27th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. Sir William Aston) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
Advertising in Telephone Directories
The Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of citizens of the Commonwealth respectfully showeth:
That we, the undersigned protest against the action of the Commonwealth Government in letting the contract for the advertising rights for the Victorian Pink Pages Telephone Directories to an American company, General Telephone and Electronics Corporation U.S.A., trading in Australia as Directories (Aust.) Pty Ltd.
That this will mean that the American company now controls the Telephone Directory Advertising in all but one State of the Commonwealth.
We respectfully request that this contract be revoked in the national interest, and your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Barnard, Mr Calwell, Mr Cope, Mr Davies, Mr Fox, Mr Kennedy, Dr Klugman, Mr O’Keefe and Mr Reynolds.
To the Honorable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth humbly showeth: That the undersigned believe . . .
That hunger, illiteracy, abject poverty and injustice are intolerable anywhere in the world.
That the knowledge, skills and resources to change these unjust conditions now exist.
That to obtain justice among peoples, world financial and trading systems can and must be changed.
That Australia has the capacity to play a more significant part in enabling the developing countries to achieve improved social conditions for all their people.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that . . .
Australia’s Official Development Assistance in 1972-73 be increased to at least $240m.
Australia’s aid policies be reviewed so that aid given provides maximum benefit to the peoples of developing countries.
Australia’s trade policies be reviewed to provide more favourable conditions for developing countries. by Mr Hunt, Mr Howson, Mr Barnard, Mr Fox, Mr Garrick, Mr Reid and Mr Street
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned electors of the Commonwealth of Australia respectfully showeth:
That on December 10, 1948, Australia signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, Article 25 reads: ‘Everyone has the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age and other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.’
Yet, 23 years later, in our country ot great national wealth and abundance it is to the nation’s shame that many thousands of our people live in a state of being inconsistent wilh the dignity and worth of the human person - languishing in poverty and want, neglect and the lack of proper care necessary for their health and wellbeing.
We, the undersigned, respectfully draw to your attention that the conscience of the nation is not at ease while the records of our country show that social services are not comparable with that of other advanced countries administering such services, therefore, we call upon the Commonwealth Government to immediately legislate for:
Base pension rate - 30 per cent of the average weekly male earnings, all states, plus supplementary assistance and allowances based on a percentage of such earnings. Unemployed benefits equal to the foregoing.
Completely free health services to cover all needs of social service pensioners - hospitalisation, chronic and long-term illness, fractures, anaesthetics, specialist, pharmaceutical, hearing aids, dental, optical, physiotherapy, chiropody, surgical aids and any other appliances.
Commonwealth Government to promote a comprehensive national scheme in cooperation with the States and make finance available to provide for the building of public hospitals, nursing and hostel-type homes necessary to effectively meet the special requirements of aged people, .in conjunction with a comprehensive domiciliary care programme to enable aged people to stay in their homes.
Mental illness placed in the same position as physical illness.
Substantial Commonwealth increase in the $5 subsidy a day per public bed pensioner patient in general hospitals. 10 per cent of Commonwealth revenue to local government for general activities which now include social welfare, health, conservation and other community needs. Commonwealth subsidy for the waiving of rates for pensioners.
Commonwealth Government to increase the non-repayable grant to the States for low rental home units for pensioners.
Royal Commission or other form of public enquiry into Australia’s social welfare structure that Australia may be brought into line with accepted world standards of the most advanced countries.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Dr J. F. Cairns and Mr Kirwan.
To the Honourable the Speaker and the Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, we, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia, residents in the State of Western Australia do humbly petition and pray that all levels of Government responsible in Australia will take note of the wishes of we, the citizens, in so far as we request:
That the Commonwealth Government give urgent consideration to the return of the land compulsory acquired from the Shire of Belmont for defence purposes namely lots 313, 314, 324 and 32S bounded by Alexander Road, Belgravia Street, Esther Street and Daly Street.
That the land be returned to the Belmont Shire for the purposes envisaged of constructing an Aged Peoples Village and a Community Development.
We further believe that this site is one of the choicest sites for residential development remaining in the Belmont Shire and we feel that the Shire has lost a large proportion of its rateable land to the Commonwealth Government and that this will in some way compensate for the resumptions which have taken place and the lack of opportunity for community development which exists because of those resumptions.
Therefore, we urge that the matter be given urgent consideration so that proper planning and development of the Shire can continue. Your petitioners as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Bennett.
To the Honourable the Speaker and the Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, we, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia, residents in the State of Western Australia, do humbly petition and pray that all levels of Government responsible in Australia will take note of the wishes of we, the citizens, in so far as we request:
That the Commonwealth Government give urgent consideration to granting taxation concessions to those mothers who are forced to pay fees to have their children retained in Day Care and Family Care Centres.
That these mothers and children are being disadvantaged by the economic circumstances where no concession is made for the charges which must be paid to have their children so looked after. In fact it means that a single parent is working for a subsistence wage and receiving a lower income than many who are living on Social Service at a cost to the community.
That these mothers’ efforts to maintain themselves and their families should be rewarded by taxation concessions for fees paid in recognition to their initiative and diligence by not placing their burden upon the community and so allow them to retain their dignity and standing in the community.
That single and married mothers are contributing to the community by the establishment of their home, the cost of which has become affected by inflation and so must continue to work to make the future for the children who are are so cared for.
Therefore we ask that all these aspects be taken into urgent consideration and that taxation concessions for all child minding fees be granted to ease the burden.
We, the petitioners humbly pray that the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled would take immediate steps to ensure provision of this taxation concession and your petitioners as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Bennett.
The Honourable the Speaker and the Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of citizens of the Commonwealth respectfully showeth:
That the Commonwealth Parliament has acted to remove some inadequacies in the Australian Education system.
That there is a major inadequacy at present in the Australian education opportunity for all.
That more than 500,000 children suffer from serious lack of equal opportunity.
That Australia cannot afford to waste the talents of one sixth of its school children.
That only the Commonwealth has the financial resources for special programmes to remove inadequacies.
That nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States have shown that the chief impetus for change and the finance for improvements come from the National Government. Your petitioners request that your honourable House make legal provision for -
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Bennett.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned employees in Parliament House Canberra respectfully sheweth:
That the inadequacy of the present parliamentary building is resulting in unpleasant, inefficient and inconvenient working conditions in the House itself.
That the fragmentation of staff at West Block and other offices in the City due to the inadequacies of space in the present building causes inefficiency in staff control and working relationships.
That althoughthe present patchwork extension system results in better accommodation for some sections of the working population in the House it has worsened the accommodation in other areas by shutting out light and ventilation.
That the older sections of the House, besides being cramped, are affected by extremes of heat and cold and quite out of keeping with modern office working conditions.
That the House lacks proper records storage facilities, and other facilities, especially related to staff comfort, a requirement highly desirable in view of Parliament’s extended working hours.
That the present extensions, as with past extensions, have been costly to the taxpayer and economically shortsighted and will merely relieve the most pressing needs for a very limited period of time due to the inevitable growth of the business of this Parliament.
Your petitioners therefore most humbly pray that an early decision will be taken by the Government to build the new and permament Parliament House which will, in the long run, be a more economical way to house the Parliament and which will, at the same time, be an impressive and proud symbol of Australia’s progress and national unity.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Enderby.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of residents of the Division of the Australian Capital Territory respectfully showeth: that the National Capital Development Commission have advised us of their intention to develop the entire western side of Melrose Drive with Flats and Town Houses.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the aforesaid strip of land on the whole western side of Melrose Drive be reserved for development as parkland. Your petitioners are concerned that such a development will place an excessive strain on the schools of the area, and will result in a diminution of the land available for recreational purposes and will create traffic hazards.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Enderby.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the members in Parliament assembled will move to make available to the Tasmanian Government a special grant for the express purpose of preserving Lake Pedder in its natural state.
And your petitioners, as in duly bound, will ever pray. by Mr Enderby.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That there is a crisis in Aboriginal welfare in the South West Land Division of Western Australia resulting from a population explosion, poor housing and hygiene and unemployment and unemployability.
That there is a need to phase out native reserves in the south west land division of Western Australia over the next 3 years.
That town housing must be providedfor all Aboriginal families where the bread winner has permanent employment or an age or invalid pension entitlement.
That such housing must be supported by the appointment of permanent ‘homemaker’ assistance in the ratio of one homemaker to every 8 houses or part thereof.
That incentives of housing, ‘homemaker’ services and training facilities must be created in centres of potential employment for those who are currently unemployed or unemployable.
That insufficient State or Federal assistance has been made available to meet these requirements.
That adequate finance to meet these requirements can only be provided by the Commonwealth Government.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will give earnest consideration to this most vital matter.
And your petitioners, as in duly bound, will ever pray. by Mr Kirwan.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully sheweth:
Your petitioners, therefore, most humbly pray that:
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Morrison.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully sheweth:
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will take immediate steps to make emergency Federal finance available to the Slates for State school education, and divert the large sums of public money being spent on private schools to the government school system for which the Government is truly responsible.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Sinclair.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. It relates to the flotation of a company known as Weeks Natural Resources Ltd which, it is expected, will seek to raise $15m to $16m on the Australian market. Was Reserve Bank approval for the project secured without the presentation of a copy of the prospectus? Does the company envisage exploration activities outside Australia in such places as Colombia, Guatemala, South Korea, Thailand, Ireland and British Honduras? Does approval endorse the idea of Australian investors providing risk capital for use outside Australia? Finally, were representations on behalf of the proposed company made directly to Cabinet by any of its directors or associated interests?
– I believe I have heard of the name, but I have not had any papers submitted to me by the Treasury or the Reserve Bank and I personally have not been involved in this transaction in any way. I will obtain the details for the honourable gentleman and let him know.
– Will the Minister for Customs and Excise receive a petition that has been addressed to me asking for a review of his decision to allow into Australia a book, the clear intention of which is to corrupt and degrade children and to destroy authority, and which is entitled ‘The Little Red Schoolbook’? The petition consists of 39 pages with approximately 20 names to the page. So it has been signed by over 700 citizens of McMillan.
– I will be pleased to receive the petition, and if the honourable gentleman wishes to organise a delegation of representatives of the people who signed the petition I will be very pleased to speak with them.
– I address my question to the Minister for National Development. Has the Government decided to approve or prohibit exports of natural gas from the Palm Valley field in the Northern Territory? Is it a fact that the Australian equity holding in that field is only 20 per cent? Is it a further fact that if the all-clear is given by this Government to export natural gas from Palm Valley it will inevitably lead to an even greater density of overseas control of our resources? Will the Minister undertake to table all relevant documents in the House before any final decision is made in this matter?
– I am not quite sure what the relevant documents are in relation to the question, but I assume that the honourable member is referring to a proposed contract between the Magellan and Pacific Lighting companies. In those circumstances, any information which is provided by companies to the Government, of course, is confidential and obviously could not be tabled. I can only repeat that the Government has made its policy in relation to liquefied natural gas. The position is that it has been taken under export control, and no permits for its export will be issued until such time as we are satisfied that Australia’s requirements can be met. Secondly, consideration will be given to granting permits to export liquefied natural gas from reserves which are located in substantial quantities in remote areas where there is little likelihood of it being a viable proposition to market it domestically and where the States concerned recommend export. We have discussed this matter in detail with all the States over recent months. I am sure from my conversations with them that they concur in the policy that we have adopted in relation to the present position. I should, of course, qualify this by saying that our natural resources policy must always be flexible because, at present, we do not know exactly what the final proven reserves will be in relation to Palm Valley, the deposits in South Australia, Bass Strait, the North West shelf or any other area in Australia. We are hopeful that the indications that are there determined will show that we have very substantial deposits. We must assess our requirements over a 50-year period.
However, in relation to the Palm Valley situation, I can assure the honourable member that the submission that has been made to the Government for its consideration by the Magellan company and the Pacific Lighting Co., of which I informed the House a few weeks ago, is now being examined by the Government. We have had close discussions with the Australian industry and with the State concerned, and before any decision is made all these points will be carefully examined and the matter will be submitted to the Government for final decision. Under the present circumstances, as the policy now applies, I would say that the chances of the Government granting export permits for gas from Palm Valley are a little remote.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Have there yet been any successful prosecutions following the violence in the Sydney Trades Hall 3 or 4 weeks ago and, apart from those, have any prosecutions been begun or conducted, or has effort been made to hush the whole thing up in the hope that the public will forget it? To what extent do these crude and brutal louts and larrikins cow and dominate the union movement? Is it appropriate at this stage for the Australian people to make these law breakers our law makers and rulers? In the last 2 years, has the relative number of offices held by, and the strength of, the Communist Party within the trade union movement greatly increased and, with that, has the application of bullying and* physical violence increased? Have the trade union leaders paid any more than lip service to decrying violence? Have they taken any effective action or have they adopted the general, traditional attitude of the man playing the piano on the ground floor of the brothel and affecting neither to know nor care what goes on upstairs?
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral, but the question concerns 2 matters that he himself raised when he was Attorney-General. I am worried at the delay in providing an answer to the most ancient question on the notice paper, dating from 17th August last year. He will note that it arises from his own reference, in an answer to the honourable member for Moreton in May last year, to the establishment of an institute of the law of the sea. I ask when the Minister expects to give an answer on such an uncontroversial subject from such an uncontroversial source. I also take the opportunity to ask whether he expects a Bill to be introduced to enact the draft criminal code for the Territories which he tabled in May 1969. The honourable and learned gentleman will recall that in a debate last year on a motion moved by the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory-
-Order! The question is relating to 2 separate subjects. It is reasonable to ask a question in relation to only one subject. If we allow question time to develop in this way-
– It would be much quicker this way, would it not?
-I suggest that the general rule should be followed.
– You do not want me to finish?
– No. The honourable member will have an opportunity later to ask the other question.
– It is true that when I was Attorney-General I was involved in the framing of a proposal for the establishment of an institute of the law of the sea which would give special training in this field and which perhaps at a later point of time would widen its field to cover training in international law, supplying experts in that field not only to the legal profession and the universities but also to the AttorneyGeneral’s Department and to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Australia’s increasing contacts with the world on all these subjects, including such complex ones as the law of the sea, require that we have the best advice we can obtain. Some progress was made, but I will have to refer to my colleague the Attorney-General in another place to ascertain the present state of play, if I can use that term. I know that difficulties have been experienced. Whether the matter will be proceeding now is not within my knowledge. An expert that I had in mind has accepted a professional appointment in the United Kingdom.
– The Chichele Chair?
– Yes. He is no longer available. I will refer this matter to my colleague and see what information he can provide.
– Has the Minister for the Navy seen a claim in a new journal on military news that most of the Royal Australian Navy fleet is obsolete? How true is this claim? ls the fleet currently effective in dealing with sophisticated threats?
– I have seen a new journal in which a Major Peter Young has declared that he believes that most of the Australian Navy is obsolete. He made that statement on television some time ago. Probably the answer to the question lies in the fact that the Royal Australian Navy has recently completed a very important exercise conducted with the navies of the United States of America, Canada and New Zealand in which nuclear submarines and highly sophisticated missile firing ships were involved. Our fleet under Rear-Admiral Dovers acquitted itself particularly well in 3 spheres. I think that that gives the lie to the suggestion that our fleet is ineffective against a modern, sophisticated enemy. Our Australian designed and produced Ikara weapon proved itself at least equal to anything in the world as an antisubmarine weapon. The A4G Skyhawks from HMAS ‘Melbourne’, the only fighter aircraft associated with the exercise, were declared to be successful in frustrating attempts by very sophisticated ships to penetrate the defences of the fleet. Perhaps it would be even more surprising to many Australians to know that the Wessex helicopters and the Tracker aircraft from HMAS ‘Melbourne’ together with the United States aircraft carrier - they were the 2 types of aircraft used - were successful in frustrating major attempts by nuclear submarines at high speed to attack the fleet. This is a gratifying result. Of course, we are looking forward to new and even more capable ships but, as the fleet is constituted at present, it is capable of dealing with a very considerable degree of sophistication.
– Has the Minister for the Army seen reports from New Zealand that New Zealand Army instructors in Vietnam had trained Cambodian boys aged between 9 and 12? If so, is it a fact that these reports have not been denied by senior members of the New Zealand Government including the Minister for Defence? Has the Minister any indication that Australian Army instructors in Vietnam have been required to train children for war? What criteria are applied by Australian Army instructors in accepting Cambodians for training? Is it a case of ‘just accepting anybody who steps off the plane’ as a New Zealand Army spokesman is reported to have said? Finally, will the Minister make an urgent check of Australian Army practices in Vietnam to ensure that there is not the slightest chance of such highly objectionable practices occurring?
MrKATTER - This matter has been brought to my notice. I can assure the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that there is no question whatsoever of the Australian training group in Vietnam deliberately setting about the training of Cambodian children. No doubt as part of the general troops who do come along there could be people of an age younger than we are used to in this country, but in no circumstances would we deliberately set about to train young people. I assure the honourable gentleman that I will go into this matter much more closely and inform him subsequently.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. In 1971-72 the Government set a growth limit of 3.1 per cent on the overall numbers employed in the Public Service. I ask: What is the situation for 1972-73?
– The Government has set a growth rate for the Public Service for this current financial year of 3 per cent.
– In directing my question to the Prime Minister I refer to 2 bomb explosions which injured 16 people in Sydney last week-end. I ask: Will the Prime Minister consider offering a large reward for information leading to the conviction of the people responsible? Would such an action back up the Premier of New South Wales and demonstrate the Commonwealth’s concern about this serious drift to terror and lawlessness?
– I was waiting until such time as I knew that the New South Wales Police Force had positively recommended to the New South Wales Premier that a reward should be offered and that the New South Wales Government had agreed. I knew of the strong recommendations of the police andI am glad to be able to say that the New South Wales Government has agreed to offer a reward. I will now take up the matter immediately with the Treasury.
– Has the Minister for Labour and National Service seen televised interviews in which unemployed persons have indicated their preparedness to remain unemployed until they can obtain jobs which best suit their inclinations? Is he aware that of 4,000 randomly selected people whomI have interviewed, as a politician, since January just seven or 0.2 per cent have raised the issue of unemployment? Does he know that my attempts to secure the services of a housekeeper while my wife is in hospital and I am here, made through all the normal channels including his Department, have been totally unsuccessful?
-I do not think the Minister for Labour and National Service is responsible for the honourable member’s housekeeper. I suggest that the honourable member should continue and complete his question.
– Will the Minister attempt to classify persons registered as unemployed in sufficient detail to draw a meaningful relationship between their qualifications and the jobs which remain vacant?
– I will certainly look at the final point which the honourable gentleman has raised. I doubt frankly whether statistically it is possible to break the figures down into meaningful categories which would meet the point raised by the honourable gentleman in the final part of the series of questions which he has posed. In response to the first matter, I have not seen the television interviews to which the honourable gentleman adverted. Of course I do not doubt that they took place or that at the present time there are a number of shortages of labour throughout the country.
– The Leader of the Opposition has mentioned housekeepers for whom I have no personal responsibility, but if my officers can be helpful to the honourable member I will certainly make that assistance available. The simple fact at the present time is that although about 96,000 persons are unemployed, in recent days following the last release of employment figures a number of employers throughout the country have been reported to have said - in the Sydney ‘Sun’ if I remember correctly - that advertisements placed by them have not been successful in obtaining the labour they require. This simply means that there are shortages in various areas of the country and in particular job skills. As I recall the present figures, there are about 28,000 job vacancies. In the present climate of the employment market there is no doubt that a number of persons seeking employment have become far more choosey with their job preferences and will not accept many jobs which are available.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. I preface it by reminding him that on Tuesday evening when making a statement on decentralisation he intimated that interim legislation on decentralistion would be introduced into Parliament during this session. So that an informed debate can be held on the Government’s intentions will the Prime Minister table the Commonwealth-State Officials Committee report which follows 7 years of inaction by the Commonwealth Government? Will he also table the second minority report compiled by the New South Wales Department of Decentralisation and Development which is in his possession? If he will not table the official report, is it because it is a thoroughly incompetent report?
– As the honourable member well knows, because I directed my answer deliberately to him, this is a CommonwealthState document that is at the moment classified. I have written to the various Premiers asking whether they would approve of the printing and tabling of the document. As the honourable member very well knows, I have already instructed the Government Printer to print the 2 documents, so that the moment I get approval from the State Premiers I will be able to table the document in the House, providing that the Government Printer has had an opportunity or the necessary personnel to print it. It is a very large and long document and I have asked my Department to ensure that everything will be done in order for the document to be tabled at the earliest practical moment, and the honourable member knows it.
– My . question is addressed to the Prime Minister. He will no doubt be aware of the severe difficulties being caused through drought in southwest Queensland and northwest New South Wales, Can the Prime Minister indicate whether any form of Commonwealth drought assistance might be made available to alleviate the problems in these areas? Finally, has the Prime Minister received from the Premiers of either Queensland or New South Wales a request for such assistance?
– There are procedures, routines and policy relating to the impact of droughts in the various States and the way in which the Commonwealth Government will assist. I will obtain a copy of the actual policy statements and I will forward them to the honourable member. They are much too detailed and complex to be mentioned at question time. As to the second part of the honourable gentleman’s question, within the course of the last few days
I have received representations and those representations will be considered by the Government.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Navy. Has the Department of the Navy given consideration to acquiring fast missile-carrying patrol boats such as the Komar class patrol boat used by the Soviet Navy? What are the cost differentials between this type of vessel and the DDL? How many more Komar class boats than DDLs could we acquire for the same amount of money?
– The answer to the honourable gentleman’s first question is yes. The Komar and Osa class patrol boats used by the Soviet Union have been considered for particular purposes. Their role is extremely limited. At the present moment a study is beginning within the Department of the Navy of the replacement in the future of our ‘Attack’ class patrol boat with a more sophisticated boat which undoubtedly would carry a missile. However, in regard to comparisons with the DDLs, there is a tremendous wealth of evidence to indicate that, although these smaller boats might be faster in calm conditions, they just could not perform such duties as surveillance in particular, escort duties and anti-aircraft defence duties. There are many roles that could not be fulfilled by a small patrol boat type of craft. This study is produced in detail and already a lot is in print to demonstrate what I have outlined. If the honourable member would like to have more information on this matter 1 will see that a comprehensive analysis of the study involved is made available to him.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Last week the Treasurer said that he would be discussing with his colleague the Minister for the Environment the definition of ‘impact statements’. Can the Minister enlighten the House on the use the Government is planning to make of the impact statement procedure?
– Shortly after the Minister for the Environment made a statement in this House relating to impact statements, I caused a letter to be sent to each of my ministerial colleagues, over the signature of the permanent head of my Department, giving instructions that whenever the problem of environment or pollution was involved in any submission to Cabinet there must be interdepartmental consideration and the results of that interdepartmental consideration must be mentioned in the Cabinet submission. Instructions were given that, particularly when there was likely to be an environmental or pollution effect, a statement had to be attached to each one of the Cabinet submissions setting out the nature of the effect. This was to ensure that a statement in fact was issued. I also wrote to each of the Premiers informing them that whenever Commonwealth assistance was given to the States we would expect them to take into consideration the environmental and pollution impact of whatever activities were to be carried out by the States. I am rather sorry that the honourable member for Reid has now left the House, because he seemed to be interested in this problem. I will have a short statement on this matter prepared and it will be made available to any bonDurable member who cares to have it.
– Can the Minister for Education and Science indicate the extent to which applications have been received for the Commonwealth Teaching Service both in the Northern Territory and in the Australian Capital Territory? On what grounds will members of the Service be promoted, and will those grounds be basically the same as in the States?
– I am very glad to be able to say, and I am sure the honourable member will be pleased to know, that from the recent advertisements for teachers to be appointed to positions from the beginning of the next school year 600 applications have been received for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Basically, there are about 350 positions to be filled, including 150 in the Northern Territory, and of the applicants who have been interviewed so far two for one have indicated a preference for service in the Northern Territory. I think that this is a particularly pleasing aspect, especially since the Commonwealth’s policy is not one which involves the bonding of teachers.
The Bill spelt out in some detail the grounds for promotion of teachers. Basically it depends on the efficiency and the merit of a teacher as a teacher - the contribution which he can make in the class situation. This was basically the position until recently - although the Commonwealth spelt it out in more detail in the Bill - in all States. An attempt is being made in Western Australia to legislate that a teacher is a better teacher merely because he is a member of a union. I should like to read the clause of the Bill concerned. It states:
The efficiency of any eligible applicant who is a member of the union is superior to the efficiency of any applicant who is not a member of the union.
Union traditions are in the best Australian tradition but for the Western Australians to claim that a teacher is a better teacher than another teacher because he is a member of a union and the other is not is plain nonsense. The stupidity of this legislation is further emphasised by the conscientious objection clause. A conscientious objector to being a member of the union can still be allowed to teach and perhaps be promoted in Western Australia if he pays the equivalent of the union fees direct to the Minister. Under the Bill the Minister is immediately entitled to pay those fees to the union.
– I rise to order. Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to page 16 of ‘Business and Procedures of the House of Representatives’ where it is stated:
If it is necessary for a long answer to be given, the proper procedure is for the Minister to indicate that at the end of question time he will seek leave to make a statement.
I ask you, Mr Speaker, to rule, in accordance with the procedures of this Parliament, that this Minister, who offends more than any other, should immediately seek leave to make a statement after question time.
– At this stage I do not think that the question of the long answer is quite relevant. I suggest that, if the Minister proposes to make a prolonged answer to this question, he should take the course of making a statement after question time.
-The conscientious objection clause in this particular Bill will allow a teacher still to teach and be promoted if he pays the equivalent of the union fees direct to the Minister. The Western Australian Minister will establish a fund and will then pay the money out of that fund back to the union. So the conscientious objection clause is sheer nonsense. This kind of legislation shows a complete and utter disregard for education and for educational equality in the classroom situation. It also shows, among the Labor Party members, an attachment to outworn myths.
– I ask a question of the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. I refer to the answer which the honourable gentleman gave me last week about the ill treatment of internees brought to Australia from the United Kingdom on the ‘Dunera’ in September 1940. Has he been advised that details of the very real ill treatment of these internees were published in the British Hansard in 1941, when the House of Commons discussed the ‘Dunera’ scandal at great length? Does he also know that the commanding officer of the ‘Dunera’ guards, a Major Scott, and 2 sergeants subsequently were court martialled and that full reports of this court martial were published in the English Press? In view of this information will he now instruct the Commonwealth Archivist to make available the material relating to the ‘Dunera’ held in the Commonwealth archives to which the writer, Cyril Pearl, has been seeking access for over a year?
– As I informed the right honourable member in my answer to a question on notice which was reported in Hansard for 1 9th September, the original inquiry was held by the British Government and not the Australian Government. Those records are held in the British archives and I have no mechanism by which they oan be made available in our archives. I have said that within 2 weeks I expect to be made available for inspection any information that is in the Australian archives other than the passenger list which, because of individual histories, I do not think should be made public. The full facts concerning that list were made available to the right honourable member in my previous answer and additional information, as he knows, will be made available, I expect, within 2 or 3 weeks.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he was correctly reported in July this year as having stated that the American consumer advocate, Mr Ralph Nader, was a professionally paid pot stirrer. Has the Prime Minister’s attention been drawn to a nation-wide opinion poll held in the United States of America last year which indicated that some 78 per cent of Americans wanted Ralph Nader as their president - 1 might add that this opinion poll was a little better than other opinion polls on some people - and that they regarded him as one of the few men, if not the only man, in the country with the capacity and integrity for that great office? In view of the enormous interest and appreciation shown by Australians in the subjects raised by Ralph Nader - foreign control of Australian resources, automobile safety, excessive government secrecy, pollution, conservation, dishonest advertising and packaging and others - does the Prime Minister still hold the same view of Mr Nader?
– The American people can vote for or against Mr Nader as they choose and the Australian Labor Party can have htm as a candidate if it wishes, but he certainly would not be acceptable to my Party. I had a talk with Mr Nader. I gave him well over an hour of my time and agreed to continue the discussions if he wished to do so. He had no wish to do so. At least I was prepared to proceed to illustrate how little he knew about the Australian Constitution and the method of conducting government in this country. I can give honourable members an example. The honourable member for Robertson mentioned automobiles. Mr Nader did not know the difference between the American and Australian methods of verifying whether a vehicle was fit to go on the road. In the United States of America motor vehicles are put on the road without verification. Random checks are subsequently made to see whether the vehicles come up to specifications. In Australia we test them before they are put on the road. Mr Nader was not aware of that.
-Order! I suggest the Prime Minister wait until the House comes to order before continuing.
– Ever since the Leader of the Opposition made his statement on devaluation the Australian Labor Party seems to have been in a dreadful panic and does not like questions being properly answered.
I also had to indicate to Mr Nader that we had a totally different system of government here. It was not a presidential- (Honourable members interjecting) -
-Order! I just cannot understand the reaction of some honourable members. I am here all day and if they want to let question time run out of time they can do so. I do not mind a bit. But I do suggest that they restrain themselves.
– They are a lot of little Naders.
-Order! That interjection does not help either.
- Mr Speaker, it is obvious that the Opposition does not want to hear the answer to this question, which was asked by an honourable member from that side of the House. Nonetheless, I intend for the benefit of my colleagues on this side of the House to complete it. There were various other aspects, too, which were associated with the discussion I had with Mr Nader. So far as I was concerned I was only too happy to try to help. I did. I went to the maximum of my capacity to give him what help I could, with what result I genuinely cannot estimate.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I preface it by referring to the disquiet in Australia shown over recent French nuclear tests. I ask the Minister: Was the subject of French nuclear testing discussed at the recent South Pacific
Forum which he attended? If it was discussed, what was the result of this discussion and will the Minister be stating Australia’s position with respect to atmospheric nuclear testing when he addresses the United Nations?
– The South Pacific Forum consisting of the 5 South Pacific island leaders and representatives from Australia and New Zealand naturally was particularly concerned. I have already referred to the fact that there was a discussion on the French nuclear tests at a recent meeting of the South Pacific Forum. Perhaps for the information of honourable members I could add - and I think it is worth mentioning this to put the matter into perspective - that in having this discussion the Forum had before it the results formulated by New Zealand scientists of the fallout in relation to the last test. Here I want to draw a distinction between the actual position and the potential position in regard to fallout. This distinction is not always drawn. Fears are created because of discussion of potentialities which ought not to flow from a discussion of actualities.
The scientific advice to the Forum on the recent tests was based on 3 conparisons. Firstly it was said that the level of fallout was equivalent to that given off when a man wore an illuminated wristlet watch. Secondly the level was equivalent to a person spending a day in a brick or stone house. Thirdly it was equivalent to someone spending 30 hours over a period of a year in a jet aircraft. These examples represent the equivalent effect that a human being would be subjected to as a result of the recent fallout according to New Zealand scientists in the Pacific.
This advice did not lead the Forum to say that in any way we would moderate the great strength of our opposition to these tests being conducted in the Pacific. The basis on which this protest is persisted in is that we are opposed to the increase of nuclear weapons of war wherever they are; we are opposed to the cumulative effect of fallout as pollution in the atmosphere of the Earth; and we are opposed to the cumulative effect which may ultimately become a hazard to health. For these reasons we intend to persist in our protest. This was the common view of all at the Forum. The Forum supported, as I said in my previous answer, the initiative which Australia and New Zealand proposed to take at the United Nations on this matter. A meeting of interested Pacific nations is listed for next Tuesday when I will be in New York.
– Pursuant to section 32 of the Export Payments Insurance Corporation Act 1956-71 I present the Sixteenth Annual Report of the Corporation for the year ended 30th June 1972 together with financial statements and the Auditor-General’s report on those statements.
-Order! I do not intend to call the next Minister until there is sufficient quietness in the House. I do not intend to keep requesting quietness after question time. In future I shall just wait until it occurs and, if necessary, take disciplinary action. The level of noise is not fair to honourable members who are interested in the business before the House; it is not fair to the Ministers; and I do not think it is fair to the listening public either. I have repeatedly requested honourable members to keep the level of their conversation down after question time. If honourable members do not comply with my request, I shall just delay the business of the House until such time as honourable members co-operate.
– Pursuant to section 25 of the Apple and Pear Organisation Act 1938-1971, 1 present the 26th annual report of the Australian Apple and Pear Board for the year ended 30th June 1972.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the 7th interim report of the Company Law Advisory Committee. This report deals with the registration of charges given by companies. The report was received just before the last meeting of the Standing Committee of Commonwealth and State AttorneysGeneral and has yet to be the subject of full consideration by the Standing Committee. Pending that consideration, the Government has not made decisions in regard to the recommendations contained in the report.
– Pursuant to section 42 of the Citizenship Act 1948-1969, I present the annual return of persons granted certificates of Australian citizenship for the year ended 30th June 1972.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the annual report of the Australian Capital Territory Police for the year ended 30th June 1972.
– Pursuant to section 147 of the Defence Act 1903-1970, I present the annual report of the Royal Military College of Australia for the period 1st February 1971 to 31st January 1972.
– by leave - Since 1945 Australia has spent $1.8 billion on aid. In the last decade official development assistance has more than trebled from $64m in 1961-62 to $200m last financial year. This year it is expected to reach $200m. We have consistently been among the first three or four of the major aid donors, with a figure for direct government aid averaging 0.56 per cent of gross national product over the last 4 financial years. At the same time other financial transfers including export credits, private investment and voluntary contributions to developing countries have also grown substantially. When added to the figures for direct government aid, these become the basis of the calculation used by those advo cating a foreign aid target of one per cent of GNP. We believe this method is open to some criticism as an indicator of genuine aid. However, on this basis Australia last year again exceeded the target with a total financial flow of 1.27 per cent of GNP.
These are the straightforward facts: They clearly show that in comparison with other Western donors the proportion of our resources allocated is high. In other material which I shall seek leave to table as an annex to this statement I shall explain the basis and motivation for aid programmes; the reasons why those programmes are important to Australia; the important part they play in the joint international effort for the economic development of developing countries; and what we believe to be the high quality and effectiveness of our aid programmes. I shall follow this with a short description of the main programmes and forms of aid under which our development assistance is given. In addition, in another section of the annex I also propose to provide material I have had prepared giving details of our programmes in each country to which we give aid as well as a new collation of informative statistical material.
In the forthcoming year we shall continue to concentrate our main efforts upon the Asian and Pacific area. This is desirable both in terms of the region’s needs and Australia’s interests.
The Colombo Plan
The Colombo Plan remains at the centre of our foreign aid programmes. Provision this financial year has been made for the expenditure of $52.7m on projects, commodities and technical assistance under this programme, an increase of 12.6 per cent over last year. The Colombo Plan’s great strength and flexibility has been demonstrated over the 21 years of its operation and it has, in every sense, achieved maturity. Its birth was one of the early initiatives of the first Liberal-Country Party Government and successive governments have participated in its development.
The area of considerable importance to Australia outside the Colombo Plan region is the South Pacific. In May I announced in the House a new long term programme of $15m to be spent in the area between now and the end of 1975. This, the South Pacific Aid Programme, is never likely to be as large as the Colombo Plan but, being based on the same principles as the Colombo Plan, it will, I am confident, be just as successful.
Training and Experts
Under the Colombo Plan, and in our programmes in other parts of the world, we have placed considerable emphasis on the development of human resources. In some cases we have done this by working closely with the recipient governments in the development of and support for training and educational institutions in their own country. Details of some of these efforts are given in the annex to this statement. In other cases where it would not be appropriate to train them in their own country, because of the small numbers involved or the nature of the training required, we bring students to Australia for training in schools, in technical institutes, in colleges, in universities or in specially arranged courses. These sponsored trainees are carefully selected by committees established in their own countries, which ensure that the training sought is to fill a need in that country and that the candidate selected is capable of achieving what is required. We believe that when these students return home the very large majority of them make a substantial contribution to the development of their own countries. At the same time they retain a knowledge and understanding of Australia and Australians which has been a contributing factor in building the goodwill towards Australia which undoubtedly exists in the region at the present time.
During 1971-72 almost 1,300 sponsored students came to Australia from Asia, Africa and the Pacific area to join the 1,755 already studying here. Provision has been made in the Estimates for a similar level of Australian-sponsored training during the current financial year. Perhaps as good a measure as any of the value and relevance of our training programmes to the developing countries is the fact that last year 270 students studied in Australia under scholarship schemes financed by their own governments, many of them in precisely the same type of courses as are available under our aid programmes.
During the past year about 200 Australian experts have worked in various countries of Asia alongside the peoples of those countries. They served in a wide variety of capacities, for instance as engineers, doctors, teachers, mechanics, civil aviation advisers, foresters and veterinarians. We expect the number of experts to increase in the coming year, with the great majority of them working on the larger economic development projects of our aid programmes.
In addition to the officially sponsored students financed under our aid programmes, we also provide educational places for private students from Asia and the Pacific. These students pay their own fees and their own expenses of travel and accommodation. These studies are, however, supported by Australian Government subsidies paid to educational institutions, at a net cost of about $6.8m a year. We believe this programme has been a valuable adjunct to our official aid programme, but it is here that some criticism has arisen. These students select their own courses from a wide range of studies which it is believed will be of value to them and their countries. However, they are freer agents than the officially sponsored students and do not have to meet quite the same, highly selective standards as the scholarship students. It is perhaps not surprising that some have been found to have followed inappropriate courses or to be insufficiently motivated about returning home to assist their own country in its development. Nevertheless, it is believed that on balance the provision of places for these, private students has been well worth while.
Turning to project aid, we have had succesful and rewarding experiences in a number of fields. We have contributed to the development of the infrastructure in many countries, for example, by the building of roads in Thailand and Malaysia, water supply systems in Vietnam, and port facilities and communications networks in Indonesia. In rural areas we have bad success in cattle and sheep breeding in India and rice growing in Fiji. Our project aid has been most rewarding. As I have mentioned, for this type of aid, Australian engineers and experts work alongside their local counterparts. In addition, local as well as Australian money is used with the result that the involvement of the local government authorities is assured. More recently, and as just one example of the way our programmes are embarking on new initiatives, plans are being developed for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation to become directly involved in co-operative scientific research programmes in food production in Indonesia and Malaysia. The programmes will be spread over the next decade and cost many millions of dollars. I believe all these programmes will bring benefits to the recipients and reflect credit on Australia.
The initiatives which the Government has taken to help the economic development of developing countries is not limited to funds spent by my Department, or even to matters falling within its direct responsibility. Australia was a pioneer in the field of encouraging exports from developing countries by the introduction in 1966 of a preferential tariff scheme under which some manufacturers and handicrafts could be imported into Australia free of duty or at reduced tariff charges. At the Third United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Santiago earlier this year, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Anthony, announced that this scheme was to be expanded by about 250 items over and above the 350 items it now covers. On the same occasion the Deputy Prime Minister sought the inclusion of all developing countries in future trade and monetary negotiations, particularly the 1973 meeting on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Moreover, the Department of Trade and Industry has established a special section to deal with problems facing developing countries in securing an Australian market for their exports. Often the reasons why developing countries have failed to take full advantage of the concessions prove to be quite minor. For example, packaging is unsuited to the Australian market, or the requirements regarding shipping documentation have not been fully understood. Advice from this section of the Department of Trade and Industry can help effectively in these situations.
These efforts illustrate the success of bilateral programmes which is why they form such an important part of our aid programmes. However, anyone who has carried any responsibility for aid programmes soon comes to realise the staggering magnitude of the problems and the insufficiency of Australian resources to cope with them alone. Accordingly, it has been a further principle of our operations in this field to play our part as a member of the United Nations and those United Nations bodies which are involved in the field of aid to encourage others to assist and to involve the whole international community of developed nations in assisting the developing countries.
The relative merits of bilateral and multilateral assistance have been widely canvassed, lt will be appreciated from what I have said that I regard them as being complementary. Both have a place in our aid programme. Bilateral aid has enabled us to concentrate assistance on the countries nearest and of most direct interest to us and on assistance in fields where we have a special expertise. The work of the international agencies, including their ability to draw on the resources of many donors and to make long term analyses of a developing country’s needs, also has particular value. They are able to organise assistance for large scale projects which demand considerable capital and expertise. In particular I draw attention to the contribution of the Asian Development Bank. This has paved the way for large scale development projects and has emerged as a major force for development in the ECAFE region.
The analyses which the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development makes of recipient countries’ overall development needs and its organisations of aiddonor groups for developing countries has facilitated our aid planning in various of our neighbouring countries. The value of the International Monetary Fund as a consultative body to nations where Australia is engaged in programme aid such as Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos should also be noted. The estimates provide for increased contributions to several multilateral agencies. An important development is the decision to take up an increased capital subscription to the Asian Development Bank of $US127.5m of which 80 per cent will be on call. Payment will be made over 3 years. In 1972-73 we will also make a further contribution of SUS250.000 to the Technical Assistance Special Fund of the Asian Development Bank. This year, Australia will also make increased contributions to the United Nations Development Fund, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
This expanded effort in the multilateral field recognises the new demands being made of these agencies and the importance of their place in development assistance. Australia, in particular, has welcomed the new effort of the United Nations Development Programme to co-ordinate the assistance programmes of United Nations agencies at the country level. Australia is chairman of the Executive Committee of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a member of the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme.
Public Interest in Aid
Honourable members will be aware that, since May, a Sub-Committee of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs has been examining aspects of Australia’s foreign aid. It has already considered a number of written submissions and heard a variety of witnesses. I welcome this inquiry as a significant contribution to the creation of informed opinion on aid questions not only in the Parliament but throughout the community. In fact, I believe that this is happening already and is, in part at least, a reflection of the growth in the past year of the awareness of many Australians of the problems of the developing countries and of their importance to Australia. I have seen evidence of this growing public interest in the work of the voluntary agencies and in the increasing public interest and discussion of foreign aid matters. The Government welcomes this development.
On a wider front, the Australian public has also demonstrated its concern for the welfare of people beyond its own borders. In 1971 private citizens through their community groups, churches and voluntary aid agencies or simply as individuals, contri buted some $US 18.7m to overseas relief and development projects, complementing, in a humane and effective way, our official aid.
Australia is rich in per capita resources and Australians have a high standard of living. However, it is the individual men and women of Australia, through the taxes they pay, who carry the burden of the country’s aid programmes for our less developed neighbours. Our population is not large by world standards. Our resources are not unlimited. There are limits therefore to what we alone can do in assisting the international community. We have many pressing problems of welfare of our own people and development of our own country to meet. There are naturally some who believe that charity begins and perhaps should end at home. However, the Government believes that most Australians wish to build a society in which not only do we care for each other but one which has a care for its neighbours. This is not only a proper and humanitarian view; it is also sound sense.
The contribution which flows annually from the more developed countries of the Western world to the developing countries, which is running presently at the rate of about $15 billion annually, is critically important to them and represents a real and significant contribution to peace and order in the world. This is particularly evident in the region of Asia and the Pacific to which the greater part of Australia’s aid is directed. Ultimately, in our democracy, it is the community which must decide the priority given to development assistance. I am confident that the Australian people have the breadth of vision to support the level of assistance and the aid policies which the Government has maintained and the place which development assistance has been given in our national priorities. I present the following paper:
Australian Foreign Aid and annex to that statement - Ministerial Statement, 21st September 1972.
Motion (by Mr Chipp) proposed.
That the House take note of the paper.
– At the outset may I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) whether, when he says that Australian aid since 1945 has been $1.8 billion and our percentage of the gross national product devoted to foreign aid at the present time is 1.27 per cent, he is including Papua New Guinea?
– There are some, of course, who hold that colonial responsibility is not the same thing as foreign aid. I am not disposed to dispute the point. It is the devotion of Australian resources to another country.
– You appreciate that these are included internationally in the figures of not only Australia but of, say, France and other countries?
– Yes. The one weakness which we feel exists in the structure of Australian foreign aid is our national slowness in circumstances of disaster. There was the appalling disaster of the Peru earthquake. Our contribution towards that was negligible. There were 2 disasters in Bangladesh - the tidal wave and then the disaster of the war. I feel that we were tardy in Bangladesh, although less so in the second case than in the first disaster. Recently there has been the disaster in the Philippines.
Before I touch on this matter I want to say that I am disturbed at what looks like the beginning of a campaign in New Guinea. In the issue for June-July 1972, volume 7, of the magazine ‘Quarterly’ there is an article by E. K. Fisk and Maree Tait, which seems to be the beginning of a campaign against Australian assistance to Papua New Guinea. It will be quite disastrous if our aid to Papua New Guinea tapers off at the point of self government and independence. I feel that this is where, if anything, Australian aid should be increased. It professes to be a balanced sort of article but it looks like the beginning of a campaign to raise doubts insofar as it suggests that Australian people are beginning to doubt whether this aid should be continued. I do not think any evidence exists of any such doubt in the Australian community.
The Opposition believes that with the coming of self government and independence generous and substantial aid to Papua New Guinea, both financially and in personnel, should continue. In point of fact it is our policy to create within the
Department of Foreign Affairs a Division of Pacific Relations and the skilled personnel we hope to accumulate in that division will continue to be available to Papua New Guinea. There could be a civil servant on loan. The personnel would also be available for countries over which there has never been any question of Australian sovereignty, such as Fiji, the Solomons, Samoa, Tonga and others of our neighbours in the Pacific. This, of course, is an aspect of Australian policy which is actually envisaged in the Australian Constitution because after reference to the power over external affairs vested in this Parliament there is mention of power to conduct relations with the islands of the Pacific.
The Australian Labor Party believes that Australia should own a hospital ship or ships. I am making this as a narrow statement related to disasters. It happens that the disasters among our neighbours have been disasters to maritime powers. If we could have floated into the Peru earthquake disaster a fully functioning hospital it would have been magnificent assistance; similarly in Bangladesh and similarly more recently in the Philippines. Such a ship would have a valuable part of Australia’s own defence system. That is to say, it could be a part of the Royal Australian Navy but I would imagine that in circumstances like this which I envisage it would be manned by Red Cross personnel, not necessarily military personnel; but in wartime it could become a ship available for military use. The complete collapse of medical organisation which I saw when I visited Bangladesh made it apparent to me that if we had had such a floating hospital to go into the situation, many of the worst cases would have received speedy treatment. Magnificent work was done by Australia in the medical field. I think very few people realise how outstanding was the work of Mr Douglas Sturkey, who was the Australian Deputy High Commissioner in Calcutta, in supervising the medical aid which Australia did send - quite speedily - to refugee camps in Calcutta. I compliment the Minister on that aspect of the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I believe that this additional facility of a hospital ship would make a very great difference to Australia’s ability to give assistance in times of disaster.
I am not confusing the continuance of foreign aid with the immediate things which you must do in a disaster, but nevertheless our neighbours have repeatedly been plunged into disasters and quite apart from long term assistance Australia has had to give consideration to assistance in times of disaster. I have always paid a very high tribute to what Sir Paul Hasluck did in connection with the Bihar famine when he was the Minister for External Affairs. That was adequate assistance. It was adequate to save at least one million lives a year, I should think. Provision was made for the setting up of 6 modern bakeries to convert wheat into bread which people who did not have a wheat-eating tradition could use. It was in contrast to what happened in Calcutta where rice eating people received wheat grain and did not know what to do with it. If it was boiled as they boiled rice it was not a particularly palatable cereal whereas if converted into bread anybody would find it palatable. For these disasters we do need the kind of detailed thinking that was shown in relation to the Bihar famine.
The appendices presented by the Minister, insofar as they relate to Bangladesh, speak of the availability of a few prosthetists from Australia. When I was in Bangladesh Mujib mentioned that there were 15,000 people who had lost limbs during the fighting and that they simply had no facilities at that stage to give them artificial limbs. The East German Government flew 25 persons to be fitted with artificial limbs in East Germany, but that was an insignificant number in relation to the total number injured. As the people who led the fight for the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan were mostly students, many of the maimed and limbless were the most skilled people in Bangladesh. Their skills were impeded by lack of artificial limbs to assist them. At that time I asked whether some of the people could be brought out to Australia. I had letters from Australian artificial limb manufacturing firms stating that they could supply the limbs for the whole 15,000 of the limbless whom I had mentioned in my original speech if an order were given to them. I am glad that the Minister has sent personnel to give training in this matter but I feel that a greater sense of urgency would have meant that we would have made a greater contribution in the equipment that was needed.
I drew another lesson from what I saw of the Bangladesh disaster. We have sent Australian rice to Bangladesh and I wonder whether this has been a wise use of resources. Bangladesh is right next to one of the great rice producers - Burma - and not very far from Thailand, another great rice producer. I believe that if we had made available for the purchase of rice some Australian foreign credits we may have been able to get 10 ship movements of rice from Burma to Bangladesh in the time that it would take for one ship movement from Australia. I think it would have been a more effective use of resources. Again this is a limited question, but I would have wanted Australia to sponsor more shipments than we in fact carried out.
I am interested in the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund to which the Minister has referred in the appendices. I would like Australia to direct much more systematic thinking to this question. I think we need to put under this body nutritional and educational experts. Can we give more systematic attention to the work of this agency? We should ask whether there is anything we can do to expand its services.
I saw the ruins of the universities of Bangladesh. They had been ruined because of a deliberate policy. For instance, in the engineering faculties all the engineering equipment had been destroyed. I am afraid that it is true that some of the soldiers of the occupying force - who had originally been members of the national army when Bangladesh was part of Pakistan - had lived out the slogan, ‘Bengalis should be Malis’. The slogan means that Bengalis should be reduced to the level of peasants. AH the medical practitioners and lawyers in Dacca had been shot. There had been a policy of destroying university libraries, faculties of engineering and so on.
The effect of that policy on Bangladesh can be cumulative. The graduation of people in engineering is impeded and in the future they will have fewer teachers. Many of the university staffs were shot. One night during the curfew 45 members of the staff of Dacca University were simply shot in cold blood in their flats. We should consider bringing out to Australia people who can be trained with our facilities as teachers of engineering. When their own universities are re-equipped they COW. assist in a policy of restoration and expansion of the technical education of their country. Many of them are proficient in English and are able and outstanding people. Amongst their 75-million population there are many able and outstanding people who could be trained in Australia before going back to staff their own universities. This could be a feature of foreign aid quite conforming with the ideas of the Colombo Plan but much more oriented towards training people who can return to their own countries to train their own countries to train their own people.
This policy would have an additional effect. They could be trained in engineering, medicine or any of the technical s.ib.jects in Australian universities. They would begin to see the kind of equipment that is necessary for a nation technologically more advanced than their own. I believe ;hat this would then create a demand for the technical equipment in their own countries which would stimulate rising levels of efficiency there. In other words, the experts who are trained here would be able to give intelligent directions. I am grateful that the Minister visited Bangladesh during the crisis there. Possible he underestimates the amount of money and the assistance in other forms that the Australian people would be quite willing to support. We of the Opposition will certainly be willing to support a most generous policy of foreign aid. I am also grateful for the clarity of the Minister’s statement and especially grateful for the appendices. I will not profess that I have been able to study them in the time available but I will do so in the ensuing weeks.
Debate (on motion by Mr Giles) adjourned.
– As Chairman I present the One Hundred and Thirty-eighth and One Hundred and Thirty-ninth Reports of the Public Accounts Committee. I see leave to make a short statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The One Hundred and Thirty-eighth Report relates to Treasury minutes arising from the One Hundred and Fourth Report concerning the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission and the One Hundred and Eighteenth Report which relates to expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the financial year 1968-69. The One Hundred and Thirty-Ninth Report arises from our inquiry into the development of internal audit within the Commonwealth administration and certain observations that had been made by the Auditor-General connected with the Superannuation Board, the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Department of Supply. As the report shows, internal audit is now widely recognised as an important, independent, post-operative appraisal function, performed within a department as a service to management. It covers the revenue, expenditure, stores, personnel and related operations, and also any financial, accounting, and supply activities arising from the particular functions of a department. The importance of the relationship between the internal audit functions and the functions of the AuditorGeneral was made clear by the AuditorGeneral in his report for 1969-70, when he stated that the extent to which statutory discretion is exercised by his office to dispense with all or any part of a detailed audit is influenced in each case by the effectiveness of the system of departmental internal control, of which internal audit is an integral part.
Information supplied to the Committee by the Public Service Board shows that in 1966 a joint Public Service Board Departmental committee was established to review the functions and duties of Third Division positions in the Commonwealth Public Service engaged in internal audit work in departments. Arising from the work of that committee, the Public Service Board announced the introduction of a new internal audit structure for the Commonwealth Public Service in mid 1968. The evidence taken in relation to the Superannuation Board shows that a position of internal auditor was first created in 1965 to service the needs of the newly integrated Superannuation Board and Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board organisation that had been created in 1963. lt appears that in recent years there has been a considerable growth in the work and responsibilities of these boards. As a consequence of this, and related developments, the position had been reached by April 1971 where the Superannuation Board could no longer support its annual accounts without prior internal audit. In this regard the Committee notes with concern the remarks made by the Auditor-General in his report for 1971-72 that, late in August 1971, his Office had found it necessary to return to the Superannuation Board the amended financial statements for 1968-69, as errors had been discovered in several areas of the reserve units of pension account, indicating that a complete re-examination of the subsidiary records was necessary.
The Committee believes that these circumstances reflect an urgent need for improvement in the quality of internal audit within the Superannuation/ Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board organisation. However, the Committee has noted with satisfaction the action taken recently by the Department of the Treasury to centralise its interna] audit activities and, within this arrangement, to allocate internal audit teams to the Superannuation and Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Boards. The most recent information available shows that all of the major management services areas of these Boards have been reviewed by the internal audit section and further reviews are planned on a cyclical basis. The Committee also notes with satisfaction that certain problems which, in the past, have impeded the effective internal audit of the accounts and financial statements of the Boards have been resolved and, as a result, the internal audit programme will now be implemented fully.
In the case of the Postmaster-General’s Department, it appears that the preparation of a new internal audit manual incorporating modern auditing techniques is a prerequisite to the raising of standards of internal audit to include appraisals of certain controls and review of policy, procedures and practices. It also appears, however, that effective progress in the development of the manual has been impeded until staff problems confronting the Department have been resolved. The Committee notes with satisfaction that recent reviews conducted by the AuditorGeneral’s Office have shown that a modified internal audit programme introduced by the Department was generally current as at 30th June 1972 and that steady progress is being made in the preparation of the new internal audit manual. The Committee trusts that this task will be substantially completed within the next 2 years as envisaged by the Auditor-General in his report for 1971-72.
The evidence taken from the Department of Supply shows that in 1962 the Department established what was believed to be the first internal audit organisation based on modern concepts introduced by a Commonwealth department. The evidence shows, however, that, although the department obtained a new staff reorganisation for internal audit following the recommendations made by the interdepartmental review committee, difficulties were experienced in filling the new positions. These difficulties appear to underline the problems experienced by the Department in overtaking arrears of internal audit work in its regional offices and in the development of plans for costing audits and ot:.el matters.
During the course of this inquiry the Committee has noted a strong awareness on the part of departmental managements regarding the importance of the role of internal audit and the endeavours that have been made to bring their internal audit arrangements into full operational efficiency, notwithstanding persistent staffing difficulties. In this regard it is pleasing to note from the Report of the AuditorGeneral for 1971-72 that improvement occurred in some departments during that year. At the same time, however, the Committee is disturbed to note from the Auditor-General’s Report that some instances have been revealed where internal audit is in arrears due partly to the employment of internal audit staff on other duties. While we appreciate that this action is sometimes unavoidable and has often provided an opportunity for the officers concerned to widen their experience, there are, nevertheless, grave implications if the work of the internal audit section suffers as a consequence. Frequently, the result is to leave the internal audit section undermanned and the internal audit programme unfulfilled.
In all the circumstances of the evidence and other information examined in this inquiry, and the most recent observations made by the Auditor-General, the Committee will maintain a close surveillance on the adequacy of internal audit within departmental administrations and will conduct further inquiries into this matter as the need arises. I commend the reports to the honourable members.
Ordered that the resorts be printed.
– by leave- I wish to make a few remarks on the reports just presented to the House, and I thank the Leader of the House (Mr Chipp) and the House for giving me the opportunity to do so. So much of the work of thi Parliament does not come to the surface, and the work of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts is a good example of this. Usually the reports of the Committee are presented to this Parliament and, frankly, are placed on the table with a dull thud. Because I am worried that the reports presented today may fall into that category, I would like to say a few words to support the official statement of the Committee just read so competently, if I may say so, by the Committee’s Chairman, the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham).
The Public Accounts Committee has 3 general functions to fulfil in acting as the watchdog of this Parliament, and thus of the people, in the whole field of public expenditure. Its first function is to examine the estimating of departments. This means examining the contingency funds, known as the Advance to the Treasurer, to seek reasons why departments have needed extra money from contingency funds late in the financial year. Also it means examining the Consolidated Revenue Fund to see why money appropriated has not been used. The second function of the Committee is to examine the Auditor-General’s Report. Honourable members will be aware that this year’s report has just been presented to the Parliament and at the moment the Public Accounts Committee is in the process of examining it and deciding which items in the Auditor-General’s Report it will follow through. The third function of the Committee is to carry out in depth inquiries into government departments or semi-governmental authorities. These inquiries can be directed to individual departments or authorities or they can be what we call across the board inquiries such as the one conducted into internal audit about which we have heard today in the statement brought before this House by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
The Committee having carried out these 3 functions and having reported to the Parliament, has an excellent follow-up procedure. The Treasury seeks answers on the points raised by the Public Accounts Committee and, when this follow-up procedure is completed in relation to each report presented by the Public Accounts Committee, a Treasury minute is brought to this House in the form of a further Public Accounts Committee report. I might add that we keep an index of outstanding Treasury minutes so that we know which reports have not yet been followed through.
We have seen in the reports brought to the House this morning, examples of a number of the functions I have just outlined. The 138th report of the Committee is, as the honourable member for North Sydney told us, a Treasury minute. In other words, it is a follow-up report. Actually it relates to 2 previous reports, one being on an in depth inquiry into the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and the other being a Treasury minute on the Consolidated Revenue Fund and instances in which departments had not used all the revenue allocated to them, as long ago as 1968-69. On occasions it takes some time for the Treasury to report on the follow-up inquiry after the Public Accounts Committee report has been brought down. The 139th report relates to an in depth inquiry into internal audit. We look forward to receiving the follow-up report of the Treasury in relation to this internal audit report.
I hope that this reminder of the functions and workings of the Public Accounts Committee will assist the House, and that from time to time a few ad hoc comments, such as those I have just made, from members of the Public Accounts Committee will further assist the understanding by the House, and thus by the people, of the work carried out by the Public Accounts Committee. The Public Service, in most areas, does not have the profit motive to spur it to efficiency. What it does have, and it is most important indeed that it should have this, is public scrutiny. This is carried out by the Public Accounts Committee on behalf of the Parliament and the people of Australia.
– by leave - As the immediate past Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee I welcome the speech of the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). I have advocated for a long time that this House should debate the reports of this Committee. We have seen it happen with the Public Works Committee reports, I think, to the advantage of the Parliament. I would hope that with all ensuing reports that come before the House we will see a similar type of debate on the reports of the Public Accounts Committee. I commend the statement by the present Chairman (Mr Graham), and I certainly commend the Deputy Chairman for his remarks here today. I hope their speeches are the start of something new in this House.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is designed to create a wool statutory body to be known as the Australian Wool Corporation, which will bring under a single direction the functions now performed by two separate instrumentalities - the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission. It is proposed, however, that these functions should be modified in certain respects to enable the new single body to play a more positive role in adapting wool marketing arrangements to present and prospective needs.
By introducing this measure, the Government wishes to assist Australian woolgrowers further in their efforts to advance the welfare of their industry. As clearly evidenced by the various measures taken by this Government in recent years, it is very conscious that the fortunes of this great industry are still, and will remain of crucial importance to Australia’s economic life. This is so despite the remarkable growth of secondary industry and mineral production which has taken place in recent years. Indeed, much of this industrial growth has been made possible by the availability of foreign exchange earned by wool, which helps us to pay for imports of essential materials and equipment.
Last financial year our export income from wool, including woolled sheepskins, was $634m representing 13.3 per cent of total earnings from all merchandise exported. This has been the lowest percentage ever recorded for wool and reflects, as all of us will be aware, the catastrophic fall which occurred in wool prices last year. In most previous years this percentage usually moved within the range of 30 per cent to 40 per cent. Going back to the 1950s and earlier the proportion of export income earned by wool was frequently around 50 per cent. The effect which wool price variations have on export income is demonstrated by the fact that on present production levels a change of one cent per kilogram means a variation of about $7m in our annual export proceeds.
As some 95 per cent of wool produced in Australia is exported, clearly our vast wool industry depends for its survival on the continued demand for wool throughout the world. This demand, however, can no longer be taken for granted. Particularly in recent years a greater variety and volume of new and improved synthetic fibres have appeared on the whole textile market. Many of these fibres have succeeded in capturing large sections of the market for wool products.
The availability of these substitute fibres has had the effect of lowering wool prices and their increasing production makes it essential for the wool industry to take all measures possible to combat this competition. This means that greater efforts will be required in all fields, particularly in wool marketing arrangements, wool research and wool promotion. The first requirement in this respect is to create an efficient and unified organisation so that the interests of the wool industry can be advanced in a business like manner. This is the prime objective of the Bill we are now considering. The merging of the Wool Board and the Wool Commission into a single entity will permit the integration of research and promotion with the marketing of the clip and thus enable a total and fully coordinated approach to be adopted in stimulating the demand for wool.
In amalgamating the Wool Board and the Wool Commission into one body the Government is acting in accordance with the wishes of the industry. In March of this year the Australian Wool Industry Conference submitted to the Government proposals recommending this action. In addition the Conference recommended that the new body should be equipped with wide powers including the power to compulsorily acquire the total Australian wool clip. The Government decided that the proposals of the Conference should be examined by the Randall Committee in the course of its study of the problems of the wool industry in general. The Randall Committee saw the merging of the Wool Board and the Wool Commission as a logical and sensible move. It felt that the proposal for compulsory acquisition however needed to be spelt out in more detail so that the full implications could be assessed and firm conclusions drawn. In addition, it is recognised that compulsory acquisition can be implemented only through Commonwealth and State complementary legislation and that this legislation can only be drafted and considered when a detailed plan for wool acquisition has been developed.
Rather than delay action on the industry proposals the Government decided to proceed with the merging of the Wool Board and the Wool Commission and to specifically empower the new Wool Corporation to investigate the whole question of wool marketing and to prepare a detailed plan for a compulsory acquisition scheme, clearly defined in all respects. The plan will need to be acceptable to the wool industry, the State Governments and the Commonwealth Government. The success of the Australian Wool Commission is seen as a result of its commercial orientation. In its marketing operations, the Australian Wool Industry Conference and the Government are agreed that the Australian
Wool Corporation should be similarly orientated. Accordingly, the Government has suggested that the plan should be substantially in accordance with financial safeguards announced by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on 20th June of this year. These safeguards are designed to ensure that the plan is commercially sound.
As I have intimated, under the constitution the Commonwealth cannot alone legislate to grant the power of compulsory acquisition to the Wool Corporation. To grant the Corporation such power would require the consent and complementary legislation of the States. Providing a satisfactory and acceptable plan can be devised, however, the Government is prepared to develop the necessary legislation in conjunction with the States.
I now turn to the main provisions contained in the Bill. The Bill is divided into 8 Parts. Part I deals with the repeal of the legislation under which the Wool Board and the Wool Commission are established. It also sets out the objects of the Bill and lists definitions. Part II provides for the establishment of the Australian Wool Corporation, its principal functions and powers, staff and finances. The Australian Wool Corporation as a body corporate will consist of 9 members comprising a fulltime Chairman, 4 woolgrower representatives, a representative of the Commonwealth and 3 other members who possess special qualifications.
The full-time Chairman of the Corporation will be appointed by the Minister for Primary Industry for a period of 5 years. Provision has also been made for the appointment of an interim Chairman. This provision is being made in case the person selected for the position of full-time Chairman cannot take up his duties immediately. Provision is also being made for the appointment of a Deputy Chairman by the Minister from amongst the members of the Wool Corporation. All other members of the Corporation will be appointed by the Minister for Primary Industry for a period of 3 years. The 4 woolgrower representatives will be appointed on the nomination of the Australian Wool Industry Conference. The 3 members with special qualifications will be appointed after consultation with the Wool Industry Conference and will be persons with experience in the marketing of wool or wool products, in the processing of wool or in the manufacture of wool products, or experience in the fields of commerce, finance, economics or science.
Appropriate provisions are made to cater for the appointment of deputies of members, leave of absence of members, vacation of office of members, declaration of interest by members, resignation of a member, removal from office of a member and the conduct of meetings. The remuneration of the Chairman, the Interim Chairman and members of the Corporation will be determined by Parliament but until 1st January 1974 the rate of remuneration will be prescribed by regulations. This provision has been made because it has not been possible to determine the respective rates of remuneration before the introduction of this Bill. In brief, the functions and powers of the new Australian Wool Corporation will include those which are now performed by the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission. These cover wool marketing, wool use promotion, wool testing, wool research and wool stores administration. I shall deal with these functions in greater detail when covering the other Parts of the Bill.
The Corporation is empowered to employ its own staff and the Bill also contains safeguards designed to preserve the rights and entitlements of employees who are now engaged by the Wool Board and the Wool Commission upon their transfer to the Corporation. It will be more convenient to deal with the financial provisions which are set out in Division 4 of Part II when discussing the other Parts of the Bill. Nevertheless, I should mention here that to give the Corporation the greatest flexibility in its operations, income derived by the Corporation from any source, other than profits from its wool trading operations, can be used for expenditure in connection with the performance of any function of the Corporation. Part III deals with the functions of the Corporation in relation to wool marketing. These in the main embrace the functions of the Australian Wool Commission, the best known of which is the operation of a flexible reserve price scheme for wool. Provision has been made, however, for the removal of the mandatory requirement to operate a price averaging plan for small lots of wool. This has been done to allow the price averaging scheme to be replaced by other lot building arrangements should this be decided upon.
It is proposed that the Corporation be given wide investigatory powers in regard to wool marketing and be empowered to recommend to the Government and the Australian Wool Industry Conference any changes considered necessary in marketing arrangements. Such changes may, of course, include the submission of a detailed plan for a compulsory acquisition scheme. Some other modifications have been made to the wool marketing functions to facilitate the operations of the Corporation in this field. In the main these are designed to enable the Corporation to make voluntary arrangements, wilh the approval of the Minister for Primary Industry, in connection with the terms and conditions for the sale of wool outside the auction system and for the programming of such sales. In division 4 of Part 11 of the Bill the Wool Corporation, like the Wool Commission, is empowered to borrow funds from banks or other institutions under Government guarantee to finance its reserve price operations and its other marketing activities.
The present provision is also continued for the Government to make advances to the Corporation for working capital in connection with its wool marketing operations. A special fund, however, is to be created to be known as the Australian Wool Corporation (Working Capital) Trust Fund, through which loans made by the Government for such purposes are to be channelled. Repayments of any such loans will be credited to the trust account and will again become available to be lent to the Corporation without need for a fresh appropriation. As at present, provision is made for the Corporation to enter into arrangements with wool-selling brokers for the collection of the charge from wool growers’ proceeds on wool sold at auction to finance the administrative costs of the Corporation in connection with its reserve price operations.
The Government will continue to meet one half of the re-handling and brokers’ administrative charges for wool included in the price averaging plan, whilst this plan continues to operate, at rates approved by the Minister for Primary Industry and the Treasurer. Provision has been made also in the Bil] for the Government to meet a proportion of re-handling, administration or testing charges in any new lot building scheme that may replace the price averaging plan. The proportion payable is to be determined by the Minister for Primary Industry and the Treasurer. Any losses sustained by the Corporation from the purchase and sale of wool will continue to be underwritten by the Government. Profits made by the Corporation must be applied in the first instance to repay any past losses which had been met by the Government. Any profits remaining are to be held as a contingency against future losses. Provision has been made, however, for a portion of the profits to be used for other purposes, if need be, if this is approved by the Minister for Primary Industry and the Treasurer. It is provided in the Bill that the Corporation will take over the accumulated profits of the Australian Wool Commission.
Part IV of the Bill covers the responsibilities of the Corporation in the field of wool use promotion. The provisions contained in this part are similar to those which now apply to the Australian Wool Board. As in the case of the Wool Board, the Corporation will be able to borrow moneys for temporary purposes in connection with its wool promotion activities. Part V of the Bill deals with wool testing. It has been so drafted as to continue the Australian Wool Testing Authority in existence without disturbance to its operations and, as far as possible, its membership. The provisions covering the operations of the Authority are similar to those contained in the existing Wool Industry Ac* Provision has been made, however, for the functions of the Authority to be extended to allow it to carry out tests on non-wool fibres, whether natural fibres or otherwise, and non-wool textile products as well as jj wool and products made wholly or partly from wool. This will enable the Authority to meet requests from the trade for the testing of non-wool fibres and non-wool textile products as well as allow it to earn additional income.
As provided in Division 4 of Part II of the Bill, the Corporation is empowered to borrow moneys for purposes associated with the operations of the Authority and such borrowings can be guaranteed by the Government. Part VI of the Bill covers wool research. Again, the provisions in the Bill are similar to those contained in the existing Wool Industry Act which governs the joint industry-Government scheme for wool research. The Wool Research Trust Fund is continued in existence under the same name. Part VII of the Bill deals with the wool stores which are now vested in and administered by the Australian Wool Board. The stores will be vested in and administered by the Wool Corporation under the same conditions as apply at present under the existing Wool Industry Act. The right of the Government to take the stores back in the event of a war emergency is maintained. As it will be well known, these stores were built during World War II and are now in need of extensive renovation and reconstruction if they are to be maintained in good order for future need. Accordingly, provision has been made in Division 4 of Part II of the Bill for the Government to guarantee borrowings by the Corporation for this purpose.
Finally, Part VIII of the Bill deals with miscellaneous matters relating to the operations and requirements of the Corporation, as well as matters which are common to the other Parts of the Bill. Included in this Part are the present arrangements under which wool growers and the Government contribute funds for the financing of wool promotion and wool research. The arrangements for the current triennium expire on 30th June 1973 and accordingly, when the arrangements for the next triennium are determined, it will be necessary to amend the provisions which are contained in this Bill. This is a matter which will need to be considered fairly shortly because the International Wool Secretariat programmes its allocations for the next triennium at the end of this calendar year. Accordingly it will be necessary for the wool industry and the Government to make an early decision on the degree to which they are prepared to embark on a promotion campaign for that impending triennium. This Part makes the usual provisions for the audit of the Corporation’s financial affairs to be carried out by the Auditor-General and for the annual report of the Corporation to be submitted to the Minister for Primary Industry, who is obliged to table it in Parliament. To enable the smooth transfer of the functions of the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission to the new Australian Wool Corporation, the Bill will come into operation on a date to be proclaimed.
As I mentioned in the early part of my speech, the Australian wool industry is of vital importance to the national economy and must be preserved. Its importance lies not only in the significant contribution it makes to our export income but also in sustaining the livelihood of much of inland Australia. As we all know, there is no primary commodity more fundamental to Australian agriculture than wool. If the industry is to be preserved no effort must be spared to enhance its viability. This involves an energetic and imaginative pursuit of wool promotion combined with an effective research programme and an efficient marketing system. These activities require substantial funds to be effective and it is in the interests of us all to lend support to the wool industry. In this regard the Government is about to review the future needs for wool promotion and wool research and I hope to be in a position to make an announcement on this matter soon.
In this context it is appropriate to mention that the participation of the Australian Wool Board in the International Wool Secretariat will become the responsibility of the Australian Wool Corporation. Increasingly, the responsibilities of the International Wool Secretariat in ensuring the competitiveness of wool in the world fibre market are of prime significance in stimulating market demand. Accordingly, the budget needs of the International Wool Secretariat for its activities will also be included in this review. In view of inflationary pressures, it is increasingly important to cut costs in all facets of the wool industry. A field which has great potential in this regard is the handling and transport of wool throughout the whole sequence of wool marketing. Good progress has been made in the application of pre-sale objective measurement and the sale of wool by sample. I am convinced that the broader application of this technique, along with other technological advances, will enable new methods to be employed to streamline and reduce significantly the costs of wool selling.
The establishment of a single integrated wool body in the form of the Australian Wool Corporation will make it possible to co-ordinate the efforts in all the field I have mentioned and so strengthen the position of the wool industry in the highly competitive world textile market. The new Corporation will have a big and most important task. It can rely on the full support of the Government at all times. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Wentworth, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Budget contains a far-reaching welfare programme, part of which will be implemented by my colleague, the Minister for Health Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson and part of which falls within my own responsibilities. Service pensions, which are administered by my colleague the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten), will also be increased.
The social services aspects of the welfare programme are covered by 3 Bills. They are firstly the present Social Services Bill, secondly an Aged Persons Homes Bill and thirdly Aged Persons Hostels Bill. I have already introduced the latter 2 Bills and I now want to summarise the provisions of the Social Services Bill which is now before the House. Under this Bill the standard rate of pension for single people and widows with children is to be increased by $1.75 per week to $20 per week. This increase will apply to approximately 509,000 age pensioners, 112,000 invalid pensioners and 50,000 widow pensioners with children.
The married rate of pension, which is also payable to widows without children, is to be increased by $1.25 per week to $17.25 per week. This increase will apply to an estimated 324,000 age pensioners, 27,000 invalid pensioners and 43,000 widow pensioners without children.
A new pension, replacing wife’s allowance and called wife’s pension, will be paid to the wives of all age and invalid pensioners who do not qualify for a pension in their own right. Thus husbands who now receive age or invalid pensions at the standard rate and their non-pensioner wives will both receive pensions at the proposed married rate of $17.25 per week. An estimated 31,500 wives will benefit from the introduction of this new pension, of whom 23,500 already receive a wife’s allowance at the lesser rate.
Supplementary assistance is to be doubled, to a maximum of $4 per week, and, subject to the usual eligibility conditions, will be available to married pensioner couples paying rent. About 108,000 age pensioners, 55,000 invalid pensioners and 23,500 widow pensioners will benefit from this increase. In addition some 58,000 pensioners will become eligible for supplementary assistance for the first time.
The adult rate for long-term sickness benefit is to be increased by $1.75 per week to $20 per week, and the junior rate will be increased by $1 per week to $13 per week. Approximately 7,500 beneficiaries will receive these increases.
In line with the proposed increase in supplementary assistance for pensioners, the rate of supplementary allowance for long-term sickness beneficiaries is to be doubled to a maximum of $4 per week. This increase will apply to an estimated 2,500 beneficiaries.
The pensions means test will again be substantially liberalised, by extending the amounts of means as assessed which permit the payment of full pensions to the same levels as the rates of pensions now proposed. The benefit of this principle, will of course, extend throughout the whole pension range because under it the so called ‘free area’ - that is the amount of means which does not affect the pension rate - will increase from $10 per week to $20 per week for those on standard rate and from $17 per week to $34.50 per week for those on married rate.
The amount up to which the computation of a pensioner’s income may be reduced for means test purposes for each dependent child is to be increased by $2 to $6 per week
A special concession is to be made for recipients of superannuation payments and annuities. These 3 measures on the means test will benefit 228,000 persons at present receiving age, invalid and widows’ pensions at part rates, and will make an estimated 75,000 additional people eligible for a part pension for the first time. Let me now turn to a more detailed description of the features of the Bill.
Rate of Basic Pension
The increases now proposed represent the fourth separate occasion on which the rate; of pension have been raised by the McMahon Government in the past 18 months. In March 1971 the standard rate was $15.50 per week and the combined married rate was $27.50 per week. With the current increases these rates will have been increased by amounts totalling $4.50 and $7 per week respectively. In no other period in Australia’s history have increases iti pension rates been on a scale remotely approaching these amounts.
On previous occasions when introducing measures to increase pension rates I have pointed out to the House the extent to which the increases have represented gains to pensioners in real purchasing power. It is interesting to note that, measured by the consumer price index, prices have risen by under 8 per cent since the March quarter of 1971, while the pension, taking into account the current proposals, will have risen in the same period by 29 per cent for single people and over 25 per cent for married couples. Expressed another way, if pensions had been increased since March 1971 in accordance simply with rises in the consumer price index, current rates would be $16.74 per week for single people and $29.70 per week for married couples in lieu of $20 and $34.50 per week respectively as proposed in the Bill before tho House.
In the 12 months between the 1971 Budget and the 1972 Budget, prices have increased by approximately 6 per cent, but in the same period between the 2 Budgets, the standard rate of pension, even without counting in supplementary assistance, has increased by 15.9 per cent and the married rate pension by 13.1 per cent. If you count in supplementary assistance, the increase is 24.7 per cent for standard rate, and 26.2 per cent for married rate. Th is follows the Government’s principles of giving special assistance to those in greatest need, and of continuing to raise the pension faster than the rise in the cost of living, so that its real value - the amount that the pension will purchase - continues to increase. The following tables, which I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard, exemplifies this.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The table which 1 have incorporated shows that the level of purchasing power of the standard rate pension in 1949 - the last time that an Australian Labor Government was in power - would now be $11.27 as against its present rate of $20 without supplementary assistance or $24 with supplementary assistance. Thus it will be seen that since the last time the Australian Labor Party was in office we have just about doubled the purchasing power of the pension for those who are most in need. If the additional fringe benefits which have been introduced in this period are added in, the comparison becomes more favourable still. I have no doubt that for so long as we remain in office, this process, so beneficial to pensioners, will be continued.
Special attention will also continue to be given to detecting and eliminating areas of need. In this context the Government is concerned that some couples who, between them, receive only one pension or pension plus wife’s allowance sometimes experience financial difficulties if they have no way of supplementing the. payments made by my Department. The Government’s decision to extend eligibility for pension at the married rate to the wives of pensioners who are ineligible for a pension in their own right exemplifies the concern shown for people who experience difficulties of the. kind to which I have just referred. It will, of course, be necessary to make, a consequential adjustment in the husband’s pension in such cases from the standard to the married rate but the overall position of the couple will improve by up to $8.25 per week where the wife receives at present a wife’s allowance, and by up to $16.25 per week in other cases. Another matter of concern to the Government is the increasingly high rents which are required to be met by pensioners who have little, means apart from the pension. We have decided, therefore, to further assist these pensioners by increasing supplementary assistance by $2 per week. The new maximum will be $4 per week. In addition, married pensioner couples with little means and paying rent are to be eligible for supplementary assistance for the first time; payment to be made on the basis of up to $2 per week for each person.
The Pensions Means Test
On many occasions over the past 23 years the Liberal-Country Party Government has referred to its policy of raising the general standard of living of pensioners, directing special relief to the areas of greatest need and encouraging thrift, self-help and self-reliance. An integral part of this plan has been the progressive liberalisation of the means test, with the aim of its eventual abolition. That goal is now in sight. The Government has now given a firm commitment that the means test for persons over the age of 65 will be abolished within the next 3 years. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) has expressed the hope, which I most certainly share, that this abolition will not take the full 3 years. I personally believe it will take, substantially less. However the exact details of the method by which this is to be done are to be considered by an expert committee, which will at the same time examine the possibility of introducing concurrently a scheme of national superannuation.
The Government is not yet committed to any particular scheme of national superannuation, or indeed, to the principle of introducing it, although the implications of the announcement of the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) are fairly clear. It will be well, however, to have the advice of independent experts before making these farreaching decisions. May I add that, when this committee is established, 1 shall be submitting to it fairly definite proposals - not, of course, on behalf of the Government, which as I have said has given no commitment, but as one of the bases which the committee may examine. Perhaps the committee will polish these proposals up, or it may, in its wisdom, prefer to recommend entirely different ones. The proposals which I shall be submitting to the committee will relate to both form and substance - that is, to both the mechanics of administration and the objectives to be achieved. These 2 matters are, of course, severable; it may be that one of them will commend itself to the committee and the other will not. I do, however, believe that, having had the benefit of considering the various schemes of national superannuation which are in operation in other countries, at least on the score of the mechanics of administration we can propose a device which is inherently superior to that elsewhere available. I will not elaborate on this at the present stage. I hope to say something ha regard to it at a future date.
Let me return to the matter of the liberalisation and abolition of the means test, as summarised in the Treasurer’s Budget Speech. As a prelude to the abolition, the 3 measures which I outline earlier are to be introduced immediately. Firstly, the ‘free area’ - the amount of means which does not affect the pension - is to be doubled. Secondly, the allowance for children in computing means is to be increased from $4 each to $6. Thirdly, there will be a special concession for recipients of superannuation and annuities. Let me deal with the first of these points. The free area’ for single means is at present $10 per week. This is to become $20 per week. The ‘free area’ for married couples’ means is at present $17 per week. This is to become. $34.50 per week. It will be noted that the principle has been adopted of making the ‘free area’ equal to the maximum rate of pension; and since the pension is only reduced by one-half of the excess of means over the ‘free area’ it follows that a partial pension is payable until means reach 3 times the maximum pension rate.
The effect of this will be to extend the amounts of means as assessed which permit the payment of full pensions by $520 for single pensioners, including widow pensioners, and by S910 for married couples. Expressed in terms of income this will mean that an age or invalid pensioner without children whose property is less than 5420 in value may have income of up to $20 a week and still receive the full standard rate pension of $20 a week; some pension will be payable until his income reaches S60 a week. A married couple without children whose property is less than $840 in value may have a combined income of up to $34.50 a week, and still receive full pensions of $17.25 a week each; some pension will be paid until their combined weekly income reaches $103.50. Put the other way, where his means consist entirely of property an age or invalid pensioner without children may have assets to the value of $10,800 and receive a full pension; some pension will be payable until his property reaches $31,600 in value. For married couples without children the comparable figures are $18,740 and $54,640.
A widow with one child whose property does not exceed $4,500 may have income from other sources of up to S20 a week, or up to $26 a week if she receives no income for the child, and still receive the full pension. In the latter case, some pension will be payable until her income reaches $83 a week or $87 a week if the child is under 6 or an invalid child requiring full-time care. If income does not affect the pension she may have property to the value of $12,400 and still receive a full pension; pension cease* to be payable when the value of her property reaches $37,360 or $39,440 if she has a child under 6 or an invalid child. The income limits for widows with more than one child are, of course, correspondingly higher. A widow without children whose property is less than $420 in value may have income of up to $20 a week and still receive the full pension of $17.25 a week; some pension will be payable until her income reaches $54.50 a week. Put the other way, where her means consist entirely of property a widow without children may have assets to the value of $10,800 and still receive a full pension; some pension will be payable until her property reaches $28,740 in value.
There are various combinations of income and property in between the figures I have quoted which will permit the payment of a full or part pension. I ask for leave to incorporate in Hansard a ‘ready reckoner’ setting out the new pension entitlements for age and invalid pensioners.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– Under this Bill, all those who are at present receiving part pensions, and whose means as assessed do not exceed $20 per week for single people or $34.50 per week for married couples will receive full pension. Those part pensioners whose means are between $20 per week and $46.50 per week single or between $34.50 per week and $81 per week married couples will receive substantially increased part pensions, and those who at present receive no pension but whose means lie between $46.50 per week and $60 per week single or between $81 per week and $103.50 per week married couples will be entitled to receive some pension for the first time. Sheltered employment allowances and rehabilitation allowances, payable under the Social Services Act, are linked to the pension rates and recipients of these allowances will, as a result, benefit also from the means test liberalisations I have just outlined.
At this point I should say that the proposed extension of the means as assessed limits will not cause a corresponding extension of eligibility for fringe benefits such as the benefits of the pensioner medical service, funeral benefits and rebates on telephones, radio and television. The eligibility limits for Commonwealth concessions are not increased when the means test is relaxed but are automatically raised in accordance with increases in the basic rate of pension. The effect of the proposed pension increases is that Commonwealth concessions will now be available to single pensioners with means as assessed below $30 per week and to pensioner couples with means as assessed below $51.50 per week. The Government has given no commitment on the extension of fringe benefits with the eventual abolition of the means test. As the House will recall, the administration of the most important of these lies within the province of my colleague the Minister for Health (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson). If I remain Minister for Social Services next year I shall be consulting with him to see whether any recommendation can be made to the Government on this matter.
Turning now to the special concession to be applied for recipients of superannuation payments and annuities, where a pensioner is entitled to receive an income from superannuation or annuity, the annual rate payable will be given a property equivalent for means test purposes by reference to a specific conversion factor contained in a schedule to be attached to the Social Services Act. The conversion factor will provide the present capital value of the superannuation payment or annuity. The conversion of the superannuation or annuity into property will be to the pensioner’s advantage in the vast majority of cases but if in any particular case this should not prove to be so the payments will continue to be treated as income.
As the amount of property to be taken into account in respect of superannuation or annuity will vary with the pensioner’s age, it is proposed to review each case on the anniversary of his birthday with a view to making a further increase in pension available. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing the conversion factors to be applied for the capitalisation of superannuation payments and annuities.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– The present proposal wAl, of course, lose a great deal of its significance within the next 3 years, when the abolition of the means test for all persons over 65 years of age becomes effective. Nevertheless, the Government has decided to introduce this immediate measure because of the substantial hardship suffered by superannuitants in the upper age groups, most of whom paid for their pensions at a time when prices were much lower, and who now suffer the effects of inflation.
This present proposal involves a major restructuring of the treatment of superannuation payments and annuities under the means test, and the Government is anxious to bring it into effect as soon as possible. However, in view of the complexity and magnitude of the task involved it is not possible for my Department to implement the amendment concurrently with the other changes proposed in the Bill before the House. On present indications the increases in pensions arising from the capitalisation of superannuation payments and annuities may not be paid until next year. I would, however, point out to honourable members that, when the re-assessments of existing pensions are completed, arrears will be paid retrospectively from the first pension pay day after the Bill becomes law.
I would, however, like to take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to my officers who have been working magnificently in order to see that the many benefits to pensioners, which are contained in the present Budget are made available to them with the least possible delay. The administrative tasks involved are by no means light. I hope that the House will agree that I have every reason to be proud of the way in which the officers of my Department discharge their duties both in this particular matter and in their general approaches to their difficult work.
When we took office, we started by liberalising the permissible income. A series of major reforms followed. Legislation for the merged means test was enacted in 1960 and gave some pension rights to those who had a modest amount of property. While I was myself concerned in this reform, I think I should mention two former members of this House who played the most prominent part - Sir Keith Wilson, the former member for Sturt, and Mr Phil Stokes, the former member for Maribyrnong. Following upon the merged means test, the tapered means test was introduced in September 1969. Under the new provisions, means over the permissible income only reduced the pension by onehalf of the excess, in place of the whole excess.
Now, in this Budget, we have, by the 3 proposals which I have outlined, cut the guts out of the means test - I hope the House will pardon the phrase - and we have arranged for its eventual liquidation. Furthermore, we have shown that this process can be combined with the greatest increase in pension rates during their whole history, and the doubling of the supplementary assistance which we give to those most in need. Indeed, with the raising of the real value of the pension, the disincentive-effect of the means test has become so great that the Government’s present measures in regard to it are, in a very real sense, long term economic prudence.
This completes an outline of the provisions in the Bill but I would like to give the House some details of the costs involved. The expenditure on social services from the National Welfare Fund for 1972- 73 other than that resulting from this Bill, is estimated to reach $l,327m which is an increase of $119m over the expenditure for the previous year. It is estimated that the costs of the proposals in this Bill will approximate $179m in a full year and $132m for the balance of the current year. This does not, I feel, tell the whole story. As well as increasing the amounts spent on social welfare, 1 believe we have significantly increased the efficiency of our expenditure, so that each dollar spent provides more real welfare than it would have done if the older system had remained unchanged. In accordance with established practice, the increases in pensions and associated allowances will become payable from the first pay day following the royal assent. The increases in long term sickness benefit will operate in respect of the benefit week ending on the date of the royal assent. I commend the Bill to the House.
– 1 move:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: white not opposing the Bill, the House is of opinion that the only satisfactory way to provide social services benefits is through a comprehensive national system of social security where benefits are above the poverty level and tied to an index adjusted at least annually’.
In spite of the statements which the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) made this morning and in spite of the confusing mass of statistics which he. produced. He always produces statistics like a conjurer plunging into an empty top hat and producing something that no-one really believed was there, he is able to manipulate and calculate - perhaps he is best at calculating - in various odd sorts of ways to try to establish an argument that social service beneficiaries, on each occasion he speaks, are better off than they have ever been before. It is rather remarkable to talk to these people and to find that they just do not believe him. I will admit that he is one of the most promising Ministers we have but, from the response of the public, he is not entirely the most credible Minister that we have.
The essential point about what he proposed this morning is that he is still tinkering with the system which fundamentally has not been changed in well over 2 decades - approaching a quarter of a century. Yet in that period massive changes have taken place not only in the sort of society in which we live, in its complexity and its expectations, but also in the values which people have and the capacity of our society to fulfil those expectations. We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world. One wonders, firstly, why we persevere with a system which is as dated and inadequate as this one is and why the Government continues to tinker with it and, secondly, one wonders with some sense of distress why the Government remains chained to a system which increasingly is being left behind in terms of its capacity to provide for people’s wants vis-a-vis what is being achieved in other parts of the world.
In spite of all the figures that the Minister has conjured up, the standard rate of pension has been lifted only to 20 per cent of average weekly earnings. The Minister can say what he wishes about the Chifley Government, if he is so determined to make these forays into the distant past, but the fact is that the standard rate of pension at that period, in the immediate postwar era, was 26 per cent of average weekly earnings. As I have stressed so many times before in this House, the relevant comparison to make is to relate the amount of money being provided in pension payments to the average standard of prosperity being provided in the community, measured by average weekly earnings which cover more than the cost of living increases but also include the capacity of the economy to provide a higher living standard. Every year technology and improved efficiency allow a greater degree of productivity to be achieved. It is nonsense for the Minister to restrain himself to comparisons based on consumer price indexes. That is too narrow a conception altogether.
I want to come back to the pension rates. Let us look at one of the important areas that the Minister did not touch - unemployment benefits. Let us take the case of a man with a wife and 2 children. They are still below the poverty level in a way which is a major public disgrace and, for the people affected, a major personal disaster. His benefit is nearly $18 a week below the updated poverty level. There are 120,000 people unemployed, according to the seasonally adjusted figures of the Department of Labour and National Service - the highest proportion of the work force unemployed for something like a decade. This upsurge in unemployment is being created by the purposeful objectives of the Government applying orthodox Keynesian measures to try to dampen down the economy, to control inflation. It has failed to control inflation. It certainly has created the pool of unemployment that it wanted and has rather foolishly achieved a dampening down of demand at a time when demand badly needs to be stimulated.
Here we have unfortunate wretches suffering all the want, all this unnecessary and unsought deprivation, living on unemployment benefits which are nearly $18 a week below the updated poverty level. Remember this about these unfortunate people: They have to be unemployed for more than a week before they can even lodge an application form for unemployment benefits and they have to be unemployed for a fortnight before they receive their first payment. So one appreciates the personal disaster affecting the people from Mt Druitt, Green Valley, Inala and a host of other fringe housing development areas where large numbers of families on lower and moderate incomes seem to congregate. This is a major disgrace. The Minister said not one word about this serious problem which has been created by the Government at the present time. In fact, I go further. There is a definite incentive for the Government, when it keeps unemployment benefits low, to use people - workers and those least able to defend themselves in this situation - as pawns to be sacrificed in the ham-fisted economic controls used in the Australian economy. It is cheap to throw these people into unemployment and to provide a man with a wife and 2 children with benefits $18 a week below the poverty level.
If a decent sort of unemployment benefit were paid to these unfortunate people the Government would think twice about squeezing them into unemployment and causing all the major problems that beset them. It would then have to set about a more finely tuned system of economic adjustments so that we did not stumble from peaks of booms into valleys of recessions as we do every 3 or 4 years, periodically dropping into a major crevice of recession as we seem to be in at present. I mentioned before that these unfortunate people have to wait 2 weeks before they receive any entitlement for unemployment benefits. In a situation like this in which there is considerable unemployment of a fairly lengthy and worsening nature, created by Government policy, we get a reversal of the pattern of people who are unemployed. We find a greater proportion of people at the bad end of unemployment benefit receipts. They are the people who are there for longer periods as distinct from a normal period of economic stability when the situation is reversed.
In February this year, 56 per cent of unemployment beneficiaries, or more than one in every 2 receiving unemployment benefits, had been drawing those benefits for more than a month. That means they had been unemployed for at least 5 weeks. Because of the most peculiar way in which the Government has interfered with the registration processes and the processes by which eligibility for unemployment benefits are being established, many of these people would have been unemployed for considerably longer periods than the statistics show.
That was in February. There has been a worsening of the position in the 7 months since those statistics were provided. One could expect the proportion of recipients of unemployment benefits now to be considerably higher than 56 per cent. This is a public disgrace. It is all the more disgraceful when we find, for instance, that long term sickness benefits have been increased to $20 a week but those who are on long term unemployment benefits have had their benefit rate frozen at $17 a week, or $3 a week less than the long term sickness benefit. What is the rational explanation for this? What peculiar philosophical values lie behind this wicked sort of discrimination and repression against literally more than 100,000 workers who in no way, in the overwhelming majority of cases, sought to be in this unfortunate position and whose personal tragedy at the moment is a result of all that the Government is doing.
In the case of a parent who is drawing unemployment benefit dependent student children over 16 years of age are excluded from any benefit at all by this Government. To provide for these people would be a bagatelle. We have had more than enough evidence produced in this place and in other places to show the socioeconomic discrimination which works so oppressively and so terribly against people from low and moderate income earning families that they literally cannot break through the barriers of social and economic discrimination into higher education. In our society we tend to relate higher education qualifications with better job opportunities, better incomes and more satisfaction in life. I should hope that we would relate it with more than that, but those are largely the facts as they stand today.
One can see cases where people from low and moderate income earning families are struggling valiantly to put their children through university. My God, I have seen enough of it in Ipswich where working men; labourers in the railway workshops are literally wearing patched and repatched clothes to put their sons through medical school and are even depriving themselves by cutting back on their diet. It might sound sentimental and it might sound emotional, but it does happen. For those sorts of people to be on the unemployment benefit is not only unreasonable, discriminating and repressive for them but is terribly unfair for their children who have never done anything wrong in society except perhaps to be born into a lower socio-economic family and accordingly attract the sort of penalty from the conservative Government of which I speak.
The Minister talks about how grand his achievements appear. I guess he believes this. I guess he believes it because he is easily satisfied and because he has not had an opportunity to make overseas comparisons or. if he has, perhaps he has been a little too chauvinistic to appreciate it. I will quote from an article in the Adelaide Advertiser’ of 1st June 1972, headed ‘The Melancholy Danes’. Denmark has a high standard of living and a very high standard of social welfare. The article commences:
To many of the 18,000 Danish migrants in Australia, their adopted country is not a happy home.
The article is a report on the observations of Helge Laursen who is a journalist in his own country. It reads:
Danes will also be discouraged by the less complete social security and welfare system provided in Australia.
Laursen quoted a 4 1 -year-old Dane who sold his paint shop and house to take his wife and 3 children to Australia in an effort to escape from long working hours and high taxes.
We paid too much in taxes back home’, lamented the migrant, Henning Stougaard, ‘but we also got more for our money. Here if I lose my job or become ill, I get no money.’
Mr Stougaard has a $6S a week job as a railroad employee. He works from 7.30 a.m. to 4 p.m. , but he spends 4 hours a day commuting between the migrant camp and work at a cost of $9 a month. His taxes come to SIO a week.
The sorry tale goes on, to conclude with these words:
Only a few of the migrants here -
That is, in Australia - have that.
That is, the opportunities he has had to have a job. The article continues:
They have a burning desire to get away, and there isn’t anything they wouldn’t do to get on board a ship for Europe.’
The House will well recollect that the inquiry sponsored by the Department of Immigration into the reasons why such a growing higher proportion of migrants are returning home established the major reason as being that social security and social welfare services - covering the broad conspectus of these things - in Australia are so inferior to what are available overseas.
I started to talk a little earlier about the standard rate pension and its erosion visavis average weekly earnings. I pointed out that in the immediate post-war period under the Chifley Labor Government the pension rate was equal to 26 per cent of average weekly earnings. It will be down to 20 per cent of average weekly earnings when this proposed increase is effected by legislation. Let the Minister cogitate on this: On the basis of relativity established between average weekly earnings and the basis of the rate during the Chifley period, pensioners would be about $6 a week better off than they are at the present time, or near enough to that amount. That is the sort of relativity that the Minister might well cogitate on.
Let us look at the sort of justice which he talks about, the sort of moral concern for pensioners which is shown by his Party. An amount of $1.75 a week is to be paid as an increase in the standard rate of pension. But a person who is on an income of $10,000 a year will, under the proposals to reduce tax obligations, receive a net increase in Income of $5 a week. That is the savings on tax to be paid. That is what this Government has given him. A person on $15,000 a year will get a net savings of $8.50 a week. For a person on $20,000 a year the net saving will be $14 a week. The more you have the more you get from this Government. Obviously what has been thrown to the pensioners is nothing more than a few miserable crumbs from a grudging Government to buy off pressure with an approaching election. But the concessions have been extremely generous to the welloff. Approximately 62 per cent of all the concessions on tax as a result of the tax reductions this Government is proposing will go to fewer than a quarter of the taxpayers, and they just happen to be in the higher income bracket or those people who are well above average weekly earnings.
The standard rate of pension is about $4 a week below the updated poverty line. Let us look at the pension rate for widows. A widow with one child is $1 above the mean, austere poverty line. That is an example of how grudging this rate of payment is. At the end of this year with average weekly earnings moving ahead, according to the Budget papers, at 9 per cent it will break about even with the poverty line. That is a miserable denying level of existence. A widow with 2 children will receive $2.50 below the poverty line. A widow with 3 children will be $3.80 below the poverty line and a widow with 4 children will be $5.25 below the poverty line. We must remember that we ought to build in the 9 per cent erosion that will take place over the next 12 months because of the movement in average weekly earnings.
Another aspect of what the Government has proposed and which fills me with fear is its general commitment to the abolition of the means test. I do not mind that; we have been stressing this for some time. Indeed, it is a direct lift from what we have been saying; it is a panic stricken concession to the appropriateness of what we have put forward. What concerns me is that this means test will be eliminated with no guarantee that the pension rate is to be related to some sort of index which will change at a regular period. One oan well conceive that in an effort to buy off the ire of the electorate, at the same time giving the miserable sort of the attention that the Government gives to social services with mean little pension increases, the base rate universal pension rate as it will then become will become fairly sticky or almost stuck at a fairly low level. Costs will move ahead of it. Average weekly earnings as a relationship to it will move away from it. The standard of living it will provide will erode, and that will be a serious situation to be confronted by those people who are largely or totally dependent on these payments.
One has a sneaking hunch that we will get the means test in through the back door and we will get to the position which exists in Great Britain where in spite of a universal retirement allowance 30 per cent of those drawing on it have to get means tested sustenance allowance because it is not enough to live on. In Canada the universal retirement allowance is not enough to live on to the point where 90 per cent of those drawing on it have to get a means tested sustenance allowance.
I have put the case strongly to those who happen to be listening and to whomsoever I can reach in the community that they have to argue that no matter what Party says what about eliminating the means test that Party and indeed all Parties must be committed to tying the pension rate to an index so that there is at least an annual adjustment to the rates which will be provided, and it must be average weekly earnings. I trust that pensioners will not be deceived into supporting, tying it to, for instance, the minimum award rates. The wage drift would be to their disadvantage. In the last 10 years minimum average award rates as a percentage of average weekly earnings have fallen from 73 per cent to 66 per cent. So in a 10-year period they would be suffering a 10 per cent erosion of the relative standard of living which they ought to have.
Let us look at that in another way. If the pension rate 10 years ago had been tied to minimum average award rates, instead of being $20 a week at the present time it would have been $2 less and the Minister for Social Services would presently be arguing that this was perfectly reasonable. The public is entitled to a better explanation as to how the pensioner medical service and the other fringe benefits are to operate - particularly the pensioner medical service - when the means test is eliminated. No problems at all will arise under the Labor Party’s programme. Contributions will be related to a levy on taxable income. People with a taxable income of less than approximately $1,890 a year - pensioners come within that category - will have automatic cover. It will be an automatic social welfare benefit in the community. There will be no registration, no prying means test and no need to negotiate complex arrangements with Departments or health insurance funds.
What alarms me is that we are going to have some sort of variation once the means test is eliminated, assuming that this Government continues in office after the end of this year. I am alarmed that we would have some sort of variation of the present system of subsidised health insurance operated under the Health Act. It has been a 93 per cent flop. It has covered only 93 out of every 100 families it was supposed to cover. They will not be covered. The difficulty has arisen because of the cultural problems of getting these sorts of people who are supposed to be reached by the scheme to negotiate all these complex arrangements and to subject themselves to a prying means test.
The remarkable feature in the talk about the means test is that the Government is now proposing in panic stricken haste to abolish the means test within 3 years, but since the 1950s it has been saying that it could not be done. It can be done. We have consistently said that it can be done and we have campaigned on that platform. We will not only do it, but we will also do it on a more generous basis than within a 3-year time span. We are committed to fixing the standard rate of pension at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings; that is a 25 per cent increase in the rate of pension that the Government provides. I put the proposition squarely to the public: Why should they have waited 23 years for the Government to make this concession? Why should they forbear with a Government that would be dilatory and will think in terms of improvements in 2 decade spans rather than within a short term which is appropriate and practicable, as proposed by Labor.
Our scheme means that we are committing ourselves to eliminating the means test within 3 years or one term of Parliament and to bringing the standard rate of pension to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. There would be an . average increase in the pension rate of $3 a week in each of the 3 years, assuming that average weekly earnings continue to grow at approximately 9 per cent annually as they have over the past couple of years. We are committing ourselves to more than one change in each year and this seems perfectly reasonable. Otherwise undue stress would be imposed on the people who solely or largely depend on the pension rate for their existence. The Government has come out with no such clear cut and candid formula for adjusting pension payments. But we see these age pension improvements we put forward as merely being temporary. They are only a step forward along a pathway. Our major step is to move into national superannuation.
We have consistently promised the introduction of a national superannuation scheme. The Government has not made any commitment on national superannuation. The Minister said today that the Government is not yet committed to any particular scheme of national superannuation, or indeed to the principle of introducing it. We are committed and we have said so unequivocally on a number of occasions. We have said that we intend to eliminate the means test in the period stated. Very early after the election we will institute a national inquiry to assess national superannuation schemes in operation overseas and the proposals which have been put forward in this country. It is not difficult to develop a model for national superannuation. The main purpose of the inquiry will be to establish the best way to phase in the programme so that people are not unnecessarily disadvantaged. I have in mind mainly people who are contributing now to private superannuations schemes and are concerned about whether they would be required to contract out, would be absorbed into a national scheme, or would be required to surrender the scheme to which they are contributing.
It would be totally wrong to make a spot decision without holding a thorough investigation and without allowing the people who would be affected by the changes to put their point of view. We aim at introducing a scheme which will be most attractive to the public and will not cause the sorts of pressures, tensions or problems that concern so many of these people. We are committed to introducing national superannuation. I repeat that the Minister said today that the Government is not yet committed to any particular scheme of national superannuation, or indeed to the principle of introducing such a scheme. At least on this occasion he was a little more forthright than he was in July last year when speaking to the Queensland Council for the Ageing. He said then in relation to national superannuation: 1 can say that such a scheme is ready for adoption and I believe that it is of a practical nature.
He left his audience with the clear impression that the Government had ready a Bill drafted for this purpose. In the House on 24th August last year he said in reply to, the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson):
I have at no time indicated that such a draft does exist.
One wonders just how candid is the Minister. How credible is he? If he is neither candid nor credible - and I think the evidence supports this point of view, unkind as it might seem, but substantiated and put objectively - he is at least being consistent with the record of the non-Labor parties since Federation in respect of national superannuation, national social security insurance, or whatever term is preferred.
In 1949 Mr Menzies, then Prime Minister, said:
Australia still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right and so get completely rid of the means test. During the new Parliament we will further investigate the complicated problem with a view to presenting to you at the election of 19S2 a scheme for your approval.
And he did not do it. That is peculiar, because in 1938 Mr Menzies resigned as Attorney-General from the. Lyons Government because it did not introduce a social security programme to which it was committed. On this point I shall quote from Servant of the House’ written by Frank Green. He wrote:
Early in 1938 as Treasurer Richard Gardiner Casey (later Lord Casey) had introduced the National Insurance Bill which, after weeks of debate and obstruction by certain Country Party members, was finally agreed to by both Houses. It received the Royal Assent in July 193S, and was to come into operation on a date to be fixed by proclamation in order to allow time for the departmental machinery to be set. up for its operation.
Mr Green went on to point out that the United Australia Party, the progenitor of the Liberal Party, was so beholden to or so thoroughly controlled by the Temple Court group in Melbourne, a financial group which decided the destinies of the United Australia Party, that it destroyed the legislation on finding that it might cost it some money. Mr Menzies resigned as a man of principle. Mr Green points out that although he was himself in power later for 18 years, Menzies never took the trouble to proclaim the National Insurance Act which is still on the statute book.
Of course, the present Minister for Social Services is being consistent with the Government that destroyed national insurance legislation in 1938 after building it up for election purposes. The Earle Page Government did exactly the same thing in 1927-28 after building up the expectations of people for election purposes. The same sort of thing was done, by a Liberal government in 1913 headed by Cook. The people of Australia are subject to misrepresentation and totally dishonest public responsibility. The present Government has almost $450m of the taxpayers’ money isolated and frozen in the National Welfare Fund paying only one per cent annual interest instead of the long term bond rate of between 6 per cent and 7 per cent per annum. It is fleecing the taxpayers who contributed the money of between$23m and$27minterest each year. That money was raised by the Australian public under the impression that it was to be used to provide increased benefits for them.
The most important point about the Government is what it has not done. It has not touched child endowment, the unemployment benefit or the funeral benefit. It has not touched a whole range of important areas which affect people’s living standards, but most importantly of all it fails to concede that what is really needed in our community today is a comprehensive national system of social security in which the benefits paid are above the poverty level and tied to an index so that they are adjusted at least annually. The Australian Labor Party is committed to that and to national health insurance, national superannuation, national compensation and a guaranteedincome to cover all the other forms of social security benefits. It is committed also to absorbing those benefits which are inadequately provided by the States at the present time. Finally, we commit ourselves to developing welfare services in the community, because money alone is no answer to the big welfare needs of Australia at the present time.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
– by leave - I wish to correct a statement I made this morning about a Bermudan corporation, in answer to a question asked by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). I said then that I had heard the name of the corporation to which the honourable member referred but I had not had any papers submitted to me on the matter. Certainly I have not had anything submitted to me recently, but on 17th April I did receive a minute from the Treasury informing me that both the
Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Australia recommended approval of the application submitted by the corporation, and subsequently the application was agreed to. I confirm also that I will write a letter to the honourable gentleman who asked the question setting out most of the details of the matter.
Sitting suspended from 1.3 to 2.15 p.m.
– I listened with some interest to the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) replying to the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) who introduced the Social Services Bill (No. 4) 1972 in the House this morning. I was surprised to find that the honourable member for Oxley spent his first 15 minutes talking about anything but the provisions of the Bill. He talked on about the economy and unemployment but did not have one word of praise or respect for the provisions of the Bill. He paid scant attention to what most people believe are giant steps forward in the whole social service structure of Australia. He said that the Government had done little or nothing regarding social services since it had taken over from the Labor Party in 1949. Obviously he has not seen a booklet entitled ‘Developments in Social Services Between 1949 and 1972’ which has been produced by the Minister for Social Services. I commend it to him. It shows what has been achieved since the last Labor government was driven from office in 1949.
The honourable member for Oxley praised the situation in Denmark and said that Danes who came to Australia found that social services here are not as good as those enjoyed in Denmark. I was in Denmark last year and I was surprised at the number of young people who told me that they wanted to migrate to Australia. I spoke to each of these people in turn and asked, if they had such a wonderful setup of social security in Denmark, why they wanted to migrate to Australia. The answer was always the same; that the whole of their incentive was being crippled by taxation. Young men who went to work were unable to make ends meet because they had to finance this social security system which, even then, they had doubts about.
The honourable member for Oxley talked about the pension being below the poverty line. As honourable members know Professor Henderson, in 1966, set out what he considered to be the poverty line. This has since been updated. Let us now compare present pensions with’ this updated Henderson poverty line. For a single male paying rent the poverty line is $23.33 a week, as adjusted to Professor Henderson’s figures. However, the single male pensioner paying rent receives $24 a week. For the single female paying rent the poverty line is $21.71 a week. The pension for a single female who is paying rent is $24 a week. For a married couple paying rent the poverty line is $30.98; the equivalent social service benefit is $38.50- well in advance of the poverty line. For a widow with one child the poverty line is $29.34; the actual social service benefit received is $35. For a widow with 2 children the poverty line is $38.79; and the social services pension $40.50. For a widow with 3 children the poverty line is $45.49; the actual social service receipt is $47. The only case where there is a discrepancy is for a widow with no children - the poverty line is $23 and the actual social service receipt is $21.25. These figures give the lie to the statement of the honourable member for Oxley that pensions are below the poverty line. As I have just demonstrated very clearly, they are not. The social service pension in every case except that of a widow with no children - who could probably go to work anyway - is well over the poverty line.
In its policy the Labor Party said that it would abolish the means test within the life of 2 Parliaments. Since the Government has said that it will abolish it within 3 years and, if possible, in even less time, the Labor Party has switched around and said that it, too, will abolish the means test within 3 years. I do not know what this alteration will do to the 5-year plan for a superannuation scheme of the honourable member for Oxley if the Australian Labor Party get into office. When the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) introduced the Budget on 15th August last he stated that it was geared to achieve social and economic goals of significance to all Australians and particularly to families. We had, I think, all expected a good Budget, one that would stimulate the economy and assist those in need. We certainly were not disappointed. This Bill gives effect to the increases in social service pensions and the widening of the means test outlined by the Treasurer in his Budget Speech.
Since the McMahon Government came to office some 18 months ago pensions have been increased on 4; separate occasions, with the result that the rate of the single pension has increased by $4.50 a week to $20 a week in that time. The rate of a married pensioner couple has increased by $7 a week to $34.50. This is a percentage increase of 29 per cent for single pensioners and more than 25 per cent for a married pensioner couple. It has far outstripped the rise in the cost of living,’ which. has been 8 per cent during the same period. In addition, pensioners paying rent now receive additional assistance amounting to $4 a week. When one adds to these amounts the fringe benefits which are estimated at somewhere between $5 and $6 per week one sees that the financial position of the. pensioner has been improved considerably. In fact, since the Liberal-Country Party Government first came to office in .1949 the purchasing power of the pensioner has doubled; and this is as it should be. This trend must be continued. In an affluent society such as ours we should be able to see that those who have, during their lifetime, contributed to the wealth and development, of Australia can live out their lives in dignity and comfort in their twilight years.
– Oh! You are a hypocrite.
– The honourable member might think, of course, that they should not, but this is the difference between the policies of the Labor Party and the Government. A lot still remains to be done in this regard. There are limited resources and there are limitless needs. We must always endeavour to bridge that gap.
The appointment by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) of Professor Henderson to inquire into all aspects of poverty in the community should highlight the areas of greatest need and be a great guide to future governments as to where our limited resources should be directed. It is probably not widely realised that out of the 13 million people living in Australia somewhat fewer than 4 million are taxpayers. This means that roughly one-third of the population must support the other two-thirds. In the past, however, there have been those who, in order not to be a burden on the community in their old age, have joined superannuation schemes and have gone without some of the pleasures and comforts of life so that they would have an income in their old age. However, due to the inflationary forces apparent in economics on a world scale, these people have found that their resources are inadequate to cater for their meagre needs. In many cases those who found themselves ineligible for a pension because their income was just outside the means test, were worse off than some pensioners who, in addition of course, receive medical and other fringe benefits. These people have become our genteel poor - those who have watched their fixed incomes dwindle with every price rise. These are the former hard working citizens of our community - people who have never in the past made great demands upon the nation’s resources, but who now find themselves, through no fault of their own, on the poverty line. They have been too proud to seek voluntary assistance and have been unable to obtain government assistance - assistance which should rightly be theirs. There are many such people in my electorate of Deakin.
In this Budget the Government has recognised the plight of these people and has announced that the means test will again be substantially liberalised and that it will be completely abolished within 3 years. The Prime Minister has said that the Government may well be able to abolish the means test within a much shorter period. This liberalisation of the means test means that a single pensioner with property valued at less than $420 may have a private income of $20 a week and still receive the full pension of $20, making a total income of $40. Some pension will still be payable until his income reaches $60 a week, or married couples some pension will be paid until their combined income reaches $103.50 a week. There are some working men who have to raise families and pay off their homes on less.
In addition, the Government will set up an inquiry to make recommendations regarding a national superannuation scheme. I am one who has long advocated such a scheme to which all will contribute and from which all will benefit, not as charity but as of right. Such a scheme would encourage thrift, self-help and selfreliance in the community. It would also mean the retention of dignity on the part of the pensioner. Successive governments have for years endeavoured to find a way to do justice to the needs of pensioners and at the same time provide a national retiring allowance on a basis satisfactory to all and one which suits Australia’s national needs. The Government has set out in this Budget to eliminate the financial worries of our elderly. Age brings enough burdens on its own - physical weakness, loneliness due to the passing of old friends, the inability to do physically what one once did and the various phychological problems associated with ageing. The Government has done much to overcome these problems. Last Monday the Minister for Social Services came to my electorate of Deakin and together we visited, among other places, 3 aged people’s homes, ‘Strathdon’, a Presbyterian home, ‘Annesley’, a Methodist home and ‘Lakeside Lodge’ a home for the aged deaf opened only the previous day. At Annesley’ we dined and chatted with those who reside there. In all these homes it was most exhilarating to see how happy these people were. They all had a vital interest in life. As more and more homes for the aged are built and as the hostels for the aged come into being as a result of this Government’s policy, more and more people will spend their later years in these happy surroundings.
I cannot pay enough tribute to the present Minister for Social Services. He is a man of compassion with a driving zeal to achieve happiness and security for those in the community for whom we have a special responsibility. The Australian people are fortunate that we have such a man in this Government. Yesterday at question time in reply to a question asked by me, he revealed that his Department had produced pamphlets in various languages so that all people would be aware of their social service entitlement. I congratulate the Minister on this move. We, as a Government, want everyone in this community who is entitled to a pension to know what his entitlement is.
– I’ll bet you do.
– Is the honourable member for Robertson suggesting that he does not? In commercial terms social welfare is the largest service industry in Australia. Expenditure on Commonwealth financed social security, health and housing is in excess of $l,900m a year. This amount is exceeded in the Commonwealth Budget only by grants to the States. Expenditure by State and local governments and voluntary agencies adds another $400m to the nation’s health and welfare bill. This is a gigantic sum in any man’s language. The present provisions have grown in a haphazard manner over the past 70 years but it is obvious from the action of the present Government in deciding to abolish the means test in the near future that the winds of change are blowing to usher in a complete reshaping of our social service structure. The early introduction in Australia of some form of contributory national superannuation with a base rate pension which bears an adequate relationship to previous earnings is urgently needed. I welcome the steps that the Government has taken in this direction. This Budget has been one of understanding and compassion, not just for the noisy and the clamorous but also for that silent majority to which we have an obligation and which seldom complains. This Government certainly does care for these people. I congratulate the Minister on the steps taken in this Bill and on behalf of the elderly people in my electorate of Deakin thank him for all he is doing to improve the lot of those passing along the dimly lit corridors of old age.
– The Social Services Bill 1972 will be known as the Bill which skimmed off the cream and left the milk to curdle. While there are riches on the top it rides on an incessant cesspool of unattended poverty and deprivation. I will show some of the deficiencies of the legislation and some of the matters that have not been emphasised by the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) who has just resumed his seat. It is fair to say that the social services structure of this country is a mosaic of ideological fragmentation. It involves in my view electioneering in inequity. The free of means test pension will prove to be a mirage for tens of thousands of people, an elusive aspiration for lots of needy Australians. The much vaunted means test free pension is intended only for persons 65 years and over. This is not a fact that is emphasised over much in the speeches of Government supporters. I want the House to have some regard for the enormous number and considerable variety of excluded categories which will nol benefit and the fact that there will be driven into the ranks of social service recipients a state of privilege which will be enjoyed by some and denied to others. Before anybody disagrees with that contention let me put to the House that under the scheme which has been outlined by the . Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) when presenting this Bill, the women, who retire at 60 years of age will not benefit from this means test free pension for some 5 years of their pension life. Why is it that men at their standard retiring age of 65 will qualify for this means test free pension while this traditional discriminatory attitude which has always characterised this Government bears so heavily upon women. For 5 years of their retirement women will be deprived of the benefits of this means test free pension which is only, available to people 65 years and over. Let us look at the plight of the widows of this country who are to receive under the provisions of this Bill a pension which will be less than that provided for aged pensioners. In a recent annual report of the Department of Social Services I read that there were som i 90,399 widows in Australia, of whom 47,146 were class A widows and some 43,000 class B widows. The class A widows are the ones with dependant children. Each of those categories of widows will receive an inadequate pension to start with. It is an unfortunate fact, and an unprincipled approach to the whole matter, that widows will be subjected to this means test.
These people who are to be thrown into this despairing state often would like to lift their standards of living and the standards which their children should enjoy. They are prepared to go out to work but this Government has decided to hobble them and as a result we find another area of discrimination and deprivation.
Then we can think in terms of exservicemen. Although they are not directly
Covered by this legislation the Minister knows that they are linked to it I am speaking especially of the service pensioner who goes into retirement at 60 years of age and who has to wait 5 years before he or she qualifies for a pension free of means test which is available only to people of 65 years of age or over. Also there is the exservice woman who applies for a service pen. sion at 55 years of age. Such a person has to wait for’ 10 long years to be able to qualify for a pension free df the means test. It does not matter whether these people are Widows, ex-servicemen, ex-service women or invalids. It does not matter whether, if they benefit from an estate, they are unable to earn a living. The fact of the matter is that if they derive some additional assets by virtue of a legacy or estate they will be placed in a different position, substandard to the position of other pensioners. Therefore I do not believe this to be a very high principled proposal in many respects. There are 20 countries that already provide pensions without a means test. Australia is to have only a partial pension arrangement free of the means test.
There are so many other disabilities about our social services system. For example, the portability of pensions is not referred to in the Minister’s second reading speech. Quite a number of countries have pension portability. Indeed, I can recall 10 who have this arrangement. Australia is to have a reciprocal arrangement with but 2 countries in it - Australia and New Zealand. In addition to that, a number of countries have been able to relate their pensions to an index system; but Australia has never aspired to that idealistic arrangement.
I would like to outline to the House the proposals that are encompassed in this legislation. Firstly it is intended to raise the age and invalid pensions payable to single pensioners and to widows with children by $1.75 to $20 a week. This is an improvement on an unsatisfactory situation. The married rate of pension is to be lifted by $2.50 a week raising the maximum weekly payment to $34.50. This amount is $8.50 below the updated poverty line of $43 for a pensioner which was set by Professor Henderson. Can anyone on tho Government side be proud of that situation?
Under this legislation widows without children are to receive an increase of SI -25 a week to a new maximum rate of $17.25 - not $20, as is the case for an age pensioner. A person in this category will receive $2.75 a week less than the amount which will be given to a single age pensioner. What is the reason for that kind of discrimination? A widow in this category might live side by side with a single pensioner; yet this Government considers it fair and reasonable that she should receive $2.75 a week less. What is the position concerning the wife of a pensioner? The glaring anomaly which arose in this case at least has been redressed belatedly, although not completely. Th: non-pensioner wife of a pensioner husband is now to receive a pension at the married rate. Such a couple up to this time have been living on $18.25 a week which has hardly been a bonanza weekly income for 2 people.
The supplementary pension, commonly known as the rent allowance, of $2 a week for single pensioners is now to be doubled and extended to married pensioners paying rent. But still no aid is being given to pensioners, single or married who are dissipating their meagre income by paying off a home. If it is reasonable to think of the plight of a pensioner whose standard of living is reduced by the outgoing of weekly rent it is certainly reasonable to consider those whose standard of living is adversely affected by the commitment of having to pay off a home. To many of these people it is a case of paying off a house or losing it. In some situations it is a case of paying off a house and starving. This Government has not worried too much about the dilemma with which such people are confronted.
Let me refer now to the long term sickness benefit. This benefit, which is extended to persons suffering long term loss of employment through sickness at last has been raised so that the rate for the adult or married minor recipient is to be $20 a week. That is an improvement. Yet how does the Minister justify the fact that the spouse of the recipient is still to receive but $8 a week, making a total of $28 a week. How is a couple to live for a considerable time - at least 6 weeks, which is the minimum qualifying period - on $28 a week, not $34.50 a week which is paid under the legislation to a pensioner couple who mightlive next door and go to the same butcher, baker and candlestick maker. One couple would receive$6.50 a week less than the other.
– With the rental allowance considered it is $10.50 less.
– That is true. I have outlined the range of benefits set out in the legislation. I would now like to draw some conclusions. Firstly I want to deal with the rates paid to age and invalid pensioners and the relationship that they have to average male earnings. In this connection I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows the relationship of pensions to average earnings over a considerable period of years.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– For a long time the Australian Labor Party has been committed to lifting the basic pension rate to 25 per cent of average male earnings. Already there are 9 countries which are tied to an index system. Those countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Holland, Sweden, West Germany and Norway. For some unaccountable reason we are now content to be second best in a field of social services where once we used to be the best. Why cannot we tie our whole range of social services - not just the age, invalid or widow’s pensions - to an index system? Why cannot we get away from this political auction mart where this matter seems to gain great stimulation in the period preceding every election? Why cannot we have an automatic adjustment system which is based on statistics, facts and equity and which basically emanates from the fountain of human compassion and decency? This would be the most simple way to approach lt. Yet this Government has for so long turned its eye away from that obvious approach to the social welfare structure.
A basic pension rate of 25 per cent of average male earnings, as the Labor Party advocates, was in fact paid to pensioners more than 3 decades ago in this country. That rate is not being paid today. The rate has fallen considerably; it has been below 20 per cent of average earnings over most of the last 20 years. In only 2 of the last 22 years has the married pensioner rate as a proportion of average weekly earnings fallen below what it will be this year. The table that I have incorporated in Hansard indicates that fact. According to the Budget, average weekly earnings have risen over the previous year by 9 per cent and stand today at $101.60. Married pensioners are to receive $17.25 a week and this amount represents 17 per cent of that average weekly earning level of $101.60. For 14 years to 1964 the percentage never fell below 20.4 per cent. In fact, it reached a peak of 22.2 per cent in 1957-58. The married rate fell in October 1964 to 19.9 per cent of average weekly earnings. It has declined steadily since then to a trough, an all-time low, in 1970-71 of 16.2 per cent and it now stands at the mediocre level of 17 per cent, not the 22.2 per cent it was some years ago.
Similarly pensions for single pensioners have been affected. Almost the same pattern has been followed with these people. Under this Bill the single pension will be $20 a week or 19 per cent of the average weekly earnings rate of $101. 60c. It has been a smaller proportion only in the 2 preceding years- 1970-71 and 1971-72. The figures I quote are indisputable; they derive from the Legislative Research Service, which acknowledges the data source as the Budget Papers 1972-73, the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics and the DirectorGeneral of Social Services. These tables are now, by courtesy of the Minister, incorporated in Hansard for all people to observe the tragedy that in 1972 the Government is proposing a rate of pension which is a much smaller proportion of average weekly earnings than has been the case for most of the last 20 years or so.
What would be the position under a Labor government in terms of the commitment we have made to raise pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings? At that rate the single pensioner would receive a pension of $25.40 a week - an increase in the fortnightly cheque of $10.80. We will have no truck with the cynical, if not contemptible, practice of playing with pensions for election purposes. Consistently and over a long period the Labor Party has proposed that the 25 per cent proportion should be set and that pensions should be adjusted automatically at regular periods according to movements in the Statistician’s index of average weekly earnings. As national prosperity rises, as shown by improvements in gross national product, it should be possible under a Labor government to lift the proportion of average weekly earnings to be given to pensioners with the aim of achieving a level of 30 per cent of average weekly earnings probably by the end of the present decade.
Many matters are left unattended in the Budget. This is the matter that gives me great concern. The Government has picked the eyes out of the social services spectrum to tantalise the electors in the near future.
– And so has embarrassed the Labor Party.
– If the honourable member is not embarrassed by the fact that there has not been a proportionate increase for all pensioners and dependants, I think it is regrettable that he lacks that sensitivity. The fact of the matter is that the guardian’s allowance payable to a pensioner with a child under 6 years or an invalid child requiring full-time care remains at $6 a week. There has been no extra consideration for these people, who are denied the right to work and so to take advantage of the easing of the means test because they have to stay at home and look after the little child or invalid child. The widow’s children’s allowances remain the same - $6 in some cases. The mother’s allowance for children apart from the very young ones or the invalid ones remains unchanged at $4. The allowance for each dependant child stays at $4.50.
I deal next with long term sickness benefits. While the adult or married minor is to get at $1.75 rise, his spouse continues to receive only $8 a week. The allowance for each child remains unchanged at $4.50. The same applies to unemployment and sickness benefits. There is no change. The rates of benefit are $17 a week for an adult or married minor, $8 for a spouse, $4.50 for each child under 16 years, and so they go on through the range of social service benefits affecting the family. The maternity allowance for the first child is $30. It has been that amount for many years. The allowance is $32 for the second child and $35 for subsequent children. There is no movement in those allowances in this Budget. Child endowment has been ignored. Back in 1949-50 child endowment was paid at the rate of $2.50 for 3 children, which represented 18.05 per cent of average weekly earnings. The amount payable now is $3.50, and that represents only 6.3 per cent of average weekly earnings.
So, we find enormous discrimination between the pensioners of our country and the recipients of social service benefits generally. In my view the Social Services Bill brought down by this Government represents no signpost for the future. It provides no blueprint for equitable, fair and just arrangements. It will leave in its wake and as a legacy an enormous number of people who will have to live at standards which reflect on the Government that has prevailed for so long and which, through the Government, reflect on the people of the country at large. Accordingly, the Labor Party will take the first opportunity to update all social services to a level which will have regard to the needs of the people and will ensure that automatic adjustments are made.
Mi DEPOTS SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I support the motion and oppose the amendment. The nation, almost without exception, through the mass media and the commentators, has agreed that a tremendous and virile change has taken place in our social service benefits. Yet the Opposition’s amendment reflects a niggardly and dog in the manger attitude. It would have been all very well if members of the Opposition had said: ‘This has been done remarkably well. It has produced a number of changes that the whole nation wants to see*. They then could have gone ahead and spoken about nationalisation and the comprehensive national system of social security that only a socialist government could devise. But, to listen to the spokesman for the Opposition in this field, the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), one would imagine that there was not tha picture that can be seen by anyone who has eyes to see, but something that was parsimonious and indeed discriminatory against large sections of the community.
For instance, let me just take his opening plea that there had been ‘no fundamental change in the Government’s approach to social services in over 2 decades’. Let me quickly run through just a few of the changes that have taken place in over 2 decades. Take, for instance, the Government’s concern for Aboriginal people. The amount to be spent this year on Aboriginal welfare is up 70 per cent to $53m. That is being spent on a total population, full blood and otherwise, of 150,000 or less. Accommodation for disabled persons is a new area into which the Government has injected a subsidy at the rate of $2 for every $1 provided for sheltered workshops and the like. The whole field of age pensions has been transformed from one in which pensions were regarded as an emergency measure to help out those in indigent circumstances to one that provides something well and truly comparable with the requirements for retirement. The Government has indicated that it has taken into account Professor Henderson’s delineation of a poverty line and has sought to bring all persons in the nation, by pension means or otherwise, above that poverty line. We have seen the pensions for aged persons rise from $4.25 a week in 1945 to $20 a week, that is the standard rate, in 1972. The Government also has revolutionised the field of aged persons homes, as anyone visiting homes for the aged must see, by giving subsidy in that field.
The allowance for wives of pensioners has risen in times past under this Government from $3 a week to $8 a week. Now it is to be replaced by a pension of the order of $17.25 a week as a maximum for wives of pensioners. This of course is a tremendous step ahead, as anyone who has worked in this field will realise. We have seen the allowance for each dependent child rise from $1.15 to the present amount of $4.50 a week. The age at which student children may still be regarded as dependent has been increased from 16 to 21 years. We have seen in recent times the Delivered Meals Sudsidy Act to subsidise meals on wheels for persons confined to their own homes. Significant fringe benefits have been introduced in addition to all the things I have mentioned. I refer to such benefits as the pensioner medical service, the radio and television licence concessions that have been granted, the special telephone rentals that apply and the hearing aids that are supplied as necessary. Funeral benefits are to bo increased. The assistance provided for handicapped children will be increased by the same type of $2 for $1 subsidy as is used for capital development. Income tax concessions for aged persons once again have been revolutionised, and today a single aged person on a pension will pay no tax if his income is equal to or less than $1,326 per annum or, in the case of a married couple, if their combined income is equal to or less than $2,314.
I could go on to mention the other fields and the way in which this Government has revolutionised - I use the word deliberately - the prospects of persons relying upon social services. The guardian’s allowance will be increased to $6 a week. Mental hospital patients who at one time were regarded as entirely within the province of the States now are able to look forward to receiving up to 12 weeks pension paid on their discharge. We have taken a new attitude to nationality so that there is now no discrimination against aliens who have qualified for pensions by residence; the residential qualification period has been reduced from 20 years to 10 years. Are these ‘no fundamental changes’ over the last 2 decades? What about the special payment which is paid to a surviving pensioner after the death of his or her spouse, where now up to 12 weeks pension at the double rate will be continued to soften that period of shock and economic setback. Other improvements concern the supplementary assistance and the provision for persons who are temporarily absent from Australia, which has been increased so that when they return from overseas they may look forward to receiving up to 30 weeks pension. Of great interest to persons who come to Australia from other countries and spend their work ing lives here and wish to return to their old countries to pass there remaining years of life is the provision being made for the portability of pensions. After fulfilling a residential requirement, these persons will be able to return to their homelands - the lands of their birth - and will enjoy the receipt of a pension that has been earned in Australia.
I will not go on with benefit after benefit that has been introduced by this Government because I believe that the nation knows, understands and appreciates that the Government is not just tinkering with this matter as the honourable member for Oxley said. There is a wide, comprehensive spectrum of careful thought and planning that has gone into the whole matter of establishing the width of our social service benefits. Then, too, we heard the honourable member for Oxley talking about unemployment benefits and he made great play in 2 areas. Firstly, he said that the unemployed benefit of $17 a week is only 20 per cent of the present average weekly earnings. Of course, what he did not say was that by contrast, in the majority of cases, where there is a husband and wife to be taken into consideration, standard married rate of old age pension or $34.50 a week is equal to or greater than half of the average minimum award wage in the nation. This begins to look something like a payment that is in keeping with retirement, and for which, I remind honourable members and all who may be listening, as yet in Australia there is no contributory payment made. So it is completely misleading to compare this nation and what it does through its social services with those compulsory contributions that are exacted in so many countries with which we are compared, allegedly to our disadvantage.
Let me give one example of this. The honourable member for Oxley quoted to us the case of the Danish people. As the Adelaide ‘Advertiser’ of 1st lune this year stated, over recent years some 18,000 Danish migrants have come to this country. Something like 16.3 per cent have returned to their home country. We heard the story of the ‘melancholy Danes’, to quote the headline, who were returning because they were dissatisfied with the level at which social service provisions Were made for them. The honourable member for Oxley might well have quoted also from the Advertiser’ of some 2 months later. Let me quote to honourable members what the Adelaide ‘Advertiser’ had to say on 16th August, immediately after the Budget was introduced. The article began with the words: ‘Ir*s a supercharged Budget’. The article continued:
Most people expected a big effort to improve the Government’s standing. Their hopes have been surpassed … it will attract wide interest and support.
The article continues:
One of the most obvious weaknesses in the economy, however, has been the lag in consumer spending. . . . the Treasurer chose the most direct and probably most widely acceptable way of aiding Industry and speeding expansion - by increasing the spending power of consumers.
Of course, this was the kind of comment that did not fit the Opposition’s case, and so was neglected and was completely lost to the audience of the honourable member for Oxley when he spoke.
The honourable member for Oxley went on to talk about unemployment benefits as still being below the poverty level and he devoted a large part of what he had to say to, in effect, an innuendo that the Government was somehow deliberately keeping down payments to unemployed people so that they must live at a low level at which it was desirable in the Government’s eyes to see people subsist. I personally resent this statement and its implications. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that any government, particularly in an election year, would deliberately go out of its way to see that there was a large repository of unemployed. Indeed, this contradicts the very obvious strategy of members of the Opposition, who appear to me to be smiling from ear to ear whenever the figures for unemployment rise.
The fact remains that while there are so many tears shed with regard to the unemployed - we heard them referred to by the honourable member for Oxley as unfortunate wretches - one wonders how much persons like Mr Hawke lose from their weekly pay packets when he and his men put striking men on the dole. We find that persons who are not in receipt of earnings and who are required to go on to unemployment benefit, as a result of both political and industrial strikes, are reduced in terms of their income. These are the matters that were produced for our edifica tion by the honourable member for Oxley. He referred to the way in which he believed the Government - to use his own words - has failed to control inflation’. If there is one field in which I believe the Government ought to have some room for pride it is this very field. The Government has had success in dealing with inflation.
I have in my hand a table from the journal of the First National City Bank in the United States setting out the depreciation of money as the pace of inflation quickens across the world. There are tables for both industrialised and less developed countries, and the changes in the cost of living around the world are set out in tabular form, starting with the country whose economy has been depreciated least by inflation over the decade from 1960 to 1970. The country that comes second on that list with a 2.4 per cent decrease in the value of its money because of inflation is Australia. Greece is first on this list with a 2.1 per cent depreciation over the decade, Australia is second with a figure of 2.4 per cent and it is not far down the list that the figures reach 4 per cent, 5 per cent and, indeed, 6 per cent among industrialised countries.
During the last year for which the record exists, 1971, the percentage depreciation of money in Australia due to inflation is set down as 4.7 per cent. South Africa is shown as having a figure of 5 per cent. Germany had a 4.4 per cent depreciation and the United States had the same percentage. Switzerland had 6.1 per cent, New Zealand 9.7 per cent, Italy 5 per cent, France 4.8 per ce.nt, Sweden 7.2 per cent, the United Kingdom 8.4 per cent, Japan 6.2 per cent and Denmark which has been quoted had 5.1 per cent. In that company of developed countries Australia’s position is enviable. This completely belies the charge, that was levelled against the Government that it had failed to control inflation. Of course, it has not been totally controlled. Much more needs to be done, but the Government should not be unduly humble about its performance.
I want to conclude my remarks by talking about one aspect of the Budget - particularly of the social services field - that has gratified me personally. I refer to the way in which inroads have been made into the means test so that it is certain that in 3 years it will be completely eradicated. As honourable members know, it has long been a theme on which I have been vocal. I can only say how delighted I am to see that the penalty on thrift or what I once called the mad, mad arithmetic of the means test is soon to be no more. I am somewhat sorry to see that it will be impossible for the actual adjustments of pension rates for superannuated persons to be made before Christmas even if they are to be back dated, which I welcome. When I listened to the Budget Speech I did not imagine that there would be such a complex provision as actuarial determinations based on life expectation. I am afraid that I made some wrong interpretations at the time. T am sure that many pensioners will be as confused as I was at that point.
I congratulate the Minister however because he has found it possible to give us ready reckoners and tables to enable us to explain the true situation to our constituents. It is particularly necessary for all of us who are responsible persons in this House to see that superannuated persons, particularly those who will become eligible for the first time, make their application as soon as possible so that the pensions granted to them may be dated from the time of application after the provisions come into force. That is something which I trust all persons receiving superannuation will attend to. Even if they are doubtful whether they are eligible to receive this new benefit, all aged persons - men over 65 years, servicemen over 60 and women over 60 - should make application for this new benefit in social service pensions if they are in receipt of superannuation payments, because the amounts are. quite large. Persons receiving superannuation and who are not at present receiving a social service pension should apply, particularly if with no other assessable property or income they receive superannuation which, in the case of a single person, amounts to $3,690 a year or $70 a week or, in the case of a married couple even if their income from superannuation being the only source of their income is $6,500 a year or $125 a week. That is computed on the scale for persons aged 65.
In the case of persons who are older than the minimum pensionable ages this income will be larger. For example, at age 77, for a married man with no assessable means other an superannuation, this table shows that he would be able to receive superannuation benefits up to $10,404 a year or $200 a week. In the case of a single man he could receive up to $5,900 a year or $113 a week and still receive some pension. Therefore, I believe it is important that people make application as soon as possible because as the person’s age increases so the percentage deducted from his pension because of superannuation receipts, reduces. At age 65 some 80 per cent of the property value is taken off in terms of the means test. This diminishes to 67 per cent at age 70 and to 55 per cent at age 75. It is halved at age 77, and at age 80 it is down to 43 per cent. So the total receipts of eligible and aged superannuated persons will increase with their age - this is as it should be - as they become less and less able to Fend for themselves. I conclude as I began, by saying that this is an exciting Budget. It has brought revolutionary changes to the complete concept of social service benefits in this nation. I most heartily congratulate, the Minister on his achievement.
-I have to inform the House that His Excellency Mr Naka Funada, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Diet of Japan, is within the precinct’s. With the concurrence of honourable members, 1 propose to provide him with a seat on the floor of the House.
Honourable members - Hear, hear! (Mr Funada thereupon entered the chamber, and was seated accordingly.)
-I desire to inform the House that His Excellency Mr Naka Funada is leading a delegation from the Diet of Japan. Members of the delegation are present in the Speaker’s Gallery. On behalf of honourable members I extend to them a warm welcome.
Honourable members - Hear, hear!
SOCIAL SERVICES BILL (No. 4) 1972 (Second Reading)
– I join with all other honourable members in this House in expressing a very warm welcome to our distinguished visitors from Japan. If the Minister for the Navy (Dr Mackay) was confused about the treatment of superannuation in the new means test, he can imagine what confusion it will cause to the many elderly people in the community who have to make application for pensions. Apart from these further contributions to confusion, great confusion already exists in our social service laws. I think that lends significance to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) which states:
While not opposing the Bill, the House is of opinion that the only satisfactory way to provide social services benefits is through a comprehensive national system of social security where benefits are above the poverty level and tied to an index adjusted at least annually.
We have a proposal before the Parliament at present for a poverty survey. I remember interjecting - I suppose I was out of order - at the time the announcement was made: ‘What a commentary. What a trenchant commentary this is on 23 years of Liberal-Country Party Government that we should be organising a national poverty survey in an affluent country such as Australia*. In my view and in the view of my colleagues, the poverty survey is not wide enough to encompass the sort of thing to which this Bill refers. It is not wide enough to meet the wishes of the Council for Social Welfare which has ardently sought a comprehensive survey into social services.
I hope that the few words I have to say this afternoon will give a further indication of the lack of comprehensiveness and co-ordination that exists within our social services law.% One of the principal items mentioned in the Bill is the proposal to abolish the means test and the measures that are being taken in the Bill to that effect. In my view, the Government is entitled to take credit for the measure. I, along with other honourable members from this side of the House, have been calling for this for as long as we have been in Parliament. I am reminded that it was my distinguished predecessor in the electorate of Barton, the late Dr Evatt, who in 1954 made an appeal to the Australian public for support to abolish the means test within 3 years. On that occasion Dr Evatt and the Labor Party were very nearly successful. Just a matter of a few votes in a few different electorates made all the difference between implementation of his promise and this long delay. Many people in retirement will now have cause for regret because the means test could have been abolished by 1957. It would have been abolished 15 years ago if the Labor Party had received just a little extra support back in 1954. The Government now proposes the abolition of the means test within 3 years. This coincides with the promise made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam).
– But he made it subsequently.
– If you are to go into that, the Leader of the Opposidid say 3 years ago that we would abolish it within 6 years; so this is consistent with the proposal on that occasion. If you are going to quote any changes in plans then you will have to recognise the vast change in the attitude which has been adopted by this Government. I remember the Prime Minister, once removed, having said that he was ardently opposed to abolition of the means test and that a lot more attention should be given to those people on the lower rungs of social welfare.
– Who said that?
– That was the view of the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton). If we are going to talk about a change in attitude, let us be consistent.
– Menzies promised to abolish it in 1949.
– I am reminded by the honourable member for Fremantle that when Sir Robert Menzies was the Prime Minister he made this promise in 1949. When he came into office he said he would introduce a national superannuation scheme within, I think, the first 3 years of office. It seems to me to be rather ironic that here we aTe now about to abolish the means test, 23 years after this Government came into office, just on the eve of its departure from office. Even now the proposals made in connection with the means test exclude very important sections of our people. The proposals will not provide for invalid pensioners. Presumably the means test with all its provisions will still be imposed upon invalids, upon class A and class B widows and on service pensioners who are entitled to a pension at 60 years of age. Presumably service pensioners will not be exempt from the application of the means test until they reach the age of 65 despite the fact that they get a pension at 60 years of age because their assumed life expectation is 5 years shorter on an average than it would have been if they had not been in war service. Then there are all the female age pensioners between the ages of 60 and 65. There is a very large group of them. They also will be excluded from the Government’s proposal to abolish the means test.
One other significant factor connected with the alleviation of the means test and the Government’s proposal is that there will be no relaxation in respect of the various concessions. Most honourable members who have to deal with people in retirement know that the pensioner medical service and all the other concessions that are associated with it are very much prized by people in retirement. If there is one thing that worries elderly people more than any other it is the worry of the insecurity caused by possible long term sickness and all its attendant medical costs. For that reason I have seen pensioners prepared to spend quite a lot of money, inadvisedly in my own view, in order to get within the provisions of the means test as it applies to the pensioner medical service. It has always seemed to me to be a very harsh kind of means test. It means that any single pensioner who is in receipt of $30 a week or more in means as assessed will miss out on all the concessions. A difference of 10c can mean that a pensioner is eligible for the pensioner medical service, transport concessions, municipal rate concessions - I am talking about New South Wales now, the State which I know best - water rate concessions, telephone rental concessions and the radiotelevision licence concession. All those concessions are available to a person whose means as assessed in the case of a single person are $29.90 a week. But a person on $30 a week - just 10c more - receives none of these concessions. That seems an awfully painful and arbitrary decision to make. Likewise it applies in the case of married persons whose means as assessed are $51.50 a week; they lose the lot. But a married couple in receipt of just 10c a week less get all those benefits. This seems to be a grave injustice, in my view.
The proposals relating to superannuation, which I mentioned in my earlier remarks, will be of some use presumably to people on superannuation. I quite frankly have not had time to study it. All I can say is that having had a glance at it it seems to be a very complex measure and if it will be necessary for the Minister for the Navy to refer to a ready reckoner I imagine that most elderly people will need to do more than that in order to judge their eligibility for pensions.
The annual adjustment for the capitalisation of superannuation and annuity payments seems to me to be a complex measure which will only further add to the confusion that exists in the implementation of the means test. I notice that it is not expected to last more than 3 years for those people for whom the means test will be abolished, but presumably all those classes of people to whom I referred a while ago and who will not come within the purview of the abolished means test will have to carry on with all its complexities. That is one other disability that they will have.
I welcome the Government’s measure to extend the pension to the wife of an age or invalid pensioner where the wife herself is not ordinarily eligible for an age or invalid pension. This is something which all of us have pressed for over a number of years. I am glad to see that it has been included in this measure. .Unfortunately there is no provision in this. Bill to establish a stable relationship between pensions and an index of community welfare. The Labor Party, in line with pensioner organisations, supports the view that pensions ought to be tied in a fixed relationship with average weekly earnings in the community. It has been said in the past that they ought to be related to some consumer price index. We think, and so do the pensioners, that it would be better to have pensions related to average weekly earnings because wa feel that this would be a better index of community prosperity. Senior citizens or pensioners ought to be entitled to share in such prosperity as exists in the community. The Labor Party’s solemn pledge is that we will at the outset fix pensions at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings in the community. We will get to that point as soon as it is physically possible to do so and then the pensioners will have some kind of security. This has been done in at least 14 other countries so far as I have been able to ascertain. Countries which have this fixed relationship between pensions and some other index of community prosperity or price costs include Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Uraguay. It ill behoves the Government to rubbish the idea that pensions should have a fixed relationship to some index on the lines which I have suggested.
I make an appeal on behalf of not a lot of people, although there are 43,000 of them and that is a fair number. I appeal to this Government to do something about pensions for class B widows. It seems to me to be totally illogical that we should ask a class B widow to live on $2.75 a week less than she would get if she were 60 years of age. A class B widow is, as honourable members know, a widow between the age of 50 and 59. She gets only the same rate as a married age or invalid pensioner, which is $17.25 a week, but when she turns 60 years of age - possibly her requirements will be less - she will get $2.75 a week more. Another appeal which has been made by widow pensioner associations to various members including myself is for an educational allowance for the children of a class A widow. A class A widow is a widow who has dependent children of school age. These organisations think that a class A widow is just as entitled to an educational allowance for their dependent children as are war widows. We are still lagging behind in the implementation of the promise to introduce portability of pensions. The Minister has said that he is making inquiries and investigations and is conducting negotiations. Long before this the Labor Party would have done something. As I understand it, the Labor Party has promised quite firmly, without waiting for agreements, to make it possible for all citizens who are eligible for pensions in Austrafia to take those pensions abroad to places at which they intend to retire.
Many necessary improvements are not included in the Bill. Time will not permit me to refer to all of them. For example the Bill contains no provision to increase the allowance for dependent children of widow, age ot invalid pensioners. No provision is made to increase the guardian allowance or the allowance to mothers, dependent children of class A widows or long term sickness beneficiaries other than the adult himself. His spouse remains on $8 a week. In other words, a long term sickness beneficiary couple are expected to live on $28 a week. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government was not consistent in this matter. It should have extended to the wife of a long term sickness beneficiary the same benefit as obtains for age and invalid pensioners. Why not give to each of them the married rate pension? I hope that the Minister for Social Services, who is at the table, will take note of my query. The Government has acted inconsistently.
No increase whatsoever is made to the unemployment and short term sickness benefits despite the fact that Australia has one of the highest unemployment levels for many years. The adult unemployment benefit remains at $17 a week and the spouse receives $8 a week. In other words, an unemployed couple is expected to live on $25 a week. No extra payment is to be made for their dependent children. The maternity allowance has not been increased for years. As to child endowment, no increases are to be paid. The payment for the first child remains at 50c a week, for the second child $1 and for the third child $2. ls it any wonder that more and more wives and mothers are forced to join the work force in order to help the family to make ends meet? The funeral allowance is not increased. A short time ago reference was made to the subsidy for Meals on Wheels. Obviously the costs of that organisation have risen and like everybody else it must pay more for foodstuffs. Therefore an increase in the subsidy is warranted.
I turn now to the supplementary assistance provided for pensioners who pay rent. Pensioners who are not paying rent in some cases are up for greater expenditure in paying off their own homes. They do not get any help in this regard. Like the rest of us in the community they are faced by escalating council rates and water board rates. They receive no help from the Commonwealth Government. In some States they are subsidised, in others they are not. In respect of people who receive rent allowance, no taper has been applied. The means test remains unaltered and the permissible amount without interfering with the entitlement for rent allowance remains at $1. There has been no alleviation at all despite the fact, as everybody knows, that rents are escalating in keeping with rising home building costs.
I wish to press another point with the Minister and the Government concerning the required delay of 7 days before sickness or unemployment benefit eligibility is established. I have not heard a cogent reason why the benefit should not be paid for the first 7 days of sickness or unemployment. It simply means that when people come to your office you have to refer them to the State Welfare Branch to get some kind of urgent relief pending the processing of a claim. As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, for the first 14 days of sickness or unemployment these people are on their own. The payment is made retrospective for 7 days but for the other 7 days it seems that they are supposed to live on fresh air.
One of the social service regulations quite frequently comes to my notice. Apparently pensioners who enter a convalescent home are allowed to let their homes for up to 12 months, subject to review at the end of that period. I cannot see anything magical about the period of 12 months. They ought to be allowed to let their homes indefinitely to pay rates and other costs, or not al all. Another important issue 1 would like to discuss relates to the mentally and physically handicapped. The Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare furnished a report on mentally and physically handicapped persons about IS months ago. Twelve months ago it was referred to an interdepartmental committee. This important report dealt with many aspects affecting the administration of several Ministers, not the least of whom is the Minister for Social Services. It dealt with matters such as the registration of the numbers of handicapped persons, their employment, workers compensation, pensioner benefits, tax concessions for the mentally and physically handicapped, and suitable accommodation for them. It also referred to home nursing and domiciliary care amongst its 82 recommendations. Fifteen months later the Government has not seen fit to do anything about implementing the report.
This Bill contains some beneficial provisions that we have been seeking for years but it also has many deficiencies. 1 would have preferred the Government to set up a comprehensive inquiry into the whole sphere of social services as recommended in the amendment moved by the Labor Party.
– This Bill is a major piece of social welfare legislation. It is one of several social welfare measures that are in the process of being passed or have been passed by this Parliament. Measures relating to aged persons homes and hostels have been introduced. Those relating to nursing care and repatriation are still to come. Put together these measures provide outstanding and comprehensive social welfare legislation and they make a broad attack on social welfare problems in this country. It is an indication to the people of Australia that this Government is concerned about social welfare problems and shows them where this Government stands. The Government has thrown out a major challenge to the Labor Party in the field of social welfare. With an election approaching it would have been interesting and valuable not only to this Parliament but also to the people of Australia to be told the exact’ policy of the Labor Party on social welfare. If the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) who is the shadow Minister for Social Services, and the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) who is the shadow Treasurer, got together and coordinated their policies it would be an advantage to the people of Australia. They would have a chance to learn the real policy of the Labor Party; this is not possible from a series of contradictory and uncoordinated statements.
We were told that over a period of 6 years a Labor government would abolish the means test and introduce a national superannuation scheme. Overnight the period was reduced to 3 years, after the Budget was introduced. I think the people of Australia would be interested to learn whether that is the personal opinion of the Leader of the Opposition, as was the case with revaluation. Has Caucus agreed to the change from 6 years to 3 years? Where does that leave the national superannuation scheme? Originally it was to be introduced over a 6-year period. I listened today to the honourable member for Oxley and it seems that the closest we can get to the Labor Party policy is that if it was in office it would hold an inquiry into the possibility of establishing a national superannuation scheme.
It has also been said that the Labor Party would bring about an immediate increase of 25 per cent in the base pension rate. The Leader of the Opposition has also previously promised $100m immediate social welfare advance. The combined cost of those 2 promises is about $220m. That is a considerable increase on the expenditure that is proposed by the Government at the present time. According to the newspapers of last week, if a Labor government came to power there would be no increase in taxation. This aspect of Labor’s policy involves the expenditure of a further $220m, and does not even include the expenditure of the revenue from the 1.35 per cent additional taxation which the Labor Party claims would be necessary to implement its national health scheme. That is an interesting contradiction of the statement of the alternative Prime Minister that Labor would not increase taxation and of the remarks made by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) who evidently believes that to phase in over 6 years Labor’s superannuation and abolition of the means test proposals would require a 2.73 per cent increase in taxation. If these proposals are now to be implemented within 3 years it could mean, on Labor’s own reckoning, an increase in taxation of approximately 5 per cent.
There also are some interesting contradictions in statements made by leading spokesmen for the Labor Party on the question of a national superannuation scheme and tax deductibility on life insurance premiums. It has been implied that if a national superannuation scheme were introduced by a Labor government life insurance premiums would no longer be tax deductible. This is rather interesting in the light of the fact that the Leader of the Opposition a few weeks ago stated that he would channel the investments of insurance companies in Australia into protecting Australian owned companies again foreign takeovers. If life insurance premiums are no longer to be tax deductible, I do not think there will be too much insurance money floating around to prevent these foreign takeovers. These interesting contradictions and unco-ordinated statements make a mockery of the claim made by the honourable member for Oxley in regard to the Minister’s credibility. If anybody’s credibility is at stake on this issue, it is that of the shadow Minister for Social Services. The honourable member for Oxley spoke about on-the-spot decisions. I think the best example one could bring to mind of an on-the-spot decision is the overnight decision of the Leader of the Opposition to reduce from 6 years to 3 years the period in which the means test would be abolished.
Opposition speakers also have criticised what they consider to be an unfair relationship between the class B widow’s pension and the age pension, as if this was something that was introduced by the present Government. I remind honourable members opposite that the Labor Government in 1945 introduced the differential rate between the class B widow’s pension and the age pensions. At that time the class B widow’s pension represented 83 per cent of the age pension. When Labor was removed from office at the end of 1949, the maximum rates for the class B widow’s pension and the age pension were $3.70 and $4.25 per week respectively. This meant that the class B widow’s pension represented 87 per cent of the age pension. With the implementation of this legislation, the position very soon will be that the class B widow’s pension rate will represent 86 per cent of the age pension rate, and that is not taking into consideration the supplementary assistance. If the supplementary assistance is added to this rate, as it should be, the class B widow’s pension rate will be increased to more than 88 per cent of the age pension rate. Obviously this is higher than it was under the Labor Government! So much for the point as to who introduced this differential between these 2 pensions.
I return now to the positive policies of the Government which we are studying under this Bill. I congratulate the Minister for Social Services on his vision, on his untiring work in relation to what must be the greatest range of social services legislation to be introduced into this House in one brief period of time and on the detail into which he goes on this subject. We saw a good example of this just yesterday morning in the pamphlets that are being produced in a whole series of languages so that everybody in Australia will know what his entitlements are under the new social services legislation. There are too many details covered by the legislation to refer to all of them. There is no doubt that the highlights are the major increase in the base rate of pension and the extension of the eligibility provisions so that a pensioner’s wife no longer is debarred, through age, from obtaining the married age pension or the invalid pension, as she was in the past.
Rent assistance has been doubled. Although I think this is a very good move, I agree with those who are critical of the fact that as yet we have not seen our way clear to provide rates assistance. I know of one State that does provide this assistance; perhaps there are others. Not providing this assistance creates anomalies for people who have worked hard, but who are still paying off their own home and paying rates at the same time. They are being debarred from receiving assistance while other people who perhaps are less worthy are obtaining rent assistance. However, the legislation indicates the Government’s concern that those who are in the greatest need should receive the greatest assistance and that this assistance is being increased at a faster rate than the rate at which the cost of living is increasing.
This legislation heralds the beginning of the end of the means test. In fact, it goes a good way towards achieving this objective. I congratulate the Government on this very important milestone. The means test is to be phased out for people over 65 years of age. Already, under the Bill before us the amount that one oan earn in income or have in property is to be doubled before any limitations under the taper, are imposed. This is very welcome news. Under any means test, whether it be a social services means test or an education means test, there are so many anomalies that much injustice is done. People of modest means suffer because of the arbitrary cut-off points in relation to the amount of work that they can do and the amount of income that they can earn when they are anxious to help themselves and remain as independent and as useful as possible.
In rural areas the means test presents special but very real problems. The 2 groups of people who suffer are the farmers and the small businessmen. Under the means as assessed property component of the tapered means test, there is a notional 10 per cent return on property. Quite often the Valuer-General in a particular State will set the value of the property at an artificially high level in relation to the price for which it could be sold. Certainly, what the vast majority of the farming or country town business people could ever hope to obtain as a return on their capital is far less than 10 per cent. This brings with it several problems. These small town business people cannot sell their property because nobody wants to buy such a business. They have this artificially high valuation placed on their property by the Valuer-General; yet they are debarred from obtaining any assistance in the form of the age pension.
The farming people have a real problem as regards the transfer of the family farm from one generation to the next. For a period of time 2 generations are trying to earn a living from the farm, and the hope is that the older generation will retire into the town and become eligible for some form of pension assistance. But, because of this very high value that has been placed on the property and because the cost price squeeze has reduced the profitability of the property, the farm does not provide a living income for 2 generations. Yet the older generation is debarred from receiving any pension assistance. Earlier this afternoon I read the second reading speech made by the then Minister for Social Services, Hon. Hugh Roberton, in 1960, when the merged means test was introduced. There is no doubt that the merged means test - in the meantime the tapered means test has been introduced - was a vast improvement on the situation that applied previously. Once again the present Government is to be congratulated for that.
But we still have this problem with property in relation to the means test. Perhaps this is a little carping because, after all, we have the assurance that the means test will be completely obliterated within the next 2 to 3 years. New Zealand has set an interesting example in this regard. It has cut out the property component of the means test for people between 60 and 65 years of age, and only the income component applies.. Of course, once people reach 65 years of age in New Zealand they have an income tax tested superannuation rather than a means tested age pension. I presume that that is what we will have here. We will cut out all forms of means tests and rely upon income tax, which to me is the fairest and best way to test anything, whether it is in respect of education, social services or anything else in this community. I am confident that the present Minister for Social Services will preside, as T believe he rightly should, over the complete abolition of the means test in Australia. The stage which we have reached with this legislation is a tremendous leap forward to that end. Anything that I have said about problems with the means test in relation to property is not meant to detract from that tremendous leap forward.
The amendment that is before us is delightfully vague. I think that that is the best expression one could use. Probably there is every reason why it should be delightfully vague for, as I pointed out earlier, it could not provide detailed firm policy of the Opposition’s attitudes to social services because the Opposition does not have one. It has a delightful collection of contradictory and unco-ordinated statements. I have very much pleasure in rejecting the amendment, supporting the Bill and congratulating the Minister and the Government.
– I support the amendment which has been moved by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), who is the shadow Minister for Social Services, on behalf of the Labor Party. It states:
That all words after ‘That’ bc omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: while not opposing the Bill the House is of opinion that the only satisfactory way to provide social service benefits is through a comprehensive national system of social security where benefits are above the poverty level and tied to an index adjusted at least annually’.
The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), seems to have some doubt as to how the Australian Labor Party will finance the abolition of the means test, but he raised no doubt about how the Government will do it. All I would submit is that at least both sides are agreed at the moment that abolition will be achieved by 1975.
Apart from the payments which the Commonwealth makes to the States the provision under the National Welfare Fund is the greatest single item in the Commonwealth Budget. This year the payment will exceed S2,077m. In many respects it is a hotchpotch arrangement. Certain things which have grown up have been accepted historically. Certain modifications have been made. But there is no doubt that whatever we do in terms of a national situation at any given moment, those who receive pensions receive cash payments from the revenue without having to perform any work for them. They draw such payments from the productive capacity of the economy and in many respects they do so because of a kind of social contract - that they have wrought in their years of strength to make the economy of the nation what it is and any humane society believes that these people should be provided for adequately when they retire. Grafted on to that sort of attitude is the idea that everybody has an entitlement once he reaches the age of 65 years, or 60 in the case , of ladies, to receive automatically a pension irrespective of means.
Up to dale the means lest has been a fairly efFective barrier designed to reduce the total cost to the community of pension provisions. As the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) knows, it has operated in such a fashion that of every 10 people who qualify by age - ladies over 60 and men over 65 - only 6 receive the pension in whole or in part. The remaining 4 are excluded by the operation of the means test. When we aim to remove the means test we are, in essence, seeking to give an additional payment to people whom the means test, as administered by this Government and previous governments, previously excluded - people regarded as having an income higher than that of those who are entitled to a pension.
In essence, the abolition of the means test means a redistribution of the total resources of the community in favour of persons over the age of 60 or 65 years. I think both parties have chosen to take a short cut, in terms of cost, by saying that a payment will be made to ladies at the age of 65 and not at the age of 60. As 1 understand the mathematics of h, that will cut out onethird of the cost because one-third of the people who are currently excluded from the pension are ladies in the age bracket of 60 to 65. The effect of this will be to reduce the cost, in rounded figures, from about $400m to S270m. These figures are near enough. The Minister knows, perhaps, the precise figures. I submit that the position is not clear on either side of the House. But to imply vice to one side when one is not clear oneself does not seem to be very honest arguing, with all respect to the comparatively new member from Murray. Today the Minister was delightfully vague, if one wants to use that term, as to how he proposes to finance the abolition of the means test, and I respect him for that. At least my Party is of the same view. There is a great deal of unravelling to be done and I have had to correct things over and over again.
The honourable member for Murray still seems to attach to me a distortion of what I quoted by way of example. I refer to the concessional deductions for dependents and life assurance premiums. Surely nobody can argue that the life assurance deduction is other than highly selective. How many people in the community can claim the maximum allowance of $1,200 per annum for life assurance premiums. In my view people are lucky to be able to save that much in the first place. But they have no warrant to be rewarded from Government revenue if they do so. Yet that is what is happening. When this is pointed out, unscrupulous people suggest that one is proposing cutting out those deductions entirely. No-one on this side of the House has ever said that. We have tried to draw attention to the highly selective nature of this deduction.
I note in the proposals that the Minister, for the first time, suggested that pensions should be taxable when the means test is abolished. Surely this is one of the matters which should be looked at carefully. Nobody - and least of all myself - would suggest that we can go suddenly from one system to a new one without causing serious dislocation.
As I see it, there are at least 3 groups in the community whose interests have to be considered. There are those who are already in receipt of pensions. Both sides of the House have stated that they will abolish the means test and introduce a national superannuation scheme. If such a scheme were to be introduced it would not cover those who are already retired. It would have to provide for a certain time limit before one could become eligible for benefits. Surely nobody believes that if either side introduces a national superannuation scheme or national retirement scheme - whatever it is called - anybody who retires from then on would automatically be entitled, irrespective of his other entitlements and so on, to a second pension. It has to be phased in and phased out, as that term is used. We have an existing arrangement of private and government superannuation schemes and surely what should be acknowledged is that those schemes at the moment are highly favoured by the tax system. The taxpayers who are not in superannuation schemes subsidise those who are by reason of the fact that payments to superannuation schemes are tax deductible. The inquiry that was undertaken in Victoria showed that only about one-third of the Victorian population was covered, adequately or inadequately, by a superannuation scheme, public or private. There is not even a proper collection of the private schemes. I think I have seen the number of separate schemes given as something like 30,000 or 40,000 but there is no real indication of their nature.
The only thing that has to be done before a taxation deduction for superannuation payments can be claimed at the moment is that the schemes have to be acknowledged by the Taxation Office. The reality is that two-thirds of the community, comprising mainly the poorest sections of the community, are excluded from this benefit and up to date have had to rely on the hazard of politics via the age pension scheme. What it is sought to do is unravel the existing situation. I would imagine that those who were fairly close to the point of retirement under a government or private scheme would have the right to contract out of the new scheme if it were introduced. I do not know. These are the sort of matters which the Committee of Inquiry has to adjudicate upon. The Minister for Social Services (Mr
Wentwortb) said that he has up his sleeve some great scheme which he has not revealed but which is vastly superior to anything that has been introduced anywhere else. This scheme seems just as mysterious as ours presumably is, but nobody is suggesting that. The Minister has used highly immodest words, if one may say so. I look forward with great interest to the unravelling in the future of this Clochemerle scheme - the great public benefit that we are to get and that no-one else has thought of.
What I had been about to say was that no scheme that I know of that has been introduced has made people eligible for benefits under it unless a certain time limit has been imposed. This is where we come to the second group of people. We have the people already retired for whom the most significant feature, if they are age pensioners, is the basic amount of the pension and the certainty that that pension will retain its purchasing power. This is one of the points which the Opposition is trying to cover in its amendment. The second group comprises those who are about to retire - say in the next 4 or 5 years - and who are covered by a scheme. They may have some option if they prefer to continue in that scheme. Then there is the other section of the community, comprising quite a large number - something like twothirds of the population. How long do people in that section have to be contributors before they are eligible for benefits and what is to be the nature of their contribution? These are highly important questions which in my view require much closer scrutiny than has so far been given to them.
One can only regret that the Prime Minister in a government which has been in office since 1949, when he was Treasurer something like 3 years ago said, in response to the suggestion from this side of the House that there should be a national superannuation scheme, that it was beyond the capacity of Australia to have it despite the fact that every other Western community has it. Now, several weeks before an election even he has become converted to the idea. Surely this is no way to approach matters of this kind. If poverty has existed in Australia then it has not become obvious just in the last few weeks. The greatest example of the inaction of this Government and its low sense of acknow ledgment of problems is that curious scheme under which it says to people: ‘If your income falls below a certain level we will pay your health insurance contributions until your income rises above that level’. What can be more abominable as a charity and as a means test in reverse than that? Why not lift the income to the point where the person can pay his own health insurance contributions? The Government sets great store by the fact that it has done the other. When a man’s income does fall below the stated level or when a man becomes unemployed it pays his contributions, not in advance but on a hand to hand, month to month basis.
I have beard a lot of figures quoted today comparing the pension level now with what it was 20 years ago. Maybe it was not adequate when the Labor Party went out of office - I am not arguing that- but the Minister if he is fair about this at least would say that at that time we were coming out of a period of post war reconstruction into a different era and that there were certain other priorities at that time. I simply raise this point especially in relation to child endowment. When the Labor Party went out of office in 1949 child endowment payments represented 1.5 per cent of the then gross national product. In 1972, despite the fact that there is a greater proportion of children in the total population than there was in 1949, and despite the fact that we have extended the provision of endowment to student children over 16 years of age, the child endowment bill expressed as a proportion, of the gross national product has fallen from 1.5 per cent to 0.6 per cent. Or, to put it another way, if we were paying the same proportion of our so-called affluent resources in 1972 as we were paying in 1949, child endowment today would be 2i times what it is. This is just one of the things that has happened because the Government has failed to grapple with the problem of social redistribution. It is collecting more and more in taxes in aggregate in terms of the gross national product than it was previously but does not give priority to families by way of child endowment.
Child endowment in the Government’s mind is a memorial to the past rather than a realistic recognition of the problems of the present. If anything indicates this, it is the real proportion of child endowment in terms of the gross national product. Whether that is the Government’s sense of priorities, I do not know. There often can be argument on either side about what should have the greatest priority. I do not think anybody in Australia has any reason to be proud of the situation at the moment where we have real sections of poverty extending over 1 million or 1£ million people. There should not be any poverty in Australia of a substantial kind. There will always be the kind that occurs when a husband deserts his wife or when an accident happens and the breadwinner is killed. These are statistical incidents in a large scale society but at the same time nowhere has the reality of the situation been recognised in recent years. It is easy enough when we have this situation to score off each other and to submit that the other did not do this and did not do that. But I do not think that any government which has been in office for 23 years should be adopting the attitude: How better it is in 1972 than it was in 1949. What it should be saying in 1972 is: Is it good enough? In the Opposition’s view it is not good enough.
– I rise to support this Bill and oppose the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) on behalf of the Opposition. It is with admiration that one enters this debate. I congratulate and praise the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) for his dedication and determination to improve the lot of those most in need and those who have been thrifty over the years but who, because of this thrift, have been in a worse position as a result of the anomalies that have existed and persisted over the years. Under this legislation single pensioners and widows with children are to receive an extra $1.75 a week which takes their pension to $20. This benefit will be received by 671,000 aged and invalid pensioners and widows with children. The married rate of pension is to be increased by $1.25 to $17.25 a week. Therefore the combined pension of a married couple will be $34.50. A total of 394,000 pensioners will receive this increased benefit.
I am pleased to note that wives who have not reached pensionable age will receive a straight out pension of $17.25.
Some 31,500 women will receive this benefit. This will bring the total of age, invalid and special pensioners to 1,096,500. Over and above this, the amount of supplementary assistance is to be doubled to S4 a week. I am pleased with the increase in supplementary assistance. I had an active interest in old age pensioner associations some years ago. At that time I advocated that supplementary assistance should be introduced. The alleviation of the means test will benefit 228,000 people who are now receiving a part pension. Also, an estimated 75,000 people will receive a part pension for the first time. I appeal to all people listening to this debate not to be advised by well meaning neighbours and friends about whether they are entitled to a part pension. They should seek advice from people who know and are qualified to give it. I find - my secretary has confirmed this - that there are hundreds of people within the electorate of Mitchell whom we have assisted to obtain part pensions when we made inquiry as to their means. However, there are still some people who are secretive about their financial position and affairs and do not like inquiries to be made in regard to their social service entitlements. I appeal to people in or near the electorate of Mitchell to get in touch with my office, myself or my secretary or if they live near Parramatta, to get in touch with officers of the Department of Social Services at Parramatta who can advise them. My secretary is ever able to give assistance in this regard and no-one will ever be turned away. I appeal particularly to people who are in receipt of superannuation to seek information and advice.
This is the fourth separate occasion within 18 months on which the McMahon Government has increased pensions. Fortunately, the McMahon Government did not follow the advice of members of the Opposition to tie pensions to the consumer price index. Had the Government done so the pension for single persons would now be $16.74 instead of the new pension rate of $20 a week, and married couples would have received $29.70 instead of $34.50 a week which will be their entitlement when this Bill is passed. The Opposition boasts of what it would do if in power. However, its proposals are vague, costly and hard to understand by even those who advocate them. The pension today, despite increases in prices, will buy just about twice the amount of articles used in every day living that could be bought in the days when the Labor Party occupied the Treasury bench. This does not take into account any of the fringe benefits available to social service recipients. If we add the value of the fringe benefits, the position is further greatly improved.
What is the Government’s record in this field? The Government has achieved what it has promised. The Government will always carry out its promises. The Government seeks a continuing betterment of our social service programme. As the economic position, improves - as it will under the McMahon Government - so too will our social service amenities be improved. The great handicap of pensioners who do not own their own home is the high rent that they have to pay. This situation applies in particular to pensioners who live in rooms in the inner areas of our capital cities. However, as I have stated, the amount of supplementary assistance has been doubled and is now at $4. Unfortunately the level of rents is a State matter and it is difficult for this Government to do anything about the high rents that are being charged for accommodation in inner city areas.
The proposal to liberalise and abolish the means test is summarised in the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr Snedden). As a prelude to the abolition, 3 measures will be introduced immediately. Firstly, the free area - the amount of means which does not affect the pension - is to be doubled. Secondly, the allowance for children in computing means is to be increased from $4 each to $6. Thirdly, there will be a special concession for recipients of superannuation and annuities. The free area for single persons is at present $10 a week. This is to become $20 a week. The free area for married couples’ means is at present $17 a week. This is to be more than doubled to $34.50 a week. It will be noted that the principle has been adopted of making the free area equal to the maximum rate of pension, and since the pension is reduced by only one-half of the excess of means over the free area it follows that a partial pension is payable until means reach 3 times the maximum pension rate.
Turning now to the special concessions to be applied for recipients of superannuation payments and annuities, where a pensioner is entitled to receive an income from superannuation or annuity the annual rate payable will be given a property equivalent for means test purposes by reference to a specific conversion factor contained in a schedule to be attached to the Social Services Act. The conversion factor will provide the present capital value of the superannuation payment or annuity. The conversion of the superannuation or annuity into property will be to the pensioner’s advantage in the vast majority of cases, but if in any particular case this should not prove to be so the payments will continue to be treated as income.
I trust that the Minister, with his great ability, compassion and intelligence will devote much of his time over the next year to collating the whole of our social service system and endeavour to have the entitlements of all people expressed in simple basic English that can be understood by the average person.
I again congratulate the Minister and the Government on the easing of the means test, and I look forward to it being totally abolished within the life of the next Parliament.
– I realise that I was not listed to speak in the debate and I do not intend to delay the House. But I want to take the opportunity for one moment to explain a misrepresentation by the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin). Tragically, of course, we have come to expect such misrepresentations. His reputation is such that one wonders whether he makes his misrepresentation deliberately. He said that the Australian people were fortunate that the Australian Labor Party was not in a position to control the rates of pension at the moment because the Australian Labor Party had promised to tie pensions to the consumer price index. I make it quite clear that at no time was such a promise made on behalf of the Labor Party. The promise which we made to the people of Australia and which we will keep is to take pensions and other social service benefits out of the realm of political expediency, to take these payments out of the Parliament where they have been used over the years for political purposes. Our promise was, in fact, to tie pensions to a percentage of average weekly male earnings, which is a vastly different proposition from the misrepresented position put by the honourable member for Mitchell.
– I do not think 1 need delay the House very much beyond endeavouring to summarise some of th: things that have been said and, in passing, thanking honourable members for what they have said about me personally. It is true that this is a far reaching Bill, but it is also true that it is part of a comprehensive plan. It may not always be easy for the outsider to see the way in which we are endeavouring to work towards a full and comprehensive social service structure. But ii he compares the structure as it exists today with what existed 5, 10 and 15 year1? ago he will see that progressively there has been an improvement not only in rates and standards but also in coherence throughout the entire plan. It is not possible, of course, to do everything at once, but I think it would be unreasonable to talk, as members of the Opposition have talked a little, about things being haphazard and by chance and so on. This is not so. The Government is unable to do everything at once, but the Government is working in accordance with a coherent and progressive plan. If honourable members opposite will do us the compliment of looking at the social services as they exist now and then take them 5 years back, take them 10 years back, take them 15 years back and take them 20 years back, they will see that during that time there has been a progressive development.
If I may have the indulgence of the House to put a commercial over the air, I want to reinforce what we are trying to do about getting knowledge of pension entitlements into every prospective pensioner’s hands. Existing pensioners will have their pensions increased automatically in accordance with the provisions of this Bill. In most cases the increase will date from the next pay period after the Bill receives the royal assent, which I hope will be in the next two or three days. The pensions for new pensioners - that is, the people who have no entitlement now but who will get an entitlement to a pension for the first time under this Bill - will date only from the time they make their applications. So I urge them now, as I hope to be urging them through advertisements and through the co-operation of honourable members on both sides with their constituents, to make their applications as soon as possible. The people of whom I am talking are people in the aged group - that is, women over 60 years and men over 65 years - people in the invalid group who have the requisite medical qualification or disqualification, and widows, who include of course deserted wives.
I ask people in those groups who are not getting pensions at the moment and who feel they may have a pension entitlement to make their applications immediately. They can get an application form from a post office and fill it in. Let them fill it in truthfully. No harm will be done if they have no entitlement, but if they have an entitlement their pension will date from the date of the application. I have spoken of people in the aged, invalid and widowed groups. I speak particularly of single people who have incomes of up to about $3,000 a year. I speak particularly of married couples with an income of up to $5,000 a year. I speak particularly of those whose income is derived in any substantial measure from superannuation. Whatever their range of income, it will pay them to have a look at their circumstances and see whether they are entitled to a pension. If they are in doubt, they should play safe and send the form in as soon as possible. I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to put that commercial, as it were, over the air. We will make a special effort to see that people who are entitled to a pension under this new legislation draw it as soon as possible.
The Opposition amendment refers to the poverty line. I will not requote figures, hut let me say that in virtually every case the pension now available from the Department of Social Services is in excess of the socalled poverty line. It will be remembered that in June 1966 Professor Henderson set down a poverty line of $33 which he applied to what he called the standard family, which was a man, wife and 2 children paying rent. That figure of $33 has subsequently been updated to a generally agreed figure of $52 a week. Families of various compositions represent various proportions of the standard family. We can speak of the single pensioner, the married pensioner couple or the widow with one, 2 or 3 children and so on. In virtually every case the provisions in this Bill put them above the poverty line in accordance with that formula - and in many cases substantially above it.
I turn now to the means test. Members of the Opposition have asked why we did not do something about abolishing the means test earlier. I suppose that in all these things the Treasury is right to impose a certain measure of responsibility. The capacity to do these things depends on the rise in productivity. Throughout the Australian community over the last 23 years there has been a progressive and substantial rise in productivity. It has been a rise which is evidenced - I think we can say this with some degree of pleasure - by the very big increase in average weekly earnings. Productivity has risen, and as it has risen not only has it been possible to raise the real level of the pension, which, as I have said, over the last 23 years has nearly doubled in terms of real purchasing power but also concurrently it has been possible progressively to ease the means test. Now we are seeing virtually the end of it. We are not quite at the end, but the end is in sight. Of course, the Government’s programme is not yet a complete programme; there are various loose ends to be tied. I hope it will be my privilege as Minister-
– You will have to do it quickly.
– I know that it is not certain, but I hope that it will be my privilege as Minister for Social Services in the next 3 years to be able to work on this and to finish and carry out the programme.
Attention was drawn during the course of the debate to the fringe benefits - the pensioner medical service and things of that character. One point which is worth reminding the House of is that the nursing benefits and the system of aged persons homes which are also part of the Government’s Budget plans have done a tremendous amount towards easing the anxieties of people who, in their old age, face declining health. This is one matter which is not subject to means test. I would hope that when we come to look at the application of these fringe benefits, although the Government has given no commitment and although I can and will give no commitment in this regard, honourable members will find that in the next 3 years the favourable developments which are already in evidence in this Budget will be yet further improved.
Reference has been made to national superannuation. Again, the Government has given no firm commitment on this matter, although as I said in my second reading speech the implications in what the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) said in his Budget Speech are clear enough. The Government has not given a formal commitment in this regard but I think that the Treasurer has clearly indicated the Government’s preferences in this field. In regard to what I said about the future, I did not take it upon myself to say that I was putting forward something that was better than anything operating overseas, although I did say that if one had the experience of studying what was available overseas one could, I hope, profit from it. But what I did refer to was not on the matter of substance, but on the matter of mechanism, the way of doing these things. I do think that we have here a device, a mechanism - a way not of carrying out an objective but of approaching it - which in my view is superior to anything yet available overseas and which I hope, if it is adopted in Australia, would become the pattern for what might be done overseas.
This is something which follows from the fact that we have had the advantage of seeing what was done overseas and of studying what has been achieved and the faults and deficiencies of overseas schemes. If we have the results of other people’s experiences - if we are standing on other people’s shoulders - we should be able to do a little better than they have been able to do, without trying to take any special merit to ourselves in this matter. I do not want to delay the House any more. I think that the debate has been a worthwhile one and I have endeavoured to summarise it. I now leave the matter to the vote of the House.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Hayden’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker - Mr P. E. Lucock)
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Wentworth) read a third time.
Bill presented by Mr Holten, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill gives effect to repatriation proposals announced in the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr Snedden). The repatriation content of the 1972-73 Budget demonstrates clearly this Government’s acceptance of its responsibilities to the exservicemen and women of Australia, their widows and their dependants. Over 300,000 Australians will benefit under the proposals. The Bill provides for a number of improvements in repatriation benefits but does not include all the changes mentioned in this year’s Budget. Amendments to regulations will be necessary to give effect to those other changes such as the increase of 50c a week in the domestic allowance payable to war widows, and the important provision of nursing home care for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, intermediate rate pensioners, war widows and World War I nurses.
Many of the improvements must be considered in conjunction with those in the means test area which my colleague the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) has already announced in the House. Increases in the rates of means test pensions, and the considerable easing of the means test, will add substantially to the level of benefits which some war pensioners will receive, including TPI pensioners and war widows also in receipt of means test pensions. 1 will now outline to the House the specific provisions of the Bill and will relate them to overall pension payments in some cases. It should be borne in mind that all pension payments under this Bill are free of income tax and therefore they have a greater purchasing power than equivalent amounts of earnings that are subject to tax.
The general rate war pension of $12 a week at the 100 per cent rate will be increased by $2 to $14. The special compensation allowance paid to the more disabled war pensioners receiving pensions from 75 per cent to 100 per cent rates will continue at up to $6 a week, thus making the new total payment $20 a week for those in receipt of both war pension and special compensation allowance at the 100 per cent rate. General rate war pensions are presently payable at different levels according to the ranks held during service. The Government considers that the principle of equal compensation for equal incapacity justifies abolishing these different levels and replacing them with a standard general rate pension of $14 a week at the 100 per cent level. At least 95 per cent of the 192,000 general rate pensioners will, according to the assessed degree of their incapacity, receive the benefit of the $2 increase at the 100 per cent rate. The remaining number will also receive increases in their pensions, but the amount of the increases will reflect this change of policy In abolishing the differential payment for ranks.
The BUI provides also for an increase in the special or TPI rate, which is payable not only to the totally and permanently incapacitated and certain tuberculosis sufferers, but also to the blind and the temporarily totally incapacitated. The special TPI - rate will be increased by $3.50 to $48 a week, making a total increase over the past 3 years of $12 a week or $624 a year. The intermediate rate of pension, which is payable to those whose, incapacity from war-related disabilities or tuberculosis permits them to work only part-time or intermittently will be increased by $2.75 to $34 a week.
Attendants’ allowances, payable, in addition to war pensions to the most seriously disabled ex-servicemen, will again be increased this year. The higher rate of $16 a week payable to the blind who are also afflicted with total loss of speech or total deafness, and to those who have had both arms amputated, is to be increased by $1.50 to $17.50 a week. The lower rate, of $9.50 a week, which is payable to those who are blind or paralysed, or who have suffered certain severe amputations, or who are otherwise so disabled as to need an attendant, is to be increased by $1 to $10.50 a week. The amounts payable in addition to general rate pensions to those ex-servicemen who have lost one or more limbs or an eye will again be increased. Those amputees who have always been paid the equivalent of the special rate will receive, in addition to the increase in the general rate, increased amounts of $1.50 a week, bringing their total increases in war pensions and additions to $3.50 a week. Amounts which are, in addition to general rate pensions, payable in respect of other amputations or the loss of an eye will be increased by various amounts according to the nature of the incapacity suffered. The new amounts will range from $1.80 to $11.75 a week.
Illustrating the Government’s continuing concern for the dependants of deceased ex-servicemen whose deaths were related to war service, increased payments will be made to over 50,000 war widows, and also to their children. The present rate of $18.25 a week will be increased to $20. War widows are at present paid war pensions at different levels according to the ranks held by their deceased husbands during war service. Consistent with the change of policy in relation to general rate pensions, to which I have already referred, and with a view eventually to abolishing all distinctions of this nature, pensions at all levels other than the highest will be increased to the same level of $20 a week.
In addition, the 50c a week increase in the domestic allowance, which will be payable to more than 97 per cent of the 50,000 war widows - the total number - and which, as I mentioned earlier, will be prescribed in regulations separate from this Bill will bring domestic allowance payments up to $8.50 a week. The House will, of course, appreciate that the increases to which I have referred are not all that many war widows will receive. An estimated 20,000 of the 50,000 war widows also receive social service means test pensions and the substantial improvements in that area will benefit those war widows considerably. To this number we must add those war widows who, because of the easing of the means test will now become eligible for the first time for social service pensions.
For a child of an ex-serviceman whose death was related to war service the Bill increases the weekly pension to S7.35. For a child who has lost the support of both parents the pension will be increased to $14.70 a week. Some 4,000 children will benefit from these increases. The Bill also provides for continuation of the war pensions of certain student children under the age of 21 years. This was previously paid up to the age of 16 years. Such children, who could number as many as 20,000 do not receive from the Commonwealth, while undertaking full time study or training, payments in the nature of living or maintenance allowances that are at least equal in amount to the allowances they would receive, if eligible, under the soldiers’ children education scheme. Children receiving allowances at lesser rates will be entitled to continuation of all or part of their pensions. This arrangement is designed to help exservicemen who do not receive substantial Commonwealth assistance towards the maintenance of student children.
I should like to point out also to the House that, although this Bill does not increase allowances payable under the soldiers’ children education scheme, the Government has authorised payment under that scheme of new maximum rates ranging from $2.60 a week- -an increase of 42c - for a secondary school student aged 12 to 14 years living at home up to $13.30 a week - an increase of $2.05 - for one aged 16 to 18 years living away from home.
Those who suffer from pulmonary tuberculosis or who have served in a theatre of war and are over 60 years of age in the case of men, or 55 in the case of women, or are permanently unemployable qualify for service pensions if they satisfy the means test. The Bill amends the Repatriation Act to extend improved benefits to them. The means test urd maximum rates for service pensions are the same as those for age pensions. Proposed increases in maximum pension rates and supplementary assistance, and the easing of the means test, including the conversion of superannuation pensions, will benefit service pensioners substantially and permit many more people to qualify for them. Unlike most previous years, no reductions will be necessary this year in service pension.-, by reason of increases in war pensions. On the contrary, increases in each pension will give many people substantial increases in their combined pension income.
I shall now give a few examples of how war pensioners, who have no other income or property . affecting their means test pensions, will benefit under the Government’s Budget proposals. These will illustrate the actual pension improvements that those pensioners will enjoy. A single TPI pensioner, with no means other than war pension, who receives a service pension at present is paid $44.50 a week war pension and $1 service pension, a total income of $45.50. Under the proposals, his war pension will be increased by $3.50 and his service pension by $5, giving an income of $54 a week.
A married TPI pensioner and his wife who have no means but their war pensions and receive service pensions will similarly enjoy substantial increases. Their total war and service pension entitlement is now $66.29 a week. The war pension increase in their case will be $3.50 a week and their service pension increases will be $2.50 a week for the member - that is for a TPI ex-serviceman - and $5.50 for the wife, giving them a total income in war and service pensions of $77.79 a week, an increase of $11.50 a week. If such a couple have 2 children aged, say, 13 and 15 years, the increases in service pensions will be $6.61 for the member and $9.25 for his wife. When the children’s pensions and education allowances are added, the family income will be $102.28 a week as against $81.90 a week now, and that is free of income tax.
Similarly, a war widow with no means other than her war pension and domestic allowance but eligible for age or invalid pension under the Social Services Act will enjoy a substantial benefit under the proposals. Her present war pension of $18.25 a week will be increased by $1.75 to $20 a week; her domestic allowance of $8 will be increased by 50c to $8.50; and her age or invalid pension, at present $10.13, will be increased by $5.62 a week. This will give her a total income in war pension, domestic allowance and social service pension of $44.25 a week, a total increase of $7.87. In addition, of course, pensioners in these categories, its well as others, enjoy valuable concessions by way of free medical treatment and other fringe benefits provided by the Government.
The Bill appropriates the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent necessary to provide during the current year the additional payments to which the Bill gives effect. The foregoing amendments will come into force on the date on which the amending Act receives royal assent - and we hope that is in the very near future - and the pension increases will be paid as from that day, if it is a pension payday, or from the first pension payday thereafter.
The increased payments to which this Bill will give effect represent a culmination of the Government’s efforts during this Parliament to enhance the benefits available to incapacitated ex-servicemen and to dependants of those whose deaths were related to their war service. In each of the 3 Budgets, and on 2 other occasions during the life of this Parliament, the Government has introduced legislation to increase and extend benefits. Our prime concern has been the most seriously incapacitated and the dependants of those whose deaths were attributable to war. In less than 3 years the special total and permanent incapacity rate will have been increased from $36 to $48 a week, an increase of 33.3 per cent. The war widow’s pension will have been increased by the same percentage. The pensions of children of deceased ex-servicemen whose deaths were related to war service will have been increased even more substantially, by 36.1 per cent in the case of a first child, and 72.9 per cent in the case of second and subsequent children, while the pensions of children who have lost the support of both parents will have been increased by 44.8 per cent. Over the same period, the various economic indices have shown movements at lower rates: the consumer price index by 15.4 per cent, the minimum wage by 31.4 per cent and average weekly earnings by 29.9 per cent. The increases which will have been effected during the life of this Parliament will have more than kept pace with the economic changes.
At the same time, the Government has brought about improvements in subsidiary benefits for special cases, as instanced by increased payments in respect of amputees. New benefits, such as the proposed arrangements for nursing home care to which I referred earlier, have also been introduced. This will be of tremendous assistance, particularly to war widows. All of those, when combined with the increases in service pension rates and the improvements in the means test itself, have resulted in a greatly improved total position being achieved for recipients of repatriation payments over the last 3 years. Compared with an actual total expenditure of $3 17m for the 1969-70 financial year, estimated expenditure for the 1972-73 financial year is $419m for the whole Department, an increase of $102m in 3 years. It must be agreed that this is a very significant increase indeed. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Barnard) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Molten, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill amends the definition of ‘child’ in the principal Act in order to give effect to the extension of eligibility for war pensions to student children between the ages of 16 and 21 years. The amendment is consequential upon the amendment by the Repatriation Bill (No. 2) 1972 of the definition of ‘child’ in the Repatriation Act. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Barnard) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Holten, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill amends the definition of ‘child’ in the principal Act in order to give effect to the extension of eligibility for war pensions to student children between the ages of 16 and 21 years. The amendment is consequential upon the amendment by the Repatriation Bill (No. 2) 1972 of the definition of child’ in the Repatriation Act. 1 commend the Bill to the Houe.
Debate (on motion by Mr Barnard) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Holten, and read a first time.
– 1 move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill before the House is in accordance with the usual practice of the Government to keep the rates of pensions and allowances payable to seamen war pensioners under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act in line with the similar rates payable to other war pensioners under the Repatriation Act. The main purpose of the Bill is to increase, in relation to seamen, the various rates of war pensions as announced by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) in his Budget Speech and being put into effect by the current Repatriation Bill. Under the Bill the existing basic general rate pension is increased from $12 to $14 a week and the existing basic widow’s pension is increased ft om $18.25 to $20 a week. As I explained earlier, under the Repatriation Bill, the different levels of general rate and war widow pensions, according to rank held during war service, are being discontinued. The corresponding differential rates in the First Schedule to the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, according to th: rate of pay at time of war injury, are being discontinued under this Bill. The ‘intermediate’ rate of war pension is being increased b/ S2.75 a week to $34, and the ordinary weekly rate of allowance for an attendant for a specially handicapped seaman pensioner is increased from S9.50 to $K!.50, ;he special rate payable where both arms have been lost being increased from $16 to $17.50 a week.
The Bill also increases the pension rates in respect of the children of deceased seamen coming under the Act. The weekly rate for each child rises to S7.35. Where the mother is dead also, the rate rises to $14.70 for each child. Under the Repatriation Bill, as previously explained, in the case of certain children receiving full time education, amendments are being made in respect of the continuation of their pensions until the age of 21 years is reached. Similar amendments are being made to the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances . Act under this Bill.
The Bill does not have to provide for the increase of $3.50 to $48 a week in the rate of total and permanent incapacity pension, or for the various increases in the weekly amounts payable in respect of the disabilities described in ‘ the Fifth Schedule to the Repatriation Act. as the increased rates under that Act will apply automatically to seamen pensioners by virtue of section 22a of the Seamen’s War - Pensions and Allowances Act. The increases in pensions will, as usual, be payable on the first pension pay day after the date on which the Act receives the royal assent. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Barnard) adjourned.
REPATRIATION BILL (No. 2) 1972 Second Reading
Debate resumed (vide page 1 802).
– May I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate on this Bill is resumed I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Bill, the Repatriation (Far East Strategic
Reserve) Bill and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill (No. 2) as they are related measures. Of course, separate questions may be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. 1 suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 4 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
Mir DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 4 measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
– These Bills are introduced into the House against the backdrop of 2 intensive inquiries which are being conducted into the Repatriation Act. At the outset I make it clear that the Opposition does not oppose these Bills. Indeed, we have moved to proceed immediately with the second reading debate on them to ensure that the benefits which they provide and which have been referred to this afternoon by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) will be made available, as soon as the Bills receive the royal assent, to those who will benefit under the terms of this legislation. One of the inquiries to which I just referred is in the hands of the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare. The other is the independent inquiry into the Repatriation Act being conducted by Mr Justice Toose. When these 2 inquiries are completed we will all be infinitely the wiser on the subject of repatriation. In the meantime we have to make do with the material contained in the annual report of the Repatriation Commission, the Bills we are debating and the Minister’s comments in his second reading speeches.
Before looking at the Bills before the House and the repatriation provisions of the Budget which, in the main, are quite generous and constitute an improvement in the relative level of benefits, I want to look at some general matters affecting the repatriation legislation. These comments have been prompted by the considerable volume of ill-founded criticism levelled at the repatriation structure in recent months. This criticism culminated in recent weeks in a most intemperate and, in my view, injudicious submission to the Senate Committee on behalf of the Australian Medical Association. The AMA has been notably dogmatic in other areas of public policy; now it has extended this dogmatism to the repatriation system. The intention of the AMA seems to be to destroy the repatriation system or to water down its welfare provisions to such a degree that it forfeits all meaning.
I do not deny that there are flaws, perhaps even very serious flaws, in the repatriation system; that is why the Toose Committee was appointed and that is why the Senate Committee is looking at the Act. If a piece of legislation is perfection, then obviously there is no need to put it on the dissecting table. Undoubtedly the repatriation legislation can be improved. After all, its main provisions were drafted in the social and political context of a major war. It would be remarkable if they were still spot-on after a period of almost 30 years. It is also beyond dispute that there are anomalies which allow the Act to be exploited. All social welfare systems are open to abuse. Some have greater checks to prevent these abuses than others have. I will try to show that the Repatriation Act is one of the most stringent in its constraints on potential abuse. The sad fact remains that the Repatriation Act is being widely painted in the community as some sort of benefit bonanza. According to this line, all a man with any war service at all on his slate has to do is stroll into the nearest Repatriation Department office, fill out a few forms and hang his hat on a pension for the rest of his life. This is fallacious nonsense and it is a fallacy which is very easily punctured.
The simplest way of exposing this fallacy is by analysis of the annual figures for claims and appeals under the provisions of the Repatriation Act. The initial claim for benefit under the Repatriation Act is made to a board and this determination is then confirmed by the Commission. In 1971-72, of the claims determined under the Act, 19,394 were rejected and 9,712 were accepted - a ratio of roughly 2 to one. These are not bad odds, but they are a long way from a certainty. An applicant for a benefit has a 2 to one chance of being rejected.
Let us take the process a step further. The next source of appeal is to the Repatriation Commission in regard to incapacity or death being related to war service. Looking at the figures for these appeals, we find that 13,837 appeals were rejected and 900 were allowed. In other words, the odds are stacked 15 to one against an applicant getting his appeal accepted by the Repatriation Commission, ls this the record of an organisation dedicated to putting old diggers on easy street for life? A solicitor who achieved this level of failure in his court appeals would go broke. I suggest further that such a savage rejection rate would not be acceptable in other areas of administrative appeal - for example, taxation tribunals. If the same rejection rate were applied in the courts or in other areas of administrative appeal, the whole structure would be torn apart by angry appellants.
The next source of appeal is to an entitlement appeal tribunal if an appeal is disallowed by the Commission where, as I have pointed out, the chances of success are one in 15. For the entitlement appeal tribunal the figures for 1971-72 were 1.587 acceptances to 7,915 rejections - about one in 5. This is better than the appeals to the repatriation Commission but the record of acceptance is still far from lavish. The final source of appeal is to an assessment appeal tribunal against assessment of a disability. Of course, the assessment appeal tribunal is distinct from the entitlement appeal tribunal, but I am now referring to the assessment appeal tribunal in a case where there is an accepted disability. At this level, 4,382 were allowed and 7,529 were rejected in 1971-72. This is the best rate of acceptance in the whole structure of claims and appeals provided under the Act, but it is still not a lay-down misere.
If we look at this process of claim and appeal from a global viewpoint, it emerges as a very stringent one. The system contains more checks and balances than any other welfare system operating under any welfare law in Australia. Yet this is the system that critics have tried to depict as the generator of well-paid indolence in the ranks of Australia’s ex-soldiers. This slovenly sort of criticism just does not square with the facts. Contact with a few malingerers - certainly there are malingerers under this Act - is linked in the medical mind with resentment against the standards of proof applied under the Act. Such a combination of factors leads the Australian
Medical Association to damn the whole system as wasteful and extravagant. This is most unjust and unsubstantiated criticism and it is time it was rejected.
It is easy to seize on one spectacular example and push this forward as representative of the whole system. For example, a lot of play was made in the recent spate of criticism about the case of an 80- year old man on the basis of war-caused impotence because obviously all 80-year old men were impotent. It is easy to sensationalise cases of this sort. I doubt that many people would begrudge some sort of compensation to a man who lost his generative powers through war injury in World War I and suffered considerable deprivation throughout his mature life as a result. There are delicate aspects of compensation which should be considered in such cases. If in such a case the pension was granted only in the past two or three years, then this is anomalous and such a pension should not have been granted. I refuse to believe that cases of this sort are commonplace. How could many of these get through the strict system of determination 1 have outlined?
Another form of criticism of the repatriation system is that it is absorbing scarce resources which would be better employed in other sectors of public policy. According to this approach, repatriation is wasteful and unnecessary - it should be dismantled and the money spent on it diverted to other welfare schemes. If we look closely al this contention we find it is just as fallacious as the first one. Let us be hypothetical - abolish the repatriation structure and see what savings would result. In the first place, the service pensions abolished would go over virtually in toto to the age pension system. Many of the exservicemen, widows and dependants getting war pensions would become eligible for existing social welfare benefits. Certainly the special rate and intermediate rate pensioners and widows would be entitled to social welfare benefits. The elimination of general rate pensioners would make some cuts but this is the smallest component of the amount going annually to war pensioners.
The abolition of repatriation hospitals and medical treatment would throw an intolerable burden on existing health and hospital services which are already overstrained. The only possible sources of savings would be in administration and such savings would be only a temporary factor. Staff displaced would be transferred to other departments, would undertake retraining schemes or swell the number of recipients of unemployment benefits. Any savings on paper would be completely obliterated when social costs were added to real costs. The abolition of the repatriation structure would almost certainly turn out to be more costly than retention of the existing system.
It is also indisputable that the administration of the Repatriation Department is probably the most effective and economic of any of our Government departments. This is revealed by looking at the annual amount spent on administration of repatriation and expressing it, firstly, as a percentage of annual spending from consolidated revenue and, secondly, as a percentage of gross national product. Using the first indicator we find that in 1971-72, administrative costs were 0.22 per cent of Government spending, a slight rise from 0.21 per cent on the previous year. The comparative figure for 1951-52 was 0.26 per cent of spending, so quite clearly the administration of repatriation is absorbing a significantly smaller proportion of Government spending from consolidated revenue than it was 20 years ago. The same trend is revealed when administrative costs are expressed as a percentage of GNP. The figure has held steady at 0.05 per cent for the past 15 years; it was 0.07 per cent in 1951-52. This is a record of efficiency and economy in administration that any government department would envy. There may be. rivals in the present Commonwealth structure but they do not spring immediately to mind.
I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing a breakdown of repatriation spending over the past 20 years which amplifies the points I have tried to summarise in the figures I have given to the House.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– I thank the House. This sort of hard factual evidence must dispel the current plague of rumours designed to depict the repatriation system as wasteful. In summary, by all means let us have a close look at the Repatriation Department and the welfare system it administers. If there are loopholes which permit undeserving people to get benefits without entitlements, these loopholes must be closed.
I think at this stage it would be relevant to mention my experience in dealing with repatriation matters generally. I am now referring to ex-servicemen who apply to have a disability accepted as being due to war service; indeed, they believe that their disability flows directly from war service and decide to apply to the Repatriation Department. I cannot remember a case where any decision has been made unless somewhere in the Repatriation Department or outside it a member of the Australian Medical Association or a repatriation doctor, if he is not a member of the Australian Medical Association, makes a decision and a determination. The Minister may be able to correct me on this. No case is accepted unless there is clearly conclusive evidence beyond all possible doubt that in the opinion of the medical profession the ex-serviceman’s disability is due to his war service. Yet there is a criticism from the Australian Medical Association that in its opinion it is far too easy to obtain a pension from the repatriation system. I challenge people who make these statements either to deny or to confirm what I have said in relation to the responsibilities of the Australian Medical Association to determine whether a disability is due to a person’s war service.
By all means let us have a strictly administered Act and one which is consistent, but let it also be a just law. It has become fashionable to knock the repatriation system just because it exists. In a sense this is part of a present climate of anti-militarism and pacifism - both admirable virtues. But by adopting this sort of emotional approach to past wars there are dangers of adopting a double standard.
Some of the present opponents of the repatriation system opposed in the strongest terms the Vietnam War, as did the Australian Labor Party. According to the latest report of the Repatriation Commission some 12,000 people are getting entitlements because of war injuries in Vietnam. These are not all ex-servicemen. The majority are dependants but a substantial number of ex-servicemen from Vietnam are getting a service pension under the Act. Because of the common use of mines and explosive booby traps in Vietnam many of the Australian wounded were very seriously injured. As I have pointed out in the House before, many men who would have died from serious wounds in earlier wars survived in Vietnam because of advances in medical techniques and helicopter evacuation of the wounded. Many of these injured people and many of the dependants of men who were killed are dependent on the Repatriation Act for their subsistence and their survival. These men who were required to fight by their Governments should not be denied the only piece of legislation which assists them. It may take a considerable effort on the part of some critics of the system to reach any sort of empathy with an ex-soldier, whether he be a World War II soldier, a Korean veteran or a Vietnam exserviceman. In the interests of humanity and equity it is an effort which should be made.
In the increases made by the Budget and put into operation by this Bill, the most notable improvement is in the general rate pension. For the first time since 1964-65 the general rate pension has been lifted and this goes part of the way to restoring the relative value of this pension. It should be pointed out that it is still only 13.78 per cent of average weekly earnings, compared with 25.06 per cent in 1959-60 and 28.35 per cent in 1949-50. The increase of $3.50 in the special rate pension looks better on paper than it is in relative terms. The increase barely maintains the relativity to average weekly earnings that it had in the previous year; in fact there has been a slight deterioration. To put the position fairly, if the yardstick of the Commonwealth basic wage is used, there has been a notable advance from 85.90 per cent in the previous year to 92.66 per cent at the moment. These relativities are only guidelines and it is arguable whether average weekly earnings or the basic wage is the most relevant.
Such measures are continually changing but they do give evidence of trends in the accretion or erosion of the relative values of pension payments. In the interests of fairness emphasis should be placed on both guidelines just as the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) looked fairly and squarely at aggregate unemployment figures and seasonally adjusted figures. Using such an approach it is fair to say that the increases in benefits have made a modest improvement in the relative position of pensioners and this is welcome. But I would not want the Minister to think that there is general agreement on this side of the House that it could be regarded as an adequate rate of pension. I believe the Government is entitled to whatever applause or approbation there may be because some increases have been effected to pension rates generally, but as I indicated a few moments ago, the general rate pension has not been increased since 1964, In my opinion it is wrong for this Government to wait for a general election before it is put in the position where it has to make an adjustment to the 100 per cent general rate of pension.
Anyone who studies the report of the Repatriation Commission will see at once, as I have said in this Parliament on other occasions, that by a long way the greatest number of repatriation pensioners come within the category receiving between a 100 per cent general rate and a 10 per cent general rate pension. The general rate pension has now been increased by $2 a week. Whether a person on a 10 per cent pension would regard his 20c a week as a generous contribution on the part of this Government is a matter for private consideration. But at least the Government has been prodded into doing something. Year after year it has ignored the general rate pension despite the recommendations and the requests put to the Minister and the Government by the national executive of the Returned Services League of Australia. Despite the representations made and the points of view expressed by honourable members on this side of the House nothing has been done until we are faced with a general election. Of course, the Government reached the situation where it felt that unless something drastic was done in these matters, as in the social welfare programme, whatever possibility - it is a very remote possibility indeed - it had of recovering its lost ground would have gone completely. So some improvements have been made. Last year in dealing with the repatriation legislation I pointed out that the Minister had dealt with individual cases.
In the second reading speech of the Minister on the Bill amending the Repat.ration Act there are many ‘ifs’ - if certain things happen or if certain repatriation pensioners happen to be in a certain position they will get an increase; if they are not in this category they will receive no increase at all or their increase will not be as great. I invite honourable members to look at that part of the second reading speech relating to war widows. The Minister said that there were 50,000 war widows in this country and then went on to say that some 20,000 of them - I think I am quoting his figures correctly - will be disadvantaged. Of this number, 30,000 will receive some increase and 20,000 will not get the same increase. I have no doubt that the Minister is referring there to the domestic allowance paid to some war widows. I understand from the Minister’s figures that 97 per cent of war widows are in receipt of the domestic allowance. That means that for 3 per cent, which is not an insignificant number if there are 50,000 war widows, to use the Minister’s figures, the only increase will be $1.75 a week. I suggest that the Minister will find himself in very great difficulty in attempting to dispute the figure I have quoted. Three per cent of them will receive an increase of $1.75 a week. 1 have said in this Parliament on many occasions and repeat it today - I believe it cannot be stressed often enough - that it is hard to justify a situation in this country where for a war widow whose husband lost his life in service or subsequently died as a result of war wounds and as a result of his service in the interests of this country, we are not able to provide a war pension that is at least 50 per cent of the minimum wage paid to a worker in this country. The war widow’s rate today is still substantially less than 50 per cent of the minimum wage in Australia. What I and the Australian Labor Party have said on repatriation pensions generally is that the special rate pension, the totally and permanently incapacitated rate, should not be less than the minimum wage paid to workers in this country and that the general rate of pension should be approximately 50 per cent of the minimum wage. The same could bc said of the war widows rate. What I,on behalf of the Opposition, want to say today is that the Opposition would seek as a government to achieve a special rate pension which is at least the equivalent of what it was when this Government cam© to office and equivalent to the minimum wage paid in Australia. It would be our objective to bring the other rates up to at least 50 per cent of the minimum wage paid to a worker.
In the limited time that is left to me let me say that there are a number of matters in this legislation which will improve the Repatriation Act. The decision, though a somewhat belated one, of the Minister to adjust the pensions irrespective of rank and service is a notable achievement. It should have been done years ago. It will apply not only to those on a general rate pension, that is, a 100 per cent pension, but also to war widows. It should have been done years ago. As the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) said when he quite properly interjected, he put this matter to the Government during the debate on a Repatriation Bill in this House probably 8 or 9 years ago.
The Government has now got around to it. The Government has completely ignored in many respects the submissions of the National Executive of the Returned Services League. I refer, for instance, to the pleas that organisation has made to the Government’s members committee on repatriation and ex-servicemen, as well as those made to the Opposition, that the funeral allowance should be increased to at least$100. This allowance was increased from S30 to $50 back in 1953, which is nearly 20 years ago. Again, the request of the RSL has been ignored by the Government. I believe that the RSL made a submission to the Government that all returned servicemen from the First and Second World Wars and earlier wars whose disabilities might not have been due to war service should be treated in repatriation hospitals. The Labor Party accepts this view. The Government should move quickly, particularly in the case of Boer
War veterans, of whom only a handful are left. We are rapidly reaching the stage where those who served in the First World War will be in much the same position. The numbers of these ex-servicemen are rapidly diminishing. How much would it cost a grateful country to provide medical and hospital treatment in repatriation hospitals for returned servicemen from the First World War whether or not their disabilities are war-caused?
I have had little time to deal with the other matters covered by the Minister. I refer in particular to the extension of education benefits. I believe that this is a very desirable amendment and the Government is entitled to credit for it. But there are other matters with which I would have liked to deal. For example, I would have liked to say something about the rehabilitation and reconstruction training which was mentioned by the Minister. However, time will not permit me to deal with this important matter today. However, I look forward to dealing with that problem much further and, I hope, in a more positive and practical way when the estimates of the Department of Repatriation are before the Parliament.
– Too many people in our community, including many on the Opposition benches - not including, I am glad to say, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) who, although making a good election speech, was out of tune with a large section of his Party - have forgotten the purpose of the repatriation system, which is to repay a debt the community owes to those who risked death or injury in the defence of all of us. Too many exemplify the attitudes expressed in the old jingle:
Our God and soldiers we alike adore
Ev’n at the brink of danger; not before:
After deliverance, both alike requited,
Our God’s forgotten, and our soldiers slighted.
In a debate such as this I think we should look at how well we are meeting this debt which we owe those who met death, injury or sickness as a result of war service. Too many in the community think we are paying excessive attention to them. I think we should look at the purposes of this legislation and the way in which the Repatriation Act works. Of course, the Act provides for various forms of pensions which are paid to disabled veterans and their dependants and for families of deceased ex-servicemen. But this is not all. The Act also provides for medical services, including rehabilitation services, for war caused disablement and to the families of deceased exservicemen. Thirdly, of course, we have reestablishment measures which generally apply within a fixed period after discharge from the forces to assist servicemen to resume their places in the community.
Firstly, I would like to deal with the question of pensions. Briefly I shall run through the types of benefits in a much more broad brush fashion than was possible for the Minister in regard to what we are doing in the area of pensions for exservicemen. What we must judge is whether these pensions are fair, as we believe they are, or whether they are excessive, as some sections of the community allege. The first category of pension is the totally and permanently incapacitated rate. It is interesting to note the definition of a TPI pensioner. He is a war veteran whose war caused incapacity is so severe that it permanently precludes him from earning other than a negligible percentage of the living wage. This pension also is paid to the war blinded and to those who, because of disability, may temporarily be unable to work. People in this category are to receive $48 a week, which is an increase of $3.50 as announced in the Budget. Of course, many of these recipients also will be eligible for means test pensions. In that case they may be able to receive up to $54 if they are single or $77.79 if they are married. I think this is fair and certainly not excessive bearing in mind what TPIs have suffered.
The second category is that of the intermediate rate which is designed to cater for those who are so seriously disabled because of war related incapacity that they are able to work only part time or intermittently and thus cannot earn a living wage. They will receive $34 a week, an increase as announced in the Budget of $2.75. Again I think this is fair and certainly not excessive. The next pension is the general rate pension which is designed for exservicemen whose war disabilities do not prevent them from working but who are compensated for pain, discomfort, reduced earning capacity and so on. The scale of this rate ranges from 10 per cent to 100 per cent, according to the assessed degree of incapacity. The rate for a person with an assessed 100 per cent incapacity has been increased by $2 to $14 a week. I am delighted to see this increase.
As was pointed out by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, these rates have been static since 1954 and their increase is very welcome. Also I am glad to see that we have eliminated the varying rate dependent on rank. I think this was an out of date concept. The rest of the scheme, except for the position of war widows which has also been corrected, was based on an absolute rate, depending on the degree of need. I think it is proper that this step should have been taken in regard to the general rate.
The special compensation allowance is payable to those who suffer serious disablement from war related incapacity. The rate of allowance is set at $6 a week for 100 per cent incapacity and scales down proportionately to $4.50 for 75 per cent incapacity. I think this action is fair and is certainly not excessive. The war widows pension is paid as compensation for the loss of a husband through or as a result of war service. If the war widow is unable to work because of invalidity, is aged 50 or more or has a child in her care she receives a supplementary domestic allowance. Children’s pensions also are paid on a compensatory basis. What this means is, allowing also for means tested pensions, that a war widow without children wit now receive up to $44.25 a week and a war widow with one child will receive up to $63.10 a week. This again is fair and not excessive. Other provisions which were contained in the Budget are set out in this Bill. I would like to refer to one more category - service pensions. These are in fact age pensions which are payable to exservicemen who have served in a theatre of war, who have suffered from tuberculosis or who have reached the age of 60, or 55 in the case of women. In other words, they receive their age pension 5 years earlier than does anyone else. Their rate of the pension now is the same as for the age pension.
I think the structure of repatriation pensions represents a fair recognition of what we, the community, owe to these people who fought in our defence. The second way in which we look after ex-servicemen is in regard to their medical welfare. I think there will be a dramatic change with the introduction of the nursing homes scheme. This will help our older people and will relieve them of great worry. Also it will relieve ex-servicemen of similar worry. I am sure that all honourable members have been faced with the difficult case of ex-servicemen who need nursing home care. But we have been unable to place them because the illness that caused them to go into the nursing home was not, in the opinion of the tribunals, war caused. This has caused serious financial hardship to many ex-servicemen. The new scheme being introduced will remove this hardship.
What is to happen is that from 1st January next year funds for nursing home care for TPI and intermediate rate war pensioners, war widows and World War I nurses will be provided by the Repatriation Department. When the Department establishes that nursing home care is necessary and arranges admission, the patients will be admitted on the payment of $18 a week - the same arrangements as are being made for pensioners and, through the health scheme, for old people who need to go into nursing homes. This is a very satisfactory arrangement. Repatriation Service pensioners who qualify for pensioner medical service benefits also will be covered by the new scheme. The Repatriation Department, of course, already covers the cost of nursing home care where the cause of the person being in the nursing home is a war caused disability. In these circumstances full payment by the Department will be continued. I think this is a very important step forward which will relieve a severe community problem. I congratulate the Minister on this very important step.
As was pointed out by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, recently the repatriation system has been under heavy fire. Some of the criticism has been rather strident. Of course there are abuses of the system; there always will be in any human organisation which relies on human judgment. Two inquiries are being conducted into the repatriation system - one has been set up by the Government and the other is being made by a Senate committee. I hope that these committees will make some constructive recommendations which will enable us to concentrate support in the areas of greatest need and to exclude those who do not truly qualify. But we must beware of one thing: We must not set up an administrative system which, with the laudable aim of excluding undeserving cases, delays or excludes the truly deserving cases.
There is also much confusion over the meaning of section 47 of the Act. This benefit of the doubt section refers to a doubt in the mind of the determining authority after it has heard all the evidence, not just a doubt which remains in the mind of a claimant. This benefit of the doubt section, although it has been much criticised, seems to me to be entirely reasonable. The Repatriation Act is of great importance to a wide section of the Australian public. There are 825,000 ex-servicemen in Australia. If we add their relatives and dependants, the total is probably nearly 2 million. We have a debt of honour to those who have suffered death, injury or loss of health as the result of war service in the defence of our country. This is a debt that this Government intends to honour.
– During this year 2 Ministers of the Government have had exceptionally good luck. One is the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) and the other is the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth). Both of them have been able to bring down 2 increases in social service and repatriation benefits. So they deserve to be congratulated. But. mingled with the congratulations is a degree of suspicion, because 1972 is an election year and it has been obvious, since the rebellion occurred in the Liberal Party and the new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) took over, that the Government was in trouble and that things had to be done. It is an accepted political fact that during election years increases are granted across the board in social service and repatriation benefits. This has happened this year. But, despite 2 attempts to bring repatriation benefits up to standard, they still have not reached the rate that has been advocated by the Australian Labor Party over a number of years or the rate that has been asked for by the Returned Services League over a number of years.
– Or the rate they were when the Government came to power.
– As my Deputy Leader reminds me, they have not reached the rate of repatriation benefits in 1949, the year that this Government came into power. Perhaps the most cynical trick of all those perpetrated in this repatriation legislation is the fact that for the first time since 1964 increases have been granted in the general rate pension. It is interesting to note that in the vicinity of 194,400 ex-service men and women are in receipt of the general rate pension. It is obvious that if the Government can please a good proportion of that number the political effects must be satisfactory. So I emphasise again that introducing increases in the general rate pension in a Budget shortly before an election is to be held is a cynical political trick. It is easily seen when 1 quote from Hansard of 23rd May the following 3 questions I asked of the Minister for Repatriation and the answers he gave:
asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The reason advanced for not giving increases in the general rate war pension was that the Government wanted to give greater benefits to those who were more severely incapacitated and that it introduced the compensation allowance. This year, an election year, because there are not nearly as many people getting the 75 per cent and 100 per cent general rate war pension as there are getting less than those rates, the Government forgets about the incapacity and the increase in the compensation allowance and gives across the board increases to the whole range of general rate pensioners. Since I was given the answer to that question in May, the attitude of the Minister and the Government towards priorities in terms of the general rate pension has changed.
This trick is even worse when it is remembered that a Senate committee is inquiring into repatriation benefits and that a non-government independent committee also is inquiring into repatriation benefits. A decision that was made in 1964 that the general rate pension should remain static below 75 per cent has been altered while 2 inquiries are being conducted into the best way for repatriation benefits to be paid. The decision having been made in 1964, as indicated in Hansard of May this year, that decision should not have been altered until such time as the reports of the committees had been brought down and it was seen whether the attitude of the Government in this direction was correct or incorrect. On top of this, no increases have been granted in the present Budget to the wives and children of the general rate pensioners. If the Government is going to increase the general rate pension, which has not been increased since 1964, why not increase the rate that is paid to the wives and the children of those general rate pensioners? This further emphasises the fact that this is nothing more or less than a political bribe. If the general rate pension paid to ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen deserves to be increased, surely the rate of pension that is paid to the wives and children of those general rate pensioners also deserves to be increased. Why were the 3 rates not increased? Again, I emphasise that it is because the Government is trying to purchase votes.
Not only does the Government propose not to increase these rates in the field of repatriation; it has also taken the same attitude in the field of social services. There are no increases in child endowment or in the amounts paid in respect of children of social service pensioners and civilian widow pensioners. The family has been neglected. Perhaps the Government has neglected the children because children have no votes. Government supporters cannot show me one direction in which the Government has done anything for the children of families, apart from the 75 cents which is granted in respect of the children of war widows, the benefits relating to orphans and a couple of little things like that. But for the general family, no family allowance has been altered. So I say that children have no votes, and this entire Budget is a political Budget. It has been designed to purchase votes from the people.
This is why the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) will not announce the date of the election. He wants the altered social service benefits to get into the pockets of the people before he announces when the election will be. Up to this stage, all the increases that have been granted are only promises, and until such time as the people see the results of these promises in their pension cheques and until they see them in other directions, they are not going to believe that the promises will be kept. I say that, fundamentally, this is the reason that the Prime Minister will not tell the Parliament or the people when the election will be. If the reaction to the social service and repatriation increases is not as good as the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) and the Prime Minister believe it will be, the election will not be held until 9th December.
I now refer to the rates of pension that will be paid. Under these new provisions, the special or totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner will receive $48 a week, the intermediate rate pensioner will receive $34 a week, the general 100 per cent rate pension will be $14 a week and the war widows pension will be $20 a week. Both the Australian Labor Party and the Returned Services League have maintained that the special rate pension should be tied to the minimum wage and should not be less than the minimum wage. In the policy of the Labor Party that was laid down a number of years ago, clause 4 states:
The Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Pension to be raised to not less than the adult minimum wage as determined by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.
When the RSL presented its 1972 plan to the ex-servicemen’s committee of Cabinet it released a Press statement in which it said:
In the opinion of the RSL, the system of establishing compensation levels was outmoded and unjust. It was essential that if the principle of compensation was to be recognised, values should he adjusted automatically each year to compensate for rising living costs. This had been done already in a number of countries that could be compared with Australia. In both France and Israel, levels were adjusted by comparison with the salary of the Public Service; in New Zealand and Britain, they were adjusted by reference to the consumer price index. The RSL felt that an automatic relationship with the Minimum Wag; would be the most workable and the most just basis for automatic adjustment of compensation levels for war disabilities in Australia.
The Labor Party has suggested that the general rate pension should be 50 per cent of the minimum wage and both Labor and the RSL say that the special rate pension should be not less than the minimum wage. So the Labor Party, in common with the RSL, believes that the special rate pension should be $51.80 a week - the present minimum wage - the intermediate rate pension should be $36.26 a week, or 70 per cent of the special rate pension as it is at the moment, and the general rate pension should be $25.90, or 50 per cent of the special rate. The war widow’s pension should also be $25.90 to bring it back to the relative value that it had in 1949.
This would give the war widows an immediate increase of $5.90 a week. In 1949 the general rate pension and the war widow’s pension were running along fairly closely together. So, despite the claims that have been made by this Government about the marvels it has performed in the field of repatriation, it still can be shown conclusively that the biggest ex-service organisation in the Commonwealth, the Returned Services League, is still not satisfied with the attitude of this Government towards the ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen of Australia.
I now turn to another point. The funeral benefit has not been increased since 1953. Again, the Labor Party has suggested for a number of years that there should be an increase in the rate of funeral benefit. The policy of the Labor Party stipulates a funeral benefit of not less than $100. The RSL suggests that the figure should be $200. As Labor’s policy was laid down in 1968 or 1969, the figure of $100 should perhaps be changed to $200. According to the figures that I have in front of me, the minimum cost of a funeral in 1947 would have been $64.70. The repatriation grant was $30, or 46.3 per cent of the cost of the funeral. In 1957 funeral costs had risen to $133 and the repatriation grant had risen to $50 or 37.6 per cent of the cost of the funeral. In 1967 the cost of a funeral had risen to $207 while the repatriation grant remained at $50 and, as a percentage of the cost of a funeral, had fallen to 24.-1 per cent. In 1971 the cost of a funeral was about $261 and the repatriation grant was still $50, or 19.2 per cent of the cost of a funeral.
I say that if it was good enough to introduce a funeral grant in the first place, and good enough to increase the grant in 1953 from $30 to $50, surely there should be a continuation of the payment of the grant at a level commensurate with the percentage that applied in 1953, namely, 46.3 per cent. If the Government has seen fit to make decisions now to reintroduce increases to general rate pensions when there are 2 committees operating, it should also have seen fit to do something about increasing the funeral grant.
Mention was made in the Budget Speech of free of means test pensions. The Treasurer said:
The introduction of the proposed free of means test age pensions for persons of 65 or more years will not alter the position of people who are now eligible or may become eligible for pensions on a means tested basis, for example, women aged 60 years to 64 years, and widows and invalids who are residentially qualified for pension, and exservicemen aged 60 to 64 and ex-servicewomen aged 55 to 64 who have served in a theatre of war.
The service pension is granted to exservicemen and women 5 years earlier in each case than the civilian age pension is granted. But in this instance, in the free of means test proposal, the ex-servicemen and women will be disregarded unless they are over 65 years of age. If the rigours of war were bad enough to warrant a service pension to men at 60 years of age instead of 65, and to women at 55 years of age instead of 60, surely it is good enough to grant them a free of means test pension 5 years earlier than the Government proposes to grant it to civilians.
To take this point a little further, a civilian woman is entitled to an age pension at 60 but she is not entitled to a free of means test age pension until she is 65.
It is a wonder that the Women’s Liberation Movement has not taken up this matter because it shows discrimination against women. It is just another example of the political chicanery of this Government. The Australian Labor Party first suggested the abolition of the means test in about 1954. Two elections ago we suggested that we would do it in 6 years. Last election we suggested 6 years. The Government has not once brought down a proposal to do it, until this Budget - a budget for an election year. Despite all that it has done, it will have no opportunity of seeing government after the election this year, because it is time, and there will be a change.
– I know that the co-operation of the House is being sought and that the number of speakers in this debate is limited because there is a desire to finish the debate on this legislation and to put it into the hands of the Senate so that the benefits can be given to those who are entitled to them. The Bill gives effect to a number of promises contained in the Budget Speech delivered by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden). It deals with maximum rates of general rate war pension which will be increased to $14 a week. The special rate pension will be increased to $48 a week. The intermediate rate war pension, war widows pensions and domestic allowances will also be increased. I draw attention to the fact that this Bill is not the only measure which will bring these increases into effect. As pointed out in the second reading speech of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten), there will be amendments in the regulations. He said:
Amendments to regulations will be necessary to give effect to some of the improvements, such as the increase of 50c a week in the domestic allowance payable to war widows, and the provision of nursing home care for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen- and others. There are 3 aspects of the
Government’s repatriation proposals to which I would especially like to draw the attention of the House.
The first is the great area over which these proposals are spread, involving substantial increases in members war pensions and allowances, and in war pensions and allowances for the widows and children of deceased ex-servicemen, together with the extension of benefits. The second aspect to which the Minister for Repatriation referred in his second reading speech is the feci that these proposals should not be considered in isolation - I think that is a very important point - but in. the context of what the Government has done in the repatriation field over the life of this Parliament. When we look at it we see that some of the charges made by the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) cannot be sustained. What the House is considering here is the culmination of 3 years of activity during the life of this Parliament. Let me cite some figures to support that. In his speech the Minister drew attention to the fact that the total expenditure on repatriation services for the year 1969-70 was $3 17m. In 1971-72 this amount had risen to S37 . .6m. In other words, there was a rise between 1969-70 and 1970-71 of $60m. Total Government commitments on repatriation in the 1972-73 Budget are $4 18.9m. This is an increase of $41m. So we have not raised these amounts by as much this year - this election year, as the honourable member for Lang said - as we raised the full total of repatriation services in the previous year. I think I can say to the honourable member for Lang that this rather ruins his gloomy view of political gimmickry.
The next point I raise is the retention in the present proposal of and the Government’s emphasis over the last few years on improved compensation and improved care for the most severely disabled exservicemen - that is where the emphasis has been - and for the dependants of deceased ex-servicemen. As to the first of the 3 points I have raised, the wide effects of the Budget proposals on repatriation are immediately obvious from the legislation which is before the House. However, when one considers the legislation in conjunction with the proposed means test improvements as they affect ex-servicemen, the result is even more impressive. The Minister for Repatriation has given this House a few examples of some of these benefits. For instance, a married TPI ex-serviceman with no other means than his war pension will, with his wife, receive a total income in war and service pensions of $77.79 which, I emphasise, will be free of taxation. This is an increase of $11.50 a week and brings this couple into an income level comparable with quite a number of wage and salary earners. When added to the value of the fringe benefits for which the TPI ex-serviceman is eligible - such as free medical treatment, concessional fees for radio and television licences, telephone rental concession and others- the extent of the Government’s recognition both in money and in kind becomes very substantial.
Sitting suspended from 6.13 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I had mentioned 3 aspects of the Government’s repatriation proposals. Firstly, I drew attention to the great breadth of the repatriation proposals. Secondly, I said, probably in the form of an exhortation, that these proposals should not be considered in isolation but in the context of what the Government has done in the repatriation field during the life of this Parliament. I think I demolished the argument that the Government’s proposals amounted to election gimmickry by pointing out the amount of money which ha» been spent on repatriation over recent years. I pointed out that in 1969-70 the amount of $3 17m was expended and in 1971-72 the amount was $377. 6m, which is an increase of $60m. The total Government commitment on repatriation for this year under the proposals now before the House will amount to $41 8.9m which is an increase of only $41m last year compared with $60m in the previous year.
In his second reading speech the Minister gave some examples of the new benefits. I think we have to consider the new benefits such as the provision for home nursing care. This is another example of the Government’s concern for the most seriously disabled TPI and intermediate rate pensioners and its concern for the widows of deceased ex-servicemen as well as its interest in the welfare of that small and very wonderful band of women who served overseas as nurses during World War I. The extension of this additional benefit will undoubtedly be welcomed by ex-service organisations, particularly war widows organisations, because the new provisions will remove the major problem of the financial burden of nursing home care for chronic illness cases. In this new field the Government is continuing to honour its undertaking and the undertaking of previous parliaments and previous governments to look after the most seriously disabled ex-servicemen and to care for the widows of those men whose deaths were the result of their service to their country. 1 should like to mention at this stage the reaction to these proposals by various organisations, including the War Widows Guild. That organisation appears to be particularly pleased with the proposals relating to nursing home care. The Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Australia in various instances has expressed its appreciation. It makes one feel quite small when a totally and permanently disabled ex-servicemen’s association expresses some form of appreciation. The general reaction which I have encountered from various sub-branches of the Returned Services League indicates that they are satisfied with the proposals. I understand that the last issue of ‘Reveille’, which I have not seen but which I have been told about, expresses this view.
It is interesting to look at these new proposals in terms of the percentage increases in the benefits. The Minister has drawn attention to this and it bears repeating. The TPI rate has increased in 3 years by 33.3 per cent. The war widows pension rate in the last 3 years has gone up by one-third. With regard to the children of deceased servicemen, who died as a result of war service, for the first child there has been an increase of 36.1 per cent and 1 am glad to see that for the second child and subsequent children the increase has been 72.9 per cent. For children who have lost the support of both parents there has been an increase over the last 3 years, the life of this Parliament, of 44.8 per cent.
I should like to refer to the number of people who are affected by the proposed increases. The Minister mentioned in his second reading speech a figure of over 300,000 ex-servicemen and women or their dependants. I would like to mention one or two others. This is taken from the special Budget edition of the repatriation newsletter. The number who will benefit from an increase in the general rate is 190,880. Those who will benefit from an increase in the domestic allowance number 49,000. The number of war widows who will benefit total 50,000. Those on the standard service pension on the maximum rate who will benefit total 35,500. The married recipients who will benefit from the increases total 25,500. Undoubtedly a lot of people will benefit from these proposals.
Looking at the total commitment to repatriation services in terms of dollars, the Bill before the House and the regulations which are forecast in the Minister’s second reading speech will mean an additional expenditure of SI 4. 8m for the remainder of this year or $20m in a full year. In the Niemyer statement, which I generally carry with me and which sets out the Commonwealth financial transactions in terms of receipts and expenditure the total expenditure for repatriation services is shown as $388. 326m. To obtain a full picture, if we add on to that amount the administrative expenses of the Department, which are set out in a separate table attached to the Budget and amount to a further $20.8m, and the cost of capital works and services under the control of not only the Repatriation Department but also the Department of Works and the Department of the Interior we find that there is a total expenditure of $41 8.9m. That is the total Government commitment on repatriation for this year. The number of people employed in the Repatriation Department is just under 10,000, with a very high .percentage - two-thirds of them - working in the hospital and medical areas.
I should like to refer to that aspect of the proposals which deals with pensions, allocated according to rank. I am glad to see that this concept will be abolished. The Minister in his second reading speech said:
General rate war .pensions are presently payable at different levels, according to the ranks held during service. The Government considers that the principle of equal compensation for equal incapacity justifies abolishing these different levels and replacing them with a standard rate general pension of $14 a week at the 100 per cent level.
Clause 9 of the Repatriation Bill (No. 2) 1972 sets out how this will be carried out. As far as the general rate of pension is concerned, irrespective of rank the pension to be payable will be $28 a fortnight to a totally incapacitated member. According to column 3 in the table set out in clause 19 war widows except widows of members of the rank of captain - that is in the Navy - colonel, group captain and relative ranks will receive $40 a fortnight. There is a difference of about 10c but we will not argue about that. It is very close to being on the same level. Column 2 shows that the pension payable to a widowed mother is not affected. This brings me to that part of the Minister’s second reading speech where he said:
War widows are al present paid war pensions at different levels according to the ranks held by their deceased husbands during war service. Consistent with a change of policy in relation to general rate pensions, to which I have already referred, and-
I emphasise this part - with a view to eventually abolishing all distinctions of this nature, pensions at all levels other than the highest will be increased to the same level of $20 a week.
I emphasise the phrase ‘with a view to eventually abolishing all distinctions of this nature’. The sooner that is done, the better it will be. Undoubtedly it will be done in the next Budget. I want now to refer to investigations being conducted. Reference has been made to the inquiry by a Senate select committee. All honourable members know that the National Executive of the Returned Services League fostered a move to have an independent non-parliamentary committee set up. The objectives, generally speaking, were to review completely the operation of the Repatriation Act; generally to review the war and service pension rates; and to see whether repatriation hospital, medical and pharmaceutical benefits should be extended to all returned exservicemen from the Boer War or World War I, disregarding any connection between disability and illness on the one hand, and war service on the other hand. In October last year Mr Justice Toose, C.B.E., was nominated to carry out the inquiry. He has been given extensive terms of reference.
I am glad to be able to say that I know Mr Justice Toose personally. I have served with him. I know that whatever comes out of the inquiry, it will be based on the evidence. Many people will be pleased, some will be displeased. That goes without saying. I look forward to a very solid report coming from Mr Justice Toose. I have seen the workings of the repatriation scheme from several viewpoints. I have seen the scheme firstly as one of the taxpaying public; secondly, as president of an RSL sub-branch; thirdly, as a member of Parlia ment; and fourthly, as a pensioner. 1 deplore the attack on the functioning of the Repatriation Act which was launched by members of the Australian Medical Association. I do not want to say much about it because I know the members serving on the Senate select committee inquiring into repatriation and I know Mr Justice Toose, and I have no doubt that Mr Justice Toose and the Senate committee will know how to assess the value of the evidence before them and how to establish the correct order of value when they arrive at their findings. The Toose report and any action which flows from it lie in the future. In the meantime, the Bill that the Minister has put before the House today, for which he is to be commended, goes a long way in standing up to our responsibility to the ex-servicemen and exservice women of Australia, their widows and their dependants. In my opinion wc can never repay the genuine cases who have been left with a legacy of pain and suffering for which the whole of mankind is responsible. I support the Bill.
– We support the Bill but we will not be so full of adulation as our friends opposite. After listening to the continual congratulations of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) and the repatriation system on occasions such as this one wonders whether all the cases recorded in the filing cabinets of Federal members are fairy tales. In fact, this Bill does not make any greater progress than any one of the fifty or so tinkerings that have gone on in the past. Nobody knows what the answers are. Apart from some sort of investigation taking place at present, it is time to look at the system with a view to adopting a new set of principles or to revamping the principles that were adopted about 50 years ago.
I rather regret the procedures we have adopted. I accept, and my Party has accepted, the need to assist the passage of this legislation so that the benefits may be. paid as quickly as. possible, but I do not believe that this is the way we ought to approach any of these major pieces o social legislation. I hope that in future we will not need to give the legislation such a speedy passage, and we will not do so. In fact, today we are helping tha House of
Representatives to abdicate all direct responsibility for a complete examination of the repatriation system and to hand it back to the Minister and his Department. The Department is not too bad. The Minister has yet to show that he has any sort of drive at all behind him. So I raise my still, small voice in this matter.
One of the reasons why I want to speak in this debate is to support the remarks of the honourable member for Calare (Mr England) about the development of cynicism towards the repatriation system over the last few years. There are continual complaints by people. I understand that some people have written books about the system. Members of the medical profession are on record as having attacked the whole system. They have become totally cynical about it. People write leading articles in newspapers pointing out that so many millions of dollars are being paid out and, after all, it is SO years or more since the end of World War I and over 27 years since the end of World War II. They ask: How much longer does this go on?’ Perhaps this is a good occasion for the House of Representatives to affirm that it will go on for as long as there is any serviceman or dependant of a serviceman in need of the assistance of the repatriation system.
I suppose it is reasonable enough for the young to be forgetful and to overlook the fact that the war was real, that it destroyed lives and the rest of it. We have to realise that is a different community from the one into which we were born. There are perhaps one million people in Australia who were not bom in this country. Their approach to the general question of our participation in wars must be different from ours. The general public philosophy about it is unlikely to be outweighed by the feelings of those of us who belong to the generations which fought in 2 world wars.
It is important that we make sure that the current cynicism has no basis whatsoever. We often meet people who tell us that so and so is getting a TPI pension or some other pension but he never fired a shot. That may be true enough. Many people did not fire a shot. We are told that so and so did not leave Port Melbourne. When people tell me these stories in my office I say: ‘Let me know their names, will you?’
I have not received the name of one person. I suppose that some people get more than their entitlements. I do not know how that can be measured. I certainly know that in my filing cabinet I have details of many cases of people who have received a lot! less than I thought to be their entitlement.
A few members of the medical profession are on record as attacking the repatriation system. They say: ‘He is now 65. He is getting old, battered and bent, anyhow. The fact that he was hit by a bullet at point X is not necessarily the cause of the pains he now has in his heart. That has nothing to do with it.’ How can it be proved, one way or the other? The medical profession is more notable for its ignorance of many causes than for its knowledge of the facts of life or death. Members of the medical profession do not know the cause of cancer or heart complaints. They are not certain of the cause of diabetes. They do not know much about the human mind or neurosis. On the question of war neurosis, I am reminded that the very first report of the Repatriation Commission back in 1920 devotes about H pages to the subject. It points out how difficult it is to determine the causes of neurosis and how many neuroses develop after return from the war and discharge. They occur for all sorts of reasons. The pressures of war may create latent defects in a person. They are compounded by the pressures of civilian life. I hope that we will squash emphatically all the talk that the repatriation system is one great racket. I do not believe that it is.
How can the quality of compensation be assessed? How can we compensate a widow? One of my colleagues has told me that his father died 41 years ago. His mother has been a widow for 41 years. How can one possibly measure what that means? There is just no way of doing it. How can one measure what being an orphan means? It is true that the soldiers’ children’s education scheme is one of the most effective and continuous forms of social service operating in this country, but the fact is that the deprivation of the family because of the loss of a serviceman, or the total or partial incapacity of a serviceman, is totally immeasurable.
How is the compensation to be measured for a person who goes to war and returns reasonably healthy but cannot play cricket or football any more although he is only 23 or 24 years of age? Occasionally he is ill, perhaps once a year or so. He cannot do the things he used to do. The cause may be minor injuries. How is that to be measured over 30 years? I do not think one can measure it. We can only give some compensation. Of course, the point is that in fact the compensation is only a token. In the case of the person who is smashed up in some way and who has immeasurable disabilities and penalties inflicted upon him, all we can do is see that he is treated justly and do the best we can. I suppose we could argue from here to kingdom come about the entitlement of a person who is not totally incapacitated. While the total and permanent incapacity pension might appear to be a substantial sum when it is looked at from the lowly depths of the ordinary pension system, or even when it is looked at from the point of view of a man and his wife who are on the minimum wage, it is still pretty miserable, k it not?
I should like to remind the House of the particularly poignant position of the victims of Vietnam. We conscripted them. Even those of us on this side of the House, who felt very strongly about conscription and who opposed it as vigorously as we could, were part of the machinery which conscripted them. Young people who were full of vigour were sent to Vietnam. Some 2,000- odd of them were wounded, and a good number of these are incapacitated; some are totally incapacitated. What did we do to our young man of 20 years of age? We took him to Vietnam; he was smashed up; he will never work; he will be imprisoned within the repatriation system all his life. Nobody can say that we did not conscript him into a lifetime of poverty in comparison with the relative affluence of the community and what may well have been his potential. So please do not let us talk about substantial increases in pensions or how gracious we are about it.
Of course, we can learn lessons from the system. There has been a continual search to produce an equitable system. One finds on the front page of the Repatriation Act some SO references to changes to it. When we turn back to the very beginnings of the Act we see the difficulties that were faced.
We see that even at that time there was a search for a solution; Australia was facing a difficult problem. Mr Poynton, the Minister who introduced the Bill into this House on behalf of the senator who was Minister for Repatriation said:
I suppose that, in regard to every other piece of legislation introducing reforms, there can be found in some part of the world an example, a copy, upon which to base our efforts. It would be rare, indeed, if we were unable to secure a lead from some source or other. Respecting repatriation, however, we could not look to any other legislative act upon which to base our own Statute.
It had been traditional for most communities to exploit their soldiers and their servicemen and to neglect them. It is to the credit of our ancestors in this place that they set out to do better than that. In that period they established something that appeared to be better than any system anywhere else. General Birdwood is quoted as saying:
I have been through the several States and I have come to the conclusion that there is no other country that is doing so much for the soldier as Australia.
I do not think we can say that now. It would be interesting to make a real comparison between the situation in Australia and that in, say, Canada or the United States of America. So we on this side of the House over recent years have been continuing our campaign for a more liberal interpretation of section 47 of the Act. That section was put in the Act so that the benefit of the doubt would go to the exserviceman absolutely. As I mentioned when I began my remarks, it may be that it is time to examine the whole system in principle and see exactly how we want it to work. Should there be a pension related to disabilities or should there not? But the interesting point in this contest about section 47 - it is my belief that the section often has been administered the wrong way around - is that when it was amended back in 1943 it was pointed out to Dr Evatt who was then the Attorney-General that it would mean that ex-servicemen virtually would be covered for all disabilities which were in any way connected with their war service, and he replied: This is precisely what I intend’. In fact, back in 1943 the whole basis of section 47 was that the nation would make some commitment for the commitment undertaken by the servicemen in being in the Services. We still search for a solution to this problem. Honourable members here say: ‘I have been knocked back on this case and on that case’. I do not know why they were knocked back. One can turn to the events of 1920 and look at the remarks of Mr Hector Lamond, the honourable member for Illawarra at the time, who said:
I would like to see some more accurate description of the ground upon which soldiers may be entitled to pensions and benefits. Every honourable member must have received scores of refusals from the Department to deal with cases of merit merely because the injury of the party concerned was stated not to have resulted from warlike operations.
Those remarks were made back in 1920. It is almost time we found a solution to this problem. I do not know what the solution is. I do not think the solution is based simply upon evidence, as my friend the honourable member for Calare (Mr England) says. I think something more is involved in this situation than mere evidence; there is involved an evaluation, a remembrance, of what it is all about - to give every person individual attention. I will say this for the repatriation system: I think this is the way in which it is generally administered. It is a good umbrella once you get in under it, but it is still a bit of a battle for many people in many cases to do so. Of course, honourable members here have mentioned the size of the commitment. In the First World War, 416,000 served and 60,000 were killed; in the Second World War 990,000 served; in Korea that number was 17,000 and in Vietnam it was 49,000. lt is instructive for honourable members to check the schedule and the appendices to the report of the Repatriation Commission and to look at the relationship between the casualties and the number of servicemen being paid pensions. Twenty-odd years after the First World War, pensions were being paid to 65,000 ex-servicemen; 183,000 pensions were being paid 20-odd years after the Second World War. If one looks at the casualties of the 2 wars and compares them one finds that they were 2 or 3 times as heavy during the First World War. The relationship between casualties and benefits shows that those who served in the First World War got a rough deal. When we look at the relationship between those wars and the Korea and Vietnam commitments, we see that we became more generous spirited as time went on. It may well be that at that stage we took some dramatic step to recapture the lost opportunities to be more generous to people, particularly those who served in the First World War.
I regard the repatriation system as a very important function of government. I would regard any tinkering with the apparatus in such a way that it became just part of the general social services system as being to the disadvantage of the exservicemen and against the general principles for which it was established. However, I believe there are many areas of the system which ought to be expanded - for instance, the education scheme for the children of soldiers. Perhaps we ought to do more in relation to those whose death is not directly attributable to war service. As I say, the repatriation system is a very good umbrella for those who are in it. I think we could look at the question of pensions applying to children of school age. The idea of cutting off a pension when a child turns 16 is irrelevant in the society in which we live.
So it is worth remembering what war service was all about and continuing to remind the citizens what it was like to be there. What was it like to be at Gallipoli? What was it like to be on the Somme? What was it like to be in .the western desert? What was it like to fight on the Kokoda Trail? As I remember it, when the 7th Division went into action on the Kokoda Trail it was 13,000 or 14,000 strong, but by the time the operation was over 5 or 6 months later - what with battle casualties, killed and wounded, malaria and all the rest of it - there had been almost a complete turnover in the Division. Countless thousands of people were never recorded as casualties. Men stayed in the line until their temperature reached over 100 degrees, as I understand it. What did that do to people? Why is it that one knows ex-servicemen who are dying unexpectedly in their forties? It seems to me that among the people with whom I associate this is occurring more in relation to ex-servicemen than in relation to people in the general community in the same age group.
I do not know whether there are any adequate statistics on this. I do not know whether a close run has been kept on, say, an infantry battalion so that its members could be tracked down in order to compare them with a control group in the community of 700, 800 or 1,000 people. The people who enlisted were the fittest people we could get. It is not even fair to say that their casualty rate from heart disease is now identical with the rate applying in the rest of the community. When they enlisted they were not identical with the rest of the community. They were a special group. My medical colleagues may say: ‘We cannot relate this heart condition or this cancer to war service’. I know that we cannot do so. However, we make a plea from this side of the House - I suppose it is a belief that exists in the hearts of many other people and I know it is not the issue - for lost ground to be made up. I am disappointed that this debate on repatriation has arisen in this way. If the Opposition agreed to let the Bill pass through all its stages today the Minister’s second reading speech and the Bill itself should have been handed to us before the debate commenced. We have been able to deal with this subject in only a slightly perfunctory way.
I hope that the Senate committee really goes to work on this subject. It is a pity that this chamber has not done so. I assure honourable members that as far as I am concerned it will be a long time before large numbers of Australians get more than they deserve from the Australian repatriation system. One of my constituents was knocked to pieces on The Somme in 1916 or 1917. He had a smashed hip. He carried it all his life. He would be out of work for a week and return to work for 2 months and then would be off work for a month. He led a reasonably miserable existence. When he died at 65 they said that his heart condition had nothing to do with his war experiences. I just do not believe that the human frame was designed to carry around smashed limbs or painful parts of the human anatomy for 40 or 50 years, for the heart to take it, and for the person concerned to go down smiling. It is time for a total revaluation not only of medical benefits but also of all kinds of coverage we are prepared to give to any person who served in our forces. Service was an emotional, psychological and almost spiritual commitment and we should not let ourselves be howled down by the medical profession, by the writers of leading articles or by anyone else. It is a question of commitment by the community of the same order as the servicemen accepted when they committed themselves during wartime.
– At times there have been some unfortunate statements and expressed opinions unfavourable to repatriation pensions and benefits. I say unfortunate’ because over the years Australia as a nation has been proud of its attitude to its ex-servicemen. Our proud boast has been our interest in the welfare of our ex-servicemen and their dependants. Our concern for and admiration of our exservicemen have been greater than in other nations. However, great as it has been it is not sufficient and we should try to do more. In recent times some people have made unwarranted attacks on our repatriation system, hinting that many exservicemen are granted pensions to which they are not entitled. Such bold statements would be difficult to prove. I do not admit that any persons are receiving pensions to which “they are not justly entitled. On the other hand because of my long association with the Returned Services League, I know of many men who were entitled to pensions but have been denied same. Chairmen and members of repatriation tribunals have assured me over the years that any benefit of the doubt has been given to the exserviceman. Be that as it may, I have known of men who were denied pensions and who eventually gained same but only after years of hardship and suffering.
Never before in the history of man have men endured and suffered as did the men of the First World War, and for anyone to state that their mental and physical strength had not been impaired as a result of their service, even though delayed for many years, is an indictment. I challenge anyone to prove that these men did not suffer tortures which were almost indescribable. The lived and fought in mud and slush infested with vermin and with rodents as dugout occupants. High explosive bombs would kill 3 or 4 men in a section. The other members of the section would be hurled to the ground but would be able to carry on for the time being. Does anyone suggest that this experience would not tell against them in later life?
Thousands of men who were slightly gassed continued on duty. They were not hospitalised and did not receive medical treatment. So in later life, when beset by bronchial afflictions, they could not prove that this condition was caused by their war service. They endured massive bombardments and they had to follow creeping bombardments within 100 yards.
I instance the case of one such gas victim. For years he was refused a pension. In despair I requested his wife to bring me all his papers, pay books and similar documents. In his pay book under the date 17th June 1971 I found the entry: ‘Slightly gassed; continued on duty’. It was signed by A. W. Smith, Lieutenant. A fresh application was made and within one month he was granted a TPI pension, but he should have received such a pension some 10 years earlier.
Let us consider the men of the Second World War, particularly prisoners of war who worked in copper mines at temperatures of up to 120 degrees with only a loin cloth about them. After 12 hours in sweltering heat, without nourishing food, they had to trudge through tunnels with temperatures below zero. Surely no sane person would say that ailments that beset these men in later life could not have been attributable to war service. Let there be no humbug about repatriation. I was pleased to hear the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) say that the people of Australia would stand behind what they said. I am sorry that our ex-servicemen have not secured more recognition by way of monetary assistance for the damage their bodies and minds have received.
The Bill increases the rate for a single TPI pension from $44.50 a week .to $48 a week. This is in addition to increases of $2 a week last April and $3.50 a week last September. In 12 months, therefore, the TPI rate of pension, which is also paid to those temporarily totally incapacitated, the blind, certain tuberculosis sufferers, certain double amputees and by way of sustenance allowance to those receiving treatment in hospital, or prolonged outpatient treatment which prevents them working because of their accepted disability, has been increased by $9 a week. Additionally, as those who qualify for the TPI rate of pen sion also qualify for service pension on the grounds of permanent unemployability, or invalid pension, increases in the means test pensions, and also the easing of the means test, have further considerably improved the financial position of the special rate pensioners. For example, a single TPI pensioner with no means affecting his service or invalid pension, other than his war pension, was paid a total of $40 prior to last year’s Budget and will receive a total of S54 a week following the passing of this legislation. A married TPI pensioner and his wife with negligible means other than war pension, who received a total of $59.29 prior to last year’s Budget, will receive a total of $77.79 a week as a result of this year’s Budget.
Apart from the direct payments made to these pensioners they also qualify for a number of very worthwhile fringe benefits such as free medical treatment, telephone, wireless and television concessions and, for those of them who are very seriously incapacitated, there are additional payments such as attendance allowance and recreation transport allowance. Of course, if they have dependent children as well, benefits by way of pension and education assistance are available in various forms and at various rates until the completion of tertiary education.
The intermediate rate is payable to those who are incapacitated to the extent that they cannot engage in continuous full time work. It will be increased from $31.25 to $34 a week. The intermediate rate is a very important development of recent years. It was introduced in 1965 and is designed to allow those who are seriously incapacitated, and unable to hold down a regular full time job, to remain useful members of the work force as long as possible.
About 190,000 repatriation general rate pensioners on 100 per cent pension will benefit from this year’s increase of $2 a week. Additionally some of them also will benefit from other proposals such as the increases in the amounts payable under the fifth Schedule for amputations or the loss of an eye. The new 100 per cent rate will be $14 a week. It is payable to those who suffer incapacity as a result of their war service but who, solely because of that incapacity, are not prevented from working, notwithstanding that they may be considerably handicapped in many respects. For those who also receive a special compensation allowance at the 100 per cent rate, the total weekly payment will be $20.
Prior to last year’s Budget most war widows received a total payment by way of war pension and domestic allowance of $24 a week from the Repatriation Department. A large number of them were also eligible for an additional amount of $8.50 a week by way of social service pension if their means, other than their repatriation pensions, were negligible. As a result of the provisions of this Bill those war widows in future will receive $28.50 a week repatriation benefit and $15.75 a week social service benefit which represents a total increase over the 12 month period of $11.75, giving them a total weekly income of $44.25. In addition to these payments war widows are entitled to a number of valuable fringe benefits from the Commonwealth. If they have children undergoing education they receive the full benefits of the soldiers’ children’s education scheme which covers them till the completion of their tertiary education. Apart from those benefits, war widows are entitled to repatriation medical facilities throughout life and their children are entitled to free medical treatment up to the age of 21 years if they are undergoing full time education. If necessary a war widow can receive training to enable her to undertake employment.
Service pensions are available to cxservicemen and ex-service women if they have suffered from tuberculosis or have served in a theatre of war and are 60 years of age, if a man, and 55 years of age, if a woman, or are permanently unemployable. In the past 12 months there have been 3 increases in service pension rates. In addition, this year there has been a considerable easing of the means test. Apart from the resultant substantial benefits to those already receiving service pensions, many of whom also receive war pensions, a large number of people could qualify for service pensions for the first time. The service pension rate for a single exserviceman has increased from $16 to $20 a week in the last 12 months and combined payments to a husband and wife who are both in receipt of service pensions have increased from $21.25 to $34.50 a week. For many service pensioners, a number of fringe benefits are also available from Commonwealth sources.
There were 3 important proposals in relation to repatriation allowances for children included in this year’s Budget. Firstly, the living allowances payable to children eligible for benefits under the soldiers’ children’s education scheme will be increased. This will be done under the authority of repatriation legislation and no reference to those increases is, therefore, included in this Bill. Secondly, and this is a major improvement which will be available to all children whose parents receive war pensions but do not receive substantial Commonwealth assistance specifically related to the maintenance of a child doing full-time education, the Repatriation Act will be amended to allow the war pensions of those children undergoing full time education to continue until the children reach ?.l years of age. In these days of technological change there is an increasing need for children to undertake higher education to fit them for their future roles as citizens and anything that can be done to assist them to that end should be done. Such assistance is already being given by way of Commonwealth scholarships but since not every child receives such a scholarship, the proposal to continue the payment of war pensions to children undergoing full-time education but not receiving other substantial Commonwealth assistance towards riving costs until they reach 21 years of age is a very commendable step forward. Thirdly, the war pensions payable to those children who have lost their father as a result of war service and to those who have lost their mother have been increased again so that now the former group will receive $7.35 a week and the latter group $14.70 a week.
The proposal to provide the major part of the cost of nursing home care for totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners, intermediate pensioners, war widows and 1914 war nurses is very commendable. As the weekly amount which these pensioners will be required to contribute towards the cost of their maintenance in a nursing home in all cases is less than the maximum amount they can receive by way of Commonwealth pensions, these proposals will completely remove the worry and expense which many of them and their relations have had to bear. Over 300,000 people will benefit from the repatriation proposals in this year’s Budget. Total repatriation expenditure for a full year will increase by about $40m to over $400m. As the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) has pointed out, during the last 3 years many of the rates of repatriation pensions have increased in excess of the increases in various economic indexes. The Government’s achievements in the repatriation field are beyond the scope of valid criticism. Letters of appreciation of the Government’s proposals this year already have been received from various ex-service organisations. They have expressed their gratitude for the consideration which has been given to repatriation pensioners. We can never sufficiently reward those men who endured so much for Australia and the world for their suffering and anguish not only during the war but also since the war ended. We have in the Minister for Repatriation a man of compassion, of understanding and of good will. There is not one honourable member opposite who could say that the Minister has not been of help whenever they have required his assistance. I have had to contend with many difficult cases and he has gone out of his way to help me. He has even called in his Director and, his senior medical officer. There is nothing that he would not do for any repatriated soldier in this country. No better man could be in the position of Minister for Repatriation and I am sorry that the honourable member for Wills spoke as he did. Apparently he does not realise the character and stature of the man who is Minister for Repatriation.
– I endorse the remarks made by my colleague the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant). Some of the problems I am experiencing in my electorate specifically relate to the application of section 47 of the Act, which deals with the onus of proof, to cases arising from specific diseases, such as cancer, and death from causes such as heart failure. In ;very instance it appears almost impossible to convince any tribunal that causes such as the 2 I have just mentioned could be attributable to war service. I do not think the section is being interpreted to the fullest in the way it was intended to be interpreted, which was evidenced in the debate when section 47, as we now know it, was amended in 1943. It will be seen in the Hansard report of the debates of that time that the expressed intentions were to give the maximum benefit to the returned servicemen, to give fullest sympathy for the difficulties of the soldiers and to guarantee that all discretion would be in their favour. Yet these things are virtually denied exservicemen in cases involving the 2 diseases about which we are talking - cancer and heart failure. In every case appeals involving these diseases are rejected on the basis that the disease could have been due to other circumstances and not to war service. Looking at section 47, it would appear to me - I think this was the intention of the legislature at the time - that if any medical evidence at all is produced in favour of the appellant he should win because sub-section (2.) of section 47, leaving out any reference to onus of proof because that is removed from him, states:
It shall not be necessary for the claimant . . to furnish proof to support his claim-
In other words, he could win just on the fact that he has appealed- but the . . . tribunal . . . shall draw, from all the circumstances of the case, from the evidence furnished and from medical opinions -
There is a mandatory injunction there in the words ‘shall draw’-
So the appellant only has to produce medical evidence and he should win. This is the simple situation, but it never happens. We must ask: Who on these tribunals would have the experience to say that the evidence submitted should be rejected? As a result of some of my constituents talking to me some time ago, I have been encouraged to look at a decision, reported in the All England Law Reports of 9th August 1947, in the case of Miller v. Minister of Pensions. It contains a discussion by Mr Justice Denning on the question of what might cause cancer. There was medical conflict as to what might cause cancer of the oesophagus. In this case the soldier concerned had served in the Middle East and it was deemed, on medical evidence submitted, that the dust and the conditions of the Middle East could well have caused this cancerous condition of the throat. The soldier’s case was rejected on the weight of medical evidence. Nevertheless, there was medical evidence to say that it was not beyond all possibility that the dust and dirt of the Middle East could have caused this cancer, because there was ample medical evidence to show that those associated with dust and dirty conditions suffer from lung cancer and other cancers of the body.
It could have been that in this case justice was denied. If the case had been brought in Australia justice would have been denied. The English legislation does not have the same provision as we have in section 47. In other words, the weight of medical evidence in the English case established that the probabilities may not have been in favour of the soldier, but there was medical evidence to suggest that cancer could have been caused in these circumstances. Mr Justice Denning said that where there was a probability or even a possibility, or as long as it was not beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the disease was war-caused there was an opportunity for the tribunal to find that the cancer was due to war service. Applying that principle to the Australian conditions, if a soldier can say that he served in conditions of dust or dirt, as he readily could say, and there is medical evidence to say that he has cancer, the tribunal cannot exclude the fact that the medical evidence could be in his favour to such an extent that he should win the appeal. But that reasoning is never acceptable.
Another factor which causes the same problems, as mentioned by my colleagues, is heart disease. I notice from Hansard years ago that as a result of 300 autopsies being performed on United States battle casualties in the Korean war there had been complete evidence of heart disease, even though those unfortunate casualties were very young. The average age was 22 years. A preliminary report by Major William Enos on coronary disease among United States soldiers in 1953 established the fact that the stress and strain of battle and the excessive circulation of the blood flowing into the heart chambers and back out again cause a plaque or blockage of the arteries. This is medical evidence which cannot be denied, because it is factual. The report stated that in several of the cases there was over 90 per cent luminal narrowing. The plaques completely filled the lumin but displayed a free surface. It showed that in 3 per cent of the battle casualties there was a complete occlusion. We could say that that was medical evidence that a soldier might well be able to submit.
I have before me now the case of a fellow who served on HMAS ‘Australia’ for 6 years from 1939 to 1945. He enlisted at the age of 17 years and was engaged in every action in which that ship took part. He was engaged in the stress and strain of battle and in carrying shells to the guns. He has had 2 major coronaries now, at the age of 52 years, and his claims for a repatriation pension have been rejected on the basis that his condition could not possibly be due to war service. He could get a doctor to say that there is evidence to show that through the stress and strain of battle a person gets a narrowing of the arteries and he should win, but his case has been rejected completely.
The report on coronary disease among United States soldiers states that it was maintained that eddying in the arteries occuring during the recoil and the other functions of the heart caused an occlusion. That is what the man to whom I have referred is suffering from now, and this evidence could well have helped him secure a ruling that his condition was war-caused, but his case was rejected on the tribunal’s interpretation of section 47. So section 47 is not achieving the justice it was meant to achieve. It would be far better for this Parliament to say that in cases where there is cancer or heart disease the Commonwealth will admit liability, because we can not exclude the possibility that these diseases are war-caused.
What happens in these tribunals? I will close on this note because I know that one of my colleagues wants to make some remarks. It has become a lucky dip in New South Wales whether a person appears before War Pensions Entitlement
It is completely irreconcilable that one tribunal can ‘be granting, say, 40 per cent of applications and the other granting 10 per cent. It would be a question of chance
Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– That document clearly illustrates, apart from the defect of section 47, apart from the fact that medical evidence could be introduced and apart from the fact that if it is introduced the ex-soldier should win, that this other human element, this problem of injustice, exists at all times. In a small group of 3 one could influence the other 2 to make decisions that were always against the applicant. This is not justice. It does not even appear to be justice when we look at the figures. It is apparent that many of the men who have been denied opportunities by Tribunal No. 2 do not realise that if they had gone before Tribunal No. 3 they might have won. It is about time the Department had a look back over the cases and asked for review of them, because it would appear that appellants have suffered an injustice. Further I think it is about time this Parliament had a look at the specific causes of fatal illnesses or terminal illnesses. There are no second chances when cancer or heart attacks come on the scene. These men are sick. It is not a question of them malingering or having nothing wrong with them. They have these fatal illnesses and they are pleading for a chance to obtain some compensation or some treatment. That was the real merit of section 47. I would like the Minister for Repatriation, sympathetic as he is, to have a look at the way that this section was intended to operate when it was introduced hi 1943 and the way that it has worked since. If he feels now that the tribunals have not been administering justice - I submit in many cases that they have not - there should be an amendment introduced to guarantee that there will be no further failure in this respect.
– Before I refer to some other points I should like to make a passing reference to some of the issues raised tonight by members of the Opposition. At a time when an election is just around the corner the Opposition is indulging in some carrot hanging. Perhaps this is an indication that members of the Opposition are not really familiar with what this Government has done in the field of repatriation because previous speakers tonight, including the shadow Minister for National Development, the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) and a number of others advocated the policy of the Opposition whereby various rates of pension would be equated with the minimum wage.
For a start they suggested that the intermediate rate pension should be 70 per cent of the minimum wage. The minimum wage is approximately $31.80 a week and 70 per cent of that represents is $36.26. I have a copy of the new tax rates contained in the schedule of income tax instalment deductions. If we subtract the tax of $2.95 payable by a working person from the minimum wage, we have the Australian Labor Party proposing a pension rate some 70c less than the rate that the Government has proposed in this Bill. In relation to a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner the tax scale would require payment by a working person of $5.65 a week on the minimum wage of $51.80 a week, which means that, if the Australian Labor Party does what it says it will do, the effective rate for a TPI pensioner would be $46.15 while the rate paid by the Government is to increase by $3.50 to $48. That is a difference of nearly $2, so I know what the TPI pensioners will be doing when they vote. Remarkably, the Labor Party is either ignorant of the rates to be paid or it intends to do what it says it will do.
What this Government has done has been most worthy. To take one example, a single TPI pensioner with no other means but his war pension and who now receives a service pension is paid $44.50 a week war pension and $1 a week service pension, a total income of $45.50 a week. Under the proposals outlined in this Bill, his war pension will be increased by $3.50 a week and his service pension by $5 a week, giving him an income of $54 a week, which is an increase of almost $10 a week. A married TPI pensioner and his wife who have no other means but their war pensions and who receive service pensions will similarly enjoy substantial increases. Their total war and service pension entitlement is now $66.29 a week. In their case, the war pension increase will be $3.50 a week and their service pension increase will be $2.50 a week for the TPI pensioner and $5.50 a week for his wife, giving them a total income in war and service pensions of $77.79 a week.
If the couple have 2 children aged, say, 13 years and 15 years, the increase in service pension will be $6.61 a week for the TPI pensioner and $9.25 a week for his wife. When the children’s pensions and education allowances are added, the family income will be $102.28 a week. I do not think that any fair minded person could accuse this Government of having abandoned its responsibility in this field. Another pleasing aspect of the Bill is that the Government has at long last seen fit to alter the general rate pension set-up whereby previously the pension was payable at different levels according to the ranks the recipients held during service. As far as I am concerned, if a man has suffered as a result of his war service there should be no difference in the rate to which he is entitled whether he were a colonel, a general, a corporal or a private. A man is either discharged from the Services fit to return to his normal style of occupation with all his health or he is not. It does not matter what his rank was. I do not believe that the past policy on this aspect has, to say the least, shown a healthy attitude.
In recent months the criticism which has been levelled at the Repatriation Department and at ex-servicemen who receive - I do not use the word ‘enjoy’ - some type of recognition through the Department in the form of the various pensions has grown out of all proportion, and in my view it has become very unfair criticism. I suppose that the beginning of it all was a little orange book titled ‘Be in it Mate’. If all those who thought that the ‘Little Red School Book’ was a dirty little booklet were to pick up and read ‘Be in it Mate’, they would be even more sickened. It was written by a John Whiting from South Australia and it more or less conveys the experiences of a fictitious Dr Andrews who is supposed to be a young medical officer working in an Australian repatriation hospital. At the end of the book the author says that he realises that the circulation of the book will draw the attention of the ‘big guns’.
– It is a little orange book?
– Yes, it is a little orange book titled ‘Be in it Mate*. But here is this fearless man speaking out and telling everybody what a big racket repatriation is - according to him.
I am a generation removed from the generation that fought in the Second World War but I believe .that the great majority of young people today, while they would never condone or agree to payments being made to people who did not really deserve them, would be in favour of payments being made to those who did deserve them. Like every other system that is administered by man and not by computers, mistakes certainly will be made on occasions. There certainly will be a few recipients of the various forms of pension who really should not be in receipt of them, but the great majority of those who receive benefits are deserving of them.
I have acted as an advocate on a tribunal. It lasted an hour to an hour and a half, and we went down the drain. Kaputt We did not win. Yet, on reading this little orange book written by John Whiting, one would think .that every time a politician poked his nose into a repatriation case it was a green light for the Department to say: ‘Quick, fellows, we are going to be in trouble. It does not matter what this fellow has wrong with faim - give to him what he asks, because a politican is involved.’ I believe that these insinuations are an insult to every departmental officer and to every member of this Parliament. I know that each and every one of us will endeavour to do the right thing by those people whom we are privileged to represent. No doubt many of us act in our capacity as representatives of the people to the fullest degree possible. But no member of Parliament is prepared to send his reputation down the drain by trying to win one vote from a constituent who is not entitled to something, when he has to face 60,000 voters.
Dr Hecker is another South Australian doctor who wrote this book, and is in his early forties. As far as I am concerned, both doctors have bent and twisted minds. They are against repatriation and politicians. They are against ex-servicemen. I will never know how they could have continued to work as doctors in repatriation hospitals when so much was bothering them. If they were men of fibre they would have walked out the moment the thought dawned upon them that the place was full of malingerers and undeserving people. We live in a tolerant society. Of these 2 doctors, who are poor examples of the medical profession, one has seen fit to produce a publication such as this. I have never seen ex-servicemen’s organisations resort to those tactics. Recently the President of the Returned Services League in Queensland - my namesake, Mr Cameron - suggested that many of the doctors in the Repatriation Department today are of a generation a little removed from the war scene. There is a deal of truth in the suggestion that, no matter what the tribunals may decide, basically the decision is made by the doctors who do the examination. Let me come back to the book ‘Be in it, Mate’. The doctor is indirectly criticising his colleagues - people in the same profession. As far as I can see, the Repatriation Department is a very fair department and at all times will do what it can for ex-servicemen.
– If it is fair, how could your fellow have gone down the drain?
– Perhaps it was the advocate. I do not know. Perhaps it was the evidence from some of these doctors. I want to refer to the policy that has been pursued by this Government in the past and the policy which should be pursued in the future in relation to staff for the Department of Repatriation. During the Second World War some 11,568 employees of the Commonwealth of Australia enlisted. A great many of these returned to the Commonwealth Public Service after the Second World War. By 1950 approximately one-half of all people employed in the Repatriation Department were ex-servicemen. I believe that this has contributed to the great degree of understanding that departmental officers have shown in their dealings with people making application for the various repatriation benefits. I am not saying that a person who has not served would not understand - far from it. But I think the fact that there have been men who have been able to say: I was in the show myself; I know what you are talking about’, has brought about a considerable amount of confidence in the Department and its work.
Since 1965, some 3,000 Commonwealth employees have been called up for national service. I do not know how many have served in Vietnam, but I suggest that in the future a greater effort be made to recruit into the Department of Repatriation those who have served either in Vietnam or as national servicemen, because those thousands of young Australians who have recently served abroad have to be catered for in the future. As at 31st December 1971 in the central office of the Department here in Canberra there was only one returnee from Vietnam, in New South Wales there were 8, in Victoria 5, in South Australia 3 and in Queensland 6, making a total of 23. I would like to leave the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) with the thought that some effort should be made to encourage many other people who have returned from service in the Vietnam war to take an interest in the Repatriation Department as a career, because in the years to come they will be the ones who will be dealing with the soldiers who have recently served overseas. 1 am not saying that the young people in the Department of Repatriation today who have not served are incapable of handling the repatriation cases, but I see advantages - even though they may be simply psychological - in having a component of people in the Department who understand what active service has been all about.
In concluding, I repeat my belief that it is not possible for people just to go along to the Department and say: ‘1 have been shivering at night lately. I want a repatpension’. There is a rather filthy cartoon in this little yellow book I referred to earlier which shows a woman lying on a bed. It is entitled: ‘Cookie having an attack of War Nerves.’ lt shows her lying on her bed, scratching her neck, knees crossed, looking at a blood pressure chart and then scratching her back. It is making a big joke ot war nerves. Perhaps the author did not have the courage to say what he was trying to suggest in that cartoon, namely, that a lot of the fellows who served overseas and who are now suffering from war nerves are just bunging on a big act. As a non-medical man, I cannot judge. Recently I saw a man at my home who was in his early fifties and who was convinced that some of the things wrong with him were as a result of his war service. I would not know whether they were, but this man was actually crying from frustration. He did not believe that he was getting a fair go. I believe there is a possibility that his war service was a contributing factor. This man in his fifties was, until a few years ago, as strong and as able as anyone in this House. But now he is weak. His war service may have contributed to that state. I remind those who are able to give the nod when it is deserved, that there is a clause in the Act which requires that, when there is some doubt, the pension should be granted. Australians would acquit 10 men who were guilty in preference to convicting one who was not, and the same thing should apply to the Repatriation Act and its administration.
– I want to speak for a short time about the Repatriation Bill. I understand that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) who is in charge of the House is feeling like an impatient bride and wants to pack the whole business up. Nevertheless it ought to be recognised that this debate has been in progress I think for less than 2i hours. It was not so many years ago when Parliament used to spend something like a day on repatriation. I think there is a sadistic sickness in the country when the Government, which seems to reflect in many matters the views of the people, regards this matter as capable of being downgraded. I believe it is worthy of ventilation and adequate time. I claim the right to say a few words because since I came here I have always felt strongly about this matter, having had a personal involvement with it since the time I was a little kid.
I was very pleased to hear what was said by speakers from both sides of the House this evening. I am always encouraged to hear my colleague the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) because he is a man of military involvement. He is a man who suffered in the war. The honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin), who also spoke, is a man of similar distinction. My colleague the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) is a man who has applied himself with skill, expertise and great sincerity to the cause of ex-servicemen. The fact that he has been able to bring to the consideration of the Parliament tonight some of the very perplexing questions that are in fact affecting a large number of exservicemen I think has been to the advantage of ex-servicemen around Australia. I remember the occasions in this Parliament when some of the great debates about the Repatriation Act and the contentious issues such as section 47 and the onus of proof provisions took place. I recall the wit and wisdom of Dr Evatt and Percy Joske who were thrown together, not into a confrontation, but into a genuine analysis of this highly vexed question. The fact of the matter is that some of these matters have never been satisfactorily resolved. I know that some honourable members want to stop me from talking and do not want this matter ventilated overmuch. I appreciate that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten) has given me but 10 minutes; but, there are some honourable members on his side of the House who have never wanted this matter ventilated overmuch. For years the repatriation debate invariably was kept off the air. If the debate was in the House of Representatives it was never on the radio; if it was in the Senate it was never on the radio. The ex-servicemen at that time felt strong and were organised in an effective and efficient way. They created the Returned Services League pension plan which I am very pleased to say the Labor Party backed to the hilt right from its inception. As one who was involved in bringing the 10-point RSL plan to Parliament I will never forget the superficial sincerity of those opposite who, when forced to vote on things like the onus of proof and the automatic acceptance of cancer as war-caused, let the side down.
As I see it, and in terms of what the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith said, section 47 ought to be the subject of a great debate in this Parliament. We ought to have the Evatts, the Joskes and other men of great legal capacity back here. I believe that one has to stand in this situation taking the view that the Crown is guilty, not the appellant. The onus of proof is supposed to fall on the Crown, not on the ex-servicemen. The Crown should have the job of exonerating itself. But in practice that principle is not working out in the tribunals and in the great ramifications of the repatriation administration today in the way envisaged by both Percy Joske, the former honourable member for Balaclava who is now a member of the Commonwealth Industrial Court, and the late Dr Evatt. Percy Joske and Dr Evatt never quite had the numbers to give expression to this great ideal and get a proper practical understanding of it from the standpoint of parliamentary administration.
What is the position today? We find that with the passing of time, ex-servicemen have lost their capacity to properly identify the cause of their disability. What a pussyfooting country Australia is. We are not even prepared to say to ex-servicemen that they can have complete medical and hospital care for disabilities whether they are established as being war-caused or not. Half of the world now has this sort of benefit. Yet, we are not prepared to say that we will follow suit. We have this quibbling in the great tribunals. I remember the words of Henry Lawson :
I leave you alone in your cultured halls,
To drivel and croak and cavil:
Till your voice goes further than college walls,
Keep out the tracks we travel! 1 suppose we could draw a parallel with an ex-serviceman having to satisfy a highprincipled public servant somewhere, perhaps someone in a tribunal or maybe a number of men in a tribunal. How can these men ever understand that the ulcer, the stroke or anything else that an exserviceman suffers from might have been attributable to war service? These things are diffused; we have lost track of them. It is time that a new breath of spring was swept into the conception of our outlook towards the ex-servicemen of this country. As I see it the system is weak-kneed and uninspired, and the Labor Party stands against it.
I am not even satisfied with the Budget provisions that are outlined in the Bill before us. I do not want to get too involved because I do not have the time. My colleague the honourable member for Mitchell has enunciated a number of the provisions contained in this Bill which were outlined in the Budget. But there are many provisions that ought to be brought down that have not been brought down. There are many repatriation pensions which are a smaller percentage of average weekly earnings now than was the case 20 years ago. The value of many of these pensions is deteriorating. That is not good enough. The Government and the country at large has decided to do something about the means test. But what will the Government do about people on repatriation pensions. The Government is to ease the means test for people who are over 65 years of age. It is going to tip the exserviceman out, or at least give him the right to retire at 60, as is his due. But it will not give him the prerogative of relieving himself of the burdens and the iniquities of the means test. An ex-servicewoman at 55 years of age will have to wait 10 years when she goes off on her service pension before she is relieved from the iniquitous effects of the means test.
What is the position of war widows, people like my mother who fulfilled that role from the time I was 6 and who never let me miss out on a school holiday and who bought the first refrigerator and the first washing machine in my street. She was not prepared just to be a sycophant - she wanted to get out and work. The Government is going to make the war widows of this country wait until they are 60 years of age before they can be relieved of the iniquities of the means test. There are so many things that one can say about this. I want to say that the Government is not treating repatriation seriously enough. The real fervour and feeling about the cause of ex-servicemen is not evident in this Parliament. The Minister in charge of the House (Mr Chipp) wants to call it a day, pack it up, wrap it up and put it away. I can tell the Minister for Repatriation that for any fair dinkum member of Parliament who is prepared to make himself available there are stacks of ex-servicemen in this country who contend - and who justifiably contend in my view - that they are not getting their due or justice. I hope that the Parliament will start to recognise that our standards are not superior to those that prevail in other countries. If one reads the Congressional proceedings one finds in regard to the veterans of the United States some characteristics of American legislation that we have not even thought of in Australia. For example, the United States provides for furlough leave as a recognition of the fact that ex-servicemen might be deprived of an element of health that other people may have. The United States has established a system whereby ex-servicemen who cannot avail themselves even of ordinary insurance rights because they are regarded as a greater risk than most other people in the community are given the benefit of a privileged insurance system. So I say something to the honourable member for Boothby, who is interjecting-
– Yes, say something.
– I say that if the honourable member has lost a real appreciation of the men who served this country it is unfortunate. But it is a good thing that there are some people, including those of the RSL, who do their best to keep the flame of obligation and responsibility alive. Since my election to this Parliament and for the time I will be in this House I will play my part in achieving that end. I do not need much encouragement from honourable members opposite but I am gratified to know that there are people on both sides of the Parliament who are not going to be sucked in by this sickness that is running through the novels and paperbacks but who will manifest a genuine sense of obligation which all Australians ought to have for the men who served this country.
– in reply - Like the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) my speaking time is restricted, in accordance with an agreement that has been arrived at. I should say for the benefit of those people who are listening to the broadcast that the Government is not deliberately restricting the debate on the repatriation legislation. It is part of an overall agreement that has been reached in the House between the Leader of the House (Mr Chipp) and the Whips because of the amount of business and the number of Bills that are on the notice paper both for today and for the future. For that reason I have agreed to be brief and !o the point. Therefore it will be impossible for me to cover all the points that have been raised by all the speakers who took part in this debate.
Firstly, I thank all honourable members who passed some kind comments about myself but more importantly I thank those honourable members who have commented on the staff of the Repatriation Department in both an overall sense and a particular sense. I pay my tribute to the staff of the Department who have helped to produce the proposals before this House tonight. Any words of praise uttered are well and truly justified, because of their general overall attention to duty, dedication to the job, and administrative efficiency.
A lot of the matters raised by honourable members in this debate are being considered by Mr Justice Toose, who is heading the independent inquiry into repatriation. They include some which were referred to by the honourable member for Hughes. No doubt they will be considered also by the Senate inquiry. I compliment the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) on the words he used and the obvious sincerity with which he uttered them. He is a young man compared with myself and a few others in the Parliament and it was good to see a young man with his heart in the right place. He has interests of ex-servicemen at heart. The honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) raised matters which he has raised before in this Parliament, although this time he went into a little more detail. He mentioned the percentage of favourable decisions by various tribunals. Other honourable members also referred to decisions of repatriation tribunals. I repeat that these tribunals are completely independent of the Department and of the Minister for Repatriation. These tribunals have an unenviable task. Another point that ought to be remembered by people who are critical of the. determining authorities is that every member - I think I am right in saying this - of every determining authority throughout Australia is a returned serviceman. To say that the men who sit on these tribunals have no experience in or knowledge of service conditions is not accurate.
One honourable member implied that claims for a pension entitlement for cancer as a war caused disability were hardly ever accepted. The statistics do not bear out that claim. In the last 12 years, arising from the 1914 war 1,050 claims were accepted and 5,000 were disallowed. I am speaking in round figures. For the 1939 war the acceptance rate for cancer claims was 37 per cent. There were 5,780 claims accepted and 9,500 rejected. For subsequent conflicts 115 claims were accepted and 127 were disallowed, the acceptance rate being 47 per cent.
– Do you know how any of those cases were caused?
– As I said, it is the job of the determining authorities throughout Australia to take account of all the evidence that is placed before them and then to use their judgment. What an unenviable task those people have. Honourable members have referred to the difficulty associated with having a case accepted. I wholeheartedly agree with this comment. I have had the opportunity to present cases myself both before I was the Minister for Repatriation and since my appointment. I have found it just as difficult as have other honourable members to have a claim accepted. Naturally by the time a claim reaches a member of Parliament it has usually been through, if not all, at least two of the three authorities concerned.
– Not always.
– Not always, i did not say always. I said that usually by the time a case reaches a member of Parliament it has been reviewed by at least one of the appeal boards. But like other honourable members all I can say is that I have found the members of these boards to be conscientious in their application to their duty of deciding the various claims. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) said - 1 was surprised to hear him say it - this Bill contains what could be described as quite generous provisions. 1 thought that was a very fair comment by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
I will deal with some of the other matters mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I repeat that I have contracted to limit my speaking time to 10 minutes and therefore I must be brief in replying to the various points which have been raised. There is a great deal of emotional sympathy on the part of everybody towards the 1914-18 war veterans and the Boer War veterans who require hospital treatment. People have said that it would not cost much to provide hospital treatment for all of them. The estimated cost for a full year is S6.8m. But the cost is not the only factor to be considered. Repatriation treatment is basically available for conditions caused by war service. Many of the 1914-18 veterans are service pensioners and if they meet the requirements of the means test they are entitled to treatment in repatriation hospitals. There is a shortage of bed space in some hospitals and there are staff problems associated with the giving of hospital treatment and medical treatment to all 1914-18 ex-servicemen.
But a great number of them who come within the service pension provisions and who are assessed to be in need are entitled to treatment.
There has been a lot of comment by members of the Opposition regarding the TPI rate and its relationship to the minimum wage, particularly in the year 1949. They are relating the TPI rate to the basic wage. There is a big difference between the factor composition of the basic wage in 1949 and the factor composition of the minimum wage today. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the percentages were approximately the same. But that does not tell the whole story because in 1949 all that a TPI soldier or a pensioner received was the TPI pension. Now he is eligible for a means test pension and for all sorts of concessions, and quite rightly so. The position is now entirely different from what it was in 1949. There is a close relationship now with the minimum wage. As to the true money value of the TPI pension - even taken at the bare figure of $48 a week - as it is tax free it is equivalent to $54 a week, approximately $2.50 above the minimum wage. TPI pensioners receive other concessions which members of the community who are earning the minimum wage do not receive; for instance, in the medical field, telephone rentals, sales tax and so on. Members of the Opposition, in particular the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard), have made statements which really do not give the Returned Services League or other interested ex-service organisations a definite indication as to what the policy of the Australian Labor Party in relation to pensions would be if it were elected to power. Its promises are rather vague, some apply for one year and some apply over an indefinite period. I do not think a great deal of confidence can be placed in the statements made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He probably will not have the opportunity to put them to the test. 1 doubt that his promises will be tested. 1 refer now to the inquiries that were mentioned earlier. I was interested to hear the various comments of people who were critical of witnesses at some of the public inquiries. I am not going to speak at length on this matter; I wish only to make a couple of observations. I have found that people often spoil their credibility and the soundness of their case by using over dramatic and exaggerated words. Further, they do not give all the circumstances relating to the case. A great deal of publicity has been given to the granting of a pension to an 80-year-old gentleman for a certain complaint. That is not correct. The fact of the matter is that the complaint for which he is receiving a pension resulted from a war caused injury. It has caused him a great deal of pain and suffering. Of course I am not at liberty to disclose the man’s name or the medical details of his case, and I do not intend to do so. I do think that people who try to bolster a case and thereby receive widespread publicity through the news media by making a smartalec remark about an 80-year-old man getting a pension because he is impotent ought to be ashamed of themselves. That was not the case. When these people are painting a critical picture with a wide brush they should remember that they are causing embarrassment and ridicule to many thousands of decent and gallant exservicemen without whose efforts in war these people would not enjoy the freedoms and rights of criticism in Australia that they do today.
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 Holten) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– It is very rarely that I rise to speak in a third reading debate, but this is the second occasion I have done so this week. I would not be doing so if it had not been for the reply given by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten). He made a definite statement during the course of his reply in the second reading debate that he was not sure and the electors of this country would not be sure where a Labor government would stand on the question of repatriation pensions. I thought I dealt with this matter very adequately this afternoon. If the Minister wants to issue a challenge I will repeat what I said this afternoon. Since I have been in this Parliament - at least since 1954 - the Labor Party has consistently made statements concerning special rate pensions which have been repeated in every subsequent policy speech by this Party. We have said that we will increase the special rate pension to totally and permanently incapacitated persons to at least the equivalent of the minimum wage in this country. As I demonstrated to the House this afternoon the special rate pension has been allowed to deteriorate while this Government has been in office. In 1949 it was equivalent to the basic wage.
There is no justification to accept a situation where certain persons whose disabilities qualify them to receive a special rate pension - that is a total and permanent incapacity pension - as a result of service to their country receive an income that is less than the minimum wage paid to a worker. The Government accepts this situation. If the Minister issues a challenge to me as the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party to state what the rate would be for a special rate pensioner I say to him without any equivocation at all that it will not be less than the minimum wage.
I turn now to the other important aspects of repatriation pensions. I refer to the 100 per cent general rate of pension which is paid to ex-servicemen for partial incapacity. I do not think that I have to deal with the circumstances in relation to the general rate of pension. It is implied that, as they are not permanently incapacitated, exservicemen in receipt of the general rate oi pension are entitled to supplement their income by employment. What has happened to the general rate of pension under this Government? The plain fact is that the general rate of pension under this Government has been allowed to deteriorate to the point where it represents approximately 19 per cent of the minimum wage. When this Government came to power the general rate of pension was about 50 per cent of the minimum wage paid to a worker in Australia. The same situation applies in relation to the widows’ pension. That pension has been allowed to deteriorate in terms of purchasing power under this Government.
So, these are the 3 rates of pension - the special or TPI rate for the totally and permanently incapacitated, the 100 per cent or general rate pension and the war widow’s rate pension. If I may recapitulate what I said in this House this afternoon, a Labor government would look at these 3 payments for ex-servicemen and their widows on the basis that the TPI rate would no: be less than the minimum wage, and we would state that it was our objective to bring the general rate pension and the war widow’s rate pension at least somewhere near 50 per cent of the minimum wage paid in this country.
– That is your objective.
– If the Minister questions me on this, I say yes, this is our objective. The great problem in relation to the general rate pension - the Minister ought to appreciate this - is that when this Government came to power it was approximately 50 per cent of the minimum wage but it has been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that it would not be possible for any government in one Budget to lift that pension rate back to approximately 50 per cent of the minimum wage. Let me re-state our position so that there will be no misunderstanding on the part of the Australian electorate and, I suppose, more particularly, so that there will be no misunderstanding on the part of the RSL and those who represent returned servicemen’s organisations in this country. The Minister may smile. He has met the National Executive of the RSL: so when I mention the RSL I see no reason why he should smile. The fact is that the RSL represents approximately 270,000 ex-servicemen in this country, and it is entitled to put the point of view of the ex-servicemen of this country to this Government.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order! I remind the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that this is a third reading debate and that he should keep within the schedules of the Bill. This is not a second reading debate.
– Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; but the Minister has been provocative. I was referring to the RSL and merely pointing out that when I spoke of the National Executive of the RSL the Minister smiled. Quite frankly, I have had meetings with the National Executive of the RSL, as has the Minister, and I believe that it is entitled to put the point of view of ex-servicemen in this country. The RSL has put it to the Minister that the Government ought to be able to provide a reasonable explanation for the deterioration in the rates of pension paid to ex-servicemen in this country. How does the Minister justify the fact that this Government has not increased the 100 per cent or general rate of pension, for example, for the last 8 years until this Budget?
The Minister may argue that in the interim the Government has provided the special compensation allowance. I have dealt with this matter in the House before and asked: ‘Why is the special compensation allowance paid?’ The special compensation allowance which was introduced by this Government is paid to those exservicemen on a pension rate between 100 per cent and 75 per cent. The report of the Repatriation Commission shows that the great majority of ex-servicemen in this country who are in receipt of a repatriation pension receive a rate below the 75 per cent rate. I have put to the Minister on other occasions that in order to reduce ils expenditure on repatriation the Government applies an increase to the general rate of pension for those on rates between 75 per cent and 100 per cent. Let there be no argument about this, because it will not be very long before the Government determines that the intermediate rate pension no longer has a reasonable application in the pension system of this country. As I have demonstrated, the intermediate rate ultimately will be eliminated by this Government. If it is not, then I indicate at once that it will be eliminated by the next Labour government. I have dealt with these 3 rates of pension and I think I have given to the Minister some indication of what will be the attitude of the next Labor government.
-Order! I ask the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to keep to the schedules of the Bill on the motion for the third reading.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, with due deference to you and to your position, I think I am entitled, since the Minister challenged me on this, to indicate what a Labor government would do. I have made it perfectly clear that under a Labor government the special rate pension would be equivalent to the minimum wage, and the general rate pension and the war widow’s rate pension would be equivalent to at least 50 per cent of the minimum wage. This would be our objective; but it could not be done immediately, and I have outlined the reasons for that.
Since the Minister has challenged me on this question, 1 come back to the submission made by the National Executive of the RSL in, I think, March of this year. If it was in March of this year - that is some months ago - it would be difficult for the Government to argue that it did not have sufficient time to consider that submission. The submission made to the Government and to the representatives of the Government was broadly as I put it to the House tonight. It concerned the special rate pension, the general rate pension and the war widow’s rate pension. 1 do not want to enter into a long argument with the Minister about war widows but, as I said this afternoon during my speech at the second reading stage, how does this Government justify paying a pension of $20 a week to a war widow? This is the figure that has been set by this Government. The Minister might argue that there ought to be a special adjustment for war widows in terms of domestic allowance but, as I pointed out this afternoon, the Minister’s own figures indicate that only 97 per cent of the war widows receive this allowance. This means, in effect, that 3 per cent of war widows do not receive the domestic allowance. The income they receive from a generous Government is $20 a week. Let us compare that with the minimum wage paid to a worker in this country. I want to hear the Minister justify the attitude of a Government which has allowed the war widow’s pension rate to deteriorate to the extent that it has. Is it any wonder that tonight the Minister did not devote his remarks to the problems of the war widows? As I said this afternoon, it is all very well for the Minister to pick out individual cases and tell us that in these cases the income is better than in some other cases. What we are concerned about is justice for war widows generally. The Minister cannot dispute my argument that 3 per cent of war widows do not receive the domestic allowance and that their income is $20 a week - and that includes the increase provided for in this Budget. The Minister was provocative on this question of the 3 pension rates. He wanted an answer and I have given him the answer.
Let me return to the submission of the National Executive of the RSL. Other members spoke this afternoon on this question. What were the other submissions? The Minister very quickly passed over the question of providing medical and hospital treatment for returned servicemen who served this country in both the Boer War and the First World War. I can only restate again what I said this afternoon: How many would be involved? What would be the cost to the Government to provide medical and hospital treatment for ex-servicemen from the First World War and the Boer War, whether their disability is war-caused or not? AgainI ask the Minister to reflect upon how often this proposition has been put to the Government. How often has he had it in a submission from the National Executive of the Returned Services League? How often has the Opposition moved amendments in this Parliament asking that this treatment be provided for ex-servicemen from these wars? How difficult it is for them to prove that their disability is due to war service. Time does not allow me tonight to deal with all the ramifications of tribunals to which the Minister referred. But I do not believe that there is anyone in this Parliament who has devoted more time and more attention to tribunals than I have. I know the process of tribunals.I know how difficult it is to have a claim accepted. I gave the figures relating to this matter to the Minister this afternoon. I have indicated to the Parliament and to the people of Australia what should be done in relation to this matter.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Consideration resumed (vide page 1803).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Holten) read a third time.
Consideration resumed (vide page 1803).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Holten) read a third time.
The proposed building will be a reinforced concrete structure comprising ground floor and 11 upper floors. It will have a theatrette and an exhibition area at ground floor. Upper floors will provide office accommodation. It is proposed that the building be located at Waigani, approximately 6 miles from the present commercial area of Port Moresby. The estimated cost of the proposed work is $1.65m. I table plans of the proposed work.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Consideration resumed (vide page 1 803).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Holten) read a third time.
– by leave - Honourable members will recall that in the course of his Budget Speech my colleague, the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) announced that the Government would introduce a tax on liquefied gas used in propelling road vehicles. The purpose of the tax was to guard against the possible future erosion of the base on which petrol excise is levied. At the moment untaxed liquefied gas enjoys a considerable competitive advantage over petrol and other taxed fuels.
While the Government is mindful of its responsibility to protect the revenue from petrol excise, it has decided for several reasons not to proceed with the tax at this stage. The situation will be kept under review, however, and in the meantime the Government will seek to draw on the experience of governments in other countries which have introduced similar taxes in recent years. The Government has also decided to maintain the statutory exemption from excise on products refined from shale oil as an incentive to the development within Australia of a technology for the future efficient commercial utilisation of oil shale.
– by leave- I do not want to crow and say ‘I told you so’, but in my Budget speech of 24th August I warned the Government of the implications involved in this proposed tax. The Australian Labor Party decided that it would oppose this tax had it come before the House. I am now aware why the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) was so sensitive in the House during question time this morning when I interjected, while he was answering a Dorothy Dix question about environmental impact statements, ‘What about the proposed liquid petroleum gas tax?’ However, again this Government has been caught on the wrong foot. At least on this occasion it has had the sense to admit that it was wrong.
It made a decision to place an excise tax on liquefied petroleum gas used for the propulsion of motor vehicles. The excise was to be 3c per litre, which was equivalent to 13.6c per gallon. The decision was a cruel blow to the people of the cities of Australia. Over the whole 23 years of its reign and particularly over latter years, this Government has treated the urban people of Australia in a pretty shabby manner. However, the Government obviously has faced up to the fact that in an election year this decision was electoral suicide. The motor car accounts for at least 60 per cent of the air pollution in all Australian cities. LPG, from an environmental point of view, is a blessing to the air of the cities, while petroleum is a curse. LPG can lower the emission of hydro-carbons by 70 per cent, carbon monoxide by 80 per cent and oxides of nitrogen by 60 per cent, compared with petrol. The Government had the audacity and the ignorance to suggest - particularly the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) about whose Budget Speech I am talking- that the advantages, of LPG ‘will be diminished as emission control standards are implemented’. Clearly somebody has told the Government how wrong this statement was. The statement assumed that the present 1973 standards will achieve a great reduction in air pollution. They will reduce somewhat the levels of carbon monoxide and hydro-carbons. However, even when they are most effective they will only result in ambient air standards for carbon monoxide and hydro-carbons in Australian cities equivalent to the levels in 1966 when there were no regulations. The United States standards to be effective in 1975 seek to return to the ambient air quality of the late 1930s to early 1940s. In addition, auto emission standards ignore oxide of nitrogen, a key ingredient of photochemical smog. Already Melbourne is being affected by this photochemical smog. Liquid petroleum gas more than halves the oxide of nitrogen emitted by motor cars.
Finally, with LPG no additives are necessary. The most important of those additives is tetraethyl lead. There is now irrefutable evidence accumulating that lead in petrol is a major health hazard. The United States of American under President Nixon is taxing it out of petroleum. Yet in Australia we are considering setting up a plant at Botany Bay to manufacture tetraethyl lead. Australia is petroleum poor but LPG rich. The Government should have known that on economic grounds alone this was a stupid tax. Recently some very large supplies of gas have been located on the northwest continental shelf of this country. The original tax measures indicate how seriously this Government considers the problems of the cities and the Australian environment. Perhaps the recent finding that the carbon monoxide levels in Australian cities are equal to or greater than those in other cities of the world has given the Government the jitters and we know what jitters this Government has about cities. All of a sudden after 23 years it wants to involve itself in urban problems. This was evidenced by the urgent statement the other night by the Prime Minister.
The proposed tax also indicated that the Government fails to see that everything is connected to everything else. Of course, this shows the blind stupidity of this Government. When dealing with environmental aspects it cannot recognise the fact that everything is connected to everything else. It treats LPG as a separate entity. It ignores the environmental impact of petroleum on city air. It ignores the fact that if LPG powered most of Australia’s cars our oil imports would diminish to almost nothing. This Government does not have the capacity to lead. I doubt whether it really does any thinking at all. Recently in Canberra on Northbourne Avenue concentrations of carbon monoxide of 55 parts per million were recorded. Canberra is a city with absolutely no dirty industry. The culprit here, of course, is the motor car. In Los Angeles, where there is slow-moving, heavy traffic on the freeways, the reading is about the same as in the planned city of Canberra where the reading of 55 parts per million was recorded. We need leadership from the Government and I hope that the Australian people at the end of this year will make the decision that this was another stupid blunder of this Government because it never thought the matter through.
On 24th May last, speaking on behalf of the Government, the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson), who is now sitting on the front bench, made a statement that all Federal action would require an ‘environmental impact statement’. We know what a sham that statement really was because there was no impact statement with regard to LPG. There was no really deep consideration of the implications; if there had been this Government would not have had to change its mind. It has done so now only because this statement has been brought in. I know what pressures are placed on the Government by the environmental bodies throughout Australia. Representations have been made to me and if they have been made to me as the Opposition spokesman then I think I know what pressures have been placed on the Government. If an impact statement had been prepared before the decision was taken to remove the tax exemption on LPG this tax surcharge would not have been considered in the first place. This tax on LPG indicates that decisions are made in the Treasury and to hell with the environmental consequences. This is the real point. The decision was made by the Treasury which said: To hell with everybody else.’ Labor will do a much better job than this Government has done. It will ensure that decisions take into account environmental factors, irrespective of who makes them. We will set up the necessary machinery to ensure that this is done. What is more, we will do it without building a huge monolithic environment department and it will not act as a big brother to other departments, the States, the municipalities or private industries.
I conclude on this point: Even after these stupid blunders have occurred at least I am glad that, even in an election year, there is a little bit of sensitivity coming from the Commonwealth Government. For so long this Government has ignored the cities but in the last few months it has discovered that the majority of people in Australia - between 85 and 90 per cent - reside in the cities. The 2 major cities in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne, are now suffering from the problems of oxide of nitrogen and photochemical smog. Therefore, I am pleased that at last, after all its blunders, this Government has decided in this election year not to go ahead with its Budget proposal to impose this tax.
– I seek leave to make a short statement on the same subject.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I welcome the statement which has been made by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp). I intervene very briefly because the House may recall that last week I asked the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) whether any examination had been made by the Government of the impact on the environment resulting from the introduction of this excise on liquefied petroleum gas. To my surprise - perhaps it did not surprise everybody - the Treasurer revealed that he did not know what an impact statement was. I do not know what sort of brief the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) has on this matter. He is in the House now and I wonder whether he could indicate whether any submissions were made to the Government on this matter. Apparently he is not prepared to indicate this, so it is pretty obvious that nothing at all was done and this is consistent for this Ministry. However, I do not think he is the only one who is guilty in this case.
I want to refer now to what should be the role of the Commonwealth Department of Health. Here we are dealing with the vital subject of public health. As the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) said, vehicle exhaust emissions, which would be very much reduced in Australia if everybody switched to liquefied petroleum gas, are very much a public health concern and the emissions from vehicles run on pet.troleum products, particularly the emission of oxide of nitrogen, pose quite a severe health hazard as a respiratory irritant, an irritant of eyes and an important pre-disposing factor in the formation of photochemical smog. Perhaps we can believe that certain Ministers are being subjected to political pressure. I do not know. I would have thought that the role of the Department of Health would have been to keep a brief on this subject and to see that no action was taken as a result of political pressure from the automotive or oil companies which would be detrimental to public health. It is the role of the. Department of Health to stand firm on these matters. The Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts has shown itself to be a complete washout. But the Department of Health should move in and say: ‘If you make this decision it will be detrimental to public health. We think it should not be done’. This should be done at the insistence of the Minister for Health and it is a great pity that it is not. I do not refer to the Minister for Health (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson) personally. I know he has been in ill-health and we all wish him well. At least we have an Acting Minister for Health. I believe that the Ministry of Health in this country should do something more than just try to foot the bills of all the country’s doctors and should try to do something about protecting the health of the nation. I concur with the honourable member for Reid that the decision taken by the Government to impose an excise on liquefied petroleum gas used in motor vehicles was appalling, and we are very thankful that it has been repealed.
– by leave - I join with my colleagues in congratulating the Government on having followed the lead and adopted a sensible attitude in this regard. I suppose that even at a late hour it is always best to know where one has gone wrong. In deciding not to impose the excise duty on liquefied petroleum gas. the Commonwealth Government is following the lead of other countries. I was pleased to hear the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) say that we would be working in closer collaboration with other countries in this regard. I understand that Britain this year eliminated the tax on liquefied petroleum gas altogether and that California and Texas have reduced the tax on liquefied petroleum gas. These countries are very conscious of the problems of photochemical smog. The decision of the Government announced by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) in the Budget acted, I am sure, as a damper on people who were considering the conversion of their motor vehicles to liquefied petroleum gas. The Treasurer announced that the amount of revenue that could be expected this year from the excise was only $20,000. That seems only a very small amount to expect to receive. Probably the greater part of this would have been taken up in the collection and policing of the excise duty. If my investi gations are correct, the $20,000 for the remainder of this year would have been collected at the rate of 3c a gallon, not 3c a litre. As the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) has pointed out, 13.6c a gallon is equivalent to 3c a litre.
The conversion to liquefied petroleum gas is in its embryonic stages. The people who would be most concerned and interested in its use in motor vehicles would be the fleet motor users. In the cities 60 per cent of the traffic is generated by the fleet operated vehicles moving throughout the city. They are the principal offenders in causing pollution. I believe that operators of public transport such as buses, with this encouragement, could well consider the introduction of liquefied petroleum gas as a motor vehicle fuel. The proposed tax would certainly have been a setback to those people who are interested in the environment and who, with knowledge gained from overseas, are concerned that we do not have in our cities a situation similar to that in cities such as Los Angeles. The honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun), as a doctor, described the benefits of the Government’s action from a medical point of view. I know that my colleague the honourable member for Reid is most interested in the environmental aspect. I join with both those honourable members in thanking the Minister for making this statement. I think his action is one that he will have no cause to regret. We of the Australian Labor Party welcome the announcement.
Motion (by Mr Chipp) - by leave - agreed to:
That Government business order of the day No. 12- Liquefied Gas (Road Vehicle Use) Tax Bill 1972: Second reading- and order of the day No. 13 - Liquefied Gas (Road Vehicle Use) Tax Collection Bill 1972: Second reading - be discharged.
– As it is now past the time provided for the Grievance Debate, order of the day No. 1 will not be called on.
Debate resumed from 31 August (vide page 1013). on motion by Mr Garland:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)ls it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 3 measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
– The Minister for Supply and Minister assisting the Treasurer (Mr Garland) when he introduced this Bill took little time, and I propose to follow suit. As he indicated, this legislation came into force in July 1969 for 2 purposes - to stop Canberra from being used as a tax haven from State duties and to ensure that people in Canberra paid much the same rate of duty as applied in the States. Since 1969 the rate in the States has been increased, and this measure proposes to make the rate in Canberra comparable with those which apply in the various States. The Opposition offers no objection to the measure. Therefore we wish the Bill a speedy passage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howson) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 31 August (vide page 1014), on motion by Mr Garland:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howson) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 31 August (vide page 1014), on motion by Mr Garland:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howson) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 20 September (vide page 1721).
Department of Customs and Excise
Proposed expenditure, $38,877,000.
Department of Primary Industry
Proposed expenditure, $57,510,000.
Department of Trade and Industry
Proposed expenditure, $45,137,000.
– Last year when speaking on the estimates for the Department of Trade and Industry I spoke about the tourist industry and the failure of this Government to institute a programme to maximise the natural attractions of Australia for the benefit of the industry and the hundreds of thousands of people who are directly or indirectly involved. I directed my criticism at the Government’s failure to implement any of the recommendations of the reports prepared by Harris Kerr Foster and later Parnell Kerr Foster on the total Australian tourist scene and specifically the Mount Olga Ayres Rock projects and the Great Barrier Reef.
At that time my concern lay in the opportunities that were being missed to gain the maximum development, profitability and employment from an industry with so much potential rather than the minimum. Since then, as a direct result of this Government’s inflationary policies and the world-wide downturn in travel the tourist industry is not only not operating at maximum capacity, it is also in the middle of a serious recession that could send not only many business operations to the wall but leave a great number without employment. I said then that providing the machine was struggling along on one leg, this Government would do nothing. Maybe now that it is legless, the Government will give it some consideration. Under an Australian Labor Party government it will have both legs and arms restored and will be flying well ahead of its opposition.
The tourist industry has gained some small recognition in the Budget. This is a step, ever so small, in the right direction, but like so many Government gestures in recent years it has strings attached. It requires State government acceptance of a dollar for dollar grant, and if experience is any guide, they are very thin strings.
The Treasurer (Mr Snedden) had this to say in the Budget Speech:
An approach has been made to the States seeking their agreement to a programme of development of tourist attractions - such as Australiana and pioneer settlements, the preservation of historic sites and buildings, fauna sanctuaries and the like - considered to have particular appeal to overseas visitors to this country. The Commonwealth will match expenditure by the States dollar for dollar up to a total Commonwealth expenditure of Sim annually. S25O.00O may be needed in 1972-73.
As with so many other matching grants dependent on the States’ involvement, it is possible that little or nothing will be pumped into such projects. It is a pretence to suggest that the Government has allocated Sim a year to the tourist industry - it has not; that is, not until the State governments have made their position clear.
Ten minutes allotted in the debate on these estimates does not permit me to range over all the areas of concern in the industry. However, in the hope that the States will recognise the urgent need to accept this offer I want to speak specifically of an exciting project that should qualify for assistance as indicated by the Treasurer in his Budget Speech. I am hopeful that honourable members will understand that I raise this matter not because it concerns my electorate but because of my continuing interest in the tourist industry over a long period. I want it clearly understood that although I am delighted that such a project will be built on the Central Coast in the electorate of Robertson I would have been equally enthusiastic and equally insistent that a considerable amount of money should be allocated to assist this project if it were in someone else’s electorate.
The project is to be known as ‘Old Sydney Town’ and is the brainchild of one Mr Frank Fox, a well known Sydney architect. For over 12 years Mr Fox searched in vain for a site where he could recreate in authentic detail the living environment of Australia’s first settlement. Over the next few years Mr Fox and his colleagues will invest approximately $9m in the Old Sydney Town project. For many years the search took place for a site with a configuration similar to that of Sydney Cove. Many people when first made aware of the proposal made comparisons with Disneyland. This misconception is, I suppose, quite understandable, but it would be more accurate to compare it with Canada’s Upper village’ or the United States’ Williamsburg. The brochure circulated some 12 months ago sums up the objectives quite clearly. It states:
To establish a high quality, historically accurate living recreation of the Sydney Cove area to 1810. The area to be recreated will be that portion of land and water including the Cove and bounded by the present day Argyle, York, Hunter and Macquarie Streets.
The siting of the Old Sydney Town is nothing short of brilliant. It will be located on the Pacific Highway and in close proximity to the new Sydney-Newcastle tollway within 60 miles of 3.3 million permanent residents or one quarter of Australia’s population. It overlooks 20,000 acres of national park in an area with one of the most temperate climates in Australia.
Let me make it perfectly clear that this is a commercial proposition, but one need only to talk to Frank Fox for a few minutes to realise that it is far more than that to him. It is a lifetime dream to give Australia an historical landmark that will equal anything in the world. His enthusiasm is infectious, and one realises quickly that while it may turn out to be a very profitable investment, that factor is secondary to the completion of a dream. Should it be financially successful - and I know that many hard headed business associates of Mr Fox were sceptical in the early days - the profit will have been justly earned, for the frustration, obstacles and expenses would be enough to make most hardy men throw in the towel. Site problems, finance, State Planning Authority and local government delays, plus numerous trips overseas to research and study similar projects have all contributed to the frustration and delay, but now it is all stops out. It is exciting to see the dream becoming a reality.
The phrase ‘authentic living re-creation’ is an essential part of the concept, and I can best enlarge upon it by quoting from the Old Sydney Town brochure. It states:
Sydney in 1810 was a living, vital organism, bustling with activity and gusto. Between stern military order on the one hand and brawling licentious convictism on the other, there was a prodigious diversity of endeavour. It will be the aim of Old Sydney Town to recreate this vitality.
The life of the old settlement will be simulated by a large range of daily activities that were once normal but can no longer be seen. The windmill will actually grind grain; the baker will store the flour and then bake breads for visitors to eat. Builders will be seen at work using the materials, equipment and techniques of 1810, both on buildings under construction and in the workshops. Blacksmiths will actually use the forges in the smithy, producing ironwork not only for the buildings but for the tourist shops in Heritage Hall. In the marketplace goods and produce actually originating locally will be sold.
As well as day-to-day activities such as these, there will be regular special events and reenactments. Robert Sidaway’s theatre will produce stage shows. The Rum Rebellion and the arrest of Governor Bligh will be commemorated. Garden Parties will be held at the Governor’s house. Court proceedings will be conducted and ‘sentences’ carried out. The stocks in the market place will occasionally be filled, and a chain-gang sometimes seen. The re-enactment of the hoisting of the flag on January 26th will be an essentia] ceremony.
All transportation within the Town will be historically authentic; no motorised vehicles will be seen. A large and important collection of animaldrawn carts, waggons and carriages is already on the site and some are already restored and ready for use. A team of ten bullocks has been trained to work in yoke and will haul not only large loads of materials but also tourist waggons. Water transportation will be represented by the large colonial vessel already mentioned, by the vessel in frame on the dockyard slip, and by smaller boats both oared and sail-powered.
The project envisages the authentic re-creation of forty-seven historic buildings. Almost all of the important structures of early Sydney will he represented. Nearly thirty of them will be houses, ranging from the comparative grandeur of the Governor’s and the Lieutenant-Governor’s houses to the nearest convict domiciles from the impressive store mansion of Simeon Lord to the tiny shelter built for Benelong.
I said earlier that I am delighted that Old Sydney Town will be built in the electorate of Robertson. Apart from the pride we will all feel in having it on the Central Coast, it will be a major contributor to solving the very serious problem of unemployment that has always been prevalent. It will bring hundreds of thousands of extra visitors to the Central Coast who will undoubtedly take advantage of many of the other tourist attractions available there, but primarily it will belong to Australia. It will add immeasurably to the visit of overseas tourists. It will sustain and encourage the growing interest that Australians have discovered in their own heritage. It will bring to life early Australian history to school children who have previously had to suffer the unutterable boredom of the average textbook on Australian history. If there is one project that should receive financial support under the terms expressed by the Treasurer, it should be Old Sydney Town.
– One of the problems in any election year, with a properly functioning Opposition, is that there is the opportunity - I think the people of Australia should recognise it - for people who owe no responsibility to the nation to go throughout its length and breadth telling people what they want to hear. This is not a good idea from the point of view of responsible government, and all sorts of party decisions and policies are made up for the wrong reasons. I think honourable members will agree with me that it is a rarity to find Ministers and, indeed, members with enough plain, old-fashioned guts to stand up for an unpopular decision because they know that that unpopular decision is in the best interests of the nation. To find a situation where this applies one has only to think of my friend the Minister for Immigration and honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes) and many other people who, in the interests of the nation, have the capacity to take a courageous decision when it should be taken.
One can think of honourable members who do not have this capacity. The one who is particularly irritating me tonight - I put off my speech last night because I was told he was not in the House - is the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). If ever there was a member of this Parliament who has the propensity to go from one area to another trying to tell the people in each area what they want to hear, regardless of the welfare of the nation and frequently regardless of the interests of the industries he is referring to, the classic example of recent times has been the honourable member for Riverina. I would like to remind honourable members of one or two things so that they may judge objectively whether the point I have brought forward has merit. Surely that is the very substance of democracy.
Let us consider a statement he made recently in the electorate of my colleague, the honourable member for Barker, near the town of Naracoorte. The only reference I have to it is a Press release by the honourable member for Riverina published in the Melbourne ‘Sun’. The matter was much more heavily exemplified in the Adelaide Press at the time but I regret that I do not have that with me. Referring to the wheat industry, the honourable member said:
I would like the honourable member for Riverina to tell me how the Government drove people out of the wheat industry. If the industry’s decisions, contrary to the Government’s decisions, drove people out of the wheat industry surely they were the corporation farmers, the big industry farmers, and not the professional wheat farmers, who were driven out if anybody has been driven out. The reason for this was that well known big business firms - I will not mention them - grew vast areas of wheat, and the quota system introduced by the industry made it very difficult for those whose production quotas had gone up very rapidly to draw, according to the industry’s decision, a quota that made their new operations viable. I do not know whether the honourable member for Riverina would be opposed to a quota on wheat in this particular case. If he is opposed to a quota on wheat, presumably he does not want to protect the small wheat farmer.
– He wishes to encourage the corporation farmers.
– Exactly. If he wishes to encourage the corporation farmers there is not much left, for those towns in Australia that are surrounded by the grain growing industry, and the wheat industry in particular. If that is not bad enough, to demonstrate my original premise quite seriously, let us look at the plank of the Australian Labor Party which has been published recently. Under the heading ‘Wheat’ ii says:
Quotas will be fixed well in advance of preparatory land workings.
Surely this means nothing if not that the Labor Party in its official platform says that it believes in the principle of quotas. Yet the honourable member for Riverina, as he goes through the length and breadth of the country telling every section what it wants to hear, is guilty of a frightful subterfuge. There is no excuse for pulling the legs of people whose future and livelihood depend on these things. I take a very poor view of anyone who is prepared, in the interests of political expediency, to lead people on or to pull their legs in regard to an industry in which they are involved. I think that this is a highly reprehensible business.
I will leave aside tonight the implications of another of the honourable member’s statements, namely, that the Russians have established the need in all phases of their industry for direct personal incentives. I leave aside also numerous other statements that have not been debated in this chamber yet because I wish to come to 5 questions that he posed in the same article to which I have referred, relating to the dairy industry of which I have some knowledge. The first thing he said was that Australia came within a week of having to import butter last year.
That is a reasonable statement. It happens to be true. But it does not describe the reasons behind that situation. Clearly this was due to a seasonal production lapse at the tail end of that last producing year, 1970-71. As a result of it, the Australian Dairy Produce Board acted responsibly and correctly in rationalising export quotas to individual exporters of butter, butter oil and ghee. The effect of that was that we did get through - although it was close - without having to import undue quantities of butter. I think that disposes of the rest of the story he did not tell in that regard.
His second comment was that Australia had failed to meet its export quota of butter to the United Kingdom every year for 3 years despite the highest prices since World War 2. We have to look at the United Kingdom quota entitlements. In 1969-70 some 62,100 tons were exported and the quota was 65,100 tons. In 1970- 71 some 51,500 tons were exported and the quota was 67,400 tons. Because of the shortage of butter in world trade the United Kingdom import quota arrangements were replaced by an open individual licensing system for most of the 1971-72 season. As a matter of judgment, the industry had a state of reduced production from the adverse season I have already mentioned. Further, the industry’s policy of diversifying exports to markets other than the United Kingdom was obviously the proper decision for the industry to make. In addition, the honourable member for Riverina did not take into account the acute world shortage of butter at that time. It is of no use taking the view, as the honourable member for Riverina does, that Government action has kept down production to meet markets, because already this year the European Common Market has a surplus building up. Already this year Australia has problems in selling butter at anything like the value of the previous year.
It is totally dishonest to go through electorates, such as the electorate of my colleague that 1 have mentioned before and make statements that are just not true. If they had any semblance of truth they were true last year, but they are far from true this year. Again I must draw the attention of honourable members to the dishonesty of this sort of remark, no matter who makes it. Nothing is more reprehensible to my mind than the fact that people whole livelihood is involved in some industry should be told a story that is inaccurate by someone whom they look up to. I could go on in regard to this. The honourable member also stated that because of cut-backs in Australia’s production, the industry and producers have lost S8m alone in the British market. I already have dealt with many of the reasons for that, and I have dealt with the fact that the industry had to make a decision whether to send its entire capacity, in a seasonal low production year, to that market or whether to continue to probe for markets that will be of value to that industry when and if Britain joins the Common Market. All of these things are absolutely true. Fluctuations in the export components of any industry are not by any means- .
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - Order! The honourable member’s time haj expired.
– In today’s Press in all the capital cities was a statement that Mitsubishi of Japan was to be awarded a contract for the supply and construction of a pipeline for the carriage of natural gas between Gidgealpa and Sydney. The contract is to be entered into with a subsidiary of the Australian Gas Light Co. In the middle of August the statement was made by Sir William Pettingell, the general manager of the Australian Gas Light Co. that the odds-on favourite for the allocation of that contract was Mitsubishi of Japan. Sir William is a quite astute and very reputable gentleman. But he has the special interests of his firm to serve. His statement was accompanied by a qualification that it was impossible - he anticipated trouble - for any Australian firm to supply or install the necessary pipes.
Today I have had a flat contradiction of that statement from interests within my own constituency, which is the major centre of heavy industry in Australia. Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd rolls steel of the required type to a width of 144 inches, which is capable of making a 42-inch diameter pipe. The contract in question is for the construction and supply of a 34- inch pipeline. Therefore Australian Iron and Steel can supply pipe of the dimensions required, with the requisite strength and made of high tensile steel that is capable of withstanding a pressure of up to 1,000 lb to the square inch. There is a flat contradiction between the statement of Sir William Pettingell and the statements of reputable major firms within my area which are already engaged in the fabrication of pipes for the Dongara-Perth system in Western Australia.
The time has arrived when the national Government should be prepared - as a truly national government would be - to intervene in the national interests of Australia. The time has passed when natural resources can be allocated at the whim of any company, no matter how large it may be. In this case a major Australian company is dealing with a major Japanese company. Let me put it quite frankly that no company other than Mitsubishi ever had a chance for this reason: The capital cost of the pipeline as a whole, with all the ancillary equipment, will be of the order of $150m. A very substantial profit can be made by the export of natural gas. This Government is not prepared to show its full hand, pending an election which will take place at any time within the next 2 months.
The deal already has been made; natural gas will be exported and that will go a considerable part of the way towards liquidating the cost of the pipeline. That will be the quid pro quo. Where do we go in terms of protecting Australian industry? Australian industry is capable of fabricating these pipes. Are we to be just a satellite nation? Are we to be a nation paying tribute to others? Has there ever been in the last 23 years a government capable of thinking in Australian national terms? There is need for a national pipeline grid and that is something that a Labor government will supply. These people can literally get out of the road.
The Australian Gas Light Co. has a franchise to supply Sydney south of the harbour with gas. It has had that right since the 1 830s. It is entitled to its supplies. But the time has arrived when the exports of Australian natural resources will be controlled by an Australian national government. Already this week in a fully detailed statement on foreign investment in Australia we have stated that the export of Australia’s natural resources will be vetted by a statutory authority. The Japanese do it and so should we. I ask honourable members what our prospects would be in the converse proposition of our submitting a tender to supply steel pipes to Japan? We would not hit the deck. There is no question of a subsidy being required. The firm can supply the product. There is only one firm and I need not mention its name. An Australian firm can roll the steel and another Australian firm can fabricate the pipeline. It is time this Government acted in the national interest. But more than that, the glittering prize is not merely the natural gas resources of Mereenie which appear to be about 3 trillion cubic feet. The glittering prize is 400 miles beyond in the Palm Valley area. The Government is sitting on the evidence. Already both the Japanese and the United States interests are manoeuvring frantically to obtain a controlling interest over at least 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas which is in that area.
An approach has been made to the Government by a firm, Pacific Lighting, which is operating on the west coast of the United States. It has said that it is prepared to supply anything up to $900m because there happens to be the little matter of 16 billion dollars worth of natural gas there. And it is on Federal territory. The gas cannot leave Federal territory without the say so of the Federal Government. Having the pipeline to Gidgealpa puts the Australian Gas Light Company in a favoured position to go the rest of the distance. That is precisely what is involved. This is a supine Government. It is a Government which immediately becomes paralysed. Tonight on television the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) said that big companies were involved. They are so big that this Government does not have the guts to face up to them.
Today in the world there is an acute shortage of hydrocarbons. For example the United States, with 170,000 miles of pipeline, is attempting to upgrade coal gas to raise its calorific contents from 400 British thermal units to about 1,050 British thermal units which is the average content of natural gas. The United States’ natural gas supplies are acutely limited. Japan would be buying this product anyhow because nowhere else can it get it better and more cheaply. Need I remind the House - I have said it on many occasions - that already the OPEC group, the Moslem oil producing states, are putting the major world oil firms through the wringer. This group is constantly raising the price of crude oil. It is continuing to do the same with natural gas. We can sell natural gas for the benefit of the Australian people and not for the benefit of any company or of the interests which are represented in this case by Sir William Pettingell.
The export of Australian raw resources must be under Australian control. I noted with alarm today an indication of another deal which is being made. The Minister for National Development (Sir Reginald Swartz) in answer to a question asked by the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) said that in relation to inaccessible off-shore natural gas resources conceivably the Government would modify its policy. Of course it will. But those off-shore resources happen to be right opposite the Pilbara and Western Australia will need them. The Labor. Government will certainly see that these resources are first quantified, that they are fully assessed and used for the benefit of Australia. We are an Australian Labor Party and the Government is not. Honourable members on the Government side are not decent or patriotic Australians. This could be the biggest steal and the biggest give-away in the history of Australia. Shame on this Government. We will put the issue strongly before the people. All power to the trade unions which are comprised of working men and patriotic Australians. Already it has been announced that the Federated Ironworkers Association, the Amalgamated Metal Trade Unions and the Australian Workers Union are prepared to put a ban on handling the overseas made pipes. Today in Adelaide the Premier of South Australia said his piece too - and more power to him. This Government will not get away with this deal. Particularly, and significantly the announcement has been made at the very time that Japanese Government representatives are in Australia to finalise the deal. It is a scandal.
– I apologise to the House and particularly to the Hansard writers for the state of my voice but I will do my best to make it audible. There is provision in the Budget Papers for expenditure of about $33m for the dairying industry. This is a considerable drop from the amount for last year due, it is said, to the improvement in the marketing situation. As a result the factories arc very pleased and are naturally seeking every gallon of milk that they can get their hands on. Fifteen years ago the butter and cheese subsidy was set at S27m because the leaders of the industry decided that they wanted a fixed sum rather than accepting the uncertainty that accompanied the old cost of production basis which most people have forgotten. Farm incomes overall have picked up from the last few years of depressed prices but they are declining in comparison with average incomes in the rest of the community. The farmer is asked to overcome this by working harder, putting in longer hours, investing more aids to production, and spending more in pasture management. For the rest of the community there is acceptance of a steady increase in average earnings. But this does not apply to the farming industry.
In the manufacturing and tertiary sectors of the economy everyone wants a 35-hour working week, and there is no doubt that everyone will get it in the next few years. Indeed, many already have it. For these circumstances I find it incredible that the Government has cut back the total subsidy for this year and continues to use an amount of $27m as the basic subsidy for butter and cheese without making some adjustment upwards to compensate for the change in the value of money. The dairy industry is disadvantaged compared to the rest of the community. I do not think it should be. The subsidy is not a subsidy to the farmer. It was introduced as a subsidy to the consumer to keep the retail price down and to lessen the impact on the consumer price index which legitimate increases should have made with an effect on everybody’s cost of living.
At the present time the price of dairy products is at an all time high and factories this month are paying out millions of dollars to suppliers in the final adjustments for the year. But this does not justify the freezing of the government contribution to the rather complicated pool from which factories are able to make this final payment. In order to maintain the relative benefit arising from government assistance I have regularly asked that the base rate of subsidy should be updated. I am most disappointed at the failure of industry leaders and especially members of the Australian Country Party to give me their support for what I regard to be an essential Budget move.
I turn to the estimates for the Department “of Trade and Industry. One of the greatest worries in Australia today is the level of unemployment. We all have to do something about it. Everyone in the country has to do something. At 2.14 per cent, using seasonally adjusted figures, it is considerably less than it was in 1961, in spite of attempts by the Opposition to paint the picture as worse than in 1961. The calculated number of 120,000 is slightly more than the 1961 number of 117,000, but the work force has increased by 20 per cent since then. So the position is not really as bad as in 1961 and certainly it is not nearly as bad as it was in the depression years of the 1930s. But the position is too bad for any of us to accept as being at a reasonable level. One of the reasons for unemployment is the brake that has been put on manufacturing industry by the atmosphere of uncertainty as to the future national policy for industrial development.
An unreasonable agitation for an appreciation of the dollar is one area of uncertainty. I have seen no argument that can show that a curb on capital inflow, if that is one purpose of revaluation, would have a counter effect on inflation. The present level of unemployment is due to a falling off of employment in manufacturing industry which naturally is reflected in falling employment in the service industries. The service industries are completely dependent upon manufacturing industry for their existence. Any action, such as tinkering with the value of the dollar, which would divert demand from Australian production to imports would cancel out the whole Budget strategy of stepping up demand so that idle capacity in industry will be taken up and employment stimulated.
Another unreasoned agitation is for tariff cuts which would be damaging to the whole economy in the same way. If Australian manufacturers are forced into the position of having a smaller share, of the Australian market and so finding themselves selling less they must manufacture less and there will be less employment of Australians, with a corresponding boost to the employment in overseas factories, with Australian money going to pay the wages of workers in Japan, Hong Kong, China, Europe, America and the rest of the world. I prefer to buy Australian, and so should everyone who wants- to stop the present widespread unemployment. This includes the crazy decisions by the Australian Gas Light Co. to buy pipe from Japan, as was mentioned by the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor), with whom I completely agree. To build a pipeline from the Moomba field to Sydney would provide a terrific amount of employment to the people who make the pipe. It should be made in Australia. It can be made here. Instead of talking of tariff cuts the Government should be introducing quantitative restrictions as has been done in the case of shirts and hold back the flow of imports taking the bread out of Australian mouths.
Inflation created by wage and salary increases far outstripping productivity is another reason for hesitation in the expansion of manufacturing output. There is no encouragement to new investment when there is no curb on the hard bargaining being indulged in by militant unions. Unless we can put some curb on the excessive wage and salary demands that have done and are still doing excessive damage, not only to Australia as a whole but to the people whom the unions claim to represent, whole sections of industry will be in trouble.
The Tariff Board’s policy is another area of uncertainty. Judgments are proposed as to whether Australia should have a particular industry on the entirely specious argument that it requires rates classified as high, medium and low - a judgment made by the entirely inefficient processes of Tariff Board inquiries. The Government has no way of determining whether the Tariff Board’s advice is sound because it does not have full access to the whole facts. The uncertainty as to the future of export incentives is another factor inhibiting healthy growth. Export business is slender margin business subject to erosion. We are due for renewal of our export incentives. 1 do not have time to expand on that point. I would like to. With all these considerations in mind I again urge the Government to establish a ministry of manufacturing industry to give Australian secondary industries the same sort of stimulation and encouragement as is enjoyed by primary industry. The Ministry of Trade and Industry could act as co-ordinator for both of these ministries in relation to all international activities, but the Office of Secondary Industry, whilst serving a most useful function, does not do justice to the future potential of Australia’s industrial development. The Office of Secondary Industry does its best, but it cannot hope to perform as well as a separate department.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
- Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish to make a personal explanation. I crave the indulgence of the House but this is the first opportunity I have had to raise this matter.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) said in his remarks earlier that on my recent visit to South Australia I had hidden the Opposition’s wheat policy by subterfuge and by pulling legs, to quote him. That is untrue. On every occasion I have made it clear that the Opposition favours a national quota, a 2-pool system, and a basic quota for family farms to ensure their viability, and not to give grace and favour to corporations as is the case at present.
Motion (by Mr Chipp) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I wish to raise a matter tonight which is of serious concern to a large number of people at Avalon which is in my elector ate. I refer to the future of the Australian defence aircraft industry. Last year employees in that industry were plagued with doubts and uncertainties because of a proposed merger of the Government Aircraft Factories and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd. Very detailed planning and studies of this proposed merger took place. Repeated statements were made to the effect that in the event of any merger arrangement the interests of the employees in the industry would be protected. However, the position of the employees was unsatisfactory. Now it appears that that merger arrangement is no longer to proceed.
I noted a recent Press report which stated that Cabinet had arrived at a decision on the future of the industry. I hope that the Minister for Supply (Mr Garland) will make a statement to Parliament if not tonight then at some time in the near future, about the present position in the industry. I think the Minister will recognise, as most people do, the concern felt by employees in the industry when they see articles such as that which appeared in the ‘Financial Review’ 2 days ago. That article claimed that 2 of the private operators in the aircraft industry in Australia were approaching the stage of closing down. Other articles have suggested that a 4-way merger was a possibility and that the Government Aircraft Factories would be a minor partner in such an operation. These stories are current.
So far no action has been indicated on the reports relating to the earlier merger arrangements which have been in the hands of the Government for some time. Obviously employees in the industry are becoming concerned about their future. The success or failure of the Nomad aircraft, as it is now known - formerly it was known as Project N - most likely will have a great deal of bearing on the future of the Government Aircraft Factories but the employees in the industry are concerned about their future. I hope that the Minister will inform the House - if not now, then in the very near future - about the present position because no statement has yet been made here. There have been a number of newspaper articles about the future of the industry but they may or may not be correct.
I hope the Minister will be able to give to the House some information on the present proposals, the present situation in consideration of merger arrangements and the Government’s view of the future of the industry. Are more complicated merger arrangements now under consideration than were being considered last year? Has the proposal to merge the Government Aircraft Factories and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd been dropped? Is it or is it not now proposed to carry out the rationalisation programme which was so extensively investigated last year? It is vital to the industry’s confidence and I think it is vital to the interest of the employees in the industry that some statement of fact is made on this matter. I do not want to delay the House any longer because all I require is some information from the Minister. I think the Minister is as aware of the situation in the industry as I am. If the Minister is able to give some information which will satisfy the employees in the industry I will be very grateful.
– I thank the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) for his courtesy in notifying me that he intended to raise this matter this evening. I thank him also for the moderate way in which he has put forward his questions and the matters to which he referred. I assure him that I am very well aware of the position in the aircraft factories. As recently as yesterday I received a deputation from employees of the Hawker de Havilland factories in Sydney. We had a lengthy discussion on these questions and some of the points that were raised in certain newspaper articles to which the honourable member has referred were mentioned. Of course, there is no way of stopping people from writing and publishing what they will and posing a number of questions as they do.
There are other sides to the questions that were raised and I will not go into them in great detail. However, I want to outline what I believe is the present position. The Government has been very active in the aircraft industry in recent times. The work load of the industry obviously is its most important single aspect. In the last year the Government has commenced production on the Turana target drone with an initial order of 12.
This makes it possible to commence production and to sell a number of the target drones overseas, and we are actively engaged in that process. Production has commenced on an initial order for the Nomad aircraft which, as the honourable member would be aware, has been exhibited at the Farnborough Air Show, an exhibition which, from our point of view, came a little earlier than was ideally convenient. Nevertheless, the world is now aware of this aircraft and its capabilities.
It received a. great deal of praise and the Government believes, as it believed originally, that prospects for this aircraft are very good indeed. We are hopeful that in putting it into production we will be able to sell a large number of these aircraft. Last year saw a further sale of the Ikara anti-submarine weapon. In this case the sale was to Brazil and a contract of some §20m was announced. Australia has already installed the Ikara in some of its own naval ships and, of course, some British naval ships.
So I suggest that in recent times the work load has shown some improvement, but clearly a good deal more improvement is needed if we are to maintain the industry within the terms of the Government’s stated policy of a small, but viable and effective aircraft industry. The Government is actively engaged in endeavouring to obtain more work from offset orders. There are good prospects of obtaining this and other types of work, but I am not at liberty at the present time to describe them. I want to say in general that work is available to the industry from overseas but in tight competitive conditions. Costs in this industry, as in so many others, are a most important feature.
The Government has carried out a number of rationalisation studies centred on rationalisation in the Sydney’ area and, separately, the Melbourne area. To what extent rationalisation will take place is dependent on the work load. It is for that reason that I have put the work load first in what I have said. At the same time, as has been announced, an examination is to be made of a number of alternatives to remoulding the structure. If one were to sit down and think about the matter it would be apparent that there are a number of different ways of rationalising the industry and of setting up a structure. We have indicated that we will look at whether there is any way in which overseas manufacturers can help us. We believe that certain overseas manufacturers are in a position to help us and desire to help us. We are endeavouring to find out in what way we can get the most from them for the Australian aircraft industry and what is in our best interests.
All of the aspects I have mentioned are interdependent. None of them is by any means settled. It would be very nice to be able to stand up and say that such and such will be the result, but I am not in a position to do so this evening. So I cannot answer in full the questions which the honourable member for Corio and other honourable members have raised. But I can say that a great deal of work is being done and that I- believe that properly pressed - remembering that many parties are involved and it is a complex exercise - we will develop a small but effective and viable aircraft industry in Australia which will satisfy the defence needs that we undoubtedly have and we will set up an organisation which will be highly cost conscious and competitive. I believe that we will have a relatively stable work load and that we will be able to expand our range of technology beyond our present capacity and, as a result, get some spin-off in technology for commercial industry.
– I rise on 2 matters. Firstly I wish to deal with the subject of immigration. I appreciate that the Minister for Immigration (Dr Forbes) has a difficult time making decisions on matters of immigration, but I must protest at the constant frustration which is being experienced by one of my constituents, a Mr David Crane of Rivervale. He is a self-made businessman who migrated to Australia from England and built up a hardware business in Australia. He is a credit to the nation for his enterprise and contribution to the community. He has now reached the stage where he wishes to bring his sister and her husband and their child from England to Australia. Mr Crane has guaranteed assistance to establish these relatives in a home and is in a financial position to do so. He has a need for assistance in his business and wishes to employ his sister full time to assist him. I believe that she has similar enterprise and enthusiasm as Mr Crane.
But, despite many requests to the Department of Immigration and the Minister for Immigration for them to be allowed to migrate to Australia on a full fare paying basis, they have been refused admission to this wonderful country. Why have they been refused admission? Because the family is in the unfortunate position of having a 10-year old son - a healthy looking lad in photographs - who is slightly retarded mentally. He is not seriously retarded. He attends a normal school in England. One can hardly imagine the bitterness and despair which must be felt by this fine family. The irony of the situation is that had they, as a young couple, migrated to Australia without a child and subsequently had a slow learning child, no thought would now be given to deporting the family. If they had migrated to Australia while the wife was pregnant or the affected child was a babe in arms no-one would have protested. To put such a barrier to reuniting a family is incredibly harsh. We all realise that we must have standards, but let us not lose all sight of human understanding. These are not people who will come here to swell the ranks of the unemployed or to take some opportunity of government housing assistance from another person; they are people who are assured of a home, an income, a future and a place in the sun for their child who will, I am sure, grow to be a useful Australian citizen. I ask the Minister for Immigration (Dr Forbes) to reconsider the situation and to see what can be done to admit the family.
Another serious matter I wish to raise concerns the lack of fire-fighting equipment at Perth Airport, a situation of which I have been made aware. It has been brought to my attention that the equipment consists of 2 foam units of 800 gallons capacity, one water unit of 2,000 gallons capacity and one jeep-type light rescue tender with dry powder. The ladder equipment is 22 feet long and consists of builders type extension ladders. This equipment may be considered sufficient and may be common to other airports, but when one considers a 747 Boeing with its immense height and looks at the possibility of a 707 Boeing standing on its nose with its other exits blocked, one immediately wonders why snorkel or extension equipment is not available. It could be said that other equipment could come from the nearby civil station, but speed is essential in these matters: The first 2 minutes are crucial. Admittedly, other Qantas Airways Ltd extension equipment is available but there is no guarantee that staff to operate it would be available at a given moment; nor is it designed for this particular purpose. The fire staff would be too fully occupied to even attempt to organise it. As an observer, I fail to be reassured that all types of accidents would be of a nature that would not warrant elevator type equipment, particularly with the increasing size of aircraft. I feel that this is an area of public safety which must be looked at. It may well be that equipment may be planned to fill the gap, but if this is so its provision should be hastened and provision should be made to have stand-by equipment available in the intervening period. However, if no equipment is planned there must be an urgent investigation to determine what is required. Let us not wait until an accident occurs - heaven forbid that it should - because we would all be appalled if loss of life occurred due to lack of adequate or sufficient equipment.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.28 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honour able member’s question is as follows:
Further information regarding Commonwealth policy in relation to assistance to the States for natural disaster relief and restoration, and details of assistance provided to the various States in recent years, is contained in the Budget document Commonwealth Payments to or for the States 1972-73’, Chapter IV, pages 64 to 70.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
It should be noted that the above estimates represent the amounts by which revenue in respect of each of these income years would have been increased if deductions allowed for education expenses had not been allowed.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The proposed assistance does not involve the use of the taxation system.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
Will the Government give consideration to an alteration to the definition of ‘resident’ in section 79a of the Income Tax Assessment Act to include a person who has resided in the area for 6 months out of any 12 month period not necessarily coinciding with a financial year and to provide that where the taxpayer satisfies this amended part of the definition of ‘resident’ he be treated as a resident in the year of income in which that 12 months period concludes.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The residence test for entitlement to a zone allowance has been given a good deal of study. Several alternative courses, including that now proposed by the honourable member, have been considered, without, however, its having been found practicable to adopt any one of them. The matter will be kept under review.
Australian Tourist Commission: Printing Requirements (Question No. 6019)
asked the Minister for
Trade and Industry, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
For how many dependent children do taxpayers claim education deductions (i) smaller than$ 1 00, (ii) greater than $100, (iii) greater than $200 and (iv) greater than $300.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Statistics relating to income tax deductions allowed for education expenses per child for whom the deductions were allowed were last compiled in respect of the 1967-68 income year. The income tax statistics for that year showed the number of children for whom the maximum deduction of $300 per child was allowed to taxable individuals as 124,046. However, the total number of children for whom education deductions were allowed was not compiled in respect of the 1967-68 income year. No other statistics are available of numbers of children classified by the size of the income tax deduction allowed for their education expenses.
The only other income tax statistics that may be of assistance to the honourable member are statistics for the 1969-70 income year of numbers of taxable individuals classified by the amount of the deduction allowed per taxpayer for education expenses. These statistics are summarised below:
Trade and Industry, upon notice:
What steps have been taken to extend the Industrial Research and Development Grants Act to help private inventors.
– In a recent examination of an industrial research and development incentive for Australian manufacturing and mining industries the Government considered the question of assistance for individual inventors.
The Government decided that the Industrial Research and Development Grants Act, which has been specifically designed as a general incentive for industry to encourage more manufacturing and mining companies to spend more of their own funds on IR&D activities was not an appropriate vehicle by which individual inventors might receive specific attention.
For 1971-72 the Government has, however, made available a matching grant of §12,000 to the Inventors’ Association of Australia to promote the cause of Australian inventors.
A number of commercial organisations have been established to promote and finance developments based on scientific or technological innovation in any field of technical activity. They also offer a wide range of services to individual inventors.
Services provided by Government departments and organisations, such as the Patents Office, the Department of Trade and Industry and CSIRO, are also available to individual inventors.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (l)(a) The Commonwealth Banking Corporation of itself does not operate as a profit-making body. Its costs are reimbursed by the 3 member banksThe Commonwealth Trading Bank, the Commonwealth Savings Bank and the Commonwealth Development Bank - in terms of sections 36, 48 and 81 of the Commonwealth Banks Act 1959- 1968. (b), (c), (d) The net profits of the 3 member banks of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation are set out below:
The amounts paid to the Commonwealth are as follows:
Section 77 of the Commonwealth Banks Act provides for the whole of the net profits of the Commonwealth Development Bank to be credited to its Reserve Fund.
asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice:
What percentage of average male weekly earnings will (a) the special (TP1) rate pension and (b) the general (100 per cent) rate pension represent at the new rates announced by the Treasurer on 15th August 1972 (Hansard, 20th September 1967, page 1175; 28th August 1969; page 917; 16th October 1970, page 2363; 28th April 1971, page 2213 and 23rd May 1972, page 2954).
– The answers to the honourable member’s question are as follows:
Related to the June 1972 quarter average male weekly earnings ($97.10) the percentages are:
49.23 per cent.
14.2 per cent.
Most ex-servicemen pensioned at the general (100 per cent) rate also receive the 100 per cent rate of special compensation allowance ($6 a week). In such cases, the total compensation represents 20.6 per cent of average male weekly earnings for the June quarter 1972.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
Will he bring up to date the information which he provided on 13th October 1971 (Hansard, page 2334) concerning net flows of official and private resources to developing countries.
– The information requested by the honourable member is set out in the following table:
These figures are based on data compiled by the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD - they are not final and may be subject to minor modifications.
The figures quoted above for official flows differ from those contained in Statement No. 8 attached to the Budget Speech for 1972-73, because the latter relate to official development assistance only and do not include official loans or export credits extended on non-concessional terms or subscriptions to bonds issued by international institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank which bear market rates of interest.
Some of the 1971 figures have been modified recently by the DAC and accordingly differ from those contained in Statement No. 8. Similarly, the 1970 figures have been revised by the DAC with the result that some of them differ from those provided in answer to the honourable member’s question in October last.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
What is the loss of sales tax revenue occasioned by treating computers as not being office equipment and allowing their exemption as aids to manufacture.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The sales tax exemption for aids to manufacture applies to equipment for use by a manufacturer exclusively, or primarily and principally, in carrying out specified classes of operations in connection with the manufacture of goods or in carrying out scientific research in relation to his manufacturing operations. Certain classes of equipment are specifically excluded from exemption as aids to manufacture and one of the classes of goods so excluded is office equipment which is not for use directly in the manufacture of goods.
A computer installation normally comprises several units of equipment. Some items used in computer operations, e.g., manually operated card and tape punching machines, verifiers and card sorting and collating equipment, are classifiable as office equipment. Other units of equipment, e.g., centra] processing units and ancillary equipment such as line printers and tape readers, do not fall into the category of goods known as office equipment. These are not debarred from exemption as aids to manufacture.
Some manufacturers use computers primarily and principally in carrying out scientific research in relation to their manufacturing operations. They are entitled to exemption from sales tax on those items in the computer installation that are not classifiable as office equipment. No statistical information is available on the cost to revenue of this exemption but computers generally are not used for purposes that would bring them within the scope of the aids to manufacture exemption.
asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice:
As the turbulence arising from the return of servicemen from Vietnam has subsided (Hansard, 9th December 1971, page 4525), will he now authorise a survey in the Holsworthy/ Ingleburn area, as was done in the Puckapunyal/Seymour area in September 1971 (Hansard, 13th October 1971, page 2324), to ascertain the number of servicemen who have children of secondary school age and the categories of schools which their children attend.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
As Army staffs are heavily committed to their military tasks, I do not propose to authorise the extensive and time consuming survey which would be required to obtain the information sought by the honourable member from over two thousand Army families in the Holsworthy/ Ingleburn area.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Psychiatric Hospitals: Commonwealth Bed Subsidy (Question No. 4165)
– An amendment is necessary to the table shown in part (4) of the answer to question No. 4165 (Dr Klugman) provided by the Minister for Health on 7th March 1972 (Hansard, pp. 657-8).
The number of inpatients accommodated in public mental health institutions in South Australia at 30th June 1971 was 1,925, not 5,917 as shown in the table. Consequentially, the total number of inpatients at the listed dates was 25,323, not 29,315.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
IS) What sum has been spent on education in respect of venereal disease amongst Aborigines during each of the last 5 years.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
In 1967-68 the Department of Health adopted new procedures for case finding, reporting and follow-up of venereal disease notification. Following the introduction of these procedures, the total notifications of venereal disease rose by over 100 per cent.
While these figures reflect a considerable upsurge in the number of reported cases over the decade, it should be noted that in each of the past three years the number of reported cases of venereal disease in the Northern Territory has declined despite an increase in population.
There has been evidence in medical literature to indicate that there has been an increase in the incidence of venereal disease in many overseas countries since the early 1960s. The situation is now considered a major health problem in
Canada, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
As well as providing the necessary facilities for free diagnosis and treatment in the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth has introduced a system of provisional notification, which means that the doctor reports a suspected case before final laboratory diagnosis, thus expediting follow-up of possible contacts. Further, laboratories report confirmed cases direct to the Department of Health, where immediate follow-up action is initiated. To facilitate more effective follow-up procedure*, a special investigating officer was appointed in 1968. His sole function is the epidemiological investigation of reported cases of infectious disease and he is considered to have played a major role in the control of venereal disease in the Northern Territory.
The Commonwealth also has been active in the field of health education and a specialist in this field has been appointed in the Northern Territory. This specialist is heavily involved in the initiation of measures designed to improve the knowledge of the population concerning venereal disease. Educational pamphlets on this topic have now been produced in several Aboriginal languages in an effort to improve communications, and discussion groups led by rural health workers are held at the various rural centres of Aboriginal population.
Since the provision of services in the field of venereal disease control forms an integral part of an overall health care programme, it is neither funded nor costed separately. For the same reason, it is not possible to give figures as to how many medical or other professional persons have been involved in this work.
As health education encompasses venereal disease and is provided through schools, through adult education programmes and by health workers generally, it is not possible to state separate sums expended in this particular area of health education.
I am not in a position to provide statistics tor the various States in relation to Aboriginals. The measures implemented in an effort to eradicate venerea] disease in each State are the responsibility of the State concerned.
Separate statistics relating to the incident >)( venereal disease in Aboriginals in the Australian Capital Territory are not kept.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
Will the Minister bring up to date the information which a former Minister gave on 7th April 1970 (Hansard, page 799) on hospital charges.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 September 1972, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1972/19720921_reps_27_hor80/>.