessity to grant this concession. Does the Opposition suggest we should withdraw this extra payment to single persons? No matter to what amount we raise pensions the need of the single pensioner is greater than that of a married couple. Those without any outside income should receive extra to meet expenses that fall more heavily on one person than on a married couple.
The Minister pointed out that under the existing means test there are 640,000 age pensioners in Australia, constituting 53% of all men and women in this country, qualified by age and residence for an age pension. In 1949, the last year in which a Labor Government was in office, 39% of all men and women so qualified were receiving a pension. This means that fourteen people in every one hundred who would not have qualified in 1949 are now receiving the age pension. Many more people who are now excluded because of the property they own or the income they receive will in future receive some entitlement. Others now receiving reduced benefits will have their pensions increased. The single pensioner whose property as assessed is less than $420 may have an income of $10 a week and still receive the full pension of $13 a week, giving a total income of $23 a week. Although a person’s income from outside sources may be more than $10 a week, that person may still receive a pension that will take his income up to $23 per week. A married couple may have a combined income of $17 a week, providing their property as assessed is not more than $840, and still receive the maximum age pension.
A single person may have assets to the value of $5,600 and receive a full pension. His pension will not cut out until his assets reach $12,360. A married couple may possess assets to the value of $9,640 and still receive a full pension; they will receive a proportionate pension until their assets reach $21,880. Income from property is not taken into account in calculating the rate of pension payable. I believe that many people are not aware of these facts. Therefore they should receive greater publicity.
The provision in the Bill to allow a period of three months in which a woman may claim a widow’s pension after the date of admittance of her husband to a mental hospital will commend itself to all honourable members. The honourable member for Grayndler got himself mixed up when he extolled what his Party had offered as an election promise, I think, in 1954. His Party promised that, if it were elected to office, during the life of the ensuing Parliament it would abolish the means test. The Labor Party lost the election by only a few seats. Later in his speech he asked whether society would support a policy that supported abolition of the means test, gave a pension to people who had ample means of support, and left 70% of the recipients of pensions living in poverty. Of course society would not do that. That is exactly why the means test cannot be abolished by one stroke of the pen. That is why alleviation of the means test has to be applied gradually. We must at all times keep in mind people on the base pension rate who are without property and not in receipt of a supplementary income. The need of these people must always be paramount, not only in our thinking but also in our actions. We shall have this element of society with us in a substantial way for at least another twenty years, but even during that time there should be an easing of the position of those persons who are dependent solely on a pension. People who are now reaching the retiring age have had much better conditions, especially in the last seventeen years, to make provision for their years of retirement.
At this point, Mr Speaker, I should like to stress the necessity to encourage people who are reaching the retiring age to continue in employment. Under the Public Service legislation of both the Commonwealth and the States, many people who are hale and hearty and in good condition have arbitrarily to retire. I am speaking of those who would not have the benefit of superannuation and whose continuance in employment would not prevent the progress and promotion of others in the Public Service. I stress that it would be in the best interests of the individual to allow him or her to continue in employment and thus lessen the drain on social services. When this provision was incorporated in the various Public Service Acts our economy was vastly different from what it is today. The employment situation was acute and it was necessary for people who reached the retiring age to retire and make way for younger people to be employed. In my opinion it is psychologically wrong to discard these people when they are strong and healthy. If we do so, we are virtually preparing them for an early demise.
Service pensions should be excluded from the means test. Service pensions have been, and are, awarded for injuries and disabilities sustained during war service. That portion of the Bill which deals with the payment of an allowance to persons suffering a physical disability who are employed in a sheltered workshop should receive the commendation of both sides of the House. I think all will agree that this is a very good provision, that it is original in conception, and that it will give a great benefit to people who unfortunately are physically handicapped. They will be able to realise that they form part of the community and can be rehabilitated to become worthy citizens and play their part in the activities of the community.
– I rise to support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly). I see nothing wrong with the various sections of the amendment; I think they are pure common sense. If all honourable members let their minds go back to the period just before Christmas when we all accept invitations to attend Christmas functions held by elderly citizens clubs, I am sure they will agree that the people who attend these functions are not a very happy lot. That has been my experience over the years. I think if we all took stock of ourselves we would say honestly that these people have always asked us to do something for them. I can only talk about the elderly citizens and people on social service pensions in my area because I do not get invitations to functions held by such people in other areas. But they always say to me, Christmas after Christmas: ‘Will you do something with the Minister and the Government to make our lot a little easier?* It is all right, perhaps for the lone person who is fortunate enough, if we can call him fortunate, to get a lone person’s flat for which only a very low rental is charged, but we all know that at the present time there are many single pensioners and married pensioners who have to pay exorbitant rents. How these people get on, after having paid $7, $8 and more per week for rent out of their social service pension, when they try to buy food, I do not know. These are the people who have spoken, I am sure, to all honourable members at their Christmas gatherings and asked us to do something for them. I am making a plea now to the Government to have another look at the matter and to do something for these people who have been the pioneers of this country.
At the present time, the metal trades unions are seeking from the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission an increase in wages. It is not for me to say whether they are going to get an increase in pay, but usually an increase is granted. What is going to happen if an increase is granted now? Will the Government be able to say that prices will remain stable? Will it take the necessary action to ensure that prices will not rise? What happens when there is a small increase in wages? Up goes the cost of transport, the price of food, rent and everything else. But who are the people who will suffer when this takes place? We will not be the ones to suffer; the people on fixed incomes will be the ones who will suffer. Therefore I ask the Minister to think of these people who have to make do until the next legislation comes before this Parliament so that they may have a little extra with which to get by in life.
I want to talk now about persons who are about to retire. Not all of them, but some of them want to qualify for a pension. Some of these people have come to me. I daresay others go to their members of Parliament. They all ask: ‘What is the maximum amount that I may have before 1 retire?’ After being told, sometimes two or three years before retiring, a man will say: ‘I have got to get rid of some money. I have been advised by other people that I can by a new carpet, that I can have a new motor car, that I can go for a trip around the world, that so long as I get rid of this money before I am sixty-five, so long as I have the right amount of money in the bank I can get a pension.’ That sort of thing should not be necessary. We all pay our income tax. On the income tax form reference is made to what is called a contribution to social services. When that tax was first imposed by Mr Chifley the idea was that everyone would qualify for a pension. We all know of many people who took out superannuation many years ago in the hope that when the time came for them to retire they would have enough to get by with, but they have found that things have not happened that way and that as the cost of living has increased after their retirement and as their superannuation payments have remained static they have they have become members of the lost legion, as every person in this House knows.
All of these things should be looked into more fully, and I hope the Government will look into them. 1 know that they cannot be rectified overnight. As the means test is now being eased a little by this legislation - and that is all we are doing - I hope that the Government will remove the means test, as it promised to do before it was elected, during the life of this Parliament. I think the means test should be removed. Other speakers have traversed this question at length. One of my constituents wrote to me today saying how pleased she was with the question put on the notice paper by the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb). She said:
I therefore feel that this is an appropriate time, while pensions, etc., are in the air, to bring to your attention ‘Hansard’, page 443, of 7th March 1967, ‘Aged Persons Act (Question No. 35’)’. Mr Webb asked re subsidy under Aged Persons Homes Act whether State Ministers requested State and local Government participation and also asked what is the attitude of the Commonwealth to this request.
Mr Sinclair in reply mentioned local governing bodies as organisations eligible for assistance and to enable contributions by them towards aged persons homes to qualify for Commonwealth subsidy. My concern-
This is my constituent - is which type of local governing body does the Minister mean? Local Council or- other service clubs in the area who help aged people. If the Minister cares to answer that question in his reply to this debate, it will help me with my constituent.
– The honourable member said: ‘Local councils or service clubs?’
– The Minister spoke of local governing bodies and my constituent wants to know his definition of a local governing body.
– It is a local council, be it the shire council or municipal council, but service clubs can come in as acceptable charitable organisations in some instances under the existing Act.
– I thank the Minister very much. I commend the Bill. I agree with the terms of the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Grayndler and hope that it will be carried but I know that it will not be carried.
Another thing that I was very pleased to hear during this debate was the speech by the honourable member for Watson (Mr Cope). I think that the speech is worth having another look at for there can be no doubt that the honourable member gave a great deal of consideration to it. In it he quoted comparisons to illustrate what is taking place. I hope all honourable members will have another look at what the honourable member said. With those remarks, I leave it to my friend opposite.
– I appreciate the opportunity to make a few remarks at the end of the debate on the Social Services Bill 1967. The Bill sets out to achieve two major objectives. The first is the widening of the means test as applicable to social service pensions and the second is the granting of a special allowance for people who are employed in sheltered workshops. It also proposes three other minor amendments although each ls important in its effect because any matter relating to social services is essentially an individual matter. The three amendments are: Firstly, to allow a period of three months for the lodgment of a claim for widow’s pension by a woman whose husband is admitted to a mental hospital; secondly, 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. I pay tribute to the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, and in particular to the Mount Wilga Rehabilitation Centre in my electorate, for the very fine work it is doing. I know that the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) has visited the centre on several occasions. I know also that the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) has been there.
The main purpose of the Bill is to liberalise the means test. Under the Bill the income which a single person, whose property is less than $420 in value, may have without affecting the standard rate pension of $13 a week will be increased from $7 a week to $10 a week. If he has earnings in excess of $10 a week he may receive a part pension and become eligible for the valuable fringe benefits, such as participation in the pensioner medical service, provided his total income does not exceed $23 a week. In the case of a married couple with property to the value of less than $840, permissible earnings are to be increased from $14 a week to $17 a week. If their joint earnings exceed $17 a week they may still obtain a part pension and participate in the valuable fringe benefits so long as their total income does not exceed $40.50 a week. At present a single person with no income may have assets to the value of $4,040 and still receive the full pension. When this legislation is passed that figure will be increased to $5,600. Some pension will be payable until the value of his property reaches $12,360. A married couple without income may have assets to the value of $8,080 and still receive a full pension. That figure is now to be increased to $9,640 and some pension will be paid until the assets of the couple reach $23,160 in value. All of these persons, while in receipt of some pension, are entitled to the fringe benefits.
The honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson) and other honourable members have referred to the practice of persons destroying their assets in order to qualify for a pension. In the last decade and even until a few years ago this may have been a matter of real concern, but in view of the successive increases which have been made to the base rate pension in recent years and the moves to liberalise the means test, I think any person approaching retiring age should examine the political climate and the attitudes of members of Parliament. I do not think destruction of assets is wise in the present circumstances because many members of Parliament hold the view that the means test should be abolished ultimately and certainly liberalised in the meantime so that more people may qualify for a pension and the fringe benefits. I will deal further with that aspect of the matter in a few minutes.
This legislation is important primarily because it gives effect to a promise made at the last elections. It was upon this promise, and for other reasons, that this Government was returned to office. Secondly the Bill gives effect to the Government’s policy of liberalising the means test where necessary to enable more people to participate in social service benefits. Thirdly it creates in a new field a differential between the single and married rates of pension. I support the Government’s present intentions in this regard. I know that on one occasion the Central Coast Area Council of the Original Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association, whose meetings the Minister has attended, suggested that where one partner of a mar.ried pensioner couple died the full pension should continue to be paid to the surviving partner for a period of up to twelve months. I see immense difficulties in adopting such a proposal. What we are endeavouring to do in this Bill is meet the needs of the single pensioners, because, as the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) and other honourable members have pointed out, in the case of a single pensioner you cannot halve the eletcricity bill or the rent.
The needs of a single pensioner are greater proportionately than those of married pensioner couples. This fact has been recognised by the pensioners associations. The differential in pension rates is important. It is of great benefit to the single pensioner because it is a continuing differential. There is no limiting period of twelve months, as was suggested by the pensioners organisation. The differential is there for the remainder of the pensioner’s life, as is the supplementary allowance. I suggest that henceforth when the base rate pension is increased, or when there is greater liberalisation of the means test, the differential should not keep pace.
The legislation will mean that an additional 41,000 people will be added to the 640,000 in the community who are already in receipt of social service benefits. These additional numbers will become eligible for the fringe benefits except, for the moment, the benefit of the general practitioner medical service. It is our sincere hope that it will not be very long before this service is made available as a benefit to the people who become eligible for pensions when this Bill becomes law.
I still firmly believe in the justice of not including war pensions in the application of the means test. I bring this matter to the attention of the Government for consideration when the next Budget is being prepared. We must continue in the future, as we have in the past, to keep a close watch on the cost of living to ensure that when rises occur in the cost of living, the pension is increased. I believe that it is important to review pension rates annually at the time of the Budget. I do not agree, as I have stated to pensioners organisations in my electorate, that the pension should be tied to the basic wage. To do so would place the responsibility for fixing the rate of pension in the hands of an outside body - the Arbitration Court - to which pensioners and pensioners organisations would not have access and before which they could not give evidence as witnesses. The adoption of such a course would also create a serious anomaly affecting those people who earn only the basic wage, because they do not enjoy the fringe benefits which are enjoyed by pensioners.
If there is a slowing down in the rate at which the means test is liberalised, I urge the Government to do some hing to provide persons of pensionable age who are not in receipt of a pension with the fringe benefits applicable to pensioners, in particular the medical, pharmaceutical and hospital benefits. It may not be possible to provide the full range of benefits, because the cost would be $60m or $70m in the first year. But it certainly should tie possible either to subsidise the contributions to the medical and hospital benefits funds, adding free pharmaceutical benefits, or for the Government to pay to a contributor to one of these funds the difference between the cost of the hospital attention or the treatment by a doctor and the amount that is refunded by fund or society. The Australian Medical Association should not object to such a scheme as this because the doctors will be paid the full amount of their fees. I believe that the matters I have mentioned need to be looked at continually. I support the Bill. I do not agree with the Opposition’s amendment.
– in reply - I do not propose to deal in detail with all the matters that have been raised during the debate on the Social Services Bill. The Government, of course, cannot accept the amendment proposed by the Opposition, neither for its own sake nor on the basis of the arguments that the Opposition put forward. I was very disappointed that the Opposition found there were points in the legislation which, in its view, did not accord completely with the policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt). Several Opposition members said that the Government deliberately misrepresented the amount of the extension of the means test. This does not accord with the facts, and this was ably demonstrated by the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) in an excellent speech during this debate. He gave detailed extracts from the Prime Minister’s policy speech which spelt out the entitlement of both single and married pensioners. The policy speech was in two parts. In the first part the Prime Minister dealt in somewhat general terms with the broad range of entitlements not only in the social services field but in other fields also. Then in supplementary statements the Prime Minister dealt in considerable detail and at some length with each proposal. One of these statements enunciated the exact entitlement of both single and married pensioners. So there is no substance whatever in the allegation that the Government deliberately misled the electorate in giving the extent of this benefit in its policy speech.
There is nothing in the amendment that the Government can accept, and accordingly I ask the House to reject it. However, I thought I should refer to a few specific points that were raised during the debate. I would like to thank each of the honourable members who complimented the officers of the Department of Social Services for their assistance in explaining the entitlement of individual constituents and for the manner in which they have performed their general administrative duties. Although much has been said of the difficulty in ascertaining the entitlement of individuals, it is extremely difficult to devise simple legislation to cover the complex range of circumstances that affect people generally in the community. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of the speech of the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) was that, having said at length that if he were in government he would abolish the means test, he concluded by saying: ‘Of course, we will introduce a means test in our new system of pensions so that a different benefit will be availabe for different people’.
– I did not say that. The Minister is misconstruing what I said.
– This was the purport of the honourable member’s speech. He said that in Labor’s pension system a separate benefit would be available for different people according to their needs. This is the way I believe a pension system must be. In our present pension system we have, for instance, a distinction between those who are entitled to supplementary assistance and those who are not. It is extremely difficult to generalise as to the needs of every person in the community, and this is one of the reasons why there is some complexity in social services legislation. It is for this reason that it is necessary to have officers in the Department who are willing and able to interpret the legislation and as a result to make the task of honourable members in this field a lot easier. The officers are able to explain to honourable members and, of course, to pensioners the full range of entitlements and the way in which they are payable.
I would like now to deal with several specific points that were put by honourable members. The honourable member for Grayndler asked for further information on two points. The first related to the amendment of the definition of annuity. This was one of the lesser of the amendments to the Act. The one reservation that I understand the honourable gentleman had was that the amendment may mean some lessening of the exemptions now given to friendly societies and trade unions. I will give more detailed information on this point at the Committee stage. However, I assure honourable members that the present exemption available for annuities paid by friendly societies or trade unions will not be reduced.
The other specific point which the honourable member mentioned and as to which he had some reservation was the amendment for workers compensation purposes. This amendment is included in the Bill because in a recent unreported case in the Supreme Court of Queensland the Court expressed some doubt as to its ability to determine that a person who had received rehabilitation was in fact liable to pay the Commonwealth for that rehabilitation before judgment was given. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the person who receives the rehabilitation is not responsible for payment from the amount of compensation he receives for his injuries in the court award and that the Court is able to take into account the cost of the rehabilitation that he has received. Once again during the Committee stage, if the House so decides, I will elaborate on this point. However, I assure honourable members that the intention of the amendment is to aid persons who have received rehabilitation and not to penalise them in any way. In fact, it ensures that when the court has determined that a person is entitled to workers compensation it is able to take into account the cost of that person’s rehabilitation.
The honourable member foi Wilmot (Mr Duthie) mentioned two specific matters and I will refer to each of them. One related to the necessity for persons in remote areas to lodge their income return each week with the departmental office. Under departmental instructions some exemption is given to persons whose residence is somewhat remote from the place in which they are seeking employment. This is done in two ways. Firstly, we will accept a posted return. A return may be posted by a person who lives more than a certain distance from town. The distance is calculated on what we consider to be a reasonable amount for a person to pay in bus fares, if a bus is available, to go into town. We will accept a return concerning employment that is posted to us if the person lives sufficiently far from the community in which he is seeking employment. This means in general that the departmental officers are prepared to exercise some reasonable discretion to ensure that a person is not unduly penalised if he lives too far from a town if employment is not available.
– What is ‘too far’?
– 1 explained that we have made a calculation on the basis of fares. At the moment we will accept a posted return where the return fare from the home to the district office is 50c or more.
– They pay 10s or more in Newcastle.
– This depends on the nature of the district and the nature of the means of transport available in the district. No arbitrary direction has been given. We try to adopt a reasonable basis and we have suggested to the officers that if a person obviously is not reasonably able to come into the employment office some allowance should be made. It is very difficult to define if accurately, but this is the basis upon which we try to operate.
The other matter to which the honourable member for Wilmot referred was his belief that the 85% disability under which persons are entitled at this stage to receive an invalid pension was too arbitrary. This, of course, will apply also to persons who will become entitled to the new sheltered workshop allowance, but the problem is that it is extremely difficult for a layman in legal language to define a medical range of disabilities. We appreciate this and it is hoped that it might be possible in some way to bring together Commonwealth medical referees and arrange with medical officers of the Department to confer with them about the difficulties they are having in interpreting this provision.
We feel at the departmental level, and at the Government level, that this definition is as accurate as it can be expressed in legal language. It means ‘substantially unemployed’. This is the purpose of the invalid pension. We could not have an invalid pension available for a person who is reasonably able to go into normal employment. The 85% disability actually means that a person would not normally be able to earn more than 15% of a reasonable wage for the task he is able to perform.
We are trying, as far as is possible, to help the individual medical officers to have an understanding of this provision and to determine an interpretation of it. One of the difficulties that exists in this field is that each examination is usually by a different medical officer in a different community and it is difficult for each of them to use the same standards. For this reason it has been suggested - and it is possibly the best way to help iron out the situation - that we should bring them together in various centres and help them individually to interpret just what this actually means in medical terms. Beyond that, I do not intend to go into the individual details that each of the speakers has expressed in this debate. Each of the suggestions they have put forward will be examined by me and my officers. Where practicable we will implement them, and where impracticable we will examine them and consider them before they are rejected, at least at this time.
I should like to refer to the contribution made by the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Ian Allan). He spoke specifically of the encouragement of thrift and of the problems associated with trying to provide a social service benefit that will, at any stage, be adequate for everybody in the community. It is for this reason that the Government provides not only a pension but also taxation incentives to superannuation schemes and superannuation contributions. So the pension scheme is not looked at in isolation and it can be seen as matching the other concessions available to encourage persons to provide for their own retirement.
I do not want to go into all the details of some of the problems involving persons in the pension community that were mentioned by honourable members from both sides of the House. Many persons in the pension community found it extremely difficult to save for their retirement. Others have found that through force of circumstances their savings have been frittered away. For this reason the Government and the community have accepted the absolute necessity for providing a pension and a range of social service benefits, but the range of entitlement and the amount of pension must always be related to the community’s preparedness to pay by way of taxation to the Budget so that money can be allocated for the purpose.
It is necessary in any consideration of the broadening of entitlement or of an increase in the amount of pension to view these matters in perspective. Social services is only one of the varying fields of necessary government expenditure and it is only one of the Departments that must share in the available general tax revenue. Because of this the Government has pursued, and is pursuing, the policy that I explained in my second reading speech of progressively broadening the range of entitlement, which has been achieved in this Bill, and at other times of increasing the amount of benefit.
The honourable member for Robertson (Mr Bridges-Maxwell) spoke of the sheltered employment allowance. I believe - and 1 know all those who have referred to this matter during this debate believe - that this will contribute substantially to bringing back into an active life in the community many persons who presently are receiving the invalid pension. I hope that through this sheltered employment allowance some of the reservations that the honourable member for Wilmot expressed about the invalid pension may be answered. Through this sheltered employment allowance an opportunity is being provided for people who are receiving an invalid pension to earn something more than they are presently able to earn under the income limit. This will enable them to pursue an active task and to be paid an amount commensurate with their ability to perform that task and to enjoy only a one for two reduction in the amount of pension they will receive.
In this Social Services Bill the Government has again forcibly demonstrated its sympathy for the persons in need in the Australian community, and it has also demonstrated that it is providing to the limit of the reasonable revenue capacity for the social service necessities of this community. I commend the Bill, without amendment, to the House.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Daly’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. W. J. Aston)
Majority . . . . 31
Question so resolved in the affirmative. ‘
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Clauses 1 to 3 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 4 (Definitions).
– As I indicated in my speech during the second reading debate, the Opposition proposes to vote against Clause 4, which reads: 4.- (1.) Section 18 of the Principal Act is amended -
The Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) stated in his second reading speech that this was somewhat similar to what had been moved in this Parliament in 1959. Apart from giving a brief explanation of the provision and saying that it applied to friendly societies, the Minister said in his second reading speech:
The provision that an annuity from a friendly society or trade union should not be exempted as income for pension purposes was introduced in 1959 when certain friendly societies were proposing to enter into the business of selling annuities on an ordinarily commercial basis.
He went on to say that it would not affect many people but that it would have reference to friendly societies or trade unions that had certain schemes in operation. I do not wish to read all his speech, because it is on record. However, I thought it somewhat sketchy, and on checking the reports of parliamentary debates I found that when the relevant legislation was introduced in 1959 the Opposition voted against the measure because we believed that it was breaking down established practice and taking from trade unions and friendly societies in particular some benefits which they had enjoyed for many years, in fact from 1909. At page 1401 of ‘Hansard’ for 24th September 1959 we find these comments of the then honourable member for EdenMonaro, Mr Allan Fraser:
The effect of the amendment which the Minister has just moved is to reduce the area of a benefit which has been enjoyed by trade unionists and members of friendly societies for very many years.
At that stage the then Minister for Labour and National Service interjected: ‘No. They will still get the benefit.’ Mr Allan Fraser went on:
I differ from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr McMahon), and I accept the statement made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Robertson), when he explained the amendment to the Committee. The purpose of the amendment, as I understand it, is to remove a position which now appears to exist whereby an annuity paid by a trade union or a benefit society is not regarded as income.
In other words, we were endeavouring to safeguard the rights of organisations which had had that right for many years. The Opposition believes that, pending a better explanation than the Minister has given - he has said he will give a further explanation - what applied at that time still applies. That is why we propose to vote against the clause. In view of certain changes which have taken place in benefits for unemployment, sickness and various other things, a number of unions and friendly societies have gone into new fields of endeavour to assist and attract members. We think that trade unions which do this in the future may come within the scope of this clause, unless of course there is a better explanation than that already given. I contacted the Amalgamated Engineering Union, which replied as follows on 10 April:
At the request of the Chairman of Commonwealth Council, Mr J. P. Devereux, I am setting out some information in regard to the payment of superannuation benefit to members of this organisation as provided for in the Rules.
There are six main groups of members who according to eligibility receive quarterly payments of this benefit on the following six weekly rates: $1.88, $1.75, $1.63, $1.50, $1.38, $1.25.
Under the present Act the Commonwealth Department of Social Services disregards for pensions assessment purposes the superannuation benefit paid by this organisation.
Our superannuation benefit is granted under the provisions of the Union’s Rules. It is not a payment to which the member is automatically entitled. In fact, it is made clear to all applicants that the mere fact of their being upwards of sixty years of age and more than thirty years in the Union is not sufficient to entitle them to this benefit. No member acually contributes to this superannuation benefit as the Rules provide for it to be paid from the General Fund of the Union and no special fund is raised other than a long term reserve which is not used to pay superannuation benefit and is itself, in fact, financed from the General Fund.
Whilst the actual amounts of benefit paid are small it would appear from the number of enquiries we receive that it would be a factor in our members’ pension assessment if it was not disregarded.
Trusting that this information is of assistance.
I would like to know that that fund and that kind of payment will not be affected. This is very important to that union and no doubt to many others. I understand that this union is at present exempt under the Act. The Federated Ironworkers Union recently advanced a new system of assistance to its members by signing an agreement with the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd under which substantial lump sum payments will be paid on retirement. This is a cover for widows and dependants in the case of a workman’s death or permanent incapacity. It is a recognition that payments in addition to long service payments should be made to employees. These benefits are now a reality. Unions such as those I have mentioned are wondering whether, if they can get these benefits for their members and even if they are paid on a varied basis, they will be retarded by legislation of this kind. There is great concern in union circles as to whether employees may be denied these benefits. This is one of the main reasons why the Opposition opposes the clause. Even at this stage it appears to be rather illconsidered. I would like to know from the Minister what inquiries were made and just how this provision came to be accepted. Were the friendly societies which will come under this provision consulted? What prompted the change? Generally speaking, does the Government know how many members of friendly societies as well as unions will be affected by this clause? Easily half a million unionists could be involved; but the Minister and the Government have not told us just what numbers are involved.
In an interesting document written a couple of years ago by Mr Arnold, a prominent Deputy Commonwealth Statis tician, on employee welfare schemes operated by Victorian friendly societies, attention was drawn to the wide range into which friendly societies and unions were going. Great concern is felt about whether the clause now before us will affect these organisations. The Committee is entitled to an explanation of the reasons why the clause has been included. This clause affects the most needy section of the community - members of friendly societies and trade unions. Anything which interferes with their schemes to give their members a little extra on retirement should be opposed. Accordingly, we opposed this provision in 1959, and we are doing so again today.
Although in his second reading speech the Minister indicated that possibly there would be no affect on any existing legislation or any existing benefits or concessions, we would like that assurance to be given now. If no concessions are to be taken away, what is the purpose of introducing the legislation? If something is not being taken away, why should we alter the Act? This was our argument in 1959. Although the Minister may assure us that these concessions will not be taken away, one never knows how this provision will be interpreted in courts and other places. The Opposition opposes the clause. I hope the Minister will be able to give us a broad explanation to satisfy those who are concerned and to assure us that people do not lose some of the benefits for which they have contributed.
– Firstly, I assure the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) that it is not intended to remove the present exemption available for trade unions and friendly societies in relation to benefit payments. If the Amalgamated Engineering Union, to which the honourable member has referred, has some form of annuity benefit which presently enjoys an exemption, it will continue to do so. The purpose of the inclusion of this clause is that, while a means test operates, obviously it is not possible to permit one section of the community to devise means of providing a benefit, by way of superannuation in particular, which is denied another group in the community. Apparency the benefit which some friendly societies have suggested they will make available to their members will be almost identical with the type of benefit which insurance companies and superannuation companies are already paying, but without the exemption. While there is a means test, it is necessary that it be applied on common terms.
From the inception of the Act it has been accepted that benefits paid by a friendly society should be exempt for means test purposes. In the initial days these constituted mainly small payments on account of illness, infirmity and old age. In many of the older trade unions and friendly societies that position has continued to exist. The exemption under the 1959 amending Act, for means test purposes presented no real concern, but it was learnt that some friendly societies were proposing to enter into the business of selling annuities. Under a table issued by one society a man 65 years of age could purchase a life income of $20 a week for the payment of $12,000. Because of the special treatment that was accorded to friendly society payments, this annuity could not be taken into account as income. The view was taken at that time that this would mean a direct contravention of the means test restriction. Consequently, the 1959 amending Act was introduced.
Some friendly societies are now proposing to introduce a new fund. This clause has been designed to ensure that all present exemptions are maintained but that these new funds, to which I would like to refer briefly, will be excluded. These funds are to be known as invalidity pension funds. Contributors who retire because of ill health or physical or mental incapacity will become entitled to a pension of up to $20 a week. One scheme proposed will involve contributions from both employee and employer, it is really little different from an ordinary superannuation scheme conducted by a private employer or other employing organisation, with the notable exception that by adopting the device of using a friendly society as the administering body it was planned to circumvent the means test. If these payments were allowed to remain exempt we really would be opening the door to a complete breakdown of the means test as far as this section of the community was concerned and, as I have explained, it is impossible to permit one section of the community to be exempt if another section is going to be included. Consequently, a device which is being evolved primarily so that it can break the existing provisions cannot be accepted.
This amendment is designed to circumvent the suggested modifications to the exemption and is not designed in any way to remove the concessions that are today available for payments from either friendly societies or trade unions. Mr Chairman, I ask the Committee to support the insertion of this amendment so that the principle of uniformity of application of the means test remains as it is at the present day.
– I should like to ask a further question of the Minister for Social Services in relation to friendly societies. My question relates particularly to payments such as sickness benefits and the like. Some of the older unions, including the shipwrights association of which I am a member, many years ago instituted a payment in cases of sickness. This is totally inadequate in present-day conditions. Nevertheless those payments, many of which are about $2 a week, are made to members, and in the past they have not been taken into consideration in assessing means. Also, a number of companies have over the years formed themselves into groups and instituted what are known as sick and accident funds. These organisations make small payments to members in case of sickness; most of the payments are small, although in a few cases they could be as much as $10.
I understand that at the moment these payments are exempt from calculation. The organisations to which I refer are not actually friendly societies; they operate on a non-profit basis and are run by the employees, although in some cases contributions are made by employers to stabilise a fund. Am I correct in assuming that as these have been acceptable in the past they will still not be taken into calculations for means test purposes?
– It is not intended to include as income or property payments which have previously been exempt. If the exemption is given to a friendly society or trade union under past practice then it will not be included. In fact, there is no scheme presently operating which contravenes the exemption, but there is a proposal to establish a scheme and it is that proposal that this amendment is designed to circumvent. Any existing concessions will be continued.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 5 to 19 - by leave - taken together.
– 1 do not want to debate the question I am raising now. I merely want to put the Government right on the Prime Minister’s policy speech. We said in the course of the second reading that the Prime Minister had misled the people when he made the pledges incorporated in the clause I am discussing now regarding married and single rates of pension. That has been disputed by some Government supporters. 1 have here the Prime Minister’s policy speech of 1966 in which he said:
We will raise by $136 the limits both of property and income within which pensions will be payable to the aged, the invalids and the widows.
There is no doubt about that. That statement went out to all Australia, over radio and television. What pensioner would know that there was going to be $78 for a married couple and $156 for a single person? As the people sat down and watched the handsome Prime Minister relate his policy speech, all that the poor old people understood was that the amount was to be raised and that they would get $156 each. Let us see how it was followed up. We find the following in one GovernorGeneral’s speech:
My Government has decided to introduce legislation to liberalise the means test for age, invalid and widows pensions. The amount of allowable means will be increased by $156 per annum for both single persons and married couples.
What is wrong with that? How would one work out from that statement that it was to be $78 for each? Then we have the elaboration, the supplementary statement, as it is called. It is spread over a couple of pages, but this is the pertinent part:
We now propose to increase these limits further by $156 per annum for both single persons and married couples.
That refers to the means test. There are two pages of it.
– Expressing exact amounts.
– It is a cunningly worded document, and only the most studious and intelligent person could interpret it as meaning that it is $78 for one and $156 for the other; and not in any part of that document does it say ‘$156’ or ‘$78’; nowhere are those amounts mentioned. The document is smothered in figures such as $520, $884, $3,000, $1,500,” $21,800 and $12,360.
– Those are exactly the income and property limits.
– Even the latest computer machines could not work out that that meant a differential rate. It is all very well for the Minister to say that it is easy to understand, but the people looking at this are elderly people and are not used to being caught or taken for a ride. We in this Parliament are quite used to being caught and taken for a ride, because we are looking at the Liberals year in and year out and studying their legislation. We know how they put it over. However, poor old souls have to read two pages of this, and one would almost need to have a university education to follow it.
– One would have to be a lawyer.
– Yes, and a good one, too, which would make it rather difficult for the Liberals, lt all suggests that the Government has misled the people on this score. Until the legislation was introduced here I do not think any pensioners realised that a confidence trick had been perpetrated on them once again.
– Is that why Labor lost the election?
– The honourable member is a nice fellow, but he is only a juvenile here. He can speak when I finish. I have mentioned how the confidence trick was put over. I defy the Minister to read that supplementary statement and then tell us that it means $78 and $156. If the not unintelligent member for Saint George likes to explain to me after I sit down how it means other than what it says, I shall be very pleased to hear him. Having said so much, Mr Chairman, I thank you for your tolerance in allowing me to bring the Liberals up to date on the promises made and accepted by the people, and to refer again to the confidence trick instituted here at this time.
- Mr Chairman, emerging out of the address just given by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) is the obvious failure of the Labor Party to speak for the people they represent. Obviously, the section of the community that the Labor Party represents will shrink very considerably after what the honourable member has said. There is no doubt that the honourable member must stand condemned - to use his own cliche - by his own words tonight, which showed that he has not read the Prime Minister’s policy speech and has not read the Governor-General’s Speech. He was not able to explain to his own people what the present provisions mean. The honourable member came into this chamber yesterday and suddenly discovered that this Bill was a confidence trick. He paraded it through the House. What are we to believe? Are we to believe that it is a confidence trick or are we to believe that the honourable member for Grayndler is so inept - at the best - as the leader for his Party in this debate on social services that it has taken him from 9th November until the 11th April - some five months - to work out that this is a confidence trick? This figures. It would not be the first occasion that it has taken him so long to recover from the shock of such an onslaught as he encountered on 26th November last year.
This is the sort of thing that we have to expect. This is probably the reason - or one of them - why the Labor Party has been in Opposition for nearly eighteen years. Honourable members on the Government side went to great lengths yesterday to explain to Opposition members what the Labor Party did not do between 1941 and 1949, and what they have not done since. What has happened tonight is a classic example of how the Opposition is letting the side down. It is letting the people who voted for it down consistently in regard to putting forward their side of the argument. This is a clasic example. The honourable member stands condemned by his own words here tonight. He did not read the policy speech or the explanation which the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) offered later on. He did not even read the part of the
Governor-General’s Speech that deals with this matter. 1 repeat, he stands condemned by his own words.
– I want to correct the honourable member for St George (Mr Bosman). He need not worry about me so much. I knew that this was a put-over from the start. But the honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver), his own colleague, said today that he thought this Bill offered $3 all round - $3 each to husband and wife, and $3 to others. So it looks as though-
– The honourable member for Swan is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
– Yes. The honourable member for St George chided me for not understanding legislation introduced by the Liberal Party, yet the honourable member for Swan, who is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee said in this chamber that he thought that this portion of the Bill meant precisely what the dear old pensioners thought it meant - $6 for a married couple and $3 for a single person. If the Liberals do not understand their own legislation how can we be expected to? The Liberals are supposed to be the brightest people in the land. I hope I have put the honourable member right in respect to the Prime Minister’s misleading statement to the Australian people on this score.
Clauses agreed to.
Clauses 20 to 23 - by leave - taken together.
- Mr Chairman, I want to direct the attention of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) to the question of eligibility for sheltered employment allowances. I also want to refer to eligibility for invalid pensions and the qualifications required for the allowances. I am concerned that 85% disability is required before persons can be looked upon as being totally incapacitated. As the Minister knows the Act says: . . a person shall be deemed to be permanently incapacitated for work if the degree of his permanent incapacity for work is not less than eightyfive per centum.
That was fixed in 1941 - about twenty-six years ago. I wonder whether the Minister would consider reviewing the degree necessary in order to qualify for an invalid pension. In Sweden, for instance, a person with 66% disability receives a full pension. In some cases the eligibility provision is dropped to 50%. I do not see why it has to be mandatory for a person to be 85% incapacitated in order to get an invalid pension. After all, the percentage is only a doctor’s judgment. I suggest that the Government consider giving to invalids, and to other people losing a lot of their usefulness, the same conditions that apply to servicemen and some others. Why should not a pension be paid under certain circumstances to people with 50% or 60% incapacity? I make this suggestion to the Minister because I think it is important that this section of the Act be overhauled. It is causing a great deal of hardship because of the high percentage of incapacity necessary before a person qualifies.
– I draw the attention of the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) to clause 20 under which section 133c is to be inserted in the Act. ‘ Sub-clause (2.) vests a discretionary power in the Director-General. Although a person may not at some stage be 85% disabled, where the Director-General is of the opinion that if he ceased to be provided with sheltered employment his physical or mental condition would become such that he would reasonably become 85% disabled - I am paraphrasing the purport of the proposed sub-section - a discretion is given to the Director-General to direct that such a person shall be deemed to be incapacitated for the purposes of this part of the Act. So, I repeat, there is to be given a discretionary power to the Director-General of Social Services to permit a person who is in fact, according to the medical determination, not 85% disabled, to become entitled to a sheltered employment allowance. I know that the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) will also be interested in this discretionary power.
– I thank the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) for his explanation on that score. Without asking him to debate the matter now, I suggest that he consider reducing the degree of incapacity for all invalid pensioners to, say, 50% or 60%, or some such measure, as has been done in many advanced countries in respect to the payment of invalid pensions. This is something which has not been looked at for a long time. Any move to reduce the degree of incapacity from 85% would be supported, I believe, by every member of this Parliament.
Clauses agreed to.
Clause 24 (Recovery of Cost of Treatment and Training).
– I move -
That the clause be postponed.
I do so because honourable members on this side of the chamber have only a very sketchy idea as to why it has been inserted. Clause 24 reads:
Section I35r of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (1a.) and inserting in its stead the following sub-section: - “(1a.) Where-
a person who is receiving, or has received, treatment or training recovers or receives compensation from another person (including the Commonwealth or an authority of the Commonwealth or a State or an authority of a State); or
the Director-General, or a delegate of the Director-General, by notice in writing served on a person who is receiving, or has received, treatment or training, notifies the person that the person is, in the opinion of the Director-General or the delegate, entitled to recover or receive compensation from another person (including the Commonwealth or an authority of the Commonwealth or a State or an authority of a State), the person who is receiving or has received treatment or training is, subject to the next succeeding sub-section and notwithstanding section one hundred and thirty-five j of this Act, liable to pay to the Director-General an amount equal to the cost of the treatment or training.”.
That means in effect that in compensation cases persons can be called upon by the Government to meet the cost of their rehabilitation training. If honourable members study the Director-General’s report dealing with section 135r of the Social Services Act they will see that the Commonwealth has power to claim the cost of rehabilitation from a person receiving rehabilitation. Last year $66,000 was recovered in a total of 148 cases. So at this stage the power is there for the Commonwealth to recover the cost of rehabilitation.
We on this side of the Parliament do not know what has prompted the Government to put this clause in the Bill. Naturally we are anxious to protect the rights of the litigant who is claiming compensation and to ensure that he will not lose anything; but at the same time we naturally do not desire to see people escape their responsibility to make some repayment to the Commonwealth where it is justifiably allowed in a court of law. In moving that this clause be postponed I am not directly opposing it; but we should like to know how the clause will affect both the Commonwealth and the litigant. We should like to know that, generally speaking, it will be satisfactory to all concerned without in any way causing the litigant to suffer great hardship. We are wondering whether the Minister is thinking of putting any limit on the amount that might be claimed. There could be a case where a person might get $500 or $1,000 damages. Would there be any danger of his losing that on the roundabout if the Commonwealth made a claim? In other words, we should like to have a much better explanation than was given in the Minister’s second reading speech as to why this clause has been put into the Bill at all. I hope the Minister can give this explanation to us. If the Minister’s explanation is not what we consider to be satisfactory to both the litigant and the Commonwealth, we propose to take more definite action in another place to see that a suitable amendment is brought forward which will protect the interests of both parties. As I said, I should like the Minister to give us an explanation.
– Up to the present time the Act has not given the Director-General of Social Services a discretion to do other than demand from a person who has received compensation the full cost of rehabilitation. In this Bill there is to be given to the Director-General the power either to write off that charge altogether if the person is unable to meet it or, if the person is able to meet only half of the charge, then to reduce the cost. The specific reason for the inclusion of this clause in the Bill arises from a decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Queensland. I refer honourable members to the unreported case of Watkins v. Cummings which was heard at Cairns on the 8th and 9th August 1963. This case was heard by His Honour Mr Justice Skerman. In the course of his judgment His Honour said:
Under Section 135r(1a) of the Social Services Act it seems clear that the liability of the plaintiff to pay to the Director-General an amount equal to the cost of his treatment and training does not arise until the liability of the defendant to pay has been established. As already stated, liability was denied in the pleadings in this action. At the time the action was brought the plaintiff was not under any legal liability to pay for his treatment and training. At that time he had paid nothing, and it could not be said ‘He is in truth worse off by that amount’ to use the expression of Dixon C.J. in Blundell v. Musgrave (1956) C.L.R. 73 at page 79, to which case I was referred by plaintiff’s counsel.
I will not read the rest of His Honour’s judgment but I shall refer to the consequences.
– Does the Minister want to incorporate it in Hansard?
– It goes on in some detail and I do not think it would be of that much value to honourable members. 1 shall just carry on and quote some of the argument. His Honour continued:
It is implicit in each of these cases that a contingent liability does not become a legal liability until the happening of the contingency in question. Where the contingency is subsequent to the point of time at which the defendant’s liability to the plaintiff becomes fixed or determined (either by means of a judgment or settlement), the liability of the plaintiff to make a payment out of the damages awarded to him cannot be taken into account by a court when making an award of damages.
This means in essence that the Court expressed some doubt as to whether, when it was determining the amount of compensation payable to a litigant, it could take into account the cost of the rehabilitation that that litigant had received. In other words, because the litigant himself had not acquired a liability to pay compensation until after the compensation had been awarded the Court could not take into account the cost of that rehabilitation. It is for this reason, and to remove any doubt that the court should be able to take into account the amount of the rehabilitation costs, that this amendment has been included in the Bill. Accordingly, I suggest that the amendment of the honourable member be not proceeded with and that the Bill be passed in its present form.
Question resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of Bill - by leave - taken as a whole.
– I just wish to make a final comment on this Bill. I think I should refer once again to the strange system that this Government has adopted in backdating the payments of benefits where it suits the Government but in other cases letting needy sections of the community wait until legislation is passed before they get the benefits of it. The benefits under this Bill will not be paid as from 26th November. In the case of the Home Savings Grants Bill, which was passed after the 1963 election the operation of the benefits was dated back to the election. Similarly, in respect of promises made at the last election the Minister has already brought down legislation which has been backdated to the time of the election. We have no quibble with that, because we believe that that is not unreasonable. Legislation has been backdated in the case of the superphosphate bounty and other payments, including judges’ salaries, the salaries of public servants and probably the salaries of politicians. All were backdated to a given time; but it appears that every time a pension increase is given or the Government seeks to do anything for this section of the community - it is rare - the benefits do not take effect until such time as the Bill is passed by this House and another place.
I think the Government has a purpose in doing this. First of all it evidently wants to save the public servants - no doubt they are very hard worked people - the work involved in dealing with these matters. Then again I think the Government hopes that it will stifle discussion by holding up the payment. It can say in effect: ‘The Opposition is holding up the benefits to these people and the longer it debates this matter the less chance they have of getting them’. I say in all honesty to the Minister - what I have to say to him refers to his predecessors also - that I have not yet heard one explanation that could be accepted by any reasonable person us to why these benefits could not be backdated to a given time.
The Government has the ability to backdate such payments. It has press button comptometers and machinery of that kind which can add figures very quickly. People are making fortunes out of working these machines. Why cannot the Government use them in the present case? Do not tell me that each one of these calculations has to be worked out separately. There are methods of doing this, and to say that it cannot be done in this day and age is something no reasonable person would accept. The Government can backdate salaries and other payments over a period of twelve or eighteen months. It has done so in relation to public service salaries. I do not quibble at that. The Government can backdate even small increases in wages to thousands of people in various organisations. Why cannot it do so in respect of pensions. Let the Minister give us another explanation. Why has the Government backdated some of the legislation it promised at the last election and thrown other promises in the waste paper basket? Why not backdate the lot? Is not that a reasonable proposition? I should like the Minister to give me a reasonable explanation as to why this cannot be done that I can pass on to the people of my electorate. The Government has done this in certain cases but it will not do it for the sick and infirm. Miserable as the increase is, surely the Government can backdate it for a couple of months. This is costing only $2.5m this year. The whole cost is less than 2% of the increase in social service benefits this year, yet the Government will not back date this miserable amount a couple of months. I do not say this in any political sense at all; I only say it in justice and fairness to those people who are dependent on social services. It is all very well for honourable members opposite to laugh, but if they get a salary increase and it is not back dated we hear them crying about it. I do not blame them because I like my salary increases to be back dated also.
I hope the Minister will give some good reason that I can wrap up and take home to explain to my people why the Government cannot give them this increase but can back date increases to every other section of society. Why, recently the judges were granted a salary increase of $200 or more and it was back dated for months. But the Government says that the couple of shillings involved in this case cannot be worked out. I submit that an intelligent Minister - he is very able; I pay him that compliment - ought to be able to answer my simple question as to why the Government cannot back date the couple of million dollars involved in these increases to pensioners.
– I doubt whether I shall be able to answer the question to the satisfaction of the honourable member for Grayndler any more than his former leader, the right honourable J. B. Chifley, could when he was Prime Minister. In fact, the forward dating of pension payments has been an accepted practice of all governments, whether they were governments of Labor complexion or LiberalCountry Party complexion, since 1948. This is an accepted principle. As the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) has said, this is a principle that has been traditionally accepted.
Why is it accepted? I shall give two very good reasons. I know there are a number of gentlemen on both sides of the Committee who have expressed their reservations on this matter on a number of occasions. I know that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) feels fairly strongly on this issue and has spoken on it on a number of occasions. The first reason is related to administration. It would be extremely difficult to go back into the changes of incomes of pensioners if this increase were to be made retrospective in any way. Whether we looked back over a period of three weeks, a month, or indeed any time, it would be necessary for the purposes of the Department’s administrative machinery to ascertain in retrospect any variations of the income of pensioners to determine the amounts of pension to which they were entitled. That is the first difficulty.
The second difficulty relates to cost. Social services cost a tremendous amount and account for a substantial proportion of total Commonwealth expenditure. Last year, I think, the total expenditure in the field of social services was just short of S758m.
That is a tremendous amount of money. The extensions which are currently under consideration will cost something like $13.5m in a full year. If we allowed for the retrospective payment of pensions, we would be augmenting our costs. The augmented cost, I understand, would be about another $5m if payment were made retrospective to the date of the election. This would mean that, from a financial viewpoint, we would have to examine very carefully whether we could give this extension or whether we would have to reduce it.
The honourable member has referred to the fact that some capital benefits are being made retrospective. This also is a traditionally accepted practice. It has been the traditional practice wherever a capital benefit is granted, as under the Aged Persons Homes Act or the sheltered employment allowance, to make the payment of the benefit retrospective. I point out to the honourable member that, under the Bill relating to sheltered employment, it is provided that the subsidy on rental payment is to operate from the date on which the Bill receives the royal assent.
– There are a lot less calculations.
– Yes, it is far more effective administratively.
I should like to take the opportunity to say that, under the terms of these pension extensions, it is expected that the first payment to age and invalid pensioners will be on 27th April, to widow pensioners on 2nd May and to service pensioners on 4th May. I think this will be of interest to honourable members and will assist them in advising their constituents as to the date upon which they can expect the increased payments that will become law when this Bill has passed through both Houses and has received the royal assent.
– I just want to say in passing that the Minister for Social Services made a good effort but left me unconvinced. He stated that it is an established and accepted principle that this is always done. I point out that the Government has easily changed an established and accepted principle in creating this differential between the pension paid to single pensioners and that paid to married pensioners. This principle had been in operation since pensions were introduced.
The Government changed it ‘while you wait’, as it were, so there was no problem there.
In 1959 the Government changed a principle that had been accepted since the legislation was introduced fifty years before. I refer to that relating to friendly society and trade union benefit funds to which the Bill under consideration also applies. Here is the contradiction in the Government’s case. Established practice or accepted principle does not matter when it suits the Government. That part of the Minister’s argument will not hold water and I am not at all convinced that with modern adding machines and other modern equipment the small difficulties associated with back dating the few payments involved here could not be overcome. In any case, I thank the Minister. I think he is the first Minister who has ever made an attempt to answer my question. Although his answer was not satisfactory, at least he did make an attempt.
Remainder of Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair) - by leave - read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without requests.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I feel that the questions addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) today ought to be mentioned again. It is my opinion that the Minister has been evading the questions which have been put to him by the Opposition. Let me emphasise at once that at no time during the discussion of the matter of public importance last week did the Opposition accuse any trade unionist or the pilot of any misdemeanour in regard to their work. I emphasise also that we did not mention any names. As all hon ourable members are aware, the Minister was the first to mention names. I feel that at question time today he embarrased the pilot of the aircraft concernedby mentioning his name in this House.
The Minister, who has bad a month to look into the matter, stated that the allegations made by us when discussing the matter of public importance last week could - not be substantiated. Yet, the very next day, the company concerned admitted that the aircraft in question did have a leaking fuel tank. On the Friday, the Minister made a statement to the Press. I can only be guided by the report appearing in the Press, because the Minister did not give me a copy of his statement. According to the Press statement, the Minister said that the aircraft had only what might be called a weep. In other words, he said that the leak was only minor so far as he was concerned and really did not account for much at all. I do not think that a weep in an aircraft would become evident in a forty-minute flight between Sydney and Canberra. If the aircraft had been standing on the tarmac overnight we may have seen some evidence of a weep in the fuel tank. I have no doubt that this aircraft had a leak and it was a bigger leak than the Minister is prepared to admit in the Parliament. I still think he has been guilty of misleading the public and the Parliament. Today he answered a question on the subject and one could be forgiven for thinking that it was a Dorothy Dix-er, because he had his answer prepared. He stated that an investigation had been held into the allegations about a fuel leakage in the aircraft. He said that the pilot of the aircraft had stated that at no time did he feel that the aircraft was dangerous to fly. I am sure everybody will be happy to know that the pilot had confidence in the aircraft because he did fly it. At least departmental officers questioned the pilot and submitted a report to the Minister. But I think the Department has overlooked something. In last Friday’s Melbourne Sun’ there was a report on this matter. It was stated that a company director had noticed the fuel leak when he went to board the aircraft for a flight to Sydney. The report reads:
The businessman said he flew to Sydney on the plane after fuel had been pumped from the plane to counter the leak.
The Sydney businessman said last night that he had noticed the fuel leaking from underneath the cowling of the port outboard motor.
There was a pool of kerosene about 4 ft in diameter on the ground. 1 know it was kerosene because 1 dipped my finger in it and smelt it.
Three men, apparently officials, were inspecting the engine.
One of them told me they were pumping fuel from No. 1 tank to try to reduce the fuel level below the leak. He said he thought there was a crack in the tank.’
The man said he did not want his name published, but said he would give it to any official investigation.
The report was available for anybody to read. The Minister must have seen it. I do not know whether the Minister’s departmental officers have followed up this matter, but I am pretty sure that the businessman concerned would be only too happy to substantiate the report if called upon to do so. But I did not hear the Minister today say that his officers had checked the businessman’s statement that there was a pool of kerosene on the tarmac 4 ft in diameter. That does not sound like a weep. It must have been a very big weep. The mere fact that fuel had to be pumped from one tank to another to stop the leak is enough to convince me that the aircraft had a dangerous leak and that it should not have been flying in that condition. It is up to the Department to check the accuracy of the statements that have been made about this aircraft.
The Minister has claimed that the Opposition has been trying to put the blame for this incident on the trade unionists who serviced the aircraft. He has asserted that we have attacked the pilots. I assure the Minister that I have been attacking his Department for some time because it has not policed the regulations made under Air Navigation Orders. Anybody, be he an engineer or a pilot, who does not carry out his obligations as set out in the regulations should not be allowed to look after the aircraft. It is still the duty of the Department to see that the regulations are obeyed. If it does not do so the Department is not doing the job it should be doing. The Opposition voices its criticism of the Department’s officers who are not carrying out the duties which they should be performing. I have raised this matter repeatedly in the House and will continue to do so whenever necessary. What we all are concerned about is safety. We must be concerned about safety because we all fly in aircraft a great deal. This is why I have raised this matter repeatedly in the House. I will continue to raise the matter in the future, particularly if 1 feel that the Department is not doing its job. I am still of the firm opinion that the Minister has been misleading. He has made statements to the House which he has later had to withdraw. The claims that I have made have been confirmed by people outside the Parliament, but the Minister has not bothered to check them. It took the Minister months to make a report in the Parliament about something that I raised on 23rd February. That is how long it takes the Minister to check matters. Surely it would be easy for the Minister to check the facts of the report in the Melbourne ‘Sun’. I do not know the businessman referred to or where he lives, but I am sure that the newspaper would give to the Minister or his officials all necessary information so that the man might be interviewed.
On the last flight that the aircraft made from Canberra to Sydney it carried only the pilot and co-pilot. The air hostesses were made to stay overnight in Canberra. I do not know whether the pilots were concerned for the safety of the air hostesses, but at least they had to stay overnight in Canberra. I do not know whether the pilots thought any danger existed in flying the aircraft. The Minister will be able to check my claim by inspecting the aircraft’s log book. In my opinion the Department is falling down on the job in not examining log books to make sure that matters to which pilots direct attention are being dealt with.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I do not wish to add anything to the comments I have made on this subject on two occasions. I have here photostat copies of the operational maintenance records of Viscount aircraft VH-RMP for 26th and 27th January 1967. I will lay these records on the table of the House as I feel that they convey the information in relation to this matter which provides sufficient answer in the present circumstances.
– I apologise to the House for rising at this late hour. Nevertheless, I wish to raise a very important matter relating to the amenities provided for a few people compared with those enjoyed by all of our metropolitan friends and many of our country friends. I refer to the provision of television in western Victoria. It is now more than ten years since the introduction of television into Australia. In that time huge strides have been made in the provision of television services. Every capital city enjoys the choice of many channels. Many country centres have the same pleasure, but not all. No doubt there are places in Australia which, because of isolation, may never receive a good television signal. Victoria is a very small State geographically, but it is one of the most densely populated. In the electorates of Wimmera and Wannon, which is represented by the Minister for the Army (Mr Malcolm Fraser), there is no television transmitter at all. Yet these two areas cover a very large part of the State of Victoria. Recently a translator station was installed in the south east corner at Warrnambool. But transmissions from this station reach only a very small part of the area about which I am concerned. The south east corner of South Australia now has a transmitter station at Mount Gambier, which is in the electorate of the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes). But to the north of this area and in the western part of Wimmera reception is poor.
Following representations made to me and to the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) some time ago by various people, including councils and responsible organisations, the Department carried out a survey of the Nhill and Kaniva areas. To date, we have had no results. On 21st March of this year, a leading article in the ‘Kaniva Times’ referred to this matter. I do not wish to quote the whole of the article; I will read only the relevant part. It is:
If television owners have not the time or inclination to write personally to Mr Hulme, the Postmaster-General, they can leave their names at the ‘Times’ office and they will be forwarded with a covering letter to Mr King commending his action and supporting his appeal.
As I said, I will not read the whole of the article. It could be embarrassing to some and complimentary to others. Many articles on the subject of poor reception of television programmes have appeared in newspapers in Kaniva, Nhill, Wimmera and adjoining areas. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that almost every worthwhile organisation in the area has discussed this issue and made some protest.
On Saturday last I journeyed to both Nhill and Kaniva. During my visit I had the opportunity to view a television programme. It was shocking. I think that the licence fees should be reversed so that the viewers are paid to look instead of paying for the privilege of trying to look. This would be more appropriate and more in keeping with the standard of reception. While I was there I was given two letters, one addressed to me and one to the Postmaster-General. I do not wish to read the letter addressed to me but I think it is worth reading the letter addressed to the Postmaster-General. It is in these terms:
Through the honourable member for Wimmera, Mr R. S. King, we respectfully submit to you this petition bearing the names of owners of television sets in the Shire of Kaniva. We humbly pray that you will give favourable consideration to the request submitted on our behalf by Mr King for a translator to give clearer and permanent viewing in this area.
I ask the House to note this passage:
The petition has been signed voluntarily and set owners have not been personally canvassed. They all called in at the office where the petition was lodged and appended their signatures.
This is one of the worst fringe viewing areas in the State of Victoria, and the approximate 600 television set owners would be most grateful if you could accede to the request made by Mr King for better viewing.
We fully appreciate the fact that your Government and particularly your Department in this sparsely settled land of Australia is at all times anxious to give to the people such amenities as would help to make their lives more comfortable.
Therefore we know that you will give this request your most favourable consideration.
T remain Sir
Yours most sincerely
J. POTTS, MBE, JP
The petition is not one that I can present in the normal fashion because it does not meet the usual requirements. Nevertheless, I will present it to the Postmaster-General. It is interesting to note that in the small Shire of Kaniva no fewer than 360 persons signed the petition. I hasten to point out that the area from which the petition comes is only a very small part of the total area that is receiving very poor reception. If all the viewers in the district, which runs into South Australia and includes such places as Goroke, Nhill, Kaniva and Bordertown, had been given the opportunity to sign the petition, I am sure that it would have been very much bigger than it is. It is true that these people are outside the normal viewing area. But what is their future? They pay licence fees and we must remember that the cost of installing a television set is very much higher for them because of the costly antennas that are used to get any reception at all. Surely they must be given some consideration.
In bringing this issue before the House tonight, I want to make the point perfectly clear that this is not a criticism of the Postmaster-General and his officers. I believe that he is a very good administrator and that his officers perform their duties well. His replies to correspondence have always been courteous. But I do criticise the policy of not providing a service for the people in rural towns. They contribute a good deal to the Australian economy. I appeal to the Postmaster-General to consider this matter seriously because these people are certainly entitled to a far better service than they now have.
Time will not allow me to deal in detail with the other subject that I wanted to raise tonight, but I give notice that at the first opportunity I will raise the subject of the need to improve telephone services in outer metropolitan areas. We all know that there is a definite plan to make all telephone services in Australia fully automatic. At this time some 83,000 manual or semiautomatic telephone services still remain to be changed to fully automatic. However, there appear to be many anomalies. One major anomaly arises from the switching of some of the small country exchanges to rural automatic exchanges. I do not know whether my electorate is on a limb, but at this time I am receiving complaints from five different areas, and I believe it is time that something was done. As I said, time will not allow me to go into detail, but I serve notice that at the first opportunity I will raise this matter again.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.19 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
What will be the date of the last payment and the amount of the total payments by each State to the Commonwealth under each specific development project for which the Commonwealth has given financial assistance?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The date of the last payment to the Commonwealth by the States, and the total amount which it is estimated the Commonwealth will receive from the States by way of repayments of principal and interest, in respect of advances made to the States up to 30th June 1966, for the projects indicated, are shown in the table below. At this stage, it is not possible, of course, to provide these details in respect of advances that may be made in the future:
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
Has his department considered currying out surveys to discover whether there are marked variations in the cost of living in the various States and/or regions, and to thus establish whether special cost of living allowances are needed by pensioners in different areas
– The answer tothe honourable member’s question is as follows:
It has been a long standing Commonwealth policy that the rates and -conditions of grant of pensions should be uniform throughout the Commonwealth. It is important to maintain this for basic social service payments but it is competent for the States to supplement these payments either in cash or kind to meet local situations.
Accordingly, the Department of Social Services does not undertake surveys of the type mentioned in the honourable member’s question.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Yes. However, a’ valid comparison of the relative benefits provided under the two schemes can only be made by taking into account:
The cost of the increases in existing pensions has been met entirety by the Commonwealth without contribution from the Superannuation Fund. 5. (a) $31.50 per week (18 X $1.75).
Contributors who have retired since 1st January 1960 are not disadvantaged by comparison with those who retired before 1960. This is because, to take the cases referred to in 5 and 6, a person with an entitlement of eighteen units on retirement, in 1955 would have had a greater unit entitlement (typically twenty-one units) if his retirement from the same position had taken place in 1960. Conversely, a person with an entitlement of eighteen units on retirement in 1960 would typically have had an entitlement of only fifteen units if his retirement from the same position had taken place in 1955.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Overseas Investment in Australia (Question No. 150)
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
South East Asia Treaty Organisation (Question No. 162)
asked the Minister for External
Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
It is assumed that the question refers to the Annual Council Meetings between the SEATO partners, which have followed the Manila Conference of 1954. The sequence of Council Meetings is as follows: 1955 Bangkok 1956 Karachi 1957 Canberra 1958 Manila 1959 Wellington 1959 Washington (special session) 1960 Washington 1961 Bangkok 1962 New York (special session) 1963 Paris 1964 Manila 1965 London 1966 Canberra 1967 To be held in Washington
There have, in addition, been many meetings of SEATO’s subordinate bodies, for example, the Expert Study Group on the SEATO Regional Agricultural Research Project, the Intelligence Assessment Committee, and the regular meetings of the SEATO Military Advisers.
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Current Notes on International Affairs (Question No. 197)
asked the Minister for Exter nal Affairs, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Science, upon notice:
When will the 1967 report of the Australian Education Council be released?
– The Minister for Education and Science has supplied the following information:
The Australian Education Council is made up of the six State Ministers of Education. I am informed that the Council does not issue reports on any regular basis. The only material published by the Council was ‘A Statement of Some Aspects of Education’ in 1960 which was revised and issued again in 1963. It is my understanding that the Council has no present intention of issuing further material. I do not know of any 1967 report.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
Can he indicate when legislation will be introduced to continue the operation of section 57aa of the Income Tax Assessment Act which makes provision for an investment allowance on new primary production plant?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Presumably the honourable member’s question refers to the special depreciation allowance to primary producers, which is the allowance provided by section 57aa of the Income Tax Assessment Act.
I hope to be able to make a statement in the near future on the Government’s intentions regarding the renewal of this provision.
asked the Minis ter for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
It is not possible to give a factual answer to this question. It is a matter of opinion whether the government of certain countries is based on rule by the majority, for example whether certain electoral processes are genuinely free or not and whether indirect election in certain cases can be said to represent a genuine expression of popular will. It would be correct to say that more than 50% do not have a parliamentary democracy of the kind with which we are familiar in Australia.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
er asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
er asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
No. Also accepted are New South Wales Education Department teachers who staff Canberra schools; teaching, research, technical and administrative staff of the Australian National University; administrative and technical staff of the Canberra Community Hospital; staff of the A-B.C. and a few other instrumentalities.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 April 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1967/19670412_reps_26_hor54/>.