26th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr J. R. FRASER presented a petition from certain residents of the Australian Capital Territory praying for a full judicial inquiry into the cost of living in the ACT, with the subsequent appointment, if necessary, of a price controller and action for an ACT wage standard.
Petition received and read.
Mr DONALD CAMERON presented a petition from certain citizens of the Commonwealth praying that this House take any action necessary to assist a campaign for a lasting and peaceful settlement in Vietnam.
– The Treasurer, Mr McMahon, left Australia on 14th September to attend the annual meeting of the Commonwealth Finance Ministers in London and the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in the United States of America. He expects to return to Australia on about 15th October and during Mr McMahon’s absence I shall act as Treasurer.
– - I direct to the Prime Minister a question concerning CommonwealthState relations and the sugar industry. As the Commonwealth completely endorsed the decision of the Queensland Government to expand the production of sugar to the present levels of production, will the Prime Minister, by some appropriate arrangement with the Queensland Government through the State Premier, honour his Government’s obligation to the Australian cane farmer to ensure- that all cane grown this season is harvested and so prevent the possible wasteful ploughing in of cane or the deliberate destruction of valuable food?
– I think this question should properly have been asked of the Minister for Primary Industry who naturally has at his finger tips the matters concerned with the sugar industry, far more than I can be expected to have. All I would say in answer to the honourable gentleman is that there is at the moment an international conference going on relating to the sugar industry. The results of this conference will be of far reaching importance to the industry, not only in relation to its area but also to the prices received. I will not answer at question time, nor will any other Minister, questions relating to matters of policy, but if further details on these agreements and the matters being discussed are required I believe that it would be better to address the questions to the responsible Minister.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Civil Aviation been drawn to a recent statement by a spokesman for Trans-Australia Airlines that the airline is reviewing the future of its Beechcraft services in Tasmania? If the services ceased, the towns of Strahan, Queenstown, Wynyard and Devonport would be left without an interconnecting commercial 871 service. Is the Minister able to give me an undertaking that whatever the result of TAA’s review may be, this air service to the people of Tasmania will be continued?
– My attention has been drawn to the fact that a statement appeared in the Press in Tasmania, attributed to TAA, indicating that the airline was considering withdrawing from certain light aircraft services in the State. I have made inquiries through my Department into this matter. My information is that the Australian National Airlines Commission has not yet made a decision in the matter, although it has indicated that because the services are uneconomic it is considering the matter. It has been known for some time that the major domestic airlines intend to discontinue light aircraft operations. This is one reason why the Government some time ago introduced an entirely new system for commuter operators. We did this to provide a service where it would be uneconomic for airline operations. No decision has been made in the matter to which the honourable member has referred. I am keeping in close touch with this matter. I assure the honourable member that whatever decision TAA may take, light aircraft services will be provided to the people living in the areas of Tasmania referred to.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: In the absence of any actual comprehensive balance sheet for the Australian Capital Territory, has it happened that from time to time figures of receipts and expenditures under many heads, and covering a wide field, have been compiled? Have these figures shown that, far from being a drag on the public purse, the Australian Capital Territory is paying its way, or very nearly so? Do the people of Canberra, paying income tax at the highest level per capita in Australia, contribute to all subsidies and payments made by the Commonwealth to the States and to primary industries?
– We are lucky we have you.
– I completely agree. If a balance sheet for the Australian Capital Territory included on the receipts side items equivalent to refund of petrol tax and tax reimbursements as made to the States, would this show that the Australian Capital Territory is in fact operating at a profit to Australia? Would this profit be enhanced by the vast increase in land values from which the Commonwealth is at present reaping a harvest?
– I understand the honourable member’s interest in this matter. Last week, in answer to a question asked from this side of the House, the Prime Minister pointed out that in fact the position of the people of Canberra is something underestimated because the income that comes in to the coffers of the Treasury is nol always balanced item for item against expenditure. Each year in the Estimates an allocation is made for the development of Canberra. Offsetting this allocation are the income from land rentals, based on 5% of unimproved valuation, and the premiums paid for land, some of which are as high as one would expect to pay in order to purchase outright a block of land in a State capital. These do offset considerably the amount of money expended in Canberra. So, it is true to say that the people of Canberra are contributing to their own development and it is not true to say that they are as highly subsidised by the taxpayer as many people seem to be prepared to believe. As for the rest of the detail of the honourable member’s question, on balance I think that the best thing that I. can do with it is to have a look at it later and to give him a considered reply.
– I direct a question to the Minister for External Affairs. Has the Minister seen Press reports suggesting that very many Federal Ministers as well as very many backbenchers on the Government side had a profound distaste for imposing sanctions against Rhodesia? Might it not be inferred from these reports that very many Ministers are actually in sympathy with ihe illegal white minority regime in Rhodesia? Is this really so? Might not these reports, or this inference, cause serious harm to Australia and impair our good relations with the countries of Asia and other nations throughout the world? Will the Minister take the earliest opportunity to make a statement as to the elements of the situation in Rhodesia which have attracted universal condemnation, and leaving no doubt as to where the Australian Government and people stand in relation to this important issue?
- Mr Speaker, with deep respect to the honourable and learned gentleman, I would ask him to appreciate, if he would, the difference between an attempt to recognise the difficulties and complexities of a situation and the expression of a sympathy. There may be some members of this House who have a lively sympathy with one party to the situation in Rhodesia. But I would think that, for the majority of them, there is an earnest attempt to try to recognise that this is not a simple situation but a very difficult and complicated one and that it is not a situation that is going to be resolved by eager partisanship either for one side or for the other, but is to be resolved only by a process of negotiation and, we hope, of compromise.
This has been a matter that has been before successive Australian governments first of all in the Commonwealth of Nations and more recently in the forum of the United Nations. From the commencement, a former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, made it quite plain on ull sides that, as a matter of practical politics as well as the desirable end, there could not be minority rule and a constant denial of rights to a majority. He also made it plain - and this has remained the view of the Australian Government - that there had to be a transition towards constitutional rule in Rhodesia and that this was not something that could be solved by a sudden fiat. He also expressed the opinion which, 1 believe, is still the opinion of the Australian Government that–
– Mr Speaker, I rise to a point, of order. Is the Minister right in giving the opinion, or what he says is the opinion, of n previous Prime. Minister when 1 could bring evidence to the contrary?
– There is no substance in the point of order. A Minister can answer a question in a manner in which he thinks fit providd that his answer is relevant to the question.
- Mr Speaker, I mentioned Sir Robert Menzies because he was the first of three Australian Prime Ministers to bc required to handle this question. From the commencement he also expressed doubt as to the effectiveness of economic sanctions and expressed a view - and expressed it in this House - to the general effect that economic sanctions seldom bring about the result they are intended to bring about and that they have a tendency to harm principally those whom they are designed to help. We have expressed our altitude about economic sanctions.
This matter passed into the forum of the United Nations. Whereas up to that point we had been trying to exercise a helpful role in the Commonwealth of Nations, recognising that the responsibility for constitutional development rested with the United Kingdom, and whereas we had been trying to exercise a helpful role in the relationships between the United Kingdom and the residents of Southern Rhodesia, we then found ourselves in a new position where, the matter having been taken to the United Nations, we had to consider - and were obliged to consider - our obligations as a member of the United Nations. Under the late Prime Minister. Mr Holt, and under the present Prime Minister, the Australian Government has made it clear that it does recognise its obligations as a member of the United Nations. Whatever views might be held about the effectiveness of economic sanctions, we have to balance those views against our obligations as a member of the United Nations, and we are doing so.
Regarding the basic issue in Rhodesia, the fundamental points - T think I interpret the views of the majority of members on the Government side correctly - are that the unilateral declaration of independence was a unilateral declaration and was an illegal assumption of government, and that no international status has accrued to Southern Rhodesia since. Secondly, the basic responsibility constitutionally still rests with the United Kingdom. Looking at the merits of the case in the long term, there will need to bc in Southern Rhodesia a constitution which gives an opportunity to sections of the population to participate in government. That is a desirable aim and it is also a necessity of practical polities’. I want to come back in my concluding remarks to that word ‘sympathy’, ft is not a matter of emotional sympathy so much as trying to understand why all the people involved in this very unhappy situation have great problems on their hands, lt is not for us to adopt a censorious or perhaps self righteous attitude towards them. We should recognise their difficulty and do our best to be helpful and hope for an outcome which will be just and equitable to all residents of Southern Rhodesia.
- Mr Speaker
– I wish to ask a supplementary question.
-Order! The honourable member for Mitchell will cease interjecting. The same comment applies to the honourable member for McMillan, who is also interjecting.
– But, Mr Speaker-
-Order! I warn the honourable member for McMillan.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether the contract signed wilh Avis Rent-a-Car System Pty Ltd contained a proviso that a percentage of turnover would be paid in addition to a flat rate. 1 also ask whether the reported $2m contract is to be paid monthly or in advance. Can he tell the House at how many levels in his Department the proposition was considered and recommended to him before it was finally adopted? Can he also state what was the purpose of Avis representatives entertaining senior officers of his Department at the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne just before the contract was signed?
– Obviously I have no knowledge of any entertainment such as that alleged by the honourable member. I will make some inquiries about the matter but I am very doubtful as to the accuracy of the statement. The points raised by the honourable member now were raised last week during the debate on the estimates for the Department of Civil Aviation. As they involve some pretty complex matters relating to a contract which in itself is very complex, and as they concern certain allegations which the honourable member made in this House and which have received a great deal of publicity, I do not wish to reply to a question without notice about those matters without having the full details available to me. I indicated to the honourable member last week that I would let him have a letter giving full details in relation to questions which he raised, all of which are covered in the contract itself. I indicated also that 1 would let him have a copy of the schedule setting out the details of the tenders. I will have that letter this week and will give the details to him. However, in view of the fact that the matter has been raised in the House in this way I will consider this question as being on notice and I will see that the full text of the reply which I give to the honourable member is incorporated in Hansard.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the Minister been advised that the Australian Wheat Board is expecting a carryover of about 40 million bushels of grain when the crop year ends on 30th November? Has he been advised that the Board intends to hold about half of this surplus in Western Australian storages? Does the Minister know that these Western Australian storages are financed by Western Australian growers from their first advance payments on an interest free loan basis? Finally, will the Minister, as the person who administers the legislation supporting ihe Australian Wheat Board, take appropriate and effective action to ensure that the burden of the carryover stocks is shared equitably by all States and without differentiation between State and State?
– I have not been informed by the Wheat Board what the final carryover of this season’s crop will be, although I have been aware that it would probably be between 20 million and 40 million bushels. As the honourable member would be aware, the storage of wheat is the responsibility of State organisations such as the Grain Elevators Board in New South Wales and similar organisations in other States. Sales from our stored reserves are handled by the Australian Wheat Board, which determines the most suitable ports from which to ship the wheat. If there has been any indiscretion in the selection of ports from which to send wheat exports I will be happy to look into the matter and advise the honourable member.
– I address my question to the Minister for Primary Industry What is the quota determined by the United Kingdom Government for imports of cheese from Australia this year? On what basis was it determined? What arrangements have been made by the Australian Government for the storage of surplus cheese until it can be exported?
– I think a question about the actual quota figure might be better directed to the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry. My information, however - and I am speaking off the cuff at the moment - is that the quota figure for cheese going to the United Kingdom market was about 15.000 tons. As to provision for the storage of cheese in Australia, this is a matter which is normally handled by the Australian Dairy Produce Board. Up to date we have had no problems in that direction, and. I have not been informed by the Board that there are any problems imminent.
– I ask Ihe Minister for Air whether he can confirm pr deny the truth of a statement about the Fill made by the Leader of the Opposition in Perth on Saturday last. I quote from a newspaper report of the interview which read:
Mr Whitlam claimed yesterday that the crisis over the Fill resulted from over-hasty action by the Menzies Government in 1963.
There was a general election pending, and they rushed into ordering this aircraft without consulting the RAAF,’ he said.
– Hear, hear!
– I am rather surprised to hear the Leader of the Opposition - the honourable Leader of the Opposition - say Hear, hear’, because if anyone should know the truth of this matter, he should. 1 was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. I was about to say that there were two newspaper reports of a statement attributed to him and that 1 did not know whether he had said what he was reported to have said. But, apparently, to judge from his endorsement of the remarks made in the question, he did say that. These are the facts, and this matter should be nailed here and now in this House, because this is the honourable gentleman who last year was talking about credibility. T ask the House to judge his credibility from what is on record in Hansard. This is a matter of national importance. On 22nd May 1963 Sir Robert Menzies said, as reported at page 1671 of Hansard:
An on-the-spot evaluation by a team of qualified experts is necessary, as it was in the selection of the Mirage. Such a team will be sent overseas at an early date, under the Chief of the Air Staff, to investigate and report.
In June 1963 a team from the Royal Australian Air Force went overseas and evaluated. The composition of that team-
-i raise a point of order Mr Speaker. This is supposed to be a question without notice. But quite obviously it is a question on notice, so I believe that the Minister’s statement should be made after question time.
– There is no point of order involved.
– I can understand the reaction of the honourable member for Reid; he does not like to hear this. A team of eight went overseas under the leadership of Air Marshal Sir Valston Hancock. The members of the team comprised Air Commodore G. D. Marshall, Controller of Technical Plans, Department of Air; Group Captain C. F. Read, Director of Operational Requirements, Department of Air; Wing Commander L. G. A. Marshall, Technical Staff Officer (Armament), Department of Air; Wing Commander J. A. Robb, Deputy Director of Telecommunications, Department of Air; Squadron Leader L. Bromley, Equipment Staff Officer, Department of Air; Squadron Leader E. J. Whitehead, Technical Staff Officer (Engines), Department of Air; and Mr C. Douglas, Assistant Secretary (Air), Department of Air. That team presented a report to the Government. On 24th October 1963 Sir Robert Menzies, who was then Prime Minister, said:
We sent the evaluation team overseas and in due course received its report, lt was clear that, subject to problems of the time-table and of payment and of interim provision to supplement if necessary the Canberra force, the evaluation team regarded what was then called the TFX in the United States as the most modern and complete answer to our requirements.
As 1963 was a long time ago, the honourable I.eader of the Opposition may have had a lapse of memory.
– I rise to order. My point is that this is clearly an answer to a question on notice and is an abuse of question time. I ask that the Minister make his comments as a public statement after question time.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order. The honourable member will resume his seat.
– If I may recapitulate 1963 was a long time ago and a man who is so attached to credibility might plead that he had a lapse of memory. If so, I suggest that he say so. But on 2nd May 1968, in a debate in this House on the defence review, 1 referred to the evaluation report of the RAAF. I dealt with it rather fully and I described how the advice of the RAAF evaluation team in 1963 conflicted with the suggestion made in 1963 by the Leader of the Opposition who then said that we should have bought Phantoms or Vigilantes as an interim replacement bomber until 1968. to be then replaced by the TFX or some other suitable bomber. As I said, the honourable gentleman said that in 1963. This is the gentleman who claims to attach value to credibility. He now goes around Australia saying that Sir Robert Menzies did not. consult the RAAF. I would be interested to know what a Labor government would have done. Would it have ignored the advice of the technical experts in the RAAF? There was one further point on which the honourable member should have known better, if he did not. It may not have been recorded as often as the fact that the RAAF had been consulted.
– Mr Speaker. I rise to order. Will you, in your wisdom, advise the Minister not to misuse question time in this way?
-Order! The Minister may continue.
– The Leader of the Opposition said that the TFX, or the Fill as it now is, could not be used operationally from any base other than Amberley without the expenditure of many millions of dollars.
– Mr Speaker, I move for an extension of time-
-Order! The honourable member for Reid will resume his seat. I remind honourable members that the taking of frivolous points of order is a breach of the Standing Orders.
– This is a-
-r-Order! The honourable member will cease interjecting.
– Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition did not know of the fact I am about to mention, lt is important, for the record of this House and in the national interest, that this should be known. The Fill can and will be used from a number of RAAF operational strips without the expenditure of many millions of dollars. Indeed, while its home base is Amberley-
– Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to standing order 144 which provides that questions cannot be debated. This question is being debated.
-Order! There is no substance to the point of order. A Minister may answer a question in any way that he thinks Gt.
– Mr Speaker-
-Order! The honourable member for Reid will resume his seat and will not rise while the Speaker is on his feet. 1 have already ruled on this matter.
– What about the Minister-
-Order! The honourable member for Reid will cease interjecting. I warn the honourable member. 1 have already ruled on this subject earlier this afternoon, and 1 do not intend to repeat my ruling.
– The truth is that Amberley will be the home base of the Fill but the aircraft will be used in operational exercises from a number of strips without the expenditure of many millions of dollars, ft can be used now from Darwin, Tindal, Learmonth, Townsville or a number of strips - in fact, from any strip that is 8,000 feet or more in length. The whole of the Opposition’s case against the TFX, or the Fill, is based on this false statement. Honourable members opposite know very well that had they been in office they would have taken the advice of their technical experts.. The whole of their case depends on this false statement by the Leader of the Opposition and it is important to them that they ‘ should have people believe that this false statement is true. I cannot say it in the Parliament - I know what is parliamentary - but having laid it on the line clearly now, I say that if 1 hear the honourable Leader of the Opposition or any member who has heard me today say outside this House anything to the same effect again, I will have no hesitation on a public platform outside this House in calling him a liar.
-Order! The House will come to order.
– I take a point of order.
– Honourable members will come to order and will remember that this is an honourable chamber and that they should act accordingly.
– Mr Speaker, I refer to standing order 321. The Minister for Air has quoted from and referred to a report. Under standing order 321 I ask him to table that report.
– That report will not be tabled, lt contains classified information of the greatest importance.
-Order! Before I call the Leader of the Opposition I would say that the members of this House know what parliamentary procedure is. I suggest that all honourable members restrain themselves and act in a proper manner in this House. This afternoon we have seen a demonstration of over-enthusiasm and I ask honourable members to restrain themselves. I call the Leader of the Opposition.
– Mr Speaker, I should not have to ask this, but I require you to have the Minister withdraw the concluding word of his answer.
– Mr Speaker, I chose my words with great care. I did not call the honourable gentleman a liar. I said that if he repeats his remarks outside this House after hearing me today I will say outside this House that he is a liar.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– On two or three previous occasions I have drawn the attention of all honourable members to the fact that questions are becoming too long. I have also drawn the attention of Ministers to the length of their answers. I suggest, so that all honourable members may have the benefit from question time, that honourable members and Ministers curtail the length of questions and answers.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry, by referring to the very critical1 resolution passed by this House on the behaviour of Russia towards Czechoslovakia in the recent crisis. Can the Minister advise me whether his Government approves or condemns the action of the very wealthy and super-patriotic wool barons of Australia in signing contracts with Russian cargo ships to carry this year’s wool clip to overseas markets?
– I am delighted to hear that a member of the Opposition is concerned with the fate of the wool of this nation of ours - the wool upon which so much of our past has depended and so much of the present depends. Of course, the honourable member may also be aware that the contracts to which he refers were negotiated, as I understand it, not by any Australian resident but by the overseas buyers who operate in the Australian markets and who purchase the wool from the Australian wool growers through the offices of various wool broking houses. Nonetheless, it is of concern if the present conference system under which ships have been delivering the wool that has been purchased in Australia and under which the conference lines have agreed to provide a continuity of shipping . at agreed freight rates is disrupted. The introduction into the trade of other vessels could disrupt the continuing conference operation. The Government has this under close examination. I can assure the honourable gentleman that it will continue to ensure that, if it is at all possible, adequate shipping facilities will be available for this substantial Australian export commodity.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. In reply to a question on Thursday, the right honourable gentleman said that the Attorney-General was continuing to make a close study of documents concerning the purchase of the Fill aircraft. I ask: Can the right honourable gentleman tell the House whether the Attorney-General has completed his examination of the papers, and if so, whether unclassified information can be made available to the Parliament?
– As a government we wish to give to the Parliament of this country as much information as possible about the arrangements made for the purchase of FI 1 1 aircraft. But the documents contain some classified material which, for security reasons, will not be made public under any circumstances. The AttorneyGeneral and the Department of Defence have been examining and are continuing to examine such documents to see which parts of them do not contain or refer to such classified matters. But having said that, it still remains true that the documents, so expurgated, are confidential arrangements between Australia and another nation. We would not expect such documents to be disclosed by another nation without previous consultation and agreement with us. We therefore need to consult the other nation concerned before disclosing them ourselves. This process is in train and when the availability of documents or parts of documents has been determined, then a detailed statement will be made.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question supplementary to that which he has just answered. When was the request made to the United States of America for permission to table these documents?
– I would like to refer to what 1 think is just that little twist which so often appears in the Leader of the Opposition’s presentation, lt is not a matter of asking for permission; it is a matter of consulting with and getting agreement between partners. His twist is just a little movement in one direction. This has been under discussion during the weekend between, 1 understand, the Department of Defence and the American Embassy here.
– Does not the right honourable gentleman know?
– Not precisely so, no. I do not carry out all the details of these arrangements when other Ministers are attending to them; of course not. The matter is in train now.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General, ls he prepared to reimburse members of this Parliament who are compelled to pay fines to his Department merely to receive from Ministers of the Crown acknowledgments of their representations?
– I am sorry but I must be a little dense; I do not understand what the honourable member is referring to. If he refers to letters on which postage has not been prepaid. I can only suggest to him the course that I adopt: Do not accept them.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. I refer the honourable gentleman to the crashes of the Fill aircraft in Vietnam earlier this year. Did the United States investigations show that the crashes were due to fatigue in a lock weld of a rod end part of the dual phase control valve assembly? If so, was it recommended that the welded rod end be replaced with a one piece rod end? Was it then decided to retrofit America’s Fill aircraft with this fitting? Have Australia’s twenty-four Fill aircraft been retrofitted with this one piece rod end? Further, when were the first fatigue tests on the structure of the Fill aircraft begun?
– I think the honourable gentleman has his wires pretty badly crossed on this matter. The regrettable fact is that of the three Fill aircraft, which crashed in Vietnam two were not recovered and it is therefore not possible to attribute the crash of those two aircraft to any particular cause. The third aircraft to crash in Vietnam was thought to have had some foreign body, to wit a tube of sealant or something of that sort, involved in the flying mechanism. That matter was never satisfactorily settled. The two instances to which the honourable gentleman has referred to which an actuating rod was found to be the cause of the crash occurred in the United States. There is not the slightest doubt in anybody’s mind that the cause of these two crashes was precisely identified to be the actuating rod to which the honourable member has referred. A positive correction was made and the aircraft have now been retrofitted with the one piece rod mentioned by the honourable member. So, in respect of certain matters the honourable member is reasonably well
Informed. As for the retrofitting of Australia’s twenty-four Fill aircraft, this is a rather difficult matter considering that only one of the aircraft has been produced. In respect of the other twenty-three aircraft the honourable member may rest assured that the one piece actuating rod to which he originally attributed the crashes will be fitted with great care.
– I rise to order, Mr Speaker. I ask that the Minister for Air withdraw the word ‘liar’. I believe it to be unparliamentary. Standing order 75 reads:
No Member may use offensive words against either House of the Parliament or any Member thereof, against any member of the Judiciary, or against any statute unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal.
– There is no substance in the point raised by the honourable member for Reid. He should have made his objection at the time of the particular occurrence. Mr Uren - Mr Speaker, I move: That Mr Speakers ruling be dissented from.
-It was not a ruling. I was merely informing the honourable member. The ruling was made at the time of the occurrence. A motion of dissent should have been made then.
- Mr Speaker. I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Indeed I do. The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) and other honourable members have implied that the Minister for Air (Mr Freeth) answered a question which he had given to me to ask. There is no truth in that suggestion. When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) comes to my State, whatever he says will be perused very carefully by me, and I will seek in this House to ascertain the truth or otherwise of any statement that he makes.
– Mr Speaker. I rise to a further point of order. Might I seek your guidance? You said that no ruling was given. How do 1 proceed now? Do I move a motion of no confidence in your ruling?
-Order! I remind the honourable member for Reid that it is not the prerogative of the Chair to give advice as to the procedures of the House. It is the prerogative of the Chair to carry out the Standing Orders of the House.
- Mr Speaker, this is not a controversial matter. In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1966. I present the reports of the Committee relating to the following proposed works:
Construction of Beef Roads, Northern Territory (1968 Reference); Construction of Laboratory Building for Division of Mineral Chemistry. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, North Ryde, New South Wales.
Ordered that the reports be printed.
Bill presented by Mr Wentworth, and read a first time.
Mr WENTWORTH (MackellarMinister for Social Services and MinisterinCharge of Aboriginal Affairs) [3.53J- .Mr Speaker, I move:
This Bill gives effect, so far as the Social Services Act is concerned, to the proposals announced by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) in his Budget speech. Ils main provisions are as follows: An increase of $1 a week in the standard rate of agc and invalid pensions, to bring the basic rate to $14 a week exclusive, of course, of the S2 per week supplementary assistance. An increase of $1.50 a week in the combined pensions of a married couple, raising the basic rate payable to them to $25 a week. An increase of $1 a week in the rate payable to Class A widows, bringing the basic rate, including mother’s allowance but excluding supplementary assistance and payments for children, to $!8 a week. An increase of 75c a week in the pension payable to widows without children, raising the basic rate to $12.50 a week, exclusive of supplementary assistance. An increase of $1 a week in the payments for children of widows and age and invalid pensioners, making the weekly payment $2.50 par child.
An increase of $1 a week in the rate of a pensioner’s wife’s allowance, so that the basic rate will be $7 a week. The introduction of a special payment - the equivalent of 2 pensions for 6 fortnightly installments - payable to the survivor when one of a married pensioner couple dies. The removal of the residence qualification for widows’ pensions where the couple were permanently residing in Australia. An increase of SI a week in the rate of rehabilitation training allowance, bringing it up to $4 a week. Increases in the rates pf living away from home allowances to $5 a week for unmarried rehabilitation trainees, and to $8 a week for married trainees. The introduction of a vocational training scheme for widow pensioners who desire to increase their earning capacity. The substitution of standard for married rate pension where the spouse of a pensioner receives unemployment or sickness benefit. Before dealing with these proposals in more detail, I should like to make some general remarks.
The measures embodied iri this Bill are part of the general plan of the Government to improve yet further the welfare system available to the people of Australia. They must be seen in the context of the general welfare pattern, which includes the main health services. Most, but by no means all, of the payments for these benefits are grouped together in the National Welfare Fund. Payments from this fund last year totalled $ 1,075m. This year they will exceed $1,1 60m - an increase of at least $85m, or approximately 8%. This somewhat exceeds the average rate of growth of our gross national product over the last 5 years, which indicates that the Government is maintaining its policy of devoting a fair share of our increasing productivity to welfare services.
Recently, as honourable members may know, I have had an opportunity to attend the meeting of welfare Ministers of the world convened under the auspices of the United Nations. One of the proposals at that meeting - a proposal, incidentally, made first on the initiative of Australia - was that the United Nations should establish an international clearing house of information upon social services. Pending the fuller information which would thus become available, it is not possible to be precise, but at least it is clear that Australia’s welfare services are amongst the highest in the world. Certainly our pension rates compare more than favourably with those of practically all non-contributory schemes. Certainly also our overall welfare services are vastly better than those available anywhere in the so-called Soviet bloc. At that United Nations meeting various member nations of the Soviet bloc put forward glowing and deceptive descriptions of what they were doing for their needy, and had advanced the proposition that this showed some inherent superiority in their system. When it was pointed out that the Australian welfare system was more generous than theirs, they resorted to irrelevant abuse, realising apparently that the facts of the matter were against them.
It is not to be contended, of course, that our Australian system cannot be further improved. This has been our policy over the last 19 years. Indeed, the House may well remember that one of my distinguished predecessors in this ministry was accustomed to remind the House of the improvement Budget by Budget. And one of the first acts of the present Prime Minister upon taking office was to set up a standing committee of the Ministers most directly concerned with welfare to consider the problems involved and the best ways of meeting them. Three of the reasons why these problems are so complex are as follows: Firstly, welfare problems cross over the lines which must be drawn between the functions of various departments. Social services are at the centre, but they cannot be considered in isolation from health, housing or repatriation. Secondly, welfare problems are not solely the concern of the Federal Government. Some aspects, such as the details of child welfare, are best handled on a more decentralised basis through the States. In other cases, local government or the extensive network of voluntary bodies, both lay and religious, has a part to play. In these fields, the most efficient use of Federal resources may not be directly through government machinery, but perhaps by way of subvention to these other organisations. Thirdly, as announced in the Governor-General’s Speech our twin objectives are to assist preferentially those most in need and at the same time to avoid discouraging the thrift, self help and self reliance from which in the long run we must draw the economic strength that is essential to the maintenance of our whole structure, both in the field of social welfare and elsewhere. It cannot be denied that there is some inherent conflict between these two objectives, both of which we regard as essential; so to reconcile them requires no little application and prudence.
The Standing Committee on welfare to which I have referred is continuing its studies. It would, of course, be out of place for me to endeavour to forecast its future recommendations, but 1 think I may be permitted to point out that much has already been achieved. Much of the credit for the States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act, which this House recently passed, and which provides half the cost which the States incur in giving full assistance to these mothers in the early months of their misfortune, before they become eligible for the Commonwealth pension, must go to my immediate predecessor as Minister for Social Services, the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair). But the general line on welfare developed in this present Budget is, I think, mainly due to the work of the standing committee to which I have referred. Much of this line is embodied in the Bill, now before the House; some of the rest resides in the corresponding proposals of my colleagues, the Ministers for Health (Dr Forbes) and Repatriation (Senator McKellar). I should like to summarise three of these main themes as follows:
Before I deal with the Bill’s proposals in more detail, I should like to make one further observation to the House. The principal Act .to which this Bill refers has not been reprinted since 1965, as amended up to the previous year, although it has been substantially amended since that date. However, the preliminary work for a reprint has now been completed, and as soon as the Parliament has disposed of the present Bill a final clean draft will be made, and it is anticipated that a reprint will be available within a comparatively short time.
I have also issued urgent instructions to my Department that the various forms, booklets and leaflets issued to the public should be brought up to date and reprinted as soon as this present Budget legislation is finalised. At the same time it is hoped to revise and improve the lay-out of certain of these leaflets and the accompanying forms. May 1 say that if any honourable member on either side of the House has any constructive suggestion to make in this regard, drawn from h:s own experience in handling the affairs of his constituents, I should be most grateful to receive it.
This does not, however, quite dispose of the matter. Honourable members will recall that the form of the present Act was determined in 1947, since when some thirty amending Acts have been passed. The inevitable result has been that the present Act has become something of a patchwork. The House will note, indeed, that the complex nature of some of the provisions of the Bill at present before it is due to this very patchwork factor. Quite considerable problems of drafting are due to the necessity of preserving the privileges of certain numerically minor groups of pensioners, for example, blind pensioners, and of ensuring that general amendments should not infringe these privileges. I have therefore asked my Department to confer with the officers of the Attorney-General to sec whether it may be possible at some future date to redraft the whole of the present patchwork Act, and, without changing its substance in any way, to present it in a simplified and more easily understandable form. If these discussions suggest the possibility of any fruitful action along these lines, I shall have the . matter followed up through the normal and proper channels.
It may interest honourable members to compare the present main pension rates with those existing in December 1 949, when the Chifley Government, the last Labour Government to hold office, was replaced by Liberal-Country Party Administrations. In December 1949, the consumer price index stood at 64, as compared with 144.6 for fully and which, with the concurrence of by Liberal-Country Party Administrations. I- the House, I will have incorporated in have a table which sets out the position Hansard.
– The table sets out the real values of the benefits, and the final column shows the improvement in real values over the period. But even this does not tell the whole story. The Commonwealth provides many fringe benefits for pensioners directly from its own revenues. All pensioners, for example, are entitled to free hospital, medical and pharmaceutical services, and, depending upon domestic circumstances, to reduced charges for telephone rentals and for radio and television licences. In common with other aged persons, they enjoy certain income tax concessions. Some of these benefits, of course, were provided even under the Labour Government, but these benefits we have extended and improved. For example, last April we introduced the new hearing aid service, under which these devices are available to pensioners who require them for a single initial hiring fee of $10, and the Government pays for all normal repairs and maintenance, other than the replacement of batteries. The present value of these direct concessions approaches $2 per week per pensioner, but to individual pensioners the current rate of benefit may be very much higher. In terms of real purchasing power, the concessions are certainly worth over twice as much today as they were when the last Labour Government relinquished office in December 1949.
Fringe benefits are also provided for pensioners by the States with Commonwealth assistance, for example, the deserted wife benefits to which I have already referred. Other benefits, for example, transport and rates concessions, are provided by certain States under their own Budget allocations. We gladly acknowledge the co-operation of the States in this field, and shall endeavour to continue to work in harmony with them. There are other important fringe benefits which are provided for pensioners, and, indeed, to other sections of the community, by voluntary organisations, including religious bodies and foundations. On behalf of the Government I wish to thank all of these, both lay and religious. I am sure that they also receive the grateful thanks, not only of the community as a whole but also of those whom they specially serve, for the good works which they do.
I would like, if I may, to stress here a development which, although not new, is receiving a new emphasis under the policy of this Government. 1 refer to subsidies paid by the Commonwealth to these charitable bodies as a supplement to their own funds, to enable them to extend their activities even more widely. Examples of what 1 have in mind might be found in the aged pensons homes scheme, where the Government provides two-thirds of the cost, and nongovernment bodies provide the whole of the administrative working. Or again 1 might refer to such bodies as the nursing associations, in the towns, or the flying doctor service to the outback, both of which receive extra subsidy under this present Budget. This principle of assisting voluntary bodies to extend their services in Ihe welfare field is a most important one, and I feel that the House will walch with sympathetic interest the development of the Government’s policy along these lines.
Mr Speaker. I will now deal with the various proposals of the Bill in greater detail. Over a million pensioners and children will benefit from the increases in the rates of pension, wife’s allowance and additional pension for children. The increase of $1 a week will bring the standard rate of pension to $14 a week and a single pensioner eligible for supplementary assistance will now bc able to receive up to $16 a week. The combined rate for married couples, who represent one-third of all pensioners, will rise by SI. 50 to $25 a week. Widow pensioners without children will receive an extra 75c a week, so that their basic pension will be $12.50 a week without supplementary assistance and $14.50 a week with supplementary assistance. Wife’s allowance will increase by $1 to $7 a week. The additional pension for children, at present $1.50 per week, will be increased by $1 a week to its new level of $2.50 a week. Particular increases of benefits have thus been given to those in our community who are unable to work because of age, invalidity or the necessity to care for children.
When the principle of the higher standard rate of pension was introduced in 1963, some people doubted whether this higher rate for single pensioners was justified. But I would feel that this opposition to the principle has by now largely faded away in the face of the facts. Many countries recognise and accept the need for the differential rate; a married couple does, on the average, need something less than twice the single rate to maintain the equivalent standard of living of the person living alone. The University of Melbourne needs survey showed that aged persons living alone were the most likely group to experience poverty; and members of this study team, including Professor Downing, recommended accordingly that the single rate should exceed half the married rate. Social workers, from their first hand knowledge, generally endorse the findings of these researchers. The standard rate assists financially the surviving spouse of a married pensioner couple, whose need is being further recognised in this Bill by the introduction of a special allowance, about which I shall speak later. lt is true, of course, that some single pensioners are in a more fortunate position than others; it is equally true that the great majority of single pensioners, who, incidentally, represent about two-thirds of all pensioners, are in need of additional assistance. In dealing with almost a million pensioners, legislation to cover every individual requirement is obviously impossible. Our duty is to alleviate broad areas of poverty, real or relative. The fact that a small minority of single pensioners may be in comparatively good circumstances is no reason why the Government should refuse to alleviate the admitted need of the great majority. Nevertheless the standing committee on welfare is considering what can be done, within the proper limits of Commonwealth powers, to rectify any anomalies either here or in other areas.
Another group of persons found to be in comparative want are widow, age and invalid pensioners with children, lt was the appreciation of this fact that prompted the Government to increase payments for children from $1.50 per week to S2.50 per week. This is an increase of 66!% and is the biggest percentage increase contained in thi Bill now before the House. Over 107,000 children of 51,000 pensioners will benefit from the proposed increase of $1 a week, and the big majority of these children will belong to families which have lost their breadwinner.
Opportunity is also being taken to correct an administrative anomaly by replacing childs allowance by additional pension for the first child. At present where a pensioner has one child in his custody, care and control, a child’s allowance of $1.50 a week is paid separately to the pensioner or, if he is a married man, to his wife. If there is no entitlement to pension there is no entitlement to child’s . allowance. If the pensioner has two or more children in his custody, care and control, the maximum rate of pension which he may receive is increased by $1.50 a week - $2.50 under this Bill - for each child after the first. Under the proposal all children will, be treated the same, by abolishing child’s allowance for the first child and substituting instead additional pension for that child - as is done for children other than the first. By adding this additional pension to the basic pension, or in the case of a married pensioner couple to the husband’s pension - instead of paying it as a separate allowance - the proposal will extend the limit of income beyond which no pension is payable by $130 a year for single pensioners and by 55260 a year for a married couple. In effect this. means that some persons with children who are now ineligible will become eligible for pension. In. no case will the adoption of the proposal reduce the amount payable below that payable under the existing legislation. The rights of blind pensioners - or their . spouses - to receive, without deduction on account of the means test, the equivalent of: the amount of the child’s allowance will be safeguarded.
An amendment which is partly of a machinery nature, but which will be to the mutual advantage of both the pensioner and my Department, is the proposal to pay standard rate in lieu of married rate pension where the spouse of a pensioner is in receipt of unemployment benefit or sickness benefit. The present position is that a married person receives a pension at the standard rale of $13 a week - S 1 4 under this Bill - if his spouse is not a pensioner or in receipt of a benefit listed in Section 28 (1a) (a) of the Social Services Act. If his spouse is granted an unemployment or sickness benefit, his pension is immediately reduced to the married rate of $11.75 a week- $12.50 under this Bill- since unemployment and sickness benefits are listed in section 28 (1a) (a) of the Act. This reduction in the long term pension payment is difficult to explain to the pensioner and is not without administrative difficulties to my Department. Frequently, by the time the reduction in the rate of pension is effected, the spouse has returned to work and the pension is due for an increase back to- the standard rate.
Where the spouse receives sickness benefit, the proposal will mean an increase in the family income by the difference between standard and married rates of pension which, under this Bill, will be $1.50 a week. This is because a sickness benefit is not affected by any income, including pension, received by a spouse. In the case of a. pensioner’s spouse receiving unemployment benefit, there will generally be no change in the total family income by way of pension and benefit.
Mr Deputy Speaker, earlier in this speech I mentioned the special allowance that, it is proposed, may be paid in future on the death of one of a married pensioner couple. This measure is being introduced because of the difficulty experienced by a surviving spouse, particularly one advanced in years, in reducing household commitments and making the necessary readjustments following the loss of what could be nearly half the income previously coming into the home. The proposed concession will apply to persons who are actually in receipt of age, invalid or service pension, or wife’s allowance including persons who, but for the receipt of sheltered employment allowance or rehabilitation allowance, would have been in receipt of one of those pensions.
Under the proposal, on the death of a married pensioner - and I use the word pensioner’ to include a wife receiving a wife’s allowance - the surviving pensioner will receive the equivalent of the two pensions or pension and allowance that would have been payable if the spouse had nol died. Any adjustment to the pensions that would have been made if both pensioners were still living, for example, on a child reaching 16 years of age. will be effected. Any additional payment such as standard rate pension and guardian’s allowance for which the survivor would qualify as a single person will not be payable. However, where a pension assessed on a single pension basis would allow a higher rate of payment, that rate will be paid. It has been arranged with the Repatriation Department that the Department which is paying the pension of the widow or widower will also pay the six instalments in respect of the deceased pensioner.
Since the war, Mr Deputy Speaker, migration has played a vital part in the development of our country. The knowledge, skill and enterprise of our fellow Australians who came from overseas are appreciated. You will remember that in 1966 the Government removed the nationality qualifications for age, invalid and widows’ pensions. Our current review of social welfare showed that the present residential requirements were causing misgivings to some migrant women. Under the law as it stands, a woman and her husband, or the man in respect of whom she is a dependent female, must both have been living permanently in Australia preceding the man’s death to enable her to qualify for a widow’s pension after 12 months residence. For a woman who becomes a widow by reason of desertion, divorce, admission of husband to a mental hospital or imprisonment of husband, the residence qualification is 5 years.
The position of a woman who loses the support of her breadwinner in any of the circumstances mentioned is substantially the same. Whatever the circumstances the widow, or notional widow, is still responsible for bringing up her children or meeting the commitments entered into before the loss of her husband’s support. Hardship is presently averted by granting unemployment or special benefit or by State assistance, which has been subsidised by the Commonwealth since 1st January this year.
Under the terms of the Bill, if a woman and her husband were residing permanently in Australia, the woman will immediately become residentially qualified for a pension if her husband dies or if an event occurs - such as divorce - that would bring her within the definition of a widow under the Social Services Act. The increases and dates of increases in pension rates will, as usual, apply to the rates of rehabilitation allowance depending on whether a particular allowance is paid on an invalid pension or widow’s pension basis.
– Do they have to be naturalised?
– No. From the same dates it is proposed to increase the concomitant training allowance and living away from home allowances. The training allowance will rise by $1 a week to $4 a week. The living away from home allowance will be increased in the case of an unmarried trainee to $5 a week during the whole of training, and in the case of a married trainee to $8 a week during the whole of training, whether or not the trainee has a dependent child. At the present time the allowance for an unmarried trainee is $3.50 a week and is paid only for the first 8 weeks of training. A married trainee without a child receives $6 a week for the first 8 weeks of- training and $3 a week thereafter. A married trainee with a dependent child receives $6 a week for the whole of the period of training. The limitations in the payments to an unmarried trainee and to a married trainee without a child have proved to be unrealistic. The assumption that a trainee would be able to obtain cheaper accommodation after the first 8 weeks is illusory. Moreover, a married trainee often has to maintain two homes whether or not he has a dependent child.
In addition to the training allowance and. where applicable, the living away from home allowance, a person undergoing training also receives a rehabilitation allowance at the rate of the invalid or widow’s pension that would otherwise be payable. Thus a married trainee living away from home could receive, under the new rates covered by this Bill, a total of up to $33 a week, or $35 if supplementary assistance is payable, made up of a rehabilitation allowance, including the wife’s allowance, S21 a week; training allowance, $4 a week; living away from home allowance, $8 a week; and supplementary assistance, $2 a week.
A single trainee could receive $ 1 4 a week rehabilitation allowance, $4 a week training allowance and, if applicable, a living away from home allowance of $5 a week, making a total of $23 a week or $25 if supplementary assistance is payable.
A further important addition to our rehabilitation programme will be the introduction of a vocational training scheme for widow pensioners. Commerce and industry are seeking efficient workers. Many widows would like to work, but are deterred from attempting to do so by lack of skills or qualifications or by the lengthy period since they had been previously employed. The proposed scheme will offer widows the opportunity to develop and use their latent work skills. From the national viewpoint there will be a twofold advantage. They will cease to be dependent on the pension and will become active members of the work force. More importantly perhaps, many will be assisted and encouraged 1 to achieve their desire for interesting lucrative work.
This training scheme will be available to widow pensioners with children as well as to those without children. There will be no compulsion, but the Government .believes that many widows in both categories would welcome the opportunity to improve their lot. The training to be offered may be either full time or part time, lt may take the form of a refresher course aimed at restoring confidence and bringing up to date a former skill or qualification or it may involve training for a new skill or a different occupation for which there are employment opportunities.
It is expected that the period of training - generally by way of class instruction at business or technical colleges and by correspondence courses - would not ordinarily exceed 12 months. In special circumstances longer courses may be granted. However, it is not proposed that training which would be likely to exceed 3 years - the maximum period allowed under the Commonwealth rehabilitation service - would be approved.
During training the widow would continue to receive her pension so long as she remained otherwise eligible. In addition, a training allowance of $4 per week and, where appropriate, a living away from home allowance will be paid, as well as tuition fees and fares to and from the place of training. Books and equipment required in connection with training will be provided, and loans of up to $400 for home employment will be available in the same way as they are for rehabilitees. The training scheme will operate from the date of royal assent.
This completes the outline of the main features of the Bill and 1 would now like to acquaint the House with some details of the costs involved. Expenditure from the National Welfare Fund on items under the Social Services Act rose from $149m in 1948-49 to almost $793m in 1967-68. The estimate for 1968-69 is $856m. The total expenditure from the Fund was $162m in 1948-49, $l,075m in 1967-68 and, as I said earlier, is expected to be $l,161m during the current financial year. The cost of the increases, improvements and new measures provided in the Bill before the House will add $38m to the liability for social services for the year 1968-69. The cost of the proposals over a full year is estimated at $50m.
Expenditure by my Department under the Aged Persons Homes Act and the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act is not included among the items of expenditure in the National Welfare Fund. Between the passing of the Aged Persons Homes Act in 1954 and 30th June 1968, 1,658 grants were approved at a cost of almost $80m. In less than 12 months 103 grants costing almost $2m have been approved under the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act. The States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act was assented to on 21st June last, and by 30th June over $200,000 had been paid to the States.
The Government has examined in detail many suggestions and proposals, and has evaluated them against the criterion of assisting those in the greatest need, without penalising thrift, and independence. Especially have we sought to relieve the needs of the single age and invalid pensioners living alone and of all pensioners with children. We have striven, to help all families who have lost their breadwinners. This Bill alleviates these obvious areas of relative poverty but the Government will not let the matter rest there. The Cabinet standing committee on welfare is continuing its detailed investigation with a view to integrating and improving all aspects of social welfare. In accordance with established practice, it is proposed that the increases in the various pensions and rehabilitation allowances provided under this Bill will come into operation on the pay days following the royal assent.
As soon as the Budget was brought down, my Department commenced the task of entering the proposed increased rates upon the individual records, totalling over 1,000,000, which control the cheques issued to all beneficiaries. This task is being performed with all possible speed, and it is anticipated that it will be completed by the end of this month. Consequently, if the Parliament passes the present Bill in time, it is proposed to make the first widow’s pension payment at the increased rate on 1st October, and the- first age and invalid pension payment at the increased rate on 10th October. These are the earliest dates at which it would be technically possible to pay at the new rates. Mr Speaker, 1 commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Daly) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 10 September (vide page 845), on motion by Mr Swartz:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Repatriation Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before the Parliament. Whilst on this occasion the Opposition does not oppose the passage of the Bill, I will take the opportunity, as will some of my colleagues who will follow me in this debate, not only to criticise some aspects of the legislation but also to support the attitude of the Returned Services League, which has expressed its disappointment at the provision being made for returned servicemen generally. I remind the House at this stage that on two occasions within the last 6 months I have raised the subject of repatriation and have expressed quite clearly to the Government the dissatisfaction that exists not only amongst honourable members on this side of the House but also amongst members of the RSL. We are in a position to represent the returned servicemen and the Returned Services League, as an organisation, is in a position to present its case to the Government.
On both of the occasions that repatriation has been debated, every honourable member on the Government side has supported the Government’s stand on this issue. The Opposition has expressed very forcibly its view that the pension rates now applying to ex-servicemen generally are inadequate. We have shown the extent to which these rates have been allowed to fall during the period of office of this Government and the reluctance of the Government to accept the recommendations that have been placed before it each year by the ex-servicemen’s organisation. On the last occasion the subject was debated the Opposition, because it believed it was necessary to do so, moved a motion of lack of confidence in the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar). On that occasion the Opposition followed the action that had been taken by the Victorian Branch of the RSL at its annual State conference, where it unanimously carried a vote of no confidence in the Minister for Repatriation. During this debate, I do not want to remind the House of the terms of that resolution and the reasons why the Opposition moved a motion of lack of confidence in the Minister. This resulted from a consideration of a number of matters that the RSL had brought to the notice of ex-servicemen’s organisations and to Opposition members. We believed the Minister for Repatriation had adopted a serious attitude that was not helping ex-servicemen. lt can be said, of course, that the Bill now before the House does provide for some increases and the Opposition acknowledges that some improvement has been effected by the Government in some aspects of pension payments to ex-servicemen. The Opposition supports the views expressed by the Federal Executive of the RSL, which believes that the pension increases are inadequate and that the rates are below the standard that should be regarded as the minimum in Australia. I take the opportunity to offer these criticisms on behalf of the Opposition and the RSL, but I will also move an amendment which I believe expresses the point of view of the Opposition on this subject. I move:
I remind the House that on the Government side two committees have been established to represent the point of view of ex-servicemen. Firstly, there is the Cabinet sub-committee which deals with these matters. In addition, I understand the back bench members have formed a committee to consider repatriation matters. Surely in these circumstances some pressure could have been and should have been applied to the Cabinet to obtain increases for repatriation pensioners generally. The Government is aware, as most people are, that the rates of pension generally and especially the total and permanent incapacity rate, the general rale of pension and the war widows’ rate, have been allowed to fall drastically during the period of office of the Government. I shall show the extent to which repatriation pensions have fallen during the last 17 or 18 years. One would have thought that if the Cabinet sub-committee had not been willing to act - after all it had the opportunity to discuss the 1968 pension plan with the Federal Executive of the RSL - the committee of. back bench members on the Government side would have applied pressure to the Government on this subject: and would have asserted and supported the claims submitted to the Government by the RSL in its 1968 pension plan.
I sa.’d only a few moments ago that the value of repatriation pensions had been allowed to fall drastically during the period that this Government has been in office. 1 believe that I should place on record the extent to which the values have been eroded. 1 shall take first the total and permanent incapacity rate. In 1920 it was 103% of the then equivalent of the basic wage. In 1943 it was 100% of the basic wage, a fall of 3% in 23 years. In 1950, in ‘the first Budget introduced by this Government the value of the pension was increased. In that year the TPI rate was 101% of the basic wage. In 1967 it was only 81% of the equivalent minimum wage. Between 1950 and 1967 the rate declined from 101% to 81%. Even if one takes into consideration the increase that the Government has granted to TPI ex-servicemen in this Budget, the rate is till only 89% of the equivalent minimum wage. So, the rate has declined during this Government’s period of office from 101% in 1950, which was the year of the first Budget of this Government in which repatriation pensions were adjusted, to 89%.
This is the sort of treatment meted out to TPI ex-servicemen by the present Government Parties, which in 1949 promised that the value of repatriation pensions would be maintained. Indeed, Sir Robert Menzies said in 1949, when he was seeking to become Prime Minister, that the value of repatriation pensions would be not only maintained but raised as a result of increased purchasing power. This was promised in 1 949. Yet now the rate is 89% of the equivalent minimum wage. This demonstrates the attitude of this Government towards TPI ex-servicemen. I believe that the attitude of the National Executive of the Returned Services League on this question is quite correct and legitimate. It argues that there is an organisation in this country, the arbitration tribunal, which decides the minimum wage that ought to be paid to any worker, yet here is a Government that says that a TPI ex-serviceman - a soldier who has been totally incapacitated as a result of his service to his country - should receive no more than 89% of what the arbitration tribunal says ought to be the minimum wage in this country.
Having dealt with the TPI rate, I would now like to turn to the 100% general rate pension, because in this classification the Government’s record is even worse. Again I. turn to the figures that have been supplied by the National Executive of the RSL, again taking the same years for comparison. In 1920 the 100% general rate pension was 54% of the equivalent basic wage - 4% in excess of half the basic wage. In 1943 it bad fallen to 52% of the equivalent basic wage. In 1950 - the year of the first Budget presented by the present Government - it was 51% of the basic wage. But in 1967 it had fallen to 32% of the equivalent minimum wage. In 1968 it is still only 32% of the minimum wage. This is the record of the present Government Parties, which said in 194.9 that they would maintain the purchasing power of repatriation pensions. The 100% general rate pension was slightly less than half the basic wage in 1949. As I have already said, it was 51% of the basic wage in 1950. This Government has allowed the rate to decline to 32% of the minimum wage today. What has the
Government clone about the general rate pension this year in the Budget? Nothing at ali. There has been no increase for the great bulk of those who receive the general rate of pension. This is the record, then, of the present Government Parties, which promised to maintain the purchasing power of repatriation pensions. I believe, therefore, that the attitude of the National Executive of the RSL is a correct one. This Government has a case to answer. It has done nothing about this pension. It evades the issue not only with the RSL but also on all occasions in this Parliament.
So much for the Government’s attitude in relation to repatriation pensions generally. I believe that this attitude can be summed up in the same way that the National Executive of the RSL has indicated ils attitude towards what the Government would prefer to describe as its measure of justice to repatriation pensioners. I quote from the 1968 plan of the RSL which was presented to the Cabinet sub-committee on repatriation. The document, in part, stales:
This is a grave injustice to those who have suffered in war and is a state of affairs thai is unacceptable in a modern, high standard and very privileged society. 1 believe there is every justification for the RSL making this kind of statement. I said when I commenced that some increases were provided for in this legislation. These increases arc little enough but they will effect some improvement. The Opposition acknowledges that some improvements are being made this way. 1 turn now to the increases. The TPI rate of pension will be increased by $3 a week and in future will be $33.50 a week. The intermediate rate of war pension also will be increased by $3 a week. The Minister has now taken the opportunity for the first time to introduce what he calls a special compensation allowance which will be payable to certain more seriously incapacitated general rate pensioners with incapacity ranging from 100% to 75%. The special allowance will be worked out on a special sliding scale and will range between $2.25 and $3 per week. War widows will receive an increase of $1 per week. There will also’ be an increase for war orphans as well as some changes in pension payments. Of course, these payments parallel benefits being paid under social services legislation. The Budget will increase the rate for a single service pensioner by $1 a week and for a married couple by Si. 50 a week.
I now turn to each special category of repatriation benefit in turn. First of all, I shall deal with the TPI rate. I want to deal not only with the rate of pension to be paid under the terms of this legislation but also with the TPI pensioner’s position in the community. I have already pointed out to the House that the TPI ex-serviceman is not in a position to earn any income at all. He must depend for his-
– The TPI pensioner must depend for his existence upon the generosity of this Government. I am quite prepared to concede for the benefit of tha honourable member for Franklin, who is very vocal, by way of interjection, on the subject of repatriation but never makes a speech about it here, that the TPI exserviceman can supplement his income under certain circumstances. He can accept suitable employment if it is available. But the amount he receives is not very great. I think that if it is a question of determining whether the TPI ex-serviceman must depend principally on the TPI rate of pension, most people in this country would support the statement that 1 have made. The TPI exserviceman looks to the Government for the amount of pension that he receives. I have already pointed out that the great majority cif these pensioners are not in a position to supplement their income in any way. They must rely on the generosity of this Government. I have already pointed out that expressed as a percentage of the minimum wage paid in Australia, the TPI rate is now 12% lower than it was in 1950. There are 24,403 TPI pensioners, according to the report of the Repatriation Commission for the year ended 30th June 1968.
Let us examine the proposal to increase the TPI rate of pension by $3 a week. On the face of it this is a reasonably generous increase, but the House and the people of Australia should understand that a married TPI pensioner may supplement his pension with a part service pension. This means that the TPI rate is tied to the maximum amount that a married couple may receive in pension and additional income under the social services legislation. I do not think tha
Minister will deny that the great majority of married TPI pensioners are in receipt of a part service pension and are therefore on the maximum rate. If this is so they will not be able to obtain the full S3 a week increase in the TPI rate. The Minister may care to put it another way: He may care to say that all TPI pensioners will receive an increase of S3 a week. This would be fair. But the fact is that if the TPI pensioner is to receive an increase of S3 a week, his part service pension will be reduced by $1.50 a week or his wife’s allowance, where she is in receipt of a social service payment, will be reduced by $1.50 a week. It is my belief that the great majority of TPI pensioners are able to supplement their pension with a part service pension, and accordingly they will not be able to obtain the full increase of $3 a week. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) may care to challenge my statement - the relevant statistics are not provided in the report of the Repatriation Commission. The net increase that TPI pensioners will receive will be $1.50 a week. The TPI pension may be increased by $3 a week, but the service pension or the wife’s allowance will be reduced by $1 .50 a week.
The TPI rate is now 89% of the minimum wage. In the plan that it submitted to the Cabinet sub-committee the RSL requested that the TPI rate be not less than the minimum wage paid in this country - about $38 a week. The Opposition agrees with that submission. We do not believe that any ex-serviceman who is completely incapacitated as a result of war service should receive less than the minimum wage awarded by the arbitration court. But the Government has ignored the submission of the Federal Executive of the RSL. The TPI pension is still only 89% of the minimum wage. The Opposition supports the RSL in its claim that the TPI rate should be increased to the level of the minimum wage.
I now turn to the 100% rate pension. The Minister has announced the introduction of a special compensation allowance ranging from $3 a week in the case of a pensioner with a 100% disability to $2.25 a week in the case of a pensioner with a 75% disability. These amounts also are lower than were requested by the RSL in its submission to the Government. What does the Minister mean by a special compensation allowance? In some cases it will mean a very generous increase in benefits. I concede this, and the Opposition would support the payment of an extra $3 a week to a general rate pensioner. But the increased benefit will apply to only certain pensioners. As the Minister pointed out in his second reading speech, the increase will not apply to those pensioners whose disability is defective eyesight or partial hearing. I hope that the Minister has considered the point that has been made in this Parliament on other occasions: Not every ear disability can be corrected by a hearing aid or by surgery. The Minister has said merely that the special compensation allowance will not be paid to those whose disability is defective hearing or defective eyesight. The Minister maintains that these disabilities may be corrected by hearing aids and spectacles respectively. This is not always so, and I hope that if he replies in this debate the Minister will take the opportunity to explain what is meant by the special compensation allowance. I have already said that it is a welcome provision, but one might ask why the Government sets the limit of disability at 75%. Why not 70%? No doubt the Minister would argue that 75% is threequarters of the 100% rate. Take the case of two ex-servicemen, one with a 75% disability and the other with a 70% disability, suffering from emphysema and bronchitis or neurosis and ulcers, which I am assured are related disabilities. The 75% pensioner will receive an increase but the 70% pensioner, suffering from the same disabilities as the 75% pensioner, will not receive any increase. No doubt the Minister will argue that there had to be a starting point and that he selected 75% as the starting point.
I think it is of benefit to analyse the statistics relating to 100% general rate pensioners. From the report of the Repatriation Commission we learn that 197.000 general rate pensioners receive a pension of from 100% to 5%. There are 34,168 pensioners in receipt of pensions ranging from 75% to 100%- only 34,000 out “of “a total of 197,000 general rate pensioners. What does this mean? It means that the Government will pay an increase by way of the special compensation allowance to only 34,168 general rate pensioners and that 162,832 general rate pensioners will not receive any increase. The Government ought to take into account, as indeed I am sure the RSL takes into account, that no increase has been made in the general rate pension over the last 4 years or 5 years.
So, what does the Government do on this occasion? lt selects 34,168 people, out of a total of 197,000 people, to receive some increase. 1 am not disputing the fact that for those who will receive the increase it is a generous one. But in view of the fact that there are so many pensioners below the 75% rate, the Government ought to have an appreciation of the position in which many of these pensioners now find themselves. Their pensions have been lowered since this general rate pension has received no attention from this Government during the last 3 or 4 years. As I said a few moments ago. this pension now stands at 32% of the basic wage. There has been a 19% fall during the period of office of this Government. The plan for 1968 submitted to the Government by the RSL calls for the general rate pension to bc increased to 50% of the minimum wage. The Government ignored the representations from the national executive of the Returned Services League.
I come to the war widows.. The basic rate of pension for a war widow is S 1 3 per week. The domestic allowance is $7 per week. Under this amending legislation, war widows will receive an extra $1 per week each, making a weekly pension rate for a war widow $14. This is the extent of the generosity of this Government when it comes to consider the rate of pension for an Australian woman whose husband has died in the service of this country and who is left to fend for herself and care for her children. The Government says that her basic rate of pension should be $14 per week. Very small increases have been made to the rate of pension for war widows in recent years. This rate is only 37% of the minimum wage in Australia. The Government, in an act of generosity, increases the rate of pension for war widows in the 1968-69 Budget by $1 per week. A domestic allowance of $7 per week is paid to certain classes of war widows. These classes include widows over 50 years of age and a widow with a child under the age of 16. But this allowance is another matter.
So far as the Opposition is concerned, we must be concerned with the basic rate of pension. The Government can pay under this amending legislation no more than SI4 per week to an Australian war widow. So, we can support the attitude of the RSL, which has been most outspoken on this aspect of repatriation pensions. The RSL says that the amount paid to war widows is substantially below what a generous country ought to pay to a widow. A pension rate which equals 37% of the minimum wage certainly is below the standard that the Opposition would require the Government to regard as a reasonable level of compensation in these circumstances.
I turn now to the fourth classification which is the intermediate rate of pension. This is another classification of pension which was introduced by the present Minister for Repatriation only a few years ago. lt is to bc increased from S21.25 a week to $24.25 a week, an increase of S3 a week. But it is not the overall amount paid that is so important in this classification although once again it can be said that the increase of S3 per week is a reasonable one. Again 1 invite honourable members in this House to consider the statistics relating to the payment of repatriation pensions as outlined in the annual report of the Repatriation Department for the year ended 30th June 1967. The report shows that only 986 ex-servicemen are in receipt of the intermediate rate of pension and, as I indicated to the House only a few moments ago, 220,000 ex-servicemen receive a repatriation pension of one kind or another in Australia. Only 986 of those pensioners have been able to qualify for the intermediate rate of pension. So, it is not the rate of pension that concerns Opposition members on this occasion. It is the question of entitlement.
Time will not permit me to deal in detail with the difficulties that I think are experienced by ex-servicemen who want to qualify for the higher rates of pension, from the 100% rate of pension to the intermediate rate of pension. The difficulties are well known to all honourable members. Obviously it must be a difficult rate of pension for which to qualify because as I have already shown only 986 pensioners are in receipt of the intermediate rate despite the fact that I believe, if I can rely on memory, that the intermediate rate has been in existence for 3 years. We believe that it is not so much the rate of pension which should concern us. We believe we should consider more the difficulties experienced by ex-servicemen in qualifying for the. intermediate rate of pension.
The Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation in this House, in his second reading speech, also announced that some increases in service pensions will take place and that these increases will parallel those announced by the Minister for Social Services for those pensioners who will qualify under the Social Services Bill which was introduced in this House earlier today. The increases are not very great. Unfortunately, I will not have time this afternoon to deal in great detail with these matters. But they will be adequately dealt with by my colleague, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), when he addresses himself to the Social Services Bill. Whatever he may say on that occasion relative to the social services legislation with respect to age and other classes of pensioner most certainly will apply to Service pensioners. These people receive the same rate of pension. Criticisms relating to the social services pensions will apply therefore to re1patriation pensioners who are in receipt of a Service pension which parallels a social services pension.
Many other matters have been raised by the Returned Services League. One has only to consider the report submitted by the national executive of the RSL to the Government concerning its pension plan for 1967 to appreciate this fact. Most of these recommendations have been dealt with by honourable members on this side of the House in other years when we bad the opportunity to deal more thoroughly with repatriation matters. This was before the present Minister for Repatriation restricted debate in this House on repatriation matters. I do not need to remind honourable members of the attitude adopted by the Minister for Repatriation when, only 3 years ago, he secured the introduction of a Repatriation Bill as a money Bill thus restricting the approach by honourable members on this side of the House, particularly during the Committee stage, to that Bill. As a result, it is no longer possible for us to move amendments to Repatriation Bills in Committee stage. The Government has restricted debate in this way.
As I have said, many of the provisions referred to by the RSL in its pensions plan have been dealt with on other occasions. I wish to refer to two of them this afternoon. The Opposition has moved amendments to deal with these two matters and consistently honourable members on the Government side have voted against those amendments. The first one was the funeral grant. It was introduced in 1919. It was then $30. The first increase raised that amount by $10 to $40. The second increase in 1952, 16 years ago, raised the amount to $50. So between 1919 and 1952 the funeral grant rose from $30 to $50. This is an example of the extent of the Government’s generosity. Surely no honourable member on the Government side is prepared to argue that there has not been a deterioration in pension values during this period. Obviously there has been a deterioration. In the plan which the national executive of the RSL submitted to the Government it asked that the funeral allowance be increased to $150. Surely, when one considers the fall in the value of the allowance since 1919, one would have to regard $150 as being reasonable. This request was rejected by the Government, with the result that there has been no increase in the funeral benefit since 1952.
The second matter I turn to also has been raised by the national executive of the RSL and has been consistently dealt with by Opposition members over the years in amendments they have moved. I refer to rates of pension payable to returned servicemen from the First World War and the few veterans who are left from the Boer War. The Opposition requested the Government to provide free medical treatment and hospitalisation for all ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war. When the amendment was carried in another place, the Minister for Repatriation introduced a Bill in another form. We still request the Government to give some consideration to providing free medical treatment and hospitalisation for these ex-servicemen. This request is not unreasonable. The RSL has gone into this question very carefully*, it estimates that there are only 22,000 ex-servicemen left who served in the First World War and who would qualify if the Government were prepared to make free medical and hospital treatment available to all exservicemen, irrespective of whether or not their condition was war caused. This Government refused to accept the point of view not only of honourable members on this side of the House but of the national executive of the RSL, which is in a position to put quite forcibly a case that has a great deal of merit.
The League submitted to the Government that the estimated additional cost of. providing this treatment for returned servicemen would be$2.5m annually. That is not a very great amount; it would be equal to one-third of the sum this Government will be paying for one F111 aircraft. Again the submission of the RSL was rejected completely out of hand. This Government has been inclined to take the RSL and the members of the RSL at face value for too long. The national executive of the RSL has indicated quite clearly that it is prepared to fight this Government all the way in respect of the extent to which it has been prepared to allow pension rates to decline in value during its period of office.
I could deal with many other important aspects of repatriation legislation but time does not permit me to do so. Time has not permitted me to deal with the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals or the application of section 47 of the Act, which deals with the onus of proof. This Government has done nothing about this section despite the criticism that has been levelled against it over the years. This has been legitimate criticism, but the Government has taken ho action. Quite recently a chairman of a War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal said that he had been pressured by the Minister. The Minister denied the accusation, and obviously the RSL and other interested people did not form any firm decision as to who was right in this argument.
So we believe that the Government has a case to answer not only in respect of the increases it has granted in this legislation but also in respect of the other matters I have referred to. The RSL endeavoured to highlight its case against the Government at the end of 1967, when it printed 500,000 pamphlets informing the people of this country of the attitude of the Government towards repatriation pensions. The Government has to answer this case. The Opposition acknowledges that some increases have been granted. I have referred to these. In some aspects they are not ungenerous but the Government has not gone far enough. It has allowed pension values to fall despite the fact that it promised ex-servicemen back in 1949 that it would see that pension values were maintained. But the Government has allowed pension values to fall.
– You are a bit sore about-
– Order! The honourable member for Franklin will cease interjecting.
– But, Mr Speaker-
– Order! I warn the honourable member.
– The amendment I have moved expresses not only the point of view of the Opposition but also the point of view of those who represent the ex-servicemen in this country. I refer again to the national executive of the RSL. The League has indicated quite clearly that it is not satisfied with the Government’s record. The Government has not honoured its obligation to exservicemen, and for these reasons we believe that this Bill ought to be withdrawn and redrafted on the lines I have suggested
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak later.
– The original1 question is:
That this Bill be now read a second time.
To this the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has moved:
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 (1.) the pension rates for the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, the general rate pensioner and war widows, notwithstanding the proposed increases, are below the required Australian minimum; and (2.) the Government has rejected the reasonable and just proposals submitted by the RSL in the 1968 pension plan to restore the purchasing power of repatriation pensions to the 1950 level.’
The question now is:
That the words proposedto be omitted stand part of the question.
– And so they should Sir. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) has had some very good speeches on repatriation written for him at various times and none so poor as the one he has delivered today. I always used to think that his speech writer was fairly good. I am sorry, but it just has not worked out this time. This afternoon the House has been subjected to a soap box speech that had no appeal to the reason or to the propriety of the occasion. The speech delivered by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was an attempt to make political capital out of the misfortunes of a lot of people who have suffered injuries in the two world wars and the Boer War and Korean War. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition finished his speech by referring to a submission by the Returned Services League and to a dreadful charge of discrimination by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) against a member of a tribunal, made by a man whom I know fairly well and of whom I am damned ashamed for having launched this attack, lt was a most disgraceful exercise, and for it the RSL ought to hang its head in shame.
I do not mean to suggest that the Government has done everything that it should have done in the field of repatriation, but I do think that if the Opposition over the years had approached this subject from a practical viewpoint instead of a party political viewpoint we would all have got on a lot better. 1 do not usually join in discussions about repatriation benefits. The subject is not my long suit for a number of reasons. I will not go into them now, but some honourable members may know what they are. I maintain that the Government over the years has done a very fair job in keeping repatriation payments in fairly close accord with the thinking of the day. I am forced to rise now, and not very willingly, because I believe both the Government and the Opposition are wrong in the way they approach this subject.
The Opposition considers that we should have granted everything that the RSL suggested should have been granted to our returned men, but the fact that the League advocates a certain line of action does not mean that this is the line that should be followed by the Government if it wants to give the fairest possible deal to the men who have served Australia in wartime. I bel’ieve that if we consider the matter closely we must conclude that the Australian Government, in its treatment of exservicemen, has a record which is not equalled by any other government anywhere in the world. When our fellows went off to the First World War they did not do so with the idea that after coining back they would be given a farm or set up in business or granted some other recompense. 1 can remember the time very welt although 1 was then only a boy. Our men went away because they believed our country was in danger and they wanted to play a part in keeping Australia safe for their children, of whom I was one. Then came the Second World War, and I believe that similar thoughts were in the minds of the men who volunteered for service in that war. They did not do it in the hope of a reward. To hear the arguments of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition today one would think that our servicemen volunteered only because they hoped to get a pension later. This idea I reject completely and out of hand. It is nonsense.
Over the years the Government has done a pretty good job in this field. No organisation has been so pampered as the Returned Services League. Every year it has had access to the Cabinet, it has had access to the Government, it has had friends in the Government in the form of Ministers who themselves were returned men and who understood the problems of returned men. The Government has done the fair thing for returned men all along. But after all, even the Second World War was a very long time ago. In 1968 we must realise that 1945 was a fairly long time ago. In the period since then many things have happened. The cost of living has got completely out of hand due to a capricious Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission which has made the life of the man who pushes a wheelbarrow much better than it should be when one compares his standard with that of the man who does the skilful’ job of running a lathe, or who does some scientific work which has some real monetary value. Brawn has taken the place of brain in many fields. The fellow who was hit in 1915 or 1916 is today at an enormous disadvantage simply because he has grown older. It is one of the unfortunate facts of life that as we go on wc find ourselves unable to do quite as well as we did at the age of 18, or even at the age of 30. When we get to 60 or 65 we find that there are things in life we cannot do that we used to take in our stride.
In this debate I want to express a view which has not been expressed very much in this parliament and which 1 v. ish had been expressed a good deal more often. There is a vital point that has been missed by both the Opposition and the Government, and this is the only reason why I am speaking today. This Bill proposes to increase the pension rate for a totally and permanently incapacited ex-serviceman by $3 a week. It will also raise the intermediate rate by $3 a week. A special compensation allowance is also provided for general rate pensioners whose incapacity ranges from 75% to 100%. The allowance will range from S2.25 for the 75% incapacitated pensioner, who now receives $9 a week, to $3 for the 100% pensioner now receiving $12.
Originally there was no rate between that for the 100% pensioner and the TPI rate, but then somebody came up with the bright idea - and I acknowledge that this was one of the brightest of ideas - that there were people who would fall into a category somewhere in between and who were entitled to some special consideration by the Government. These were people who, while not in the TPI category, were not able to do what we would call a day’s work in the usually accepted sense of the term. So the intermediate rate was introduced, lt is now half way between Ihe rate of $12 a week for the 100% pensioner and thai of S30.50 a week for the TPI pensioner. What has happened now? Somebody in the Repatriation Department - and I exonerate the Minister because I do not believe he had anything to do with this - has put forward the proposition that we should raise by S3 per week the rate for each of these three categories of pensioners.
What are these pensioners to receive as a result of the Budget? The TPI rate of pension is to be increased from $30.50 to $33.50. No proportional increase has been made in the wife’s allowance, as has always happened in the past. The intermediate rale of pension will be increased by S3, to S24.25 per week. The 100% pension will be increased, in some cases, by S3, to $15 per week. What is to happen as a result of the increase in the 100% pension? Will one man who is on the 100% pension receive $12 per week while another man on the 100% pension receives $15 per week? Where is the reason in this? What has happened to the whole concept of assessing the amount of compensation that should be paid to men who have suffered a grave disability in the defence of their country?
From the report of the Repatriation Commission which has just been issued I understand that, of an overall total of 222,479 reatriation pensioners, 968 receive the intermediate rate of pension and 24,000 receive special rates of pension. Without using names I shall refer to the definite case of a fellow who is in the bracket of repatriation pensioners who receive a percentage rate. This fellow went away from Australia to serve his country. He was engaged in the Polygon Wood affair in F.rance in 1916. He fought in mud and was subjected to gas, the severity of which many people do not appreciate today. During the fighting this fellow was blown up and half a dozen other men were killed. He was the only man who came out of it alive. He spent approximately 2 years in a hospital at Caulfield, completely immobile. The doctors thought that he would be a hopeless hospital case for life, but of his own volition he said: ‘I will get out of this place’. By swimming and by giving his body the exercise that it needed to overcome this dreadful thing that had happened to him, he rehabilitated himself and he received a 25% pension. So if somebody who was in that category applied for a pension today, he would be told: ‘All right, you can go and earn a living or get a service pension or you can do anything you like, but for all those years you suffered we will now give you a 25% pension’.
When the Government came to Budget time this year it said: ‘We have to do something about repatriation benefits’, because this is one of the things it does at Budget time. It said: The RSL is on our hack. It is pushing at us a completely impossible scheme.’ It is pushing for a scheme of repatriation benefit that would mean such a colossal cost to the Australian people that it would be an intolerable burden.
– Are they not worth it?
– The proposed benefits would have been an intolerable burden, and the very fact that I said they would have been an intolerable burden meant that they would not be worth it. The RSL asked that the TPI pension should be the equivalent of the minimum basic wage of $37.55 and that all the other associated pensions should be raised according to their particular percentage of the full rate. I used to have a fairly high regard for some of the men on the executive of the RSL, but after their treatment of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) recently I have no regard for them. I would have thought they would have looked at the problem of repatriation benefits a little more dispassionately. There are people who need help and there are others who do not need help. I would have thought that anyone who had listened to the opening speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) in the by-election for the electorate of Higgins would have realised that one of the basic things in his thinking was that what we in this country have to do is to look after people who need assistance, not those who do not need assistance. When it comes to age pensions and repatriation pensions we should look after the people who. are in need, not those who are comfortably ensconced behind a system which has given them an opportunity to set themselves up in business and also to enjoy the benefits and privileges of any incomes or pensions of which they are able to avail themselves. 1 claim that the RSL made a very poor approach to this problem of repatriation pensions, lt asked for an unreasonable increase over the whole range. The RSL executive wanted the members of the RSL to go along with it because it thought that if it could get something for all the fellows down the line they would say that the members of the executive were good fellows and they would re-elect them to their positions.
– Break it down.
– This I believe. I will have a word with the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory afterwards. There are people today who receive the TPI pension, the intermediate rate pension and the 100% pension who are still continuing with their normal business of earning an income on which to live.
– There are fellows on the 100% pension who cannot get anything more.
– I will come to them. There are also people down at the other end of the line who have only their pensions to live on. Because of the vicissitudes of life, because of what happened during the war or because of some other reason which is not entirely due to war service these people have to live on the amount of money that they are paid by the Government. Although I have taken a little while to get round to the point I wanted to make, I did this very deliberately because I wanted to cover some of the background which leads me up to the thought that I want to bring to the attention of the House today: This is that both the Government and the Opposition have approached this from the wrong point of view. It is not a question as to how high the TPI pension or the 100% pension should be but what should be the living conditions of the people concerned. I submit that the right approach would have been to provide for any man who has served his country payment as compensation for the damage done to him in the circumstances of warfare. I have quoted one case only, but not only one person is affected. In actual fact 10,000, perhaps 100,000, have been affected in varying degrees. They have received some war injury for which this country is very pleased to be able to say that it is strong enough, wealthy enough and compassionate enough to give them some recompense.
A lot of these fellows suffered injury when they were in their 20s, 30s and 40s, but having reached 60 or 65 years of age somebody came along with the idea of a service pension. There is no difference between a service pension and an age pension except that a person may ask for the service pension 5 years earlier. The service pension also gives the service pensioner the right to go into a repatriation hospital - if that is a benefit - instead of having ordinary treatment. People who have suffered some injury which they have carried all their lives are now asked to live out the rest of their lives with the compensation they receive being regarded as part of their income. If they are down on the lower level of earnings, if they have not been able to acquire some of the things that may give them income in their later years, and if they do not have superannuation or some other form of pension, they apply for the service pension. The TP] pensioner on $30.50 - as the new pension is not applicable yet I use the old figures - with a wife getting$5 a week will be able to apply for aservice pension to make up the difference between their total receipts of $35.50 and the $41.50 which is the maximum age pension plus permissible earnings. Many of these people receive a small service pension and the wives get the pensioner medical card.
One of my constituents was living in his own home. Of course, the value of a home is not taken into account in determining the amount of pension. When he and his wife were 75 years of age and she had nursed him for 50 years they decided that they could no longer afford to meet the cost of repairs to the house and they sold it for $6,000, which put their means as assessed beyond the limit of eligibility for the $41.50 pension. The wife lost her entitlement to a pensioner’s medical card. After much trouble I persuaded them to spend a lot of money on the comforts of life, and the wife’s pensioner medical card was restored. However, the pension is to be raised by $3 a week; so bang will go her pensioner medical card again. This is a disgraceful situation and the Minister who was responsible for it ought to resign. I have expressed my views on this matter rather forcibly because I feel strongly about it. It is not an isolated case; it applies to many people.
The man who is receiving an intermediate, pension is probably not affected because that pension is given to people who are already working. The S3 increase in his pension is supposed to make up for the time he loses in his employment as a result of his war injuries. But what about the man on the 100% pension? His$ 1 2 a week debars him from getting the full service pension because when he applies for the service pension his $12 is regarded as part of his income. One thing that I cannot agree with and will not have at any price is that compensation that has been given to men who suffered some disability in the defence of their country should be taken as income and regarded as a component of their means as assessed.
Instead of all this nonsense about increasing the TPI pension by $3 a week -I know that a lot of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen do not need it, nor do a lot of intermediate pensioners and even 100% pensioners - it would have been a much better gesture if the Government had said: ‘In future we will pay the normal social services to those people who have nothing else’ and if would not matter whether we called it an age pension or a service pension. These are the people for whom I am concerned. The Government should say to them: ‘The money that you are getting from the Repatriation Department as compensation for an injury that you feel every day of your life - and which other people do not feel - will not be counted in your means as assessed’.
– Ever since I came into this Parliament 15 years ago I have taken a fairly active interest in repatration matters. I have spoken on most debates on the subject each year. I have supported the reasonable proposals that have been put up by the Returned Services League, by the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association and by the TB Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Association; but I find that at election time the representatives of ex-servicemen’s organisations are more inclined than not to vote against us.It seems to me that the only time that these organisations take an active interest in the Repatriation Act is prior to and shortly after the Budget. For that reason I want to place on record the written platform of the Australian Labor Party on the matter of repatriation. I quote the following passage from the Platform, Constitution and Rules as approved by the 27th Commonwealth Conference, Adelaide, 1967:
This was a point made by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan) - including the genera) and special rate, and family allowances, shall not be taken into consideration as income for the payment of service pensions or corresponding social service pensions. This proposal to be implemented within 3 years with substantial relief being granted in the first year.
That is the written policy of the Australian Labor Party. To the best of our ability, it will be put into effect when we become the government of Australia. I hope that the leaders of the ex-service organisations throughout Australia who are so displeased with the Government’s treatment of repatriation matters will look at what I have said this afternoon and will publish in their magazines and through their organisations the promises that have been given not only in 1966 but also in 1963, 1961 and the years prior to that.
In 1966 the Australian Labor Party probably lost the election on its Vietnam policy. I feel that many returned servicemen voted against us because of our Vietnam policy. Many people in returned services organisations believed the Labor Party to be antiAmerican, pro-North Vietnam and uninterested in the defence of Australia. For the record, let me say that more and more Australians and more and more Americans are looking for a face saving solution that will enable them to move out of Vietnam. The solution that will ultimately come will be based on the policy that was enunciated by the Labor Party at the 1966 election. There may be moves in emphasis on our policy, but the face saving solution in Vietnam will certainly be based on some of the propositions that we advanced in 1966. At the 1966 election few people knew that it was the efforts of the Labor Party which resulted in our servicemen in Vietnam and special areas overseas, including the national servicemen, becoming eligible for repatriation benefits from the time they left Australia until the time they returned. It was our senators, following the example given in this House by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard), who made the Government withdraw a Repatriation Bill it had brought before the Parliament and introduce a provision similar to an amendment that had been moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. This made our servicemen, conscripts and regulars, elegible for repatriation benefits from the time they left Australia until the time they returned.
Fewer people knew, and still do not know, that the Liberal Government refuses to grant automatic acceptance as a war caused disability of pulmonary tuberculosis in our ex-servicemen, including our conscripts on special overseas service. Only a few days ago, on 28th August of this year, the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) issued a Press statement headed ‘Tuberculosis Campaign’. It reads in part:
The Commonwealth reimbursed the State Governments $12,288,459 during 1967-68 for expenditure incurred on the diagnosis, treatment and control of tuberculosis. This sum brought to $191m the reimbursements paid by the Commonwealth to the States since the national tuberculosis campaign began in 1949.
It goes on to say:
Additionally the Commonwealth had paid $42.5m to tuberculosis sufferers as special living allowances to enable them to receive treatment in isolation during the infectious stage of their illness.
The amounts reimbursed to each State since 1949 were:
The annual tuberculosis notification rate throughout Australia had fallen from 46.3 per 100,000 in 1948 to 19.2 in 1967, and the death rate in the same period from 27.8 to 2.3. However, some 2,300 new cases were still being found in Australia each year.
From that statement, I take it that the disease of pulmonary tuberculosis is still regarded as an illness that needs careful watching, immediate diagnosis and special treatment with special allowances for the patient and his family. But this Government will send the cream of our young men to Vietnam and other countries, which are absolutely riddled with the disease of tuberculosis, and refuse to grant automatic acceptance of tuberculosis as being caused by service conditions.
In 1967 the Federated TB Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Association of Australia met the Minister for Repatriation. Following upon that deputation it prepared a written submission placing before him reasons for granting the automatic acceptance of tuberculosis in our servicemen on special overseas duty. In a letter sent to all senators earlier this year the Association said:
For some years now the Federation has recognised that the special provisions of Section 37, subsection (1) and sub-section (2) of the principal Act would be continued only insofar as members of the forces covered by that were concerned. The Association has not. therefore, sought the minimum, irreducible pensions prescribed in these sub-sections for members of the forces currently serving in Vietnam. Items ‘a’ to ‘e’ on page 1 of the Association’s statement dated 27th April 1967, illustrate why this is so.
What the Federation seeks on behalf of currently serving personnel is:
Similar provisions to those contained in Section 37 (3) of the Australian Repatriation Act. This would not require an amendment to the principal Act, as a provision could bc made for those who have been allotted for service in an area as prescribed under the Repatriation (Special Overseas Services) Act.
This would automatically entitle the sufferer to treatment of the illness by the Department of Repatriation and also require that Department to pay a war pension according to the assessed degree of incapacity suffered by the member as a result of tuberculosis.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was making a comparison of the Government’s attitude towards cases for tuberculosis occurring in Australia generally and its attitude towards cases occurring among servicemen, both Australian Regular Army personnel and conscripts, who serve in our special forces overseas. 1 had quoted from a letter sent to the Minister for Repatriation by the Federated TB Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen’s Association of Australia asking that this matter be brought before the Parliament. I wish to continue quoting from the submission addressed to the Minister on 27th April 1967 and in which the Association asked that tuberculosis be regarded as being a war caused disability. You would appreciate. Mr Deputy Speaker, that in 1943 the Labor Government inserted in the Repatriation Act a clause which granted automatic acceptance of tuberculosis for pension purposes. Nowadays young men 20 years of age who are being sent to Vietnam are not granted the same privilege. The TB Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Association of Australia has been endeavouring to get this privilege granted to members of our forces now serving overseas. In its submission to ihe Minister for Repatriation, the Association stated:
Such a proposal will ensure that those members of the Forces currently serving in Vietnam will be in no less favourable a situation than is the service personnel of the Great War, 1914-1918; World War [I, 1939-J945; the Malaysian conflict and the Korean campaign.
To successfully support this proposal the Federation realises it must break down opposition likely to be used against it, be it professional or lay, official or otherwise. Therefore, the Association accepts the following as representative of some of the arguments put forward by those who would object to general acceptance of TB for ex-servicemen:
Pulmonary tuberculosis is now more readily discovered under the compulsory X-ray provision applying throughout all of the Slates of the Commonwealth.
It is generally found at a much earlier .stage of development than it formerly was.
Long term in-patient treatment of the sufferer has been reduced to short term hospitalisation.
Modern drugs appear to ‘arrest’ activity of ihe tubercle bacilli quite quickly and the victim passes into a ‘query cured’ class.
There has been’ a dramatic fall in TB cases in Australia since 1949. The CommonwealthStates joint campaign has been responsible for belter control of the disease. Somewhat generous allowances and free treatment is given individual members of the community who contract the illness.
By and large items (a) to (e) cover any advices which may be tendered you as grounds on which to base a rejection of the extension now sought by the Federation.
The submission continues:
On a television programme at the end of October last, Dr R. Wyllie, of Melbourne, who had just returned to Australia after 6 months with an Australian medical team in South Vietnam, spoke generally on the work of the team. One of his observations was: The biggest killers amongst the Vietnamese population were tuberculosis, acute enteric diseases -‘id pneumonia amongst children . . .
That quotation comes from the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ of 31st October 1966. The submission contines
Mr S. D. Einfeld, M.L.A. for Bondi, New South Wales, and Chairman of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, made a ten days tour of South Vietnam’ at the request of the Federal Government. Speaking on his return to Australia he said: There were only 350 doctors available to care for the civil population of some 15 million, great numbers of whom had tuberculosis.
That quotation was from the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ of 17th November 1966. The submission sent to the Minister went on to state:
Theatre of war service creates in the individual a tension or strain which has a tendency to call on health reserves which normal living would build up for use in later life. In addition, moving as they undoubtedly will amongst a community in which there would be untold numbers of undetected ‘open’ cases of TB, there is a constant danger of infection. Should they pick up the germ at this stage their strong physical resistance would, in all probability, hold it at bay. Later, when the bacilli becomes active the experience of theatre of war service. may be. some years behind them.
If we were to seek- an event or happening in the post war lives of these servicemen as being, prima facie, the cause or date of onset of the disease it is safe to say there would be nothing comparable to that of theatre of war service. That being so it is surely not unreasonable to ask, in the event of them developing TB after overseas service they be not expected to make a positive link of the disability with service.
The submission proceeded to state:
Over the past len years how many 1939-1945 TB members of the forces have had their illness accepted under section 101 of the Act as due to war service? Compare these figures with the number accepted under section 37 (3.) of the Act over the same period and it will be seen how difficult it has been for the former serviceman to relate his disability to his war service.
When one considers there are, in the 37 (3.) group, quite a percentage of former prisoners of war (Japan), whose treatment by their captors made screaming headlines a little more than 20 years ago, the need to press a claim for the currently serving man becomes even more imperative. We well remember the return to Australia of these prisoners and the press pictures of their ill-nourished skeleton bodies under the caption: The nation can never do too much for these men’. Yet, a few years later some of them have been officially informed the disability from which they suffer is: NOT DUE TO WAR SERVICE.
Such departmental decisions, we regret to say, have had the support of the independent War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal.
Yes, the Prisoner of War (Japan) is grateful for the protection of section 37 (3.) for without it he would have had no war pension for his TB disability. He would, in other words, have received
Commonwealth Tuberculosis Allowance like any other civilian male TB sufferer, of his age group, who did not suffer war strain, hunger and privation as did the prisoner of war.
Is it any wonder, therefore, that the Federation wants section 37 (3.) extended to the Vietnam soldier. Past events force the conclusion he will need the provision after his discharge from tha forces.
That concludes the quotation I wish to read from the submission made to the Minister. 1. point out to the House that section 101 of the Repatriation Act demands, that the ex-serviceman prove beyond doubt - and I emphasise the phrase beyond doubt’ - that his disability was caused or was aggravated by his war service. Because of the far-sightedness of the Labor Government, section 37 (3.) was inserted in the Act in 1943 and . this provided automatic acceptance of tuberculosis, as being war-caused. No person can claim that our young men who are now serving in Vietnam are not serving in a theatre of war. Nobody can claim that those men are not likely to meet up with people suffering with tuberculosis. Nobody can claim that they will immediately show the effects of having been contacted with the tuberculosis germ. It might not manifest itself in their lungs until many years after, when, because of some illness or because of a condition which undermines their physical strength in some way. the tuberculosis germ takes over. This Government; which claims to be so interested in the activities and the interests of ex-servicemen, refuses to grant automatic acceptance of disability due to tuberculosis to ex-servicemen who have served in countries where tuberculosis is rife.
The submission put before the Minister for Repatriation goes on further to state:
Medical science has taken giant strides and has come clown heavily on the obstinate TB bug but it has not yet found a way to revitalise lung tissues on which the bug has been at work nor has it been able to restore life into dead cells after the bacilli has eaten into them. We all know the surgeon has no suitable substitute to take the place of the diseased section of the lung he has removed. Drugs do not open doors that have been firmly closed to known tuberculars and lost opportunity is seldom regained by the sufferer.
In view of this the Federation holds the time has not yet arrived to cancel out a special tuberculosis coverage to servicemen, more especially so when the servicemen are at war.
Experience has proved what a splendid piece of national insurance section 37 (3.) of the Repatriation Aci has been. Lel us be consistent, therefore, and say to the Vietnam soldier: ‘We have decided to insure your future against tuberculosis by amending the Special Services Overseas Act to embrace section 37 (3.) of the principal Repatriation Act. This will ex:end to you benefits similar to those enjoyed by your older comrades who served Australia before we had need to call upon you’. What a warm feeling such a statement would give the serving personnel. A knowledge that he was to be treated more generously than an average member of the civilian community abou; whom he has formed a protective screen with his body.
I come back to my earlier comments. A large percentage of the serving Australian personnel in Vietnam are boys of 20 years of age who have had to register for service and run the risk of their date of birth being drawn out of the barrel. Out of the small percentage whose birth dates are drawn out of the barrel, only very few are sent to serve in Vietnam. This Government, which it- made up of a great number of exservicemen, refuses to grant this small percentage of conscripts and regulars protection by ensuring that if they gel a lung disease they will be entitled to hospitalisation in a repatriation hospital without have to prove beyond doubt - again 1 emphasise the words beyond doubt’ - that they contracted that disease in Vietnam or during their war service.
In reply to this submission which was made in April 1967, the Minister for Repatriation, in a letter dated 17th July 1967, said:
Dear Mr Mason,
refer again to your letter of 27th April, in which you forwarded a resume of your discussion with me about your Association’s request that Ihe benefit of the acceptance of pulmonary tuberculosis under section 37 (3.) of the Repatriation Act be extended to the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act. I would like to express my appreciation for the very clear and comprehensive way in which you set out your Association’s views, and to say they have been carefully studied by my medical and other advisers.
You make two main points; firstly, that a benefit which has been made available to some exservicemen in the past should not now be withheld from others; secondly, that there arc special fartors applicable to those serving in Vietnam because of the high incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis in that country.
As to the first point, the basis of our system has always been that war pensions and related benefits should depend upon acceptance of death or disability as due to war service. The system itself ensures a sympathetic approach to the determination of claims; thus, in addition to the extremely wide terms of section 47 regulating ‘onus of proof and ‘benefit of doubt’, there is a double right of appeal and an unsuccessful claim may be reopened at any time if fresh evidence is adduced.
Further, each determining authority include-, a member appointed from panels submitted by the national ex-service organisations.
I have not time to quote the rest of the answer on the first point. On the second point, the letter states:
On the second point, 1 understand that tuberculosis is prevalent among the civil population in Vietnam: though it should be kept in mind that our troops are relatively isolated and living under very different conditions. Further. I understand all troops are X-rayed annually, and ure given a Mantoux test and a BGG inoculation against tuberculosis if the lest is negative. Any special conditions of service which have some rels.ti.Hi to tuberculosis which manifests itself Ner “id certainly be taken into account in the determination of claims under existing legislation. v.p-.h gives to the claimant the benefit of my i!ii:i:ii.
If men who were prisoners of war in Japan are not accorded acceptance of disability due to tuberculosis under section 101 and are granted it under section 37 (3.) which gives them automatic acceptance, I say io you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all honourable members in the House at the moment, that those young fellows of ours who are in Vietnam at this stage, and who in 5 or 10 years time contract tuberculosis will si 111 have as much difficulty in proving their esse as men who were prisoners of war in Singapore and Malaya have in proving their case. This Government until such time as it is prepared to accord acceptance of this disability to the servicemen at present serving and to ex-servicemen who served in ihe 1939-45 war and 1914-18, stands condemned in the eyes of .members of the Opposition. I only hope that now tha’ the RSL and other ex-service .organisations have taken a stand, they do as they .would have done in war time. In war- time they would have taken the hill. I trust that they will now take the hill and change the government.
Mr GRIFFITHS (Shortland) [8.181- The purpose of this Bill is to give legislative effect to the Government’s Budget proposals in respect of repatriation, for the current year. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) has moved an amendment the terms of which condemn th; Government for the meagre increases in benefits that it proposes to grant. I believe that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has dealt very effectively with this matter and I support the amendment.
By those who will benefit this legislation will be regarded as a good measure and will naturally be widely acclaimed. On the other hand it will be roundly condemned, and rightly so, by the tens of thousands of war pensioners who will receive nothing. In my view, down through the years large numbers of war pensioners have been robbed of their proper repatriation entitlements. This is the aspect of the repatriation legislation that I wish to deal with tonight. I have often expressed the view that the time is long overdue for a further inquiry into the provisions of the Repatriation Act. Twenty-five years ago a Labor government set up a joint parliamentary committee to examine repatriation legislation. At that time section 47 - (he onus of proof provision - was one of the important amendments to the Act. I think it may be fairly said that section 47 has not been the success that servicemen and many members of Parliament expected it to be, because repatriation boards, the Repatriation Commission and repatriation tribunals clothed themselves with the authority to reverse the onus of proof, especially in marginal cases, rather than accept the medical evidence which section 48 compels medical practitioners to provide. Sub-section (2) of section 47 states that it shall not be necessary for a claimant or applicant for a pension to furnish proof of his claim to an authority. Sub-section (2) of section 48 requires medical practitioners to say positively whether they entertain any doubts about any of the matters upon which they are required to report. The provisions outlined in those two subsections should be sufficient to show that the men who originally drew up section 47 did not intend the authorities to place the onus of proof on the applicant.
I am amazed that, despite ail the wrangling that has taken, place over the years concerning the discharge of the onus of proof, Federal and State leaders of the Returned Services League have remained so unmoved and so unresponsive to what has been happening. Sooner or later something will have to be done to ensure that every serviceman’s war record and service documents are as complete as possible at the time of his discharge, even if it requires a large staff of highly qualified investigators and medical practitioners to do the work. In many cases that I have handled I have found the repatriation summary to be in complete and often misleading, yet it is from the departmental records that a serviceman’s application for a pension commences. It is on the basis of those same records that pensions are granted or refused. It is on the basis of enlistment and service documents, medical history and other information obtained by the Repatriation Department that war pensions are granted. All too often information taken from enlistment documents is used without proper investigation to refuse a war pension to an ex-serviceman, irrespective of whether the information is true or false. Also, the failure of service chiefs correctly to record evidence on service or medical papers must have cost thousands of soldiers any chance of ever being granted a war pension.
The latest report of the Repatriation Commission shows that between 1925 and 1940 about 134,000 World War I pensioners have ceased to receive pensions either because of death or cancellation of pensions. It will be remembered that in that period the country went through the great depression and that World War II bad commenced. But I hardly think that either event was sufficient reason for the attack that had apparently been made by the Government, through the Repatriation Department, on recipients of war pensions. In addition to the cancellation of thousands of pensions between 1925 and 1940, there has been a constant decline in the rate of pensions paid to other war pensioners. Tonight I will refer to the case of an Anzac who served on Gallipoli continuously for 5 months from about 12th May 1.915 until he was seriously wounded on 3rd October 1915. His name is Kenneth Conway. I am pleased to see in the House tonight the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz), who is a former Minister for Repatriation. He will remember interviewing this man on one occasion. Having perused a summary of Mr Conway’s repatriation file I propose to quote extensively from it, because it reveals how far some officers of the Repatriation Department will go to deprive a war injured serviceman of a maximum rate of pension. In my opinion this is a case of departmental red tape and mal-administration if ever there was one. Even the summary is not set out in proper order, as will be seen on pages 2 and 3 of the document. Also, it contains medical contradictions, but time will not allow me to deal with those matters.
Upon his discharge in 1916 a medical board said that Mr Conway was permanently unfit for service. His employability had been assessed at 50% of normal. At no time in the last 52 years has any medical authority assessed Mr Conway’s earning capacity at more than 75% and for many years it was assessed at 50% . I pause here to ask how many honourable members opposite would employ an ex-serviceman or anybody else who could not do a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. I know that no honourable member opposite would employ such a man. For years Mr Conway could not earn anything. For long periods he was only 20% or 30% fit. No consideration was ever given in any repatriation assessment to Mr Conway’s crippled hands, until 1962, when the Repatriation Commission revoked a decision of 1933 not to accept the condition as war caused. But even in 1962 the Commission refused to award a pension in respect of the left hand and disclaimed liability for the right hand. I should say, Mr Speaker, that 1 have never seen Mr Conway, nor does he live within 150 miles of my electorate. So it cannot be said that my interest in the matter is political. It is a matter of justice and injustice.
Some months ago Mr Conway wrote to me following my speech on the States Grants (Deserted Wives) Bill. He told me that on 3rd October 1915 he was hit in the body by three .303 bullets. His lungs, liver, kidneys and spleen were damaged. Shortly after landing at Gallipoli he was blown up at Quinn’s Post, when both hands were somewhat mutilated, necessitating 30 to 40 stitches in the wounds without anaesthetic. I became sceptical of his story, especially when he said that he was 77 years old, was receiving only a 60% war pension and had been persecuted by the repatriation authorities. 1 could not bring myself to believe that any serviceman who had seen 5 months service on Gallipoli and had been as badly wounded as Mr Conway claimed to have been, could bc so badly treated by a government department that had been established during World War I to assist fighting men and their families who were suffering as a result of active service. So I discussed the matter with an officer of the Repatriation Department, who obtained for me Mr Conway’s summary.
Before dealing with Mr Conway’s summary I should point out that this soldier’s fight for full recognition of his war caused injuries has been going on constantly for more than 52 years. He has been seen by dozens of medical men in that time and he has undergone the most severe examinations. In my opinion he should be allowed to live out the rest of his life in peace of mind on a totally and permanently incapacitated rate pension, without again having to go near the Repatriation Department. I ask the Minister to allow him to do this, because I know that the Minister can concede the point, particularly as it is obvious that the Repatriation Department has been and still is wrong in its assessment of Mr Conway’s war caused injuries. War caused disabilities of other ex-servicemen can be accepted after a lapse of 50 years at repatriation board level and a TPI pension paid to them without a claim for pension of any kind having been made until last year. I am certain that Mr Conway’s case is much more deserving on the evidence that 1 have seen.
A perusal of the summary showed it to be vague in the extreme and so far as Mr Conway’s active service and medical documents are concerned. It revealed that the soldier had enlisted on 5th September 1914 and had proceeded from Egypt to join the Middle East forces on Gallipoli on 9th May 1915. However, it does not record the date the soldier landed on Gallipoli. But the official war history reports that the First Australian Light Horse Regiment, to which Mr Conway belonged, had landed on Gallipot: on 12th May and that Quinn’s Post was blown up by a mine on 29th May. The Repatriation Department also must have known that, once it had been established that Mr Conway had been blown up at Quinn’s Post.
I suggest that the onus was on the authorities then to sift out the truth of the matter. But the authorities did not do this. What the Department did do some years later, after a Dr Allen of Emerald had expressed concern about the soldiers hands and had told the authorities in 1933 that this man should I e officially told that the injury to his left hand had never been accepted, so that he might have the opportunity to appeal concerning his claim that this was a war injury, was to write to
General Cheaval, Dr Feaschi, his aide, and Mr Ferguson. The Department told each of them a different story about Mr Conway’s claim that he had been blown up by a mine at Quinn’s Post. The doctor could not remember the incident and he referred the Department to Mr Ferguson. General Cheaval could remember the incident but not the man. But he was certain Conway was the man otherwise he could not have remembered the incident so well.
Conway in his letter to the Department had said that young Dr Feaschi had dressed his hands several times on the Peninsula. That was all he did say. 1 point out that Conway did not say that the dressings were done early in May as the Department had made out in its correspondence with the various people that I have mentioned. Dr Feaschi could not remember whether he had or had not treated Mr Conway, for hundreds of patients had passed through his hands. He referred the Department to Mr Ferguson. From the very outset, the letter to Ferguson was grossly misleading as it had said that Mr Conway was seeking medical treatment and not that he was seeking a pension. The letter continued:
The ex-soldier states that early in May at Quinn’s Post he was on duty with a bandaged left hand as a result of a gunshot wound and that his hand was dressed on several occasions by Dr Feaschi.
Mr Deputy Speaker, it was that statement that killed the goose so far as Mr Conway’s application to have his hand injury accepted for a war pension was concerned.
The statement was a lie - a downright deliberate lie. Had the departmental officers either then or later taken the time to refer to the official war history, they would have found out that Quinn’s Post was not mined and blown up until 29th May 1915. Of course, Mr Ferguson, in his reply to the Department, had told it that Dr Feaschi could not have treated Conway early in May - I say ‘early in May’ because that is what is written in the summary - or at all in May simply because they were not on Gallipoli in May; and were not there until after June of that year.
But, Mr Deputy Speaker, Mr Conway had never claimed that his wounds had been dressed in May by Dr Feaschi. He had simply said that the doctor had dressed his wounds. Another mis-statement was that Conway had suffered gunshot wounds instead of shrapnel or fragmentation wounds which, in my view, would have been much the worse injuries. I suggest that if honourable members take note of the state that Mr Conway’s hands are in according to the summary, it will not be difficult for them to understand that fractured bones and stitched flesh would still require attention more than 1 month after the event especially when the soldier, as he claims, had remained on duty, for Dr Feaschi was on Gallipoli in July, August, September, and later. I interpolate here that although Dr Parkinson in 1925 had said: ‘The soldier’s story is hardly credible’, the official war history of the Australian Army Medical Corps does say at page 746 that apparently a general order had been issued to the medical section to exercise greater restrictions as to who of the sick and injured was to be sent away. Accordingly, the late Dr Colonel Beeston, who by the way was a very eminent Newcastle surgeon, had urged his subordinates not to send away men who were fit, not to fight, but to stand in a trench and hold a rifle. I think that that could have been the case so far as Conway was concerned.
Mr Conway had repeatedly stated that he was injured within hours of landing and then was blown up at Quinn’s Post, on 29th May on which date he received injuries to both hands necessitating 30 to 40 stitches being inserted in both limbs by an unskilled medical orderly on the battlefield. After both arms had been dressed and bandaged, the soldier claims, he and his colleagues had improvised a sling on the handles of the stretcher and had placed it over his neck, and that he had carried on as a stretcher bearer. No mention of this is to be found anywhere in Mr Conway’s medical documents. In fact, nor is anything mentioned about operations performed on Mr Conway while he was in the Second London General Hospital where he remained for more than 3 months.
The principal medical entry in the summary shows this:
Admitted to hospital 20.10.15 bullet wounds of abdomen, lungs.
Gunshot wound back and chest (penetrating) had haemoptysis. Spleen and kidney involved. 21.10.1S. wounded at Gallipoli on Oct. 3. Bullet hit back level of sixth intercostal space, and (ravelled downwards through spleen and left kidney and returned upwards, and was removed on the field-
Mind you: . . with a blunt knife, from anterior chest wall ninth rib. He had persistent vomiting 3 day slightly tinged with blood. Haemorrhage 1 day from left kidney considerable exudation left chest. Cough improving, expectoration tinged with blood. Wounds practically healed, some cough still and sputum tinged with blood.
The soldier has stated that the matron at the Second London General Hospital had refused to allow anything to be done to the hands as they had healed up at that time. The summary shows that the Repatriation Department first became aware of the condition of the hands on 6th November 1925 when Dr G. K. Parkinson, a departmental medical officer incidentally, made the report which I will quote shortly. But the Department did nothing about it one way or another for some years. The doctor had stated:
There is slight indication of pleural adhesions of left base.
Anyone will know the trouble that any exserviceman would have with adhesions especially in the stomach cavity. The report continues:
Has scarring left index and mid fingers - index is stiff at inter-phalangeal joints and a little deformity exists - mid finger cannot be fully extended. He says this condition of hand resulted from shrapnel wound-
Not a gunshot wound: but that he was dressed at aid post and not away from unit
The doctor expressed the opinion:
This is hardly credible.
So, Mr Conway’s efforts have been unsuccessful because of the bureaucracy of the Repatriation Department. Mr Conway himself calls it the sadistic attitude of the Department and, as things have turned out, that might be close to the mark. I know that there arc some officers of the Department who, at this time, wish to correct the mistakes of the past. Nevertheless, the Department insisted that Mr Conway at 77 years of age must again go through a series of medical examinations. At his age, he is afraid of medical examinations, as will be seen from his letter to the Department on 30th January 1962, in which he said: l ask you to arrange for the prospective visit to Concord on the 8.2.62 to be cancelled on my behalf. After two medical examinations by
Dr Cuthbert and at York Street no useful purpose can be served from my point of view in hospitalisation. 1 have no wish to seem difficult or unco-operative, but being in hospital has always meant pain and misery for me. I have vivid recollections of a doctor at Barcaldine hospital saying just what Dr Saar said ‘only a few days for tests’ prior to sending me to Rosemount. I was there for some time before anything was done and all the early tests were bearable even up to the Bismuth meal, then swallowing a long tube was pretty horrible but they were within an ace of putting me out of action for all time with the kidney expiration, the long steel tube with burrer and light attachment done without anaesthetic of any kind, made me bleed very badly when withdrawn. Doctor said it was normal and not to worry. Still traces of blood on discharge and it was only several days after discharge from Rosemount 1 had a terrific haemorrhage in Capella, Queensland, rushed to Clermont 30 miles away.
Dr Saar, the district medical officer, said:
Ex-member’s new clinical signs appear to be related to renal tract (night sweats, alleviated by wife’s kidney pills) - 7 chronic renal tract infection, nasal discharge and right pulmonary basal stmptoms? inhalation, and? personality.
Dr Saar wanted Mr Conway to have an ECG. a chest X-ray, a microurinalysis, an IVP, an ENT, and to undergo examinations by a urologist, a physician and a psychiatrist. They could not be satisfied with not insulting a man 77 years of age. The honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) is giggling. I do not think he would see as much service if he lived to 1,000 years as this man saw in his life. It does not do the honourable member for Angas very much credit to giggle about a case that one is trying to make out for this man. I have had experience with the Repatriation Department. There are good officers, and there are some bad ones who will not go out of their way to see the case being presented by the other fellow. They will not even answer you. Members of the tribunals will not even talk to you. I have been in front of them. All they do is take offence at things you say which they do not like. They will not even put forward a case for you to answer. They will not even offer any contradictions of what you say. That sort of thing has gone on down through the years ever since World War I. -
The summary of Mr Conway’s case shows that on 2nd September 1916 the Deputy Commissioner granted him a 100% rate pension from 11th August 1916, the date of his discharge. Total and permanent incapacity pensions were not introduced until about 1922. On 1st February 1917 Dr Taylor of Temora said:
Condition is the result of a bullet wound, the inlet being one inch to left of spine- the exit, in front over the region of lower three ribs. Evidently the left kidney, spleen and lung were wounded. Existed for 15 months and is not due to the default of the claimant. Earning power to the extent of one half.
On 5th February 1917 a policeman from Ariah Park reported that Mr Conway had been loaned £200 and had bought a team of horses and a wagon and was carting wheat for about S4 a week. On 7th February the Repatriation Department reduced the pension to 75%. On 26th October 1917, Dr Delchery of Forbes said:
Condition is the result of wound at Gallipoli. Has existed for 2 years and is not due lo his default, tost earning power lo the extent of one half
Who would employ a man like that? The Repatriation Department gave him a lousy 75% rate pension. That is not the worst of it. On 30th October 1917 the Deputy Commissioner of Repatriation reduced the soldier’s pension to 25% in the face of what had been said. On 30th November 1919 Dr McDonnell of Forbes said:
Incapacitated for 6 months to the extent of one half.
This finding was repeated on 15th January 1920. Dr G. Lawson Kerr, on 31st March 1921, recommended a 35% rate pension for 12 months and his pension was reduced to 35% on 7th April 1921. Between then and 6th November 1925 at least eleven doctors had seen him. On 6th November 1925 Dr Parkinson said:
There is slight indication of pleural adhesion of left base. Few bronchitis signs in lungs. Abdomen: liver palpable - not tender. Has scarring left index and mid fingers - index is stiff al interphalangeal joints and a little deformity exists.
He also said:
Partially incapacitated for 36 months at 35%.
On 24th June 1931, Dr Minty, a senior medical officer said:
There is no record at all of the alleged gunshot wound left hand and he made no complaint of it until review by Dr Parkinson in 1925. 1 do not think he made a complaint then. The doctor saw the wound. Dr Minty said:
Op. papers re hospitalisation for the gunshot wound chest and abdomen are informative enough and in early reviews these latter wounds are mentioned but nowhere until, as aforesaid, 1925 is the question of additional war service injuries raised.
After that report the Repatriation Board, in its determination, reduced the pension to 25%. On 30th March 1932 Mr Conway wrote and begged for an increase in his pension. His letter read: 1 herewith beg to make application for an increase in my war pension. My health has been very poor for a long time now. Have just been in the hospital at Barcaldine under a Dr Cook and must refer you to him for cause of ray sickness. . . . Shearing shed work seems to be all you can get to do and it breaks me up at every attempt. 1 had always known that my right lung was affected and had hoped it was getting better, but it would seem that the left side is damaged now also my weight now is only 8 stone 13 lb and 1 suffer from indigestion so much T am afraid to eat at all. … If you could see your way clear to increase my pension I might get away for a few weeks to a different climate and pick up. My present pension does not pay for the cod liver oil thai I have to take.
On 30th April 1932 Dr Cook, Medical Superintendent at the Barcaldine District Hospital, said:
A letter from Dr Fox on 4th May 1932 said:
Complete investigation and treatment may reasonably be followed by improvement in the chest condition. I would therefore recommend that he be admitted to the Repatriation General Hospital, Brisbane, for investigation. [Extension of time granted.]
I thank the House for its indulgence. On 27th June 1932 Dr Minty, Senior Medical Officer, stated:
As formerly stated there is no evidence in overseas papers or reviews to 1923-
That should read 1925- to support the claim that the injury to the left hand is due to a gunshot wound on service nor does the evidence in files show that the recurrent pyelitis is related to war service.
He recommended, as some deterioration seemed to have occurred, that the Board increase the pension to 35%. Then on 4th May 1933 Dr Allen of Emerald, Queensland, made a lengthy report in the course of which he said:
This man should be officially told that injury to left hand has not been accepted so that he may have an opportunity of appeal. He claims it is a war injury.
That was only 6 years after the Department first found out about it. On 2nd June 1933 Dr Minty said:
He should be informed that his entitlement does not cover this entity.
On 10th July 1933, after the Department had again written to him, Mr Conway wrote back to the Department. This is the important letter. He said:
Yours of 4th July to hand, in reply thereto, until I recently went to Rosemount I was always under the impression that my hand had always been included in the pension paid to me as every doctor I have been examined by has noticed it without even my showing H to them.
– Why not talk about a few cases you know something about?
– The letter went on:
However, if you want confirmation I would ask you to communicate with General H. Cheaval.
– Use some brains.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Failes)Order! The honourable member for McMillan will be quiet.
– Why not talk about something you know something about?
– 1 am reading from the man’s own file.
-Order! The honourable member for McMillan will remain silent.
– Why don’t you read us something you know something about?
– Why don’t you mind your own business?
-Order! The honourable member for McMillan must maintain silence.
– I will not be silent as long as this clown keeps talking.
-Order! The honourable member for McMillan will resume his seat or I will ask him to leave the chamber.
– The letter goes on:
If you recall the following incident to him he will possibly be able to remember the occurrence, ft was at Quinns Post early in May. The Turks had mined and blown the post up and about fifty had got to our front line. The regiment I was with, the 1st Light Horse, and we were called up in reserve and 1 was standing in the sap leading up to the front line at about I think 9 o’clock a.m. with my hand bandaged. General Cheaval noticed it and as the Turks had (what was left of them) surrendered, on account of my hand he gave me the job of searching the live and also the dead ones as they came down the front line after being captured. The General told me to collect all papers, etc. and bring them down to his dugout. This I did and he will recollect it by the red despatch case I took off one of them with -papers in, which he took from me.
– Why don’t you talk about something you know something about?
-Order! The honourable member for McMillan will restrain himself.
– The Department wrote to General Cheaval, who replied:
I remember the incident mentioned but did not know the man’s name. From Conway’s statement I should say that he was the man, no-one else would remember the details so well.
Then the Department wrote to Mr Ferguson in these terms:
The abovenamed ex-soldier has made application to this Commission for medical treatment. He states that he was wounded in the left hand whilst on Gallipoli. I have been referred to you for corroboration of this statement by Dr Piero Fiaschi, late medical officer 1st Light Horse, who states that you were with him (Dr Fiaschi) throughout the war and would have a better recollection of any incident. The ex-soldier states that early in May at Quinn’s Post he was on duty with a bandaged left hand as a result of a gunshot wound. He also states that his hand was dressed on several occasions by Dr Fiaschi.
Mr Ferguson replied:
In reply to your letter re CONWAY, Kenneth Hudson, I have to state that as regards his being dressed by Colonel Fiaschi at Quinn’s Post in May, 1915, this could not be correct as we did not take up duty at this sector until after Junk of that year.
Of course this kind of thing continued, with the result that the pension in 1939 v/ns stabilised at 35%. Then in 1957 a service pension was granted, but later, in 1961. we find that the pension had been kept at the 35% mark. A letter written on 28th December 1961 by Mr Conway said:
In hospital in England they wanted to operate on my hand, but the old matron at 2nd London General Hospital refused to let them so it was left . . .
If can bc seen that in this file there is a mass of evidence showing that the soldier’s case is genuine. But on 9th May 1962 the Repatriation Commission said:
Incapacity resulting from gunshot wound left hand accepted under section 24. lt had not been accepted at any time from as far back as 1925 when the Commission first found out about it. The Commission also said:
The present incapacity is so slight that it does not warrant a pension assessment.
Yet the man cannot straighten his hand or bend his fingers. The Commission’s determination of 9th May 1962 concluded:
The Board determination of 30th August 1933 is revoked from this date.
The mass of material in this file is evident, Mr Deputy Speaker. Of course, I have used only part of it. I appeal to the Minister for Civil Aviation to place my request before the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar). f will also write to the Minister about this and mention other matters to him. This soldier has had a very rough time. He wrote to two Governors-General, two Prime Ministers and at least three Ministers for Repatriation about his case. He has carried on a continuous fight through the years. He has said: ‘It is an insult to think that I did my best on Gallipoli, that I worked and fought and carried the stretchers when I really had no hand with which to do it, and yet I am told that I was not there, that it did not happen.’ I think in all fairness to this man that at this late stage, when he has reached the age of 77, the Government should grant him a TPI pension, because he simply cannot live on what he is getting and ne is too sick to do any work.
– Why don’t you talk about something you know something about?
– I will come over and make you shut up. I know something about you and I should tell the House about it.
– No doubt many honourable members look sympathetically on the case put forward by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths), but I suggest that this perhaps is not a matter we should be discussing in this chamber. It is rather a case that the honourable member should place directly before the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar). I am sure that if he did so the case would receive every consideration.
We are debating a Bill designed to give effect to proposals presented in the Budget a few weeks ago. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) has proposed an amendment to the motion that the Bill be read a second time. Let me say at the outset that I believe there is no member with a deeper interest in repatriation pensions and repatriation matters generally than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. However, in this case I believe his amendment must be unacceptable to the Government for very obvious reasons. When one reads the amendment one sees that it says virtually nothing. The Opposition does not oppose the Bill, but it condemns the Government. To my mind, I think that if the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had something real to put before the Government he should have introduced an amendment with some meat in it, rather than just condemn the Government. Although this legislation may not be all that we would like it to be, I believe that it contains many beneficial provisions. As I said in my opening remarks, I will take nothing away from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition when he is dealing with repatriation matters. Rarely does he not take a leading part in the debate when a repatriation Bill is introduced into this chamber.
I want to take issue with some of the remarks made this afternoon by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan). I point out to him that he seems to forget that repatriation pensions are paid as compensation for a disability, not necessarily entirely because of some effect on an individual’s ability to earn. The only exception is the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner. I think it is well that we should remember this particular point, because many people have the wrong impression as to the reason why repatriation pensions are paid. The Bill before us introduces a facet which is altogether different from anything we have seen in the past. It introduces a special compensation allowance of up to $3 a week. It certainly increases some of the lower rates by a lesser amount, and it certainly does not increase all repatriation pensions.
When I first came into this Parliament some 10 years ago I referred to the great variation between the rates of the 100% pension and the then TPI pension. I noted that the honourable member for McMillan referred to this same matter this afternoon. However, this has been rectified by the recent introduction of the intermediate rate, which I think has helped to fill in one of the gaps. Also, from time to time I have referred to the many hardships which war widows have to endure. I believe that this legislation goes quite a considerable way towards assisting them. To illustrate what a war widow will receive as a result of this legislation I shall take the case of a widow with four children. She will receive an amount of $4.75 child endowment, $18.15 repatriation children’s allowances, $14 for herself as a widow’s allowance and $7 domestic allowance, making a total of $43.90 per week. At the moment she receives $38.90. So she will receive an increase of $5, which is certainly a big lift on $38.90. This will certainly be appreciated by many widows throughout Australia. As a comparision I point out that the civilian widow receives only $30 per week.
The TPI rate will be increased from $30.50 to $33.50, an increase of $3 a week. Then, of course, there are the other allowances, such as the wife’s allowance of $4.05. There has been no increase in that rate. But a married TPI pensioner with no children as dependants will receive $37.55 per week. Over the years it has been said that the TPI pension has lost its value, but I believe that when we are considering the true value of these pension rates we also have to remember the extras that go with them. Many TPI pensioners receive privileges other than from the Government. So it cannot be said that these people are not receiving reasonable pensions and benefits. However, I do not want that to be taken to mean that we should not consider them at all in the future. To my mind, any person who has been classified as a TPI pensioner deserves everything that he can receive from the Repatriation Department. He has certainly been through a tough time, and naturally we should compensate him for it.
The interim rate will also be increased by $3, bringing it to $24.25 per week. The other pensioners who will receive the special compensation allowance will be those general rate pensioners whose actual incapacity from war services ranges from 75% to 100%. The increases will range from $2.25 for a 75% pensioner to 83 for one in receipt of 100% pension. This afternoon the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to the fact that because of the means test a TPI pensioner and a pensioner who is receiving a small service pension will not necessarily receive the full increase of $3 per week. Of course, this is very true. There are certain pensioners who, although they may receive the full TPI pension, are entitled to a very small portion of the service pension. Naturally, the same comment applies to the actual service pensioner himself. Whilst he will receive an increase in the actual Tate to $14 per week, because of the means test he may not receive this amount.
– How are you going to explain it away?
– The honourable member for McMillan had his say this afternoon. Let me have mine now. According to the annual report of the Repatriation Commission, at present service pensioners total approximately 68,000, and pensions amount to $31m or an average of approximately $10 per week per pensioner. Pages 64 and 65 of the Commission’s annual report show that the average fortnightly per capita pensions in payment on the last day of the period in the year ended 30th June 1968 ranged from $20.87 for an ex-serviceman from the South African war, $21.29 for an ex-serviceman of the 1914 war and $21.01 for an ex-serviceman of the 1939 war. So it can be seen that not all ex-servicemen are in receipt of a full service pension. It can be said that the average will fall short by some $2 to $3 per week. That proves that they are affected by the means test.
So it is only reasonable to assume that these people will be looking very closely at any moves which the Commonwealth Government makes towards easing the means test, particularly for the purpose of covering slight increases in both social service and repatriation pensions. I believe that the position regarding the means test must be rectified. Whilst at this stage I do not want to branch off into a long discussion on the merits of the total abolition of the means test, I think most honourable members agree that there could be quite a considerable easing of the means test without its total abolition. I appeal to the Minister representing the Minister for
Repatriation, who is sitting at the table, to keep this point foremost in his mind when these matters are being considered.
I do not wish to take up a great deal of the time of the House tonight, but I now turn to that portion of the general1 rate pension assessed at between 75% and 100%. According to the Minister’s second reading speech the 100% rate pensioner will receive an increase of $3 a week, or a total pension of $15; the 95% rate pensioner will receive an additional $2.85; the 90% rate pensioner will receive $2.70, or a total pension of $13.50; the 85% rate pensioner will receive an increase of $2.55; the 80% rate pensioner will receive $2.40; and the 75% rate pension will rise by $2.25 to $11.25. However, the unfortunate exserviceman whose invalidity is not great enough to enable him to receive the 75% rate and who receives the 70% rate will receive a pension of only $8.40. In other words, there is a substantial difference between the 70% rate pension and the 75% rate pension. This is a nasty form of discrimination. I am not too sure what the answer is. I have not followed the pension rates down to the lowest rate that is granted, namely, the 10% rate, but I believe that the increases should have been carried through. As I said a moment ago, there is a form of discrimination. In explaining this I quote the following paragraph from the Minister’s second reading speech: rt will not be necessary for general rate pen sioners assessed at 75% to 100% to apply for the allowance. Individual cases win be examined and payment of the allowance to those eligible will bc made progressively as quickly as possible after assent to the amending legislation. Arrears will be paid where appropriate to the operative date of the legislation. Those who do not qualify for the allowance and tho.c whose assessment for the allowance is less than their assessment for pension will be advised to that they may exercise their right of appeal in relation to the allowance if they wish to do so.
While this paragraph is a little complicated, it is self explanatory and it proves my point that there is no allowance for those receiving less than the 75% rate. However, provision is made for those who so desire to apply to have their pension rate increased. lt is only right and proper that they should be given every opoprtunity to do this.
When I look at this particular angle I am reminded of the numerous complaints that we hear from time to time suggesting that when a person applies to have a disability accepted for repatriation purposes or to have a pension rate increased he receives little consideration from repatriation officers. 1 disagree somewhat with the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths) who suggested - 1 have forgotten his exact expression - that there were some pretty weak officers in the Repatriation Department. It is interesting to mention figures relating to the number of claims and appeals dealt with by the Repatriation Department. During the year ended 30th June 1968, the number of claims received by the Repatriation Boards and the Commission totalled 44,441. Those accepted amounted to 16,743 and those rejected numbered 19,803. The balance represent claims outstanding. Honourable members can see that a fair amount of consideration is given to these applications and that almost 50% of those dealt with have been accepted. The figures relating to appeals to the Repatriation Commission are not so good. There were 16,373 appeals, 1,758 were accepted, 12,959 were rejected and the remainder have not been dealt with yet. During the year there were 13,516 appeals to entitlement appeal tribunals. Of these 1,502 were allowed, 8,087 were disallowed and quite a number are outstanding. Finally, let us look at the figures relating to appeals to assessment appeal tribunals. These tribunals, as most honourable members know, are the final appeal tribunals. They allowed 6,086 appeals, disallowed 5,439 and reduced 9. Appeals withdrawn or lapsed totalled 1,208 and as at 30th June 1968 there were 3,370 appeals outstanding. The Repatriation Department generally is giving every consideration to applicants whether they seek to have injuries accepted as due to war service or to have their pension rates increased. 1 believe that the Department is genuinely helping the cause along.
Like many other ex-servicemen I felt somewhat disappointed when we were informed that there would be no general increase in the base rate pension. Other pensions - the widow’s pension, invalid pension and age pension - were increased by at least Si a week. While a special compensation allowance of S3 has been introduced, the general rate repatriation pension has not been altered. I believe that the general repatriation pension should correspond closely with the ordinary age or invalid pension. When one type of pension is increased, the other should go up too. It has always been recognised that these two different clases of pension are closely related, and there is no reason why there should have been a departure from the normal practice. My recommendation to the Government is that when it is considering repatriation pensions in future it should take this factor into account. Perhaps even next year it should increase the 100% general rate repatriation pension in line with the ordinary social service pensions. 1 support the Bill and I oppose the amendment on the basis that there is actually nothing in the amendment.
– I. too, oppose the amendment and support the Bill and all that it contains in the interests of ex-servicemen. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) based the argument for his amendment upon what has become a dishonoured and rather antiquated document - a document that was circulated by the Returned Services League at about the time of the 1967 Budget. I believe that the circulation of this document, to the extent that it was delivered, brought the League under more criticism than it had ever been under in its long and rather distinguished history. The document was intemperate, unnecessary and unjustified, particularly as it came from an organisation which suggested that this Government had failed in its duty to ex-servicemen, lt was seeking a quick dollar for its own members. We must bear in mind that the League strongly supported this Government’s firm attitude in Vietnam. It asked the Government to increase the number of people in the 20-year age group who were called up for national service, lt was in fact advocating complete national service. Surely this cannot be said to be consistent thinking. My own personal opinion is that this document had a very limited circulation. The money wasted by the RSL in producing it could well have been spent in other ways to further the welfare of some of the people whose cause it espouses.
We have heard the Government criticised tonight. Surely nothing is easier to do than to criticise. The Opposition has not told us the extent to which it would increase pensions. It has argued that in some remote way pensions should be related to the basic wage. It forgets, of course, that pensions can only be paid out of the money that is collected in taxes from the community. The problems of welfare will arise continually and will become more complex. They will be compounded as the years go by, with the expectation of life increasing, with more people drawing the age pension and regrettably with the incidence of wife desertion increasing. These factors create responsibilities that rest upon the Government and cannot be ignored. Together with these responsibilities is the duty that the country owes to ex-servicemen. The honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths), by interjection, said this afternoon: ‘Can we pay them too much?’ This is like the old question: ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ Can we pay ex-servicemen loo much? Can we indeed? Do they ask that they should be rewarded necessarily at the expense of other sections of the community simply because they have served and in the process have been injured or have made some sacrifice?
– Thousands have appealed every year.
– Thousands have appealed. I will come to that aspect and hope I will not delay the House unduly. Of course, many ex-servicemen appeal and they are judged largely by their peers when the appeals are heard. I was disappointed to hear the honourable member for Shortland suggest that the tribunals are not just and do not act with a complete sense of fairness. My experience has been to the contrary. If the honourable member for Shortland really wanted to be critical, I would have thought that he would have rested his argument on more than a file relating to one individual case. I would have thought that he would have brought additional evidence to justify his support of the motion moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He took the time of the House in giving details of one case, that of a man who suffered some injury of his hands. Obviously there was some doubt in this case, lt was interesting to hear the honourable member say that, despite this man’s injury, he was able to buy himself a couple of horses, earn £4 a week, which at that time would have been twice the amount an average person could earn, and before he left Gallipoli was given the responsibility of running through the Turks and searching their pockets. These are just points that occurred to me while I listened to the honourable member quote profusely, ad infinitum and rather laboriously from a document. He also gave names.
I have had experience of pressing the claims of returned servicemen on numerous occasions. I could bring files from my office now and quote at length to the House, but I have signed a declaration that I will not divulge the contents of these files, and I have signed it in the presence of a justice of the peace. Perhaps the requirements vary from State to State. I know, of course, that speeches made in all parliaments are privileged, but despite such privilege honourable members should have an ethical approach to the cases of ex-servicement. If I placed my affairs in the Iands of a member of the Parliament and asked him to do his best for me in the various tribunals that were established for the benefit of ex-servicemen, I would not like to hear my case raked over on the floor of the House by an honourable member. I would not think for one moment that he was doing me a service and I would object. I think honourable members should feel duty bound to use other approaches rather than take up not only the time allotted for a speech but also an extension of time to air the case of one individual.
– I entirely disagree with the honourable member.
– That is fair enough. The honourable member may wish to do this, but this House has 124 members, each of whom would have the right to air one individual case and to take up the time of the House in doing so. I believe that we should deal with generalities and with the principles contained in the Bill with which the House is dealing. The individual has his rights. He can appeal. Of course he can. But 1 do not believe that any honourable member can justify using the time of the Parliament to read the whole medical1 history of one man. I was astounded to learn that the medical history of a serviceman in the 1914-18 war could be so voluminous. My experience of these cases has been that the poor 1914-18 digger has a medical record that covers about four pages whereas the serviceman of the 1939-45 war has a medical history running into 20, 30 and sometimes 60 pages. I mentioned in my speech on the Budget that in this respect the 1914-18 soldier is at a disadvantage and perhaps more consideration should be given to him.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in moving his amendment to the Bill, compared the amounts paid now with the amounts that were paid some years ago. I wonder how many more times he needs to be reminded of the 1946 era when the Minister for Repatriation, a Labor Minister, was defeated at an election by my predecessor. In 1949 his replacement as Minister for Repatriation, another Labor Minister was defeated. This followed motions of want of confidence in his administration that had been moved in Tasmania. The honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie), who is interjecting, knows that perfectly well. Mr Barnard was castigated at the annual convention held on the north west coast of Tasmania and as a result lost his seat at the following election. The honourable member knows this very well. That was the last of the dismal record of Labor. It was put out of office summarily in 1949, although not entirely on the issue of repatriation, lt may be trite to mention that two successive Ministers for Repatriation hi the last two Labor Governments to hold office were defeated at elections.
The Deputy Leader claimed by interjection that I had never made any mention of the needs of ex-servicemen. I have never taken a point of order in my life or asked for the withdrawal of any remark, but it may be decent of him to consider a withdrawal when he checks the facts. I ask him to consul’t Hansard for last Thursday. I do not know the pages now, but I will refer him to them. He will see that I did mention some of the problems that confront returned servicemen. I do not expect him in his position to be in the House all the time, but I do not think it would be unreasonable, in view of his responsible position, to ask him to check his facts before he makes allegations. I object to his assertion about me. I hope that my objection is brought to his attention and that he Wi be decent enough, at least privately, to withdraw his remarks.
Many other matters have been raised in this debate. The Deputy Leader mentioned during his speech that the intermediate pension was a comparatively new idea. It has not long been in operation but of the 200,000 ex-servicemen who are eligible, only 896 are benefiting so far. The honourable member did not do the arithmetical calculation of deducting the number of TPI pensions already being paid to those of the 200,000 ex-servicemen who are eligible and who, indeed, are drawing them. He did not compare them with the number of TPI pensions which had been conceded in the period since the intermediate rate of pension came into being. Obviously, the honourable member does not understand the reason for the introduction of the intermediate pension. It was designed to assist ex-servicemen who are able to work for a brief period but who suffer some form of recurrent sickness. This sort of thing is not rare. Many ex-servicemen suffer indifferent health. This is a continuing state with them and not an intermittent one. Some exservicemen do become ill at certain periods. The intermediate rate was introduced to avoid the necessity of an ex-serviceman being transferred to the TPI rate and back again to the 100% rate or whatever his entitlement happened to be. The exserviceman who is not quite eligible for the full TPI pension, but who was deserving of some recognition for his injuries, was at a disadvantage.
I believe that this rate was introduced with good intentions and that it is a necessary provision. However, I am the first to concede that fewer people are entitled to enjoy the benefit of this pension than are entitled to an increase in their existing pension or to be lifted to the TPI pension. But it is only fair that people who receive the intermediate rate pension should be considered in conjunction with those who have been elevated to the TPI pension.
How can we directly relate these pensions to the basic wage? It is not terribly easy because the basic wage earner does not enjoy the fringe benefits that are enjoyed by TPI pensioners and others. One must bear in mind that many ex-service pensioners, excluding those receiving pensions as a result of wars since .1939-45, are now over the age of 40 years and as a result have fewer family obligations. I admit that this is not a real reason for saying that they should not receive a just remuneration, but nevertheless in many cases they are better off than men receiving the basic wage who are rearing a couple of children. This matter must be viewed, always, in the correct perspective. Sometimes people arc rather prone not to view it as it should be viewed.
There is another aspect of this matter that could well be raised, lt was mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He said that the TPI pension was granted to people who were unable to work. 1 concede that this is true but everyone knows that they are treated differently because for them casual work is regarded as being a therapeutic measure. I know of no case of such an ex-serviceman being prosecuted for earning income in breach of the law. Indeed, unless my electorate differs tremendously from other electorates, it can be established that many TPI pensioners work several hours each day. 1 do not blame them for doing this and I am not complaining, but let us not hide our heads in the sand like ostriches, it is true that some of them do work. Good luck to them. Many of them deserve what they earn and 1 have no argument with them. But let us not delude ourselves into thinking that none of them work. If they have a high degree of incapacity, there is no doubt that they receive many fringe benefits. I refer to such things as the reduction in sales tax on motor vehicles and assistance from the Commonwealth for their families. They receive these things whereas the man on the basic wage does not. Let us take all benefits into consideration. We should bear in mind that these two groups are not comparable.
– The basic wage is not enough.
– Perhaps the honourable member would be overpaid if he were on the basic wage. Of course, for other people it is not enough. I do not intend to mean that we should bind every person to a certain level, but where do we stop in granting largesse? Australia is a young country with a great degree of responsibility in providing welfare payments, but where do we cease? Where does reason come in and where does generosity end?
– Is the honourable member talking about largesse for pensioners?
– Let us call it what we will. It is a grant from the earning section of the community to those who, for some reason or other, are unable to earn their own living.
– It should be called compensation.
– If the honourable member wishes to bandy words then he is welcome to do so. He is welcome to speak on this very subject. He may do so if he wishes. He should not try to put words into my mouth. I have little more to add.
– The honourable member has said too much already.
– I thank the honourable member. I could send for a copy of a couple of summaries of evidence if he likes and read from them, but I do not propose to do so. I again claim that more consideration should be given to the brevity of the medical records of ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war. In many instances those men lived and fought under conditions that were not recorded in their medical records. Their conditions cannot be assessed. This comment does not relate in any way to the situation which confronts ex-servicemen of the 1939-45 war. There was a somewhat different approach to medical records during the First World War. There was an esprit de corps within the trenches. A man who was injured or who was gassed in a minor way did not return to the base hospital but attempted to carry on. Therefore there is no record of his injury. It seems wrong to me that we should ask for evidence to be brought from the soldier’s senior officer or one of the people with whom he served. There should be a complete relaxation of the application of the means test to ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war and there should be a more ready acceptance of some of the complaints that arc now confused with senility. It is very easy to say that certain complaints would have arisen at the age of 60 years or 70 years in any event. It is difficult to argue that the condition of such men is the result of war service. Many ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war genuinely deserve pensions but they are not receiving them. I believe also that there are a large number of ex-servicemen of the 1939-45 war who are receiving pensions but who are not entitled to them.
I support what is contained in the Bill before the House. The Bill is not perfect and it never will be, but what legislation is perfect? The Bill does go a long way towards assisting those who need help but more could be done in the years that lie ahead in the interests of ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war. I support the Bill and I oppose the amendment.
– in reply - In commencing the debate on behalf of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) was critical of the fact that the Bill had a long title and an appropriation clause. He drew an inference that the debate was to be restricted in some way. The debate that has taken place today answers his criticism. Speakers ranged over a wide variety of subjects associated with repatriation. I am sure that the title properly and accurately describes the subject matter and purpose of the Bill. I think it should be understood also that this Bill is part of the Budget proposals for this financial year and I am sure that the House will agree that it is reasonable that appropriate provision for the revenue to the extent that is necessary to provide for higher pension rates should be incorporated in the Bill. However, that virtually is what we said in relation to the matter last year, and I merely repeat it again this year.
The Opposition has moved an amendment in two parts. The Government rejects this amendment for two specific reasons. One is that the Opposition, before proposing the amendment, stated that it would not oppose the Bill. This appears to clearly indicate that the amendment was introduced purely for political purposes. We reject it on that ground. But the second ground I believe is more important. If this amendment were accepted by the House it would mean the delaying, for an indefinite period, of the payment of benefits under the Bill. 1 think that the public should realise that the amendment proposed by the
Opposition is designed to delay payment of these additional benefits to ex-servicemen. So, on this second ground, the Government emphatically rejects this amendment. I am sure that the House will do the same when it comes to a vote.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred several times to a decline in the value of repatriation benefits since this Government came into office. I thought that he perhaps did not mean it at first, but he repeated it several times. Some figures I shall cite shortly show that the situation is exactly the reverse. One of the first things that this Government did after it came into office in 1949 was to undertake, as it had promised in the election campaign, a full review of the repatriation system. This was undertaken early in the life of the present Government and very substantial variations were made over the whole range of benefits and quite a number of new benefits were introduced to repair the deficiencies which had been left by the preceding government. lt is always very easy to criticise a government on the ground that it has not done as much as it should have done or that it has failed in some other way. I think it is important, that the Government’s approach to the fixing of the levels of repatriation pensions be known and understood. Fixing these levels is no simple matter, lt involves the Government’s responsibility to the whole community and some, assessment of prospective resources and the many compelling and competing demands on them. It is of the essence of government that this type of judgment must be made. Looking specifically at repatriation matters, the Government, when it considers adjustments to the level of repatriation pensions, does not look at any one specific criterion - for example, the single criterion of changes in wage rates, which is often urged as the only possible yardstick by those who believe pension rates to be insufficient. The Government’s approach is to have regard to a variety of factors, including movements in wage rates, movements in the cost of living, the freedom of war pensions from income tax and the fact that various ancillary benefits - which have been extended from time to time - are available to war pensioners. It must be agreed, I believe, that this is a responsible approach to the Government’s overall responsibility both for the conduct of the country’s affairs and for dealing with the specific problems arising from the needs of one special segment of the community which is looked after within the repatriation system. The fact is that from this responsible approach a consistent pattern of progress in repatriation affairs generally has emerged, and part of this has been a steady increase in repatriation pension levels.
The Government’s review of repatriation matters takes place not occasionally but every year. There has in fact been some change for the better in repatriation arrangements in every year since the Government came to office and there have been some pension increases in almost every year. As a result of this practice of continuing review, we now have rates which are by no means unreasonable, and this is illustrated by the present level of the main pension rates and by the significant increases in them since this Government came to office. I think it would be a good idea, in view of the criticism that has been offered during this debate, to examine these points, not at length but in some slight detail1.
The total and permanent incapacity rate as now proposed will be $33.50 a week compared with $10.60 back in 1949. This is an increase of 216%. The 100% general rate pension, now $ 1 2 a week, has increased by 1 18%. This completely refutes the argument that was propounded by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who stated that there had been a decline in the purchasing power of this rate since the present Government took office. The war widow’s pension, which is to be SI 4 a week, has increased by 133%. This pension and the domestic allowance in combination, which is to be $21 a week, have increased by 211%. It is of interest to note that about 96% of war widows receive the domestic allowance in addition to their pension. Those who criticise pension levels make comparisons with movements in the basic and minimum wages. It seems to be overlooked, however, that one could quite validly use another criterion in the same way. A study of the movements since 1949-50 in the cost of living, as measured by the consumer price index, shows clearly that the Government has more than maintained the value of the special and general rate pensions. The movement in the index from 1949-50 to 1967-68 was 117%. This compares with pension increases, ranging from 118% to 211%, which I have already mentioned.
Let us look in more detail at amounts that may be received by way of pension and allowances. A married TPI pensioner with two children will now receive $40.30 per week in war pension. Subject to means, he may also receive a service pension of up to $17.45 a week, giving a total family pension income of $57.75 per week. The fact that a married TPI pensioner can receive the service pension supplement, leads me to a further point. In making any assessment of repatriation pension rates, one must give due weight to changes which the Government has brought about in conditions which apply to the receipt of pensions. For example, in 1955 the Government, in accordance with its policy of providing additional assistance where the need is greates, removed the ceilings laid down in the Repatriation Act respecting the amounts that a war pensioner could receive by way of war, service and civil pensions. In 1949-50 a special rate pensioner and his wife could receive a war pension totalling between them only $13 per week. Today, subject to the means test, the total payment to the special rate pensioner and his wife by way of war and service pensions is, as I mentioned before, $43.75 per week, which is an increase of 236% compared with the increase of 117% in the consumer price index. In 1949-50, under the ceiling, a general rate pensioner could, subject to the means test, receive a maximum weekly payment of war and service pensions of $6.25. The maximum payment has now been increased to $24 per week, comprising war pension of $12 and part service pension of $12. This is an increase of 284% over the 1949-50 level.
If this argument is reasonably valid it is just as valid as the arguments that have been used in this debate in other respects. In addition to pensions, there are, of course, additional allowances, according to severity or type of disablement. For example, there is an attendant’s allowance, which is to be $7.50 or $12 per week, and the recreation transport allowance which is to be $10 or S20 per month. When looked at in total the present repatriation rates are comparable with any in the world and may be supplemented by allowances by those with particular types of disablement or with disablement of a special severity. War pensions may also be supplemented by means test pension by those who otherwise would qualify for a means test pension.
It may interest the House to know that expenditure on repatriation pensions has increased since 1949-50 in a dramatic way. In that year expenditure on war pensions and allowances amounted to $41m; this year it is estimated to amount to $183m. Over the same period expenditure on service pensions has increased from $2.8m to $35m.
I will refer briefly to two or three other points raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and other speakers from the Opposition side. They referred to the number of persons who receive TPI pensions and who also receive service pensions. It was claimed quite positively by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that the majority of TPI pensioners also receive service pensions. Statistics prove otherwise: Of 25,000 ex-servicemen receiving TPI pensions about 5,800 also receive a means test pension. I submit that evidence to illustrate the completely false premise on which the Opposition based a substantial case.
I want to refer now to the regularity of increases in repatriation expenditure. Quite apart from a comparison of present day expenditure with expenditure in 1949-50, it is interesting to note that in recent years there has been a steady upward movement in the total expenditure on repatriation. In 1966-67 the total expenditure on repatriation was about $265.3m. In 1967-68 it was about $276. 8m. This year it is estimated to amount to $298. 3m. This trend indicates that the Government is endeavouring to handle repatriation in a sympathetic way and that expenditure on repatriation accounts each year for a very substantial proportion of our total budget.
Claims have been made by Opposition speakers in respect of submissions by the Returned Services League. Having had some association with repatriation for a number of years I would be the first to admit that over the years the RSL has played a major part in obtaining better benefits for ex-servicemen generally, and I pay a tribute to the League in that regard. That situation applies today. The RSL is the only organisation of a public nature in Australia with access to Cabinet. Each year the League has the opportunity of presenting to Cabinet for direct consideration its pensions plan and other matters. This is of special benefit to ex-servicemen and a tribute to the organisation. It has submitted its plan to Cabinet this year and no doubt will continue to act in this way. I join with honourable members opposite in paying a tribute to the RSL for the part it has played in the past although I agree with some of the comments of the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Pearsall) regarding certain aspects of the League’s recent campaign. But on balance the RSL is playing a responsible part in the field of repatriation and no doubt will continue to do so.
A number of other matters of individual importance were raised by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan), the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) and the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Griffiths). These will be referred to my colleague in another place because they have specific implications relating to administration and policy. I undertake to see that these matters are referred to my colleague for consideration. I again commend the Bill to the House.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Barnard’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker - Mr L. J. Failes)
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr Swartz) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– I will not keep the House very long. I want to refer to something that happened with such a Bill as this when that Bill was at the second reading stage back in 1948. The motion by the then Minister for Repatriation, Mr Barnard, was:
That the bill be now read a second time.
Mr White, by way of amendment to the motion, bad moved:
That all words after ‘That’ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - ‘the bill be withdrawn and referred to a parliamentary select committee of ex-servicemen appointed to inquire into and report upon the present repatriation pension rates with a view to better adjusting these rates to present living costs.’
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Failes)Order! I must draw the attention of the honourable member to the fact that any speech at the third reading stage of a Bill must be relevant to that Bill. I cannot believe that the honourable member’s remarks are relevant to this Bill.
– -My remarks are relevant to the Bill in that, with regard to this amendment, Mr Barnard said:
The Government is not prepared to agree to it. lt was defeated. The point 1 am making is that this is the usual procedure in regard to such Bills. There is nothing significant about it. Every time Bills relating to these repatriation matters come up, someone moves that ‘all words after “ That “ be left out’ with a view to inserting other words. What has happened tonight is exactly what happened in 1948 and in every year since 1948. By the way, those who voted against the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill 1948 were Mr A. A. Calwell, Mr Duthie and other members of the Labor Party who were in the House at that time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 10 September (vide page 845), on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, in introducing Ihe Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill 1968, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) said:
This Bill relates closely to the Repatriation Bill. lt is to give effect to such of the Budget decisions being implemented by the latter Bill as are relevant also to seamen’s war pensions and allowances.
So. this is a Bill in which repatriation matters generally are taken into account in order to provide for seamen who worked in the merchant service during the war years.
A little while ago the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) had something to say about ihe great efforts of the Returned Services League and the co-operation of the RSI. with (he Government. I merely wish to point out to the House concerning this B li that the RSL in 1967 issued a pamphlet which was headed: ‘Honoured in war, forgotten in peace’. The RSL «as talking about not only seamen but also ex-servicemen. T refer honourable members £>l>o :o ‘Reveille’, the official magazine of the New South
Wales Branch of the Returned Services League, of 1st July 1968. The editorial in that edition is signed by none other than Sir William Yeo. T wish to quote from that editorial to show that the RSL and other organisations are dissatisfied with not only the repatriation benefits but also the seamen’s war pensions and allowances. In this editorial Sir William Yeo wrote:
The National Executive of the Returned Services League in submitting the 196S Pension Plan to the Federal Government has urged that the Government should adopt a new approach to the improvement of war pensions.
National Executive consider that pension values can only be determined satisfactorily by an impartial and objective body authorised to take into account the full extent of the incapacity the member has suffered and the extent of his financial loss resulting from that incapacity.
The question of war pensions must be based on the fundamental principle that all Repatriation measures and especially pensions, are compensation and not a gratuity. A member and his dependants are entitled to receive them because this assistance is a right that has been earned in service to Australia.
War pensions must be treated in the same way as wage rates are concerned, where there is a body in existence - the Arbitration Commission, to deal with wage claims.
The I :ague considers therefore that ii s; only by reference .to the Commission’s decisions that a reasonably accurate assessment can he made on the level of compensation that should he provided in the many and varied cases of disablement.
The editorial goes on: lt is a negation of the principle that those who were incapacitated in their country’s service should be properly compensated.
I fully support National Executive that the Federal Government should urgently appoint a Select Committee ot Parliament to inquire into the Repatriation Act, with il> question of pensions the main item. The committee would then be able to examine the matter of values its well as other anomalies apparent in the repatriation provisions.
I break off there to emphasise to the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) what Sir William Yeo, the State President of the RSL Branch in New South Wales, is now recommending. The editorial continues:
If the Government is genuine in its concern about the welfare of ex-servicemen let it appoint the independent tribunal similar to the Arbitration Commission right away, so pension values can be determined and fixed so that at least a man totally and permanently incapacitated thrush war service will al least get the minimum iv :g£ as fixed by the Arbitration Commission in 1966.
In September, Sir William Yeo again wrote an editorial in ‘Reveille’. This was after the Budget had been introduced and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill was foreshadowed. Sir William Yeo wrote:
Once again the Commonwealth Government’s Budget has failed to restore the full value to war pensions of ex-servicemen and women as we had hoped they would do after 17 years of gradual deterioration of rates.
May I express the bitter disappointment of the NSW Slate Congress held last month at the very small increase obtained. On behalf of the executive members, delegates, observers and also the majority of national officials who were present at the best-attended congress in the last 20 years, I can say it was a bad ‘let-down’ by the Commonwealth Government.
He went on to write:
The major features of the small increase granted was to raise the totally and permanently incapacitated pension by $3 although the RSL asked for $7. This means the TPI rate has increased from $30.50 lo $33.50 which is 89% of the minimum wage of $37.55. The old TPI rate was 81% of the minimum wage and we asked for it to go to 100%. However, the’ Government has cut our claim short by 11%.
Another increase was the $3 for 100% war pension for partial incapacity which brings the new rate from $12 lo $15, which now makes it only 39% of the minimum wage. The old 100% rate was 32% of the minimum wage and the RSL sought an increase of 50%. So here again we are 1 1% behind our current claims.
Statements have been made for and on behalf of the Government who seem quite pleased with the small increases, but it doesn’t coincide with our desires because considerable increases were wanted to restore the full value back into pensions.
We wanted reasonable and just compensation for exscivicemen because from the League point of view all those members entitled to war compensation arc suffering and paying for past wars. They should noi be asked lo pay for another war in the future.
The Government argument is that they need many millions of dollars for defence requirements. This should he I he responsibility of the people of Australia as a whole and not taken out on war pensioners, who arc being denied their just rights to sci help now they need it.
The startling thing, tq me, is the fact that exservicemen members of the Government, once again, have failed miserably to give reasonable and just consideration to the claims of twelve major ex-servicemen’s organisations, in what they consider a just and fair increase.
The cx-service members of Parliament did not give sufficient consideration to the conditions of their ex-service comrades and the plight of their dependants, not forgetting those who have passed on from the effects of war, and the war widows.
They are in sufficient numbers on the Government benches to enforce the full restoration of pension values and to see that justice is done for all war pensioners.
– Who said that?
– Those two editorials I have quoted come from ‘Reveille’, the journal of the New South Wales branch of the Returned Services League, and they were signed by Sir William Yeo.
– He is the only man to do that.
– The honourable member for Mallee says he is the only man to do that. . 1 have in my hand a pamphlet which was authorised by the National Congress of the Returned Services League of Australia and which says on the front:
Honoured in war . . . forgotten in peace.
The honourable member for Mallee in debate after debate on repatriation pensions or seamen’s war pensions and allowances talks about what the Labor Government did not do in 1948. In 1943 the Labor Government appointed a committee to inquire into every repatriation benefit in existence at that time. The Repatriation Act was virtually rewritten in 1943. The Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill is based upon that Act. I have had enough of the humbug of members like the honourable member for Mallee.
I deliberately quoted from ‘Reveille’ when talking on this Bill, because I do not want the Returned Services League and other ex-service organisations complaining when they are not given increases in repatriation benefits when the Budget is brought down and using every possible argument they can against the Labor Party in relation to its external policies, internal policies, matters of defence, and its attitudes towards national service training. If the Returned Services League wants to us to do things for it in repatriation matters, we expect it to look at our policy from every point of view and not with some sectional interest.
In conclusion, 1 remind the Returned Services League that in 1964 the then Minister for the Army came to the League’s congress at Hobart, in Tasmania, and said that the Government would not introduce national service training when the League was pressing for it. On 1 0th November 1964 national service training was introduced in legislation presented to this House by the then Prime Minister. In this debate and the debate just concluded we have stressed the claims of ex-service men and women. In the debate on this Bill we are stressing the claims of the seamen who were in the marine service during the war years. In the opening paragraph of his second reading speech the Minister said:
This Bill relates closely to the Repatriation Bill.
Therefore I think we are entitled to use the same arguments on this Bill as we were entitled to use in the debate on the Repatriation Bill. I merely want all ex-servicemen outside the Parliament, in all their subbranches and clubs throughout the Commonwealth of Australia, to realise that if they want justice in repatriation matters they have to look to the Opposition rather than to the Government.
-I do not want to go into any vast detail. The honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) made an attack on me just now. He does not like me going back into the history of the Labor Party in regard to repatriation. He gets very hot under the collar, as the boys say, when I do. The record of the Labor Party is absolutely scandalous. How often did we try to do something in this House when we were in opposition? I am one of the few members who were here when the Labor Party was in office. The honourable member for Lang was not here at the time and he knows nothing about what happened. He knows nothing of what is recorded in Hansard. At that time the Prime Minister of the day came into the chamber when the Repatriation Bill was before the House. He said: The Government will not accept any amendments’. Then the honourable member for Lang quoted Sir William Yeo. He is the man who said that members of Parliament should be flogged, and I felt impelled to speak about him in this chamber.
Everybody would perhaps like to see more and more money paid to ex-soldiers, but the record of this Government in repatriation is excellent when compared with Labor’s record. The honourbale member for Lang attacked me, saying that what I had stated was just humbug. I am at a great disadvantage in dealing with him because I like to use decent language. I have said I am at a disadvantage, but perhaps I am not. The honourable member does not care what language he uses to describe another parliamentarian who does not agree with him. He will use extravagant language when it suits bis case and when he thinks people outside this place will agree with him.
This Government has brought about many improvements in the field of repatriation, improvements that Labor did not even think of when in office. If it pleases the honourable member for Lang to make insulting remarks, then as far as I am concerned he may go on doing so. I cannot stop him. I cannot reply to him because I am not prepared to lower myself to his level.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– Section 7 of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act reads:
Any person affected by any determination or assessment of a Pensions Committee may, within such time (if any) as is prescribed, appeal to the Commission and the Commission may affirm, vary or annul the determination or assessment.
In other words the seaman is not given any right of appeal. If the Commission determines to affirm, vary or annul the determination or assessment the seaman has no right whatsoever to appeal to any other body. In circumstances of this kind the Repatriation Act provides a right of appeal to an entitlement appeal tribunal, an independent body, which may examine the evidence and make a decision. Section 8 of the Seamen’s War Pension and Allowances Act states:
Wherever it appears to the Commission that sufficient reason exists for reviewing any determination or assessment of a Pensions Committee it may review and may affirm, vary or annul the determination or assessment
Here again the Commission has the right, when it feels that sufficient reason exists, to review the pension paid to the seaman and to affirm, vary or annul the determination or assessment. The Opposition feels that in these circumstances the seaman is treated most unjustly. If we provide him with practically every other benefit available under the Repatriation Act, we should provide him also with the right of appeal. I know that the Opposition has moved amendments designed to achieve this on previous occasions and that they have been rejected by the Australian Country Party member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) and by members of the Liberal Party, but to us it seems just that if we are giving the seaman rights similar to those available under the Repatriation Act we should give him also the right of appeal.
The honourable member for Mallee was a little annoyed with me a few moments ago. Let me put the following proposition to him: Is there any justice in giving to seamen who carried ammunition, food, petrol and equipment to troops fighting in the Middle East and elsewhere many benefits flowing from a special Act of Parliament, and at the same time denying them the right of appeal which is available to the men who were fighting in the air, on the sea or on land? Let me put this straight to the honourable member for Mallee: Is he prepared to grant that an injustice is being done to these men by denying them the right of appeal? The honourable member became angry with me. Let us see what his spirit is like and how sincere he is when I move this amendment on behalf of the Opposition: After section 8 of the principal Act, insert the following section: 8a. Where an appeal to the Commission under section 7 of this Act fails, the claimant may appeal to an Appeal Tribunal established under the Repatriation Act 1920-1964 and the Tribunals established under that Act are vested with the necessary powers to hear and determine the appeal.’
I ask the honourable member for Mallee to second the amendment.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - J have looked at the amendment moved by the honourable member. I point out that it does not come within the title of the Bill, nor is it relevant to the subject matter of the Bill. These are the alternative requirements declared under standing order 227. I regret that, accordingly, the amendment is not in order.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair) - by leave - read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 12 September (vide page 1056).
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN - There being no objection, that course wiM be followed.
Department of External Territories
Proposed expenditure, $90,510,000.
-! suppose Australia’s external territories are amongst her most important trusts - and I distinguish between the terms ‘trust’ and trusteeship’. Not many governments are charged with such an important task, and in some ways there are not many countries which have gone about that task with such a consciousness of their duty as Australia has displayed. While this Government has been cautious and conservative in many ways and has faltered on some occasions when it should not have done so, particularly in respect of economic development, Australia is doing, not just fractionally, but quite substantially, better than most other countries have done in similar circumstances. But I do not think that allows us to rest on our oars. A large number of problems are looming in Papua and New Guinea. I see little evidence that they are being tackled in the adventurous spirit that is required. I believe it is time that we evinced a much greater sense of urgency about the position in Papua and New Guinea, both in economic and political development and in social attitudes.
I want to refer in particular tonight to the House of Assembly, the Papua and New Guinea Parliament one might say. I think it is fair to say that the members are underpaid. They have very large responsibilities. Papua-New Guinea is a formidable Territory. A great many languages are spoken. The mountains, the rivers and the distances across the sea make communication between constituent and member almost impossible. Therefore the members are also understaffed. 1 think it is fair to say, too, as was pointed out recently by my colleague the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley), that they are also badly housed. Those of us who have visited the Territory know that they are badly housed. The building from which they are operating is quite inadequate for their task. But in addition, they are being frustrated by what I think are outmoded and anarchronistic attitudes about the way a parliament should develop in such a Territory.
There are 94 members in the House of Assembly, of whom 84 are elected and 10 nominated. 1 believe that the 10 nominated members are an anachronism in this type of institution at this time. I believe that the members of the Territory’s Ministry arc not being given enough authority. I will deal with those points as 1. come to them There are some other things that I think we ought, to do for the members. I do nor suppose we are in a position to do very much about their salaries. We raised the question of their salaries in this House when the House of Assembly was being initiated. We pointed out that the salaries were inadequate. They are still inadequate. The members of the House of Assembly in Papua and New Guinea will be placed in the same invidious and humiliating position as every member of every other parliament is when it comes to the question of members’ salaries. The least we could have done for the members of the House of Assembly was to place them in an appropriate salary bracket so that they could do the task which was required of them. 1 believe that their travel rights are inadequate. 1 believe that their ministerial power is not being developed as an appropriate authority. As I said earlier, I believe that the nomination of members is an anachronism. In 13 years of watching this Government in action in dealing with the Northern Territory and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea I still have not found out why we must nominate members to the parliaments in these Territories. Why should senior public servants sit in the parliaments as representatives of the Government? Why should they act as executive officers one day and as legislators another day? This seems to me to be against all the traditions which we have developed in this Parliament. It seems to me that it offends the very spirit upon which the parliamentary principle is based. We ought not to tolerate it in Papua and New Guinea.
I have raised this question before. I cannot see why Papuans and New Guineans cannot be appointed to the top posts in the Territory. Why was not a Papuan or a New Guinean appointed to the position of Administrator when it was vacant recently? Why have not Papuans and New Guineans been appointed to some top positions? Admittedly, so far not many of them would have the expertise for this kind of work, but an increasing number are gaining it. I am not too sure whether in the past in our own country the people at the top in our Public Service and elsewhere have been people who, on paper, have had that kind of expertise. In fact, some did not have it. Australians, whether they have had academic qualifications or particular governmental background, have been able to develop a capacity to govern. I am quite confident that Papuans and New Guineans would be able to do this.
The fundamental principal of parliamentary democracy is that people must be allowed to make their mistakes. I think this is the essence of the contract, so far as the parliamentary and ministerial systems are concerned. What is independence? This is, in a way, the burning question. Delegates to the United Nations continually raise it, and I do not mind their doing so. This is what the United Nations is for. It is part of the system of international surveillance and scrutiny upon which individuals in underdeveloped countries may have to rely. The fact that representatives in such organisations are often misdirected or misinformed is no novelty in assemblies of this nature.
Our parliamentary system is one of evolutionary growth. Every law that is passed by the House of Assembly is a step towards independence. In fact, I do not think it is possible to set what you might say is an actual timetable for the development of independence or self government in Papua and New Guinea. I do not think that is the way it will go or ought to go. 1 do not think that it would be to the advantage of the Territory for us suddenly to get out 2 or 3 volumes of a code of law, with hundreds of pages, ranging through everything from traffic rules to murder and treason, and adopt that and say: “Go ahead and administer it.’ 1 think that the system by which the House of Assembly is developing its own feeling of power is the correct one. However, I am afraid that a number of inhibitions are being imposed by the Minister for External Territories (Mr Barnes) and his Department, and by the Government’s attitudes, which prevent the Territory of Papua and New Guinea from developing as fully as it ought to develop. 1 believe that as our own system is an evolutionary one, this is the way it ought to bc in Papua and New Guinea. Each law that is passed should be an exercise in independence and in self government. At some time in the not too distant future the people in Papua and New Guinea will find that most of the laws under which they are operating are laws that they themselves have made. It is an interesting and exciting exercise with which they are charged.
I am not too sure that there are enough facilities available to this Parliament to ensure that we take enough interest in Papua and New Guinea and that we know what goes on there. I think that the right to travel to Papua and New Guinea ought to be extended. At the present time members of this Parliament are able to travel at public expense to Papua and New Guinea once every parliamentary term. I can see no reason why the travel rights which we enjoy throughout the continent of Australia ought not to be extended to cover Papua and New Guinea so that those of us who happen to have a continuing interest in the Territory will be able to go there more often and maintain a continuing contact. I wrote to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) on one occasion suggesting this, but so far I have had no reply. Any honourable member who goes to Papua and New Guinea does not go there for the fun of it. In my own case, 1 would like to go reasonably often so that I could take an interest in the fields in which I may have some degree of competence, such as the field of education.
We are inflicting upon the people of Papua and New Guinea attitudes which I think arc quite unnecessary. I believe that they are outmoded. Let me take, for instance, the doctrine of the financial initiative of the Crown, which is one of the myths which have been inflicted on us down the ages and which is part of our parliamentary system. We cannot move to a Bill an amendment which imposes an additional charge on the public revenue. We have to wait until the executive government sends us a mesage to do so. What is the executive government? Of course, it is the Ministry, which is composed of members whose charter runs because they are members of this Parliament. Recently a question was taken up in the House of Assembly. An effort was made to suspend the Standing Orders so that members could initiate money Bills. The Secretary for Law, Mr W. Watkins, took up the cudgels on behalf of tradition and the mystique. He said it was a strictly observed rule that no public charge or alleviation of tax could be incurred except on the initiative of the executive government. He and other Government members spoke strongly in opposition to a motion from Mr P. G. Johnson of Angoram. Mr Johnson is standing for the parliamentary right to levy taxes and to decide what they are to be. In fact, it is a principle which was clearly established 3 or 4 centuries ago to the detriment of Charles Stuart. It is a question of the techniques by which you do it. I believe it is one of the challenges of the parliamentary system which we have to face in this Parliament.
I think it is true to say that the United States Congress decides how much money will be levied and how much will be spent in most areas of government in America. In fact, we are inflicting upon the people of Papua and New Guinea and upon the House of Assembly an unnecessary relic of the feudal system. I suggest that honourable members should examine the notes which come from the House of Assembly. They give a picture of what the members in that House are up against.
There are a number of matters that I wanted to raise during this debate, but the other question which I raise on behalf of the House of Assembly is its right to make decisions. We should let it make decisions. I can think of some matters on which I would approve of the Minister for External Territories having the right to veto a decision. For instance, I have very strong views about capital punishment and such things. But let us consider the situation that arose as a result of a move to establish a commission to inquire into the salaries of local officers. When the vote was taken in the House of Assembly a number of the Ministers did not vote. This, of course, has caused a great furore. It is reported that the Administration seems likely to seek views from Canberra on the failure of five Ministers to vote in the House of Assembly. Under Administration policy all Ministers are required to support the Government on all major issues and they are not allowed to oppose the Government publicly. Just who is the Government? The Government in this sense in the Minister and the Department of External Territories. They are not in any way answerable to the folk in the Territory. I believe that this is offensive to the general spirit of the parliamentary democracy that we are attempting to produce in Papua and New Guinea and that, in fact, the infliction upon the system of some of the traditions which I have just quoted is inhibiting the proper political development of the Territory. 1 refer to the sitting in the House of a number of officers of the Crown - ten I think - the control over the whole system by the Minister and, through such a system as this, and demand that the Ministers who are freely elected by the citizens of Papua and New Guinea must toe the Government line. 1 hope that we will overcome our inhibitions in this matter and make sure that this Parliament develops on a proper free wheeling line.
Our own Parliament has developed over centuries. It has grown from challenges to the Sovereign and in all sorts of other ways. The idea of direct representative democracy was not in the original charter. People were representative of various areas. There was no necessary relationship between numbers and there was a battle over long centuries to get every man and every woman a vote and finally to make parliament supreme. We have arrived more or less at that condition here. I think it was an error of judgment - an error which grew out of undue caution and conservatism - not to make the House of Assembly in Papua and New Guinea supreme. We have to remember that our own Parliament has grown into full power over the years as a result of the development of certain attitudes around the country, and the adoption of such statutes as the Statute of Westminister.
What is to be the future of Papua and New Guinea and our relationships with it? It is probably true that there is no future in the proposition that it be a seventh State of Australia. I personally would not object to this proposition. In fact, I have tried it on some of the citizens of the Territory. I have asked them how they feel about it. Of course, it was quite an unfair question because they are not well enough briefed to give an answer; but I do not think they would object. We have to work out some new system of co-operation. The Papuans and New Guineans ought to be able to make their .own laws about how they travel to Australia. We ought to be able to have cooperating systems in respect of trade, banking, social services and so on. This is a time for some adventurous spirit. Scandinavia has developed a fine system of co-operation with three or four nations. The European Common Market is another example of co-operation. We have to shed some of the traditions of federalism, confederation and total union with political authority exercised in an absolute sense and to develop a new kind of co-operation between ourselves and our neighbours to the north. I hope that we we will always have a very close and continuing relationship with them. I should like to think that the citizens of both areas could be the citizens of one. This, I think, is the challenge that the Parliament in Papua and New Guinea now faces. I hope that we will take it up.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– lt is not possible to consider this Budget estimate without taking into account some of the subsequent announcements. One was the Budget as brought down in the House of Assembly some two weeks ago. Another announcement concerned the impressive 5- year plan as made by the Minister for External Territories (Mr Barnes) in this House and, finally, the report on New Guinea which was made following the visit of the seventh United Nations mission between February and April of this year.
All concerned themselves not only with the past performance of the Australian Government in the Territory but also with the direction which progress in New Guinea is to take or should be taking.
Of course, the 5-year plan is a most dramatic announcement if only for its recognition that the Australian Government has given body to the spirit of development which it has been sponsoring with everincreasing enthusiasm in recent years. It is not a complete plan. It is not all that one would hope for, but if it can be taken as the minimal effort that should be put into the Territories during the coming 5 years then it will have served a useful and perhaps historic purpose. All too often these 5-year plans, which we have grown to accept as part of the publicity emanating from emerging countries, are either a tired and lame excuse for doing nothing and are therefore doomed to failure from the start, or they anticipate an enthusiasm which available resources do not warrant. However, if this plan for the Territory of Papua and New Guinea is seen merely as a general targe; and framework within which progressive forces may forge ahead, then we can look forward to a promising future for our brethren north of Cape York.
The announcement of the plan has not been greeted with universal approval and the discontent has nothing to do with those details which were made known. It was disappointing to see that there was criticism that we should be spending money on such a venture at a time when we are desperately short of capital funds and other revenues for capital works within Australia. If ever there was a time when we had to accept our responsibilities, both moral and therefore financial, too, concerning the people of New Guinea, then it must surely be now. The Australian Government has no alternative but to dedicate itself to the progressive improvement of Irving standards of all people who enjoy its protection. It is as important to see that the standards in New Guinea improve with the same momentum as the standards of all Australians irrespective of where they may be.
We cannot ignore New Guinea, not for any sense of security or defence measure but because we have a moral duty to look northwards and show them the way to self development. It is as important for Australia to develop New Guinea as it is for us to defend the people of South Vietnam. To ignore either and to look inwards to our own comfort and standards alone would be to ignore the motivation which has has brought Australia to its present nationhood. Support for and of New Guinea is not merely a problem of federation and the effect it may have on CommonwealthState financial relations, even though it cannot be denied that the Australian people are making a very substantial sacrifice in financial terms in following this Government’s policies. But our attitude to New Guinea must be seen as a problem relating to our own nationhood, for it is not a case of deciding whether we can afford the money or not. It is a case of whether we can affort to do less than follow progressive and realistic policies and still maintain our national self respect and conscience.
So I repeat, Mr Deputy Chairman, that I would have that the architects of this great and imaginative plan of practical development of the Territory during the next 5 years will not be discouraged by recent criticisms but will be inspired to create new targets, new horizons, as the 5 years go by. As the plan itself says:
There must be scope for flexibility to take advantage of opportunities and to deal with unexpected problems.
It can succeed; it must succeed. But for all its breadth and, in certain parts, depth, I have been disappointed to see that there has not been special mention of the need to study the anthropological aspects of this vast and, in this regard, mostly unknown land. I would hope that Professor Bulmer and his team in the Department of Social Anthropology in the University of Papua and New Guinea will be given special funds when education budgets are being worked out during the next 5 years. At the least we should be concerned that New Guinea students should know something about their own history and background, and this just is not known at the moment.
There is always the fear that 5-year plans will concern themselves with the problems of the urban population and that grand plans should be undertaken to establish great monuments to reflect the merging greatness of the country involved. In this regard I would not agree with the honourable members for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) and Wills (Mr Bryant) when they ask for the Australian Government to give a new House of Assembly to Port Moresby. I am certain that if this sort of money is to be spent in Port Moresby itself then it would be far better to provide more housing and better market facilities than are at present enjoyed by the urbanised indigines. It would be far better for us to raise the standards of the present building, inadequate though it may be.
New Guinea’s future still lies within the progress of the villages, and if we are to spend money on buildings which will aid a more effective and efficient administration then let it be in the coastal and mountain villages. After all, Moresby, Lae, Rabaul and Madang still represent only a small proportion of the population, even if their problems are more evident to the average traveller from Australia and particularly travellers from this Parliament.
While on this point, I join the honourable member for Wills in expressing the hope that the present restriction on members of this Parliament visiting New Guinea will be liberalised and that it will be possible for honourable members to visit the Territory and travel within the country at least yearly and not every 3 years as is at present the case. The more members of this Parliament see the Territory then the more will it be realised that there are no glib answers to the problems facing the Administration and the more responsible will be the criticisms that should be flowing from this place. Not only should honourable members be encouraged to visit the Territory more than at present, but they should be encouraged to go beyond the luxury and comfort of the Gateway Hotel at Port Moresby. Admittedly this hotel is of international standard and once there it is very had to leave, but there is much more to learn beyond this centre of government and much more to understand than the social problems of the urbanised indigenes of Port Moresby, which as a town is certainly one of the least attractive centres of the Territory.
But so much for tourists, travellers and comments on Port Moresby. What does the estimate in the Budget promise for the Territory in real terms? What does the 5-year plan aim to achieve? Put simply, we have been told that annual plantings of tree crops by Papuans and New Guineans will increase by more than 50%. The number of beef cattle to be raised by indigenes will increase, in biblical terms, five fold, while timber production and exports should increase by 300% and manufacturing output should more than double. It is an impressive list; yet one can only hope that the problems that beset the Sangara soldiers settlement scheme in Popondetta will not be repeated with any of these schemes. in passing may 1 add that 1 take personal satisfaction from the recent announcement that the Australian Government will spend $250,000 in controlling pantorhytes weevil infestations of the cocoa crop around Popondetta. Having spent some days in this district earlier this year, I am most concerned that the measures should be sufficient to control this pest and give encouragement to both the small holders and the holders of the larger plantations who have battled what must have seemed an unending variety of tropical diseases. It would be an object lesson for all honourable members to visit Popondetta and learn that agricultural development in Ihe Territory is not a simple matter of planning from 1 ,000 miles away. It is difficult and I would hope that the planners have made special allowance in their plans for pest control and indeed for agricultural research at an advanced level. Obviously the services of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation must be brought in to advise, help and where necessary spearhead research into the countless problems that will face the agricultural development in the next 5 years and beyond. If this plan for rural expansion can achieve a fraction of the success that has been achieved in Taiwan in the past 20 years, we can worry less about the country’s future.
But what of doubling manufacturing output? How feasible is this and will it be a subsidised industrial expansion? Will the industries that will hopefully come be labour intensive or capital hungry? I fear there has been a disappointing lack of official incentives for encouraging industry and we will face very stiff competition indeed from such countries as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan in the scramble for labour intensive industries whose output can satisfy not only domestic demand but will supply that emerging mammoth of an export market throughout South East Asia. 1 firmly believe that Australian finance, whether from governmental or private sources, will never be sufficient to allow industrial development to proceed at a rate that will do justice to the intellectual - or or should it be called educated? - explosion that will hit the Territory seriously within the period of this 5-year plan. This Government and the House of Assembly must exercise their minds towards the great riddle of how to entice capital into the country and the answer must be available soon. Even though the local population is to provide some 35.4% of the coming year’s total expenditure and local taxes will provide an extra Sim of revenue, it is clear that overseas capital must be attracted and encouraged and this must be regarded as a matter of urgency.
The Minister has stated that the answers to the problems of New Guinea lie in accelerating the pace of economic development. To achieve this I repeat that we must have capital assistance, both financial and in manpower, from other such developed countries as, to name a few. West Germany, France and Italy. Even so, the demand for skilled people will require an extra 4.500 expatriates during the 5-year period to 1972-73 and I warn the House that unless the tangle of salary structures is resolved soon we will see that the plan itself may well be hollow.
In the Port Moresby Budget speech, in the 5-year plan and in the Budget speeches in this House, the great need for overseas officers was surely and firmly declared. Now in today’s newspaper, the Administrator has been reported as saying that we must keep wages down. One can only assume that he is calling for the same type of income policy that has had such disastrous results in socialised Britain. Let us hope the reports were wrong. But if they were not does it mean that the new single salary structure for the Public Service of Papua and New Guinea will be held back under the incomes policy while the additional allowances to expatriates will not? If it is intended lo restrict these allowances too keenly, I venture to suggest that the target of 4.500 overseas officers will not be reached. In these circumstances I hope the Administrator will elaborate upon the newspaper reports that appeared this morning and relate his statement to the recruitment potential, both indigenous and expatriate.
May 1 briefly touch upon the recent decision for the Papuan and New Guinea Development Bank to take over the oxservicemen’s credit scheme in the Territory. In following the recommendation of the recent World Bank mission, there is no doubt that this will straighten out the many credit difficulties that ex-servicemen encounter at the present time. There is no substitute to having any controller of credit on the spot to assess properly requirements and difficulties.
I hope the plan will be constantly under review and that care will be taken to sniff out the weak spots as they are happening. As I see them the really sensitive areas relate to the recruitment rale of specialist expatriates and the capacity to encourage investment capital for suitable industrial expansion. Education, housing, health and communications will all present major obstacles, but unless staff and capital investment can be successfully attracted, the plan could be in trouble. I strongly support the Minister’s firm resolve not to be stampeded into an unnecessarily and undesirably too hasty and unbalanced a development of this important and exciting country.
House adjourned at 10.58 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Housing, upon notice:
What is the maximum rate of interest that may be charged by a co-operative building society in each of the States and the Australian Capital Territory?
– The Minister for Housing has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Broadly, there is no general limit on the maximum rale of interest chargeable by co-operative building societies, but effective limits on the maximum rates are imposed by the terms of guarantees provided by the various governments of borrowing by the societies from financial institutions. The only case of a general limit is in Queensland, where societies registered under the Building Societies Acts may not charge their borrowers more than the equivalent of an interest rate of71/4% per annum.
The current maximum rates of interest that may be charged to societies on institutional loans guaranteed by the various governments are as follows:
New South Wales- 5½% per annum;
Victoria - 55/8% per annum;
Queensland - 55/8% per annum;
South Australia - a rate specified by the State Treasurer (only one society has been guaranteed in South Australia);
Tasmania - 57/8% per annum;
Australian Capital Territory - 5½% per annum.
In Western Australia, guaranteed societies are not permitted to charge borrowers more than the equivalent of 6½% per annum.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Housing, upon notice:
Service Homes Division to make advances for home units?
– The Minister for Housing has supplied the following answers to the honourable member’s questions:
International Convention on Human Rights (Question No. 428)
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
The table below lists those international conventions which have been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and details regarding Australia’s signature and ratification or accession.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 September 1968, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1968/19680917_reps_26_hor60/>.