28th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. J. F. Cope) took the chair at 2 p.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectively sheweth:
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will restore to the Australian people true religious freedom, which can only exist when Church and State are legally separatedin form and substance. And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Edwards,
To the Honourable the Speaker and the members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned electors in the State of New South Wales respectfully sheweth:
No library facilities, no assembly hall, no tuck shop, art and crafts room would be desirable, at least one remedial teacher and a teaching aide for our teaching mistress.
Your petitioners therefore respectfully pray that your honourable House will (i) make immediately a substantial Federal emergency grant to all State Gov ernments for education services and (ii) carry out a public national survey to determine needs of the States after 1975.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Turner.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Minister for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply. When the honourable gentleman tabled in the House yesterday, a minute addressed to him by Sir Arthur Tange, Secretary of the Department of Defence, did he at the time, of tabling have any reservations about his acceptance of all that was contained in the document? If he did have such reservations why did he not say to the House that he had reservations? Why did he say yesterday:
This matter is related to the circumstances as outlined in the document which is before the Leader of the Opposition and which I have tabled in the House.
If the Minister did not have reservations at the time he tabled the document, what caused him to develop reservations within a couple of hours when he gave a Press conference? Will he now tell the House what reservations he has, if he has any?
– The Leader of the Opposition has raised a matter that was dealt with in this House at great length yesterday. I tabled a document which I had asked to be prepared for me by the. Secretary of the Department of Defence. The Leader of the Opposition had the opportunity to examine it. I made no comment on that matter at all. What I did. and what 1 thought was proper, fair and reasonable, since questions of personalities were involved, was to take the opportunity to make myself available to the media.
I made a full explanation in relation to the document I had tabled in the House.
– Is the Minister for Immigration aware that many settlers from the United Kingdom believe that they automatically become Australian citizens upon taking up residence here? Will the Minister take steps either to correct this wrong impression or to confirm that citizens of the United Kingdom receive Australian citizenship automatically upon migration to Australia?
– Some confusion on this question has existed for some time. Since 1949, Australian citizenship has not been granted automatically to settlers from the United Kingdom or from any one of the other 30 countries which make. up the Commonwealth of Nations. This change was made some 24 years ago under rules that were initiated at that time by the British Government. So, at no time for the past 24 years has Australian citizenship been granted automatically to these people. Conversely, Australian citizens migrating to the United Kingdom have not been granted automatically citizenship of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at any time in the period since the enactment of those laws in 1949. Confusion has existed in this respect. I hope that we will be able to end that confusion by giving to new settlers, particularly before they leave to come to Australia, proper counselling and proper guidance so that they may know exactly what their status is. My hope is that all who come will be embraced in the Australian family of the nation in citizenship.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence. Will the honourable gentleman advise the House whether the onerous character of his duties as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Minister for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply are such as enable him effectively to discharge the responsibilities which he holds in these various positions? Would the honourable gentleman agree that in the national interest these responsibilities are too heavy for even the most capable Minister in the Government? Will the honourable gentleman advise the House the extent to which he has been forced to delegate bis duties to other Ministers or to officers of his Department? Is the degree of this delegation compatible with his position as a Minister of State?
– The Government made a decision - I think a proper decision - in relation to the integration of the administration of the armed forces of Australia. That policy is being given effect. If the Minister is reflect ing upon my capacity to handle my work, or my credibility, the Minister should have the courage-
– I rise to order. I am being misrepresented, Mr Speaker. I only wish that the term used by the honourable gentleman in addressing me was correct.
-Order! No point of order arises.
– I concede that it is very difficult to be able to distinguish one from the other and to determine who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is reflecting on my credibility he should have the courage to move a motion of no confidence in or a censure motion against me. The former Minister has been on the receiving end previously and he would know all about it. Let me say what has been done in relation to defence issues in Australia to show whether I am competent to deal with all my responsibilities. Time will not enable me to deal with the policies to which this Government has given effect since I assumed responsibility for all the portfolios that I hold. There is a Minister assisting the Minister for Defence.
The Leader of the Opposition would be well aware that as far back as 1958 a very distinguished Australian general recommended that this Parliament should adopt the very course of action that I have undertaken. But there was prevarication on the part of the then Government in 1957. It could never make up its mind. I cite one example of what was done so quickly by my Government because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was involved in it. I refer to the report of the Jess Committee. Can anyone forget what happened in this Parliament in the last week of the last parliamentary session? The former Prime Minister will not forget. The Government was in complete disarray and was not able even to make up its mind on the Jess Committee report. If I had been asked whether it had been possible for me to give effect to the Jess Committee’s recommendations within a fortnight of my taking office I would have answered that after consultations with officials of the Treasury and Department of Defence and my colleague, the Federal Treasurer, I had instructed that the recommendations of the Jess Committee be given effect to by way of legislation. There are many other matters in which my action can be shown to have been effective. Rationalisation of the aircraft industry is one. The former Minister for Supply will understand how difficult it was for him to consult the various Ministers in charge of the defence forces of this country.
– Or even to remain on the front bench.
– Or even to remain on the front bench, as I am reminded. The former Minister will be aware of this. Bearing in mind that I had no great difficulty in reaching a decision within a very few days on the rationalisation of the aircraft industry, I am astounded when I look over the files which the previous Government dealt with to see the correspondence which passed between the Minister for Defence and other Ministers which remained unanswered and could not be dealt with.
– I rise to order.
– Don’t you like it?
– All of this material is, I am sure, of considerable interest to the Deputy Prime Minister and if he wishes to make a statement on it that is one thing. But I ask him whether he would mind today, as distinct from his efforts yesterday, seeking as best he can to answer the question.
– I remind the House that a Minister is entitled to answer any question as he sees fit. I ask the House to come to order. There is far too much noise. I realise that tempers are likely to become frayed when dealing with this matter, but honourable members should obey the rulings of the Chair for if those rulings are ignored they will have to suffer the consequences.
– Thank you, Mr Speaker. The question dealt broadly with the responsibilities of the Minister for Defence and the Minister assisting the Minister for Defence. I believe I was entitled to answer as I did since the subject matter of the question was whether these responsibilities could be handled by me and Senator Bishop, who is the Minister assisting me in another place. I have demonstrated that it can be done and has been done effectively. I would welcome the opportunity to enlarge upon what I have said. I have already given 2 examples of what can be done. The previous Government was not able to do what has been done by this Government despite the fact that it was in office for 23 years. If there is any need for confirma tion of this matter I suggest that in respect of the Jess Committee’s report the Deputy Leader of the Opposition refer to the discussions that took place in this Parliament and the revolt by members of his own party because of his Government’s ineptitude at that time.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Housing. In view of the confusing and contradictory statements made last night in the Victorian Legislative Assembly by the Victorian Minister of Housing, Mr Dickie, on Victoria’s refusal to help thousands of homeless people by joining the other States in the proposed new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, will the Minister inform this Parliament on the current state of play? In particular, can the Minister clarify whether Mr Dickie has agreed to accept the Commonwealth’s offer of $1.5m in emergency housing grants, or is he still jeopardising the building of ISO new homes for the needy in Victoria by refusing to accept the Commonwealth’s condition that all homes built with the emergency funds must be for rental only?
– I am pleased that this question has been put to me by the honourable member for Melbourne because this matter has been the subject of considerable controversy and, as I understand it, was also the subject of debate in the Victorian Parliament yesterday. One of the early actions taken by the Government was in respect of the very great waiting list for houses in the various State housing authorities throughout Australia. It was felt that in consideration of the fact that 93,000 people were waiting on this long and extending queue an emergency grant should be made to the States. Towards that end a decision was taken to allocate S6m to enable the States to build houses for rental by the end of June this year. There has been some difficulty, apparently, between the Premier of Victoria and the Housing Minister of Victoria in respect of whether or not the conditions of the Commonwealth’s offer should be accepted. The position now seems to be that although the Victorian Minister indicated earlier that he would not accept the grant if any conditions at all were attached, he has been overruled by the Premier of that State.
I have been very pleased to have an assurance from the Premier, which was received through the Prime Minister, that the Victorian Government is now happy to participate in this program which was designed to facilitate the commencement of 1,500 homes by the beginning of July this year. In fact he has been able to say in a completely unequivocal manner that that State will now go on to isolate our special grant to ensure that the houses are built for rental purposes. We are very anxious to build up a stock of rental homes. He has been able to say that it is the intention of the Victorian Government now to build houses for rental. Some of these will be built in country areas. In addition he will be using a large part of Victoria’s allocation of $1.5m to build homes for pensioners. So in regard to this matter, about which there has been so much talk, it seems to me now that the Victorian Government is happy to comply and has come to appreciate the need for the conditions which were proposed by the Commonwealth.
The whole question with which I am dealing is a very dicky matter. It is our intention to finalise later a Commonwealth-State housing agreement with the States. The House might be interested to know that it has been my intention to set up a consultative process with the States of a type which has never been undertaken before. In a consultative process, where one participates in several rounds of talks at very great length with Ministers of the States and their advisers, it is a sensible stance to take that one should be prepared to moderate one’s views, having had the benefit of the attitudes expressed by the various State Ministers. I am very pleased to say that it so happens now that we have been able to develop an agreement which I believe will be enticing to Victoria and indeed to all other States and which, if accepted by Victoria, will contribute a great deal to the solution of this very serious, neglected problem. If the Commonwealth has its way, we will bring down an agreement which will be responsible for the construction of a large number of homes at lower rates of interest and those homes will be allocated to people who are most in need as determined by a means test. All of these matters seem to me to be of virtuous principle and I hope that I will have the acquiescence of the Victorian Government in the second stage of our endeavours. I am gratified to learn from the Premier of that State the acceptance of the $1.5m Commonwealth offer.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Mini.ter for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply. Did he hold discussions with his former Press secretary, Mr Lloyd, about the possibility of Mr Lloyd’s taking part in a briefing with Lord Carrington?
– Again, I should point out to the House that this matter has been fully dealt with but, as I understand it, the question that the honourable member asked was: Had I had discussions with Mr Lloyd.
– About the briefing.
– About the briefing. Quite frankly, the answer is no.
– In directing my question to the Prime Minister I refer to the rapidly worsening situation on King Island which has not had a regular shipping service for the past 8 months. I ask: When can we expect a decision from the Government on the implementation of Labor’s election policy to cause the Australian National Line to accept full responsibility for the King Island shipping services?
– The Government will be receiving a report on this matter from the Minister for Transport. He is considering it as a result of a telegram sent to me last week by the Premier of Tasmania. On coming to office we found that the matter had been considered by an interdepartmental committee which reported to the late Government in August against giving assistance to a shipping service to King Island. My Government has already offered to the Tasmanian Government $1.5m for the development of a port at Grassy on King Island. The matter of assistance for the shipping service conducted previously by a company which has since gone into liquidation is, as I said, at present under consideration by the Minister for Transport. He will be making a report to Cabinet on it.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that since the infamous Harradine case in Tasmania he has not exactly been famous for protecting his friends? Does he propose properly to support his deputy leader - another Tasmanian - or does he intend to continue to act as a deaf mute by consistently sitting on the fence? Can he yet feel the eyes of the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry boring into the small of his back?
– If the opposition had proceeded with the motion of lack of confidence in the Deputy Prime Minister - who is the Minister for Defence - to which it devoted its debate this morning honourable members and the country as a whole would have seen that I have not only as great confidence in my Deputy as I have had in the 18 years we have served in this Parliament together but that I have greater confidence than ever. If the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party were again electing its Ministry the Deputy Prime Minister would be returned to that position unopposed and I, as the Prime Minister, in allocating portfolios, would allocate to the Deputy Prime Minister the 5 portfolios he now holds.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. At the Consitutional Convention to be held later this year is it still proposed to ensure representation of all political groups from the Commonwealth and the 6 States? If so, which of the 2 fighting factions of the Libera] Party in South Australia will officially represent that Party? Is it intended to invite both groups and thus run the risk of the Convention being turned into a blood bath?
– I anticipate that this House will be asked to elect 10 delegates to the proposed Constitutional Convention. I anticipate that there will be 5 members elected from the Government and there will be 5 members from the Party or sections opposed to the Government. How those 5 are chosen by the Opposition Parties is a matter for them. However, it may happen, as it has happened hitherto in many matters concerning the Opposition parties, that I will be called in to arbitrate. My services are available once again. I imagine that 5 members of the Senate will attend the constitutional convention.
_ Mr WHITTORN - In view of the responsibility of the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry for overseas trade, both imports and exports, and in view of the fact that he said in December that revaluation would ‘take the puff out of the stock exchange’ and that those who lost money, particularly in mining, had no right to complain, I now ask him whether he is satisfied with the effect of revaluation on manufacturing industries. How does it affect employment in the textile, footwear and heavy industries, especially after the devaluation of the American dollar? Does he still consider that those Australians who invest in Australia’s viable industries feel as complacent as he obviously feels when millions of dollars are lost by them, especially when jobs are placed in jeopardy by these decisions?
– The effect of revaluation of the Australian currency, directly as the result of decisions made by the Australian Government and indirectly as the result of decisions made by the American Government, is quite considerable. I expect that the percentage change in the value of the currency as a result of these decisions would be greater than the percentage effect on Australian industry that would have come from a tariff change of the same percentage. Therefore, it will be appreciated that the change in the currency has a very considerable effect. These changes were made by the Government for very sound and strong reasons related to the level of Australia’s reserves. The speculative aspects of currency dealings involved from time to time many millions of dollars. The decision about revaluation had very strong force and weight behind it. Unfortunately, any such decision taken in and justified by the national interest has consequences. The consequences of this decision will take a considerable amount of time to work out. It is not yet possible to foresee the effects.
In relation to the effect of the change in currency value on secondary industry and primary industry, both these sections of industry are being examined thoroughly by interdepartmental committees which have established criteria for adjustment and compensation. These criteria take into account other changes in the economy that have taken place. When action is taken on the recommendations of these interdepartmental committees - action has already been taken in some cases and will be taken in others as soon as the decisions are properly made - the effect on different sections of the economy also will be weighed. It seems to me that people who have been involved over a period of time in speculation in which millions of dollars have changed hands, as has been the case with speculation in the mining industry, and who have made a great deal of money on the speculative upswing, run the risk of losing some money on the downswing. Personally I have not much sympathy for the very well-to-do people who have been involved in that speculation. But there are many others. The particular effect that the Government will be very careful to take into account is the effect on employment. The first responsibility of this Government is not only to maintain full employment but to protect the job of everybody who is employed. Nothing will lightly be done that will endanger one job in this country. If, for reasons of national interest, changes have to take place and people have to be disemployed, that will be done with proper protection and with proper rights to retraining - things that the previous Government apparently never thought of.
– You are going to direct them compulsorily, are you?
– That remark made by a former Minister shows how unwilling he is to give serious consideration to this matter. It is very apparent from files we have and from statements that have been made that the previous Government was being briefed for a long time on the constructive action that could be taken to deal with these matters without any question of direction at all. Yet, in all these cases, the previous Government ignored the advice it was given. This Government will not do so. The proper steps will be taken to ensure that no injustice is done to anyone as a result of the currency appreciation.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Housing. In view of the Housing Commission of New South Wales being approximately 42,000 homes short of requirements and in view of the fact that, in many cases, migrant hostels are empty, could consideration be given to the using of hostel space by the Housing Commission for temporary housing for urgent cases?
– Commonwealth Hostels Ltd controls about 30 establishments, 13 of which are migrant hostels. I understand that at present, of a total capacity of about 12,000 beds, hostels have a bed occupancy of about 50 per cent. Recently I have had discussions with my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, about the future needs of his Department for Commonwealth hostel accommodation. He has indicated to me that by the end of this financial year Commonwealth Hostels Ltd will be utilising approximately 8,000 beds. He went on to inform me in a letter which I received today that he is contemplating a variety of forms of use of Commonwealth hostels which have not been innovated previously. He also went on to indicate that in, I think, 1974-75 there is likely to be maximum demand on the facilities of Commonwealth Hostels Ltd.
The concern of the honourable member for Mitchell about the waiting list with the Housing Commission of New South Wales is appreciated, there being 43,000 people on the waiting list in that State and 26,000 waiting in Sydney. All I can say to him is that if it becomes apparent that there will be an enduring availability of Commonwealth hostel accommodation, this Government will make certain that it is effectively utilised for important purposes. Among the purposes we would be prepared to take into account are the needs of aged people, emergency accommodation needs generally, student accommodation and possibly the needs of Aboriginal people seeking rehabilitation. But, in any case, if it becomes apparent that beds will be available they will be used. I hope that satisfies the honourable member. There is no indication at this stage, although the review is continuing, that we will have a long term incidence of unused Commonwealth hostel facilities.
– I address to the Minister for Northern Development a question which is supplementary to a question asked by the honourable member for Braddon concerning a review of Tasmanian shipping freights and the election promises of the present Prime Minister and the assurances of the Minister for Transport that the matter would receive consideration. Will the Minister for Northern
Development confer with his colleagues and emphasise the fact that freight rates for the north and Darwin in particular are more in need of review than even those for Tasmania? Will the Minister secure concessions and assistance far the north equal to those which may be granted to other parts of Australia?
– The honourable member for the Northern Territory can rest assured that the Government is well aware of the problems of people living in northern Australia arising from freight rates and the paucity of shipping. The policies of the Government of which he was a member before it fell are making it most difficult to carry out proper reviews of this matter, but he can be assured that this Government is looking at it actively, and it is our intention to take positive steps to assist in alleviating the problems caused by the very high incidence of freight rates in certain areas of northern Australia.
– I address my question to the Minister for Defence, Minister for the Navy, Minister for the Army, Minister for Air and Minister for Supply, and refer to the document tabled yesterday by him which he described as ‘the full documentation of the investigation which I requested from the Secretary of the Department of Defence’, and which he then used as a basis for answering a number of questions in this House yesterday. Did he then believe that the contents of the document he tabled were true? If the answer is no, why did he not say so in the many answers on the subject that he gave during yesterday’s question time? Does he now believe that the contents are true? If he does not now believe that the contents are true, when did he reach that conclusion and in what respects does he consider the document to be misleading?
– I tabled the document because it was the version of the Secretary of the Department of Defence for which I had asked. At no time since have I reflected in any way on the Secretary of the Department of Defence. What I did say was that there had been a misunderstanding on this matter; that on some matters I had not been informed. I sought that information and 1 made it perfectly clear in my statements yesterday.
– Can the Minister for Labour inform the House the unemployment figures for the month of February, particularly for the State of South Australia?
– Curiously enough 1 am able to give the preliminary figures for South Australia, though I have not as yet compiled the figures for other States. However I indicate that I will do so later. I find that national unemployment has fallen by something like 30,000 for the month. That is the biggest fall in the number of unemployed since the statistics were first kept 25 years ago. In South Australia, the State in which naturally enough I have taken most interest, I find that unemployment has fallen by not less than 4,400 or 28.2 per cent, by far the sharpest drop in unemployment figures in South Australia in any month of February since unemployment statistics were first kept 25 years ago. The House will be interested and, I know pleased to learn that the fall of 28.2 per cent for the month of February compares with a 3-year average fall of about 1,500 in absolute terms, or 13.7 per cent, while unfilled vacancies - the most pleasing feature of all - in South Australia increased by 596 for the month, which is 13.8 per cent as against a 3-year average decline in South Australia of about 650 or 16.1 per cent.
– They have a good government there.
– I am obliged to the Leader of the Country Party for that interjection! They do have a good government in South Australia. Undoubtedly this is largely the cause of the remarkable improvement in employment in that State.
– I ask the Minister for Urban and Regional Development a question. What joint investigations are being carried out by his Department with the New South Wales State Planning Authority with respect to the Menai-Holsworthy area? What is the likely delay in the release of the CampbelltownCamden development plan as a result of these investigations, or is there no connection between the investigation and the release of the plan?
– The Prime Minister in his policy speech stated that the Australian Government would develop the Menai-Holsworthy area, which is owned by the State and the Commonwealth. After an examination of that area it was decided to broaden the study to include also the Glenfield, Campbelltown and Camden areas. It is not a joint study. The study is being carried out by the National Urban and Regional Development Authority which is working in co-operation with the State Planning Authority. A report will be submitted to me by 31st March this year. There will be further discussions with the State Planning Authority and after those discussions some action may be taken in the Campbelltown area. I am pleased to state that the New South Wales Government has stabilised land prices in the Campbelltown area as from 3rd October 1972. I commend the New South Wales Government for its action. I hope that other State governments take similar action so that the Commonwealth and the States, irrespective of our politics can join together to try to solve the problems of spiralling land prices.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. In effect it is supplementary to the question answered by the Minister for Labour a few moments ago. The Prime Minister no doubt will remember that forecasts were made not only by himself but indeed-
– It is all right. The Minister can sit back and relax for a moment. I will not be offensive to him. Forecasts were made by the Minister for Labour and by the Prime Minister himself, when they were in Opposition, that unemployment would rise to a minimum of 200,000 and probably 280,000. The Prime Minister will also remember that shortly before the elections took place the Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research in Melbourne made a similar type of forecast of about 150,000 by August. But what has become obvious now to those who have any technical knowledge whatsoever, or ability to read for that matter, is that 4 unbelievable blunders were made by the Institute of Applied Economics. One was that it failed to realise-
– Mr Speaker, I am sorry to do this to the right honourable gentleman but Standing Orders make it quite clear that in asking for information one must not give information, which is what the right honourable gentleman is attempting to do, and the information is false.
-Order! There is no point of order.
– One assumption made by the Institute was that there was no increase in disposable income and, consequently, that there would be no increase in demand. If the Institute had looked at the taxation schedules presented by my colleague, the then Treasurer, at Budget time, it would have seen that in every single branch there was an increase in disposable income.
-I ask the right honourable gentleman to ask his question.
– I have one more prefatory remark to make; then I shall ask the question. Secondly, the Institute made the blunder of failing to realise that the excess of exports over imports also would add to demand. I ask the honourable gentleman: On the latest figures, since on seasonally adjusted terms there was a reduction in unemployment to 94,000, which would have no association with any policies or actions of the Labor Party-
– Will the right honourable gentleman ask his question?
– Yes, Mr Speaker. Will the Prime Minister have an inquiry made by the Treasury into this humanitarian matter and pass on the information to honourable members and also to the Institute of Applied Economics so that it can be prevented from making this kind of blunder in the future?
– I can give the right honourable gentleman no comfort in the vendetta which he has pursued against the Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research within the University of Melbourne for the last year or more. I certainly encourage any dialogue between the Institute and the Australian Treasury. There has been a very great improvement in the employment situation in Australia through the present Government taking the action which the Institute and many other humane and enlightened economists urged should be taken by the national government. The remarkable improvement has been achieved because of the promptitude of the action taken by the Australian Government, in association with all Australian States, within its first month in office.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Supply. I remind the Minister of the urgent need of the Australian aircraft industry to secure offset work overseas due to the lack of workload planned by the previous Government. In view of the essential nature of this industry will the Minister examine a case for assistance to the aircraft industry to make up the 17 i per cent differential between the rate of the Australian dollar and the American dollar on US$6m worth of offset work quoted for last December by the industry? The Minister will be aware that the American aircraft industry is asking the Australian industry to absorb the 17i per cent. Will he assist the Australian aircraft industry in meeting this differential?
– A number of implications are contained in the question asked by the honourable member. It would be my responsibility to deal with a rationalisation of the industry. As the honourable gentleman knows, something positive has already taken place in that respect. I expect that by the middle of the year I shall be in a position to make an announcement to the Parliament concerning the rationalisation of the aircraft industry. The second matter raised by the honourable member, which relates to revaluation, is more properly one for the Federal Treasurer. However, I shall consult the Treasurer and provide a reply to the honourable gentleman.
– Pursuant to section 16 of the Chicken Meat Research Act 1969, I present the third annual report of the Australian Chicken Meat Research Committee for the year ended 30th June 1972.
– Pursuant to section 29 of the Dairy Produce Export Control Act 1924-1972, I present the annual report of the Australian Dairy Produce Board for the year ended 30th June 1972. A preliminary report of the Board was presented to the House on 19th September 1972.
Message received from the Senate intimating that the following senators had been appointed members of the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings: Senators Hannan and O’Byrne.
Message received from the Senate intimating that the following senators had been appointed members of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts: Senators Fitzgerald, Guilfoyle and McAuliffe.
Message received from the Senate intimating that the following senators had been appointed members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works: Senators Georges, Jessop and Poyser.
– I move:
The Customs Tariff Proposals which I have just tabled relate to proposed amendments to the Customs Tariff and formally place before Parliament, as required by law, tariff changes introduced by Gazette notices since the last Parliament. Honourable members will recall that one of the first acts of the new Government was the removal of the 25c per gallon excise duty on wine. These Proposals include the consequential amendment to the Customs Tariff and remove an equivalent amount of duty on imported wines. Action was taken by Gazette notice of 29th December 1972 to continue for a further 12 months the duties of 42i per cent general tariff, and 25 per cent preferential tariff, on injection or puncture needles. This extension was made to assist the local manufacturer of these needles, Everett Products Pty Ltd. The company believes it can achieve a volume of sales to support a viable manufacturing operation if the duties remain in effect during 1973.
Also included are recommendations by the Special Advisory Authority in respect to phthalic anhydride. Emergency protection is provided by the imposition of a temporary support duty of 90 per cent calculated by reference to the amount, if any, by which the landed duty paid cost of the goods is less than $280 per tonne. Duties of 324 per cent general tariff and 25 per cent preferential tariff on cathode ray tube display terminals continue to apply in conformity with the Government’s decision to defer consideration of the Tariff Board’s report on these goods pending the Board’s report on the electronics industry generally. Honourable members will recall that the United Kingdom-Australia Trade Agreement has now terminated. A first step has been taken by the Government in relation to the dismantling of certain preferences. These changes are included in the proposals. The proposals include further additions to goods eligible for concessional admission under the less developed countries scheme. A change is introduced in relation to the availability of concessional admission on a no-quota basis on certain goods. Also included is a correction of a drafting error in relation to medical or surgical dressings. No duty change is involved and the legal situation now accords with administrative practice. A summary of amendments showing details of the changes contained in the proposals is being distributed to honourable members. I commend the proposals.
Debate (on motion by Mr Chipp) adjourned.
BiB presented by Mr Crean, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to implement the Government’s decision to introduce legislation to repeal section 66 of the Commonwealth Banks Act 1959-1968 as soon as possible after the resumption of Parliament. Section 66 of the Act provides that the amount of a housing loan by the Commonwealth Savings Bank or the Commonwealth Trading Bank to an individual on credit foncier terms under Part VI of the Act shall not exceed 90 per cent of the Bank’s valuation of the property on which the loan is secured, or the prescribed amount, currently $9,000, whichever is the lesser. In practice all such credit foncier loans to individuals - that is, loans where the principal and interest are repayable in equal periodic amounts - by the Commonwealth Banking Corporation are made by the Commonwealth Savings Bank.
Repeal of section 66 will remove the present limitation on the Bank’s ability to determine flexibility and in the light of particular circumstances the maximum amount of a credit foncier housing loan which can be made against the value of a property. The Commonwealth Savings Bank will then be on the same footing in regard to housing loans as the other savings banks subject to the Banking Act, which are not subject to any legislative constraints about the maximum amount of individual loans. The Bill provides for the repeal to come into force on the date of the royal assent.
I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Chipp) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Clyde Cameron, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The principal purpose of this Bill is to incorporate in the existing legislation improvements along the lines of those that were provided for in the amendments I moved in October last year during the Committee stage of the debate on the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill 1972. Those amendments embodied the Australian Labor Party’s immediate objectives in relation to this legislation which provides workers’ compensation cover for employees of the Commonwealth and authorities of the Commonwealth. Honourable members will recall that at that time I indicated that if a Labor Government were to be elected in December 1972 a Bill providing for such improvements would be introduced this year. This Bill honours that promise.
Injury’ and ‘disease’ provisions
Before going on to outline the main changes which will flow from giving effect to that preelection promise, I think I should mention here that we are taking this opportunity to remove what is considered by the Government to be a serious anomaly in the present legislation. Under the existing Act, a temporal connection with the employment is sufficient to give an entitlement to compensation in the case of an injury, but it is not sufficient in the case of a disease. The amendments proposed in the Bill will allow cases involving disease to be treated on the same basis as those involving injury. Injury will be defined to include a disease or the aggravation, acceleration or recurrence of a disease and eligibility for compensation will be established if the disease, or the aggravation, acceleration or recurrence, arises out of or in the course of the employment. Though these amendments regarding injury and disease were not included in the amendments I moved last year, honourable members may recall that amendments along similar lines were included in the series of amendments that I moved on behalf of the Australian Labor Party during the debate on the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill 1971.
Compensation for total incapacity
The major changes which the Government proposes to introduce by this Bill relate to the rates and amounts of compensation payable under the Act. In accordance with our policy that an employee in receipt of compensation should not suffer any loss of earnings, the Bill provides for the weekly compensation payment for total incapacity for work to be increased to the level of the employee’s average weekly earnings, including overtime, in his pre-injury employment. Provision already exists in the Act for the amount representing an employee’s pre-injury average weekly earnings to be varied, from time to time, to take into account subsequent variations in the rate of pay for his particular preinjury employment and this will now have the effect of automatically adjusting the weekly compensation payment.
Compensation for partial incapacity
The Bill retains the principle that the weekly payment for partial incapacity for work should be an amount equal to the difference between the employee’s average weekly earnings in his pre-injury employment and the weekly amount he is earning after the injury. However, the limitation which the existing Act places on the amount of this payment is removed. Furthermore, the Bill proposes that the Commonwealth shall endeavour to provide suit able employment for a partially incapacitated employee and, if such employment is not provided, the employee is to continue to receive weekly payments on the basis of total incapacity.
We consider that it is fair that an obligation should also be placed on the partially incapacitated employee to act reasonably and so the Bill provides that the Commissioner for Employees’ Compensation may suspend the weekly payments if the employee unreasonably refuses or fails to accept suitable employment, or to satisfactorily undertake such employment, when it is provided.
Compensation for Death
A major change is proposed in relation to the compensation payable where an injury results in the death of an employee. We propose to replace the existing lump sum payment with a weekly payment related to the average weekly earnings of the deceased employee. Because of this relationship, the weekly payment in a death case will be automatically adjusted from time to time, in line with variations in the rate of pay for the particular employment in which the employee was engaged at the time of the injury which resulted in his death. Under these amendments, a widow will not have to prove dependency if she was living with the employee on a bona fide domestic basis at the date of his death and, for this purpose, she will qualify if she was only temporarily living apart from him, perhaps because he was in hospital or she was merely temporarily away from the family home.
Where there is a widow or a wholly dependent widower and one or more dependent children, or grandchildren, the weekly payment we propose is an amount equal to the full average weekly earnings of the deceased employee. On the other hand, if a widow or a wholly dependent widower is the only dependant, she or he will receive a weekly payment equal to 75 per cent of the deceased employee’s average weekly earnings. In other cases, the weekly payments to persons who were wholly or partly dependent upon the deceased employee are to be determined by the Commissioner, subject to the total of such payments not exceeding the amount of the average weekly earnings of the deceased employee if he leaves 2 or more dependants or 75 per cent of that amount if there is only one dependant.
When he is determining the weekly amount payable for the benefit of a dependant, the Commissioner is to have regard to the need to secure the proper maintenance of the dependant and, where appropriate, the proper education of that dependant. In the case of a dependant other than a widow, a wholly dependent widower or a dependent child or grandchild, the Commissioner is also to have regard to the extent to which the dependant was dependent upon the deceased employee. The Commissioner will have power to vary or cancel the weekly payments payable in death cases to take into account a change in the financial circumstances or needs of a dependant or for any other sufficient reason. The Commissioner will be required to make such a review in cases where there is a widow or wholly dependent widower and one or more dependent children or grandchildren and the widow or widower dies.
Furthermore, a weekly payment being made to a widow or widower will cease upon her or bis remarriage but, if she or he was wholly or partly dependent upon the deceased, a lump sum equivalent to 104 times the weekly payment will be payable.
Compensation for Specified Losses
Another significant change relates to lump sum payments for specified losses or injuries. We propose that these lump sums be related to the national average weekly earnings per employed male unit as published by the Commonwealth Statistician and this will provide an automatic adjustment at quarterly intervals. The formula in the Bill provides for a maximum lump sum equal to the national average weekly earnings multiplied by 260 and, on the latest published figure, this gives an amount of $26,026 compared with the current maximum of $14,500 in the principal Act.
Certain losses will attract the maximum amount of compensation under this section and others will attract a percentage of that amount. The existing percentages for the latter type of loss have been reviewed and increased. As well, some new losses have been provided for. These are: The loss of binocular vision, the loss of the procreative function, bodily disfigurement and the loss of a part of the body or of a faculty not elsewhere provided for in the section.
Under the Bill all losses will be included in the one clause - the proposed new section 39 - and the amount calculated in accordance with the formula to which I have referred will become the maximum payable under the section even where multiple losses are involved. At the same time, however, it is proposed that these lump sums will be payable although an employee is totally incapacitated for work and also that they will no longer terminate any entitlement to weekly payments that an employee may have for total or partial incapacity for work.
Lump sum redemptions
Under the principal Act an employee who is partially incapacitated may request a lump sum payment in redemption of the Commonwealth liability to make weekly payments for his partial incapacity. The Bill proposes an amendment to the relevant section that will also allow a request for redemption to be made by a totally incapacitated employee who is in receipt of a pension, such as superannuation or defence forces retirement benefits pension, on account of invalidity due to his compensable injury.
The Bill will insert a new section of a beneficial nature for the severely handicapped. This proposed new section will apply only where an employee is totally incapacitated and would remain so permanently but for vocational training provided under the Act. In these circumstances, any earnings by such an employee during or as a result of the vocational training will no longer result in a reduction of his weekly compensation payments.
Reimbursement of costs
I come now to the question of costs incurred by a claimant in connection with a request to the Commissioner for reconsideration of a determination. At present a claimant cannot claim reimbursement for any such costs he incurs. By comparison, if a claimant institutes proceedings before a compensation tribunal or a prescribed court in relation to a determination and, before the proceedings are completed, the Commissioner varies or revokes the determination so that the proceedings are rendered abortive, then the Commonwealth is liable to reimburse the claimant for any costs reasonably incurred by him in connection with the proceedings. Under a new provision contained in the Bill the Commonwealth will be liable to meet any costs reasonably incurred by a claimant in relation to a determination which is varied or revoked by another determination as a result of a request for reconsideration. The Commonwealth will be liable for such costs when the second determination is more favourable to any claimant whose claim was dealt with by the first determination and also in the case where the second determination is less favourable to a claimant, provided he was not the claimant who made the request for reconsideration. This new provision will apply in relation to costs incurred on or after the date of commencement of the amending legislation.
Honourable members will appreciate that, with a comprehensive piece of legislation such as the principal Act, the proposed amendments which I have already outlined necessitate many minor amendments of a consequential nature. I should mention also that the Parliamentary Counsel has taken this opportunity to include some drafting changes in this Bill.
Amendment of other Act
A further matter which honourable members might like to note concerns the United States Naval Communication Station (Civilian Employees) Act 1971-1972. This is a companion piece of legislation which extends to civilian employees employed by the United States Navy in connection with the Station the terms of the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Act 1971-1972. The Bill provides for amendments to the Schedule to the United States Naval Communication Station (Civilian Employees) Act 1971-1972 so as to apply to the civilian personnel employed in connection with the Station the amendments to the Principal Act that I have outlined.
Application of amendments
The intention is that the amending legislation will come into operation on the day on which it receives the royal assent and the Bill provides for the new weekly incapacity payments to apply on and from that date, notwithstanding that the payments relate to an injury sustained before that date. The’ new weekly payments for death and the new basis of payment in respect of lump sums for specified losses will apply on and from the date of commencement of the amending Act in all cases where the death occurs or the loss is suffered on or after that date, even though the death or the loss may have resulted from an injury sustained before that date. Perhaps I should add that the new provisions relating to disease cases will apply only where a disease is contracted or the aggravation, acceleration or recurrence of a disease occurs on or after the date of commencement of the amending legislation.
Standard safety code
At this stage I think I should remind honourable members that the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) legislation applies not only to employees of the Commonwealth and Commonwealth authorities but also to holders of statutory offices, members of Commonwealth authorities, members of committees appointed by the Government and to certain classes of volunteers. When our proposed amendments come into operation all persons covered by this legislation will have the benefits of a workers’ compensation code which will be considerably in advance of the codes applying under the workers’ compensation legislation in the States and this, of course, is in keeping with the Australian Labor Party’s view that the Commonwealth should be the leader in this field.
However, we will not be satisfied simply with this. It is only right and proper that there should be a comprehensive compensation code to cover all workers who are injured. But there is another aspect of this matter of industrial or work injuries to which I now want to refer and this is the prevention of accidents. We are not convinced that enough attention has been given in the past to the consideration of what can be done to reduce the incidence of accidents. In fact the prevention of industrial accidents and disease is specifically mentioned in the federal platform of the Australian Labor Party. The platform notes that the toll of personal injury is one of the disastrous incidents of social progress that calls for a co-ordinated response from the nation as a whole and goes on to state the objectives of the Australian Labor Party. This is for the Government to act:
On other occasions, when speaking on this legislation in this House, I have acknowledged that some companies in Australia are doing an excellent job in this sphere. I have mentioned the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd as one company which, through a comprehensive accident prevention scheme, has substantially reduced the time lost through accidents at its works. In fact over the last 15 years it has reduced the incidence of accidents by no less than 93 per cent. So far as the Commonwealth Public Service is concerned, I know that some work has already been done in connection with accident prevention but I think it is time for greater attention to be given to this matter throughout the whole of the Commonwealth Public Service and in its instrumentalities. I have therefore decided to recommend to Cabinet the establishment of a representative committee to draw up a uniform code of safety standards for adoption by all Commonwealth departments. Once the terms of this new code have been thrashed out and approved by Cabinet I shall ask Cabinet to authorise the setting up of whatever machinery is necessary for enforcement of the new code so as to ensure that all departments will observe the new safety standards. Once we have a standard safety code it may become necessary to extend it to private industry, either through consultation with the States or by providing for it to be included in Federal awards. I am glad to notice that the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) agrees with what the Government intends to do in the field of safety enforcement.
In conclusion I should like to make the point that, while accident prevention is of prime importance, it is also relevant in relation to the improvements in the compensation code provided for in the Bill. It is true that, under the proposed new provisions, injured employees will receive much more than they receive now under the existing Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Act. However, if we can get a worthwhile code of safety standards operating effectively, the net result will be an immense reduction in human suffering caused by avoidable injuries at work, and consequently an immense saving in lost production and government expenditure.
It is a very proud and satisfying moment for me to be standing here on the government side of the House of Representatives to move the second reading of this Bill. I have worked on this matter for the best part of my parliamentary life. I want to pay special tribute to the unselfishness of my colleague, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), for so generously allowing me the . pleasure and the honour of presenting the Bill to the Parliament. He had every right, as the Minister administering this section of Commonwealth activity, to have insisted upon presenting the Bill himself. He was generous enough and, I think, humane enough to know how I felt about the whole matter and to know what a great joy it would be to me to be the one to do it. I thank him for that and I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Peacock) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Bryant, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time. There has been a slight demarcation dispute, one might say, in relation to procedure in this matter. I am working on the assumption that most of the members of this Parliament can read, even those in the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party.
– This is a second reading speech.
– It does not matter what it is. It is a statement of fact - a statement of procedure. I believe it is time that the Parliament took a very close look not only at some of its procedures but also at some of the matters before it. I circulate a statement of activities over the last 2i months and a statement of the amounts of money that have been allocated under this Bill. This Bill is a short one. It is a simple statement giving notice of intent to add to the States’ expenditures the sum of $7.5m. That amount is about 50 per cent more than was granted by the previous Government for a whole year. I will now outline the Government’s reasons for doing that.
I believe that the situation in which the Aboriginal people of Australia find themselves is a national disgrace. One per cent or a little more of the Australian population is of Aboriginal ancestry. Perhaps 50 per cent of them are people who are almost totally of Aboriginal ancestry. The other 50 per cent are Aborigines clearly defined amongst themselves, whose attitudes are clearly expressed and who are clearly accepted by their own Aboriginal community. I do not believe it is possible for a civilised country to allow the situation m which they find themselves to continue. In the first instance they are faced with a great deal of social depression. We all know of Aboriginal families who are satisfactorily housed, satisfactorily placed and satisfactorily employed in the community. They are the models to whom we can all look. But on the other hand, almost 90 per cent of the Aboriginal community is living in a state of absolute, acute social depression which a wealthy country such as ours should not tolerate any longer. This Government does not propose to allow that situation to continue any longer than is humanly possible. It has launched an attack upon all the problems which face the Aboriginal people.
Let me refer first of all to the housing situation. Nobody knows at this moment how many houses are needed to rehouse adequately the Aboriginal people of Australia. At the last census the Aboriginal affairs committee of my party made some effort to have the census conducted in such a way that we would be able to find out. This was impossible. But one could guess that if there are 25,000 to 30,000 Aboriginal families in Australia, some 20,000 of them are inadequately housed. In most cases it is not housing at all. The same situation applies in education. Only a handful of the Aboriginal people are receiving tertiary education. Only a handful of them have reached the top classes in secondary schools. This is a terrible waste of human talent. There is no evidence to suggest that the Aboriginal people have not the same intellectual capacity as anybody else in the community. We have not resolved the question of how to make sure that they are able to proceed through our education system or even how to make the education system adequate for them, but the Government proposes to launch an all out attack upon this problem.
If a large number of people in Australia are unemployed it will be found that many of them are Aborigines living in Aboriginal communities. In some areas of Australia 90 per cent of the Aboriginal community is never in full employment. Those people are the victims of every cold, chill wind that blows: So the Government is opening a program of employment, through municipalities and other authorities, to overcome that problem. One of the most serious matters for which there, is no possible justification is . what one might . call administrative discrimination. If one drives to an Aboriginal reserve anywhere in Australia one will notice that the municipal authority has stopped making the road half a mile from the reserve and that the Post Office has not bothered to take a telephone to these people. Even in very large Aboriginal communities such as those in central Australia or in Torres Strait there is a totally inadequate postal service. I do not believe that this is justified. No Australians with any sense of the equality of humanity would believe it was justified.
I suggest to my colleagues on both sides of the House that the next time they go to the Northern Territory they should take a look at the Alice Springs airport to start with. It has been designed for the average traveller, with green lawns, a swimming pool and first class buildings. Then honourable members should take a trip to the closest Aboriginal reserve, wherever it is, and compare the standards. During my recent trips to the centre of Australia I visited some of these places and I asked the people who were with me: ‘Is this place on the same continent and under the same control of the government that is building Canberra?’ My Government will launch an attack on that kind of discrimination.
To the Aboriginal people land is the ultimate desire and requirement. They have a feeling about land which is not understood by most of us, although when one considers how closely the Australian people are applying themselves to the preservation of their environment one can get some understanding of it. So the Government is going to take steps to protect the interests of the Aboriginal people in the land of Australia.
One of the most devastating areas of neglect - it could be called a disaster area - is that of health. Throughout Australia we have not attempted to produce for the Aboriginal communities the same health services as we produce for the rest of the community. Australia is a community that places great stress upon health services. We are one of the communities which lowered the infant mortality rate to about 20 deaths per thousand births almost SO years ago. Yet throughout large areas of Australia - in central Australia, northern Australia and Western Australia - the infant mortality rate is amongst the highest in the world. But health is not concerned only with infant mortality. It is not concerned just with health services as such. We have now to apply ourselves to this area with the same vigour as we do to many other areas of social aspiration.
The Government, of course, accepts the fact that it has a direct responsibility for every Australian. I know that my colleagues opposite and State authorities will call out about centralism, bureaucratic control and so on. But it is not that. The referendum of 1967, in our view, gave the Australian Government absolute and unchallenged constitutional authority to deal with the Aboriginal people as it should, and directly at that. There is no need for us to allow for any intermediate administrative authority to prevent the carrying out of our programs. We accept that responsibility. Fortunately, throughout Australia, there are authorities which carry out their responsibilities with a proper sense of the needs of the Aboriginal people, but of course in many areas they cannot. State authorities will say that they cannot do so because they do not have the wherewithall. In other areas, nobody has found the social answers. But we propose to deal directly with the Aboriginal people where neces sary. We accept the direct and full responsibility for the people themselves. For instance, the Queensland Government has neglected education for many years. It seems to me that it has neglected education more deliberately amongst Aboriginal communities than amongst communities elsewhere. So we have made direct grants to the Queensland Government for the purpose of building schools. I just cannot understand why we should have to do this. But wherever there is a need - even if it is somebody else’s responsibility - this Government will still accept the responsibility because it does not believe that constitutional requirements should stand between people and their direct and human needs.
While I am speaking about Queensland, I hope that members of this Parliament will take some care to read the communiques from the Australian Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Chief Minister of Papua New Guinea about- the situation in the Torres Strait Islands. This is not the moment to debate this matter or to talk about, it but the Premier of Queensland has been .totally misleading in this situation.
– You know my- view on this matter, but you wrote to the Tones Strait Islanders and said that you would support them.
– The honourable member for Kooyong interjects to ask a question about letters that I have written on the matter. I suggest that the honourable member should do what I suggested everybody else should do, namely, that he should read the communique issued by Mr’ Somare and our own Prime Minister.
– You are dissociating yourself from your own letters, are you?
– The Premier pf Queensland has been totally misleading and mischievous in the way that he has handled this matter.
– That is not what you said in your letter to them last year.
– Order! The honourable member for Kooyong knows that he is not permitted to debate across the table.
– No, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it is still interesting that trie honourable member is alive enough to- -
-I am in control of the House, thank you. I was informing the honourable member for Kooyong that he is not permitted to debate across the table and I ask him to refrain from doing so.
– The Premier of Queensland asserts that the. Australian Government proposed to hand islands and people over to Papua New Guinea. That is not stated anywhere in the communique. The whole principle on which it is based is clearly stated for whoever wishes to read the communique. However, in the last 3 months this Government has taken steps to change the situation as it affects the Aboriginal people of Australia. One of the first actions of the new Labor Government when it took office on 2nd December was to issue a direction that Aboriginal language teaching should take place in the schools of Australia. We recognise that this is a very difficult task. Those of us who have been concerned over the years with this situation know that it is going to be very difficult to fulfil that aspiration. But those of us who are concerned with education believe that there is no way in which we can overcome the disabilities with which the Aboriginal people find themselves afflicted in our schools unless we take steps to encourage education in their own language.
The Government expanded the secondary grants scheme so that Aboriginal children would receive grants immediately they entered secondary school. This Bill is designed to make direct grants to the States, principally to overcome some of the disabilities from which the States have suffered over the last 12 months because of the failure of the previous Government to grant them enough money to carry out their own programs. The Government has appointed Judge Woodward to examine the situation relating to Aboriginal land rights. Advertisements have been published throughout Australia and all those who are concerned with the Aboriginal people and their rights have been invited to place their submissions before the Commissioner. Again, this is going to be a difficult matter to resolve, lt will not be terribly difficult to define the land rights of the Aboriginal people in regard to existing reserves. But when it comes to the consideration of the situation of people in urban areas and all those who have been away from their tribal lands for perhaps 2 generations, we are. in a difficult position. It win be difficult to solve their problem, but the Government invites all those who have thought about this matter to place their views before the Commissioner.
One of the most interesting exercises upon which we have embarked has been to consult the Aboriginal people themselves. We have done this because we believe that for too long the Aboriginal people have been placed in the situation where people have done things for them and to them but never with them by consultation. So, recently, I convened in Canberra a consultative committee representative of the Aboriginal people. We could not design a direct Aboriginal consultative body in the short time that was available; so we invited a fair representation of all the Aboriginal communities of Australia - some 77 of them - to Canberra to discuss the question. They have embarked upon a program of establishing a representative body based upon an electoral system to be designed by themselves so that it will be, in effect, the continuing consultative body to the Government and particularly to the Minister who, for the time being, is myself. If there is a social key to the situation it is in this continuous consultation with the Aboriginal people. When it comes to housing, they should be consulted about the form their housing will take; when it comes to education, they must be consulted about the way in which it should be directed. And so it will be with the community programs which we hope to develop.
We on the Labor side of the House have never believed that Aboriginal communities should be treated as anything else but communities in themselves. There is just no reason why they should not be of the same standard and character as any other Australian community. So, we are taking steps to establish - with the Aboriginals and by consultation with them - community centres or municipalities in which they will conduct their own affairs. We are taking steps to hand the responsibilities for their programs and for the direction of their lives back to the Aboriginal communities. Therefore, the Government has embarked upon a total change of direction in regard to the Aboriginal people. Tremendous problems exist. As I pointed out earlier, practically every authority in Australia under-performs in regard to Aboriginal people. It is the task of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Parliament, and particularly of myself as the Minister, to see that all authorities throughout Australia perform for the Aboriginal people with the same vigour and quality of effort as they do for everybody else.
The problems are continental in scope. In any one day we consider matters that relate to the Torres Strait or to central Western Australia or to the urban communities of Melbourne and Sydney. Therefore, I have called upon all members of this Parliament, from both the Senate and the House of Representatives, to place before me their views on the programs that could be undertaken in their communities. I do not believe that the Minister - in this case, myself, for the time being - is able to solve these problems alone. I do not believe that the Department is able to solve the problem by its own unaided efforts. It will take a total mobilisation of the intellectual, political and social resources of the people of Australia. That is why I have called upon all members of this House and of the Senate, regardless of the political Party to which they belong, to take part in this program. With that in view, we hope that the legislation before us, simple and short as it is, is a step towards overcoming the terrible disabilities with which the Aboriginal people have been beset.
– We have at least started things moving.
– I know that I have the goodwill of all members of this Parliament, no matter what is said to one another across the floor of this House, in this endeavour. I have been heartened by the fact that colleagues of mine with whom I have had vigorous and almost violent disputes at the political level over the last few years have come to me with their views about the situation in their own electorates. I believe it is my task to take action on that information. The Government will be unhibited by any considerations of the Constitution or protocol. There is only one objective, and that is to remove the disabilities which the Aboriginal people of Australia suffer. Therefore I commend the Bill to honourable members.
With the concurrence of honourable members, I incorporate in Hansard the following information:
7 December - Announcement of a freeze on further leasing or exploration licences on reserves in the Northern Territory. 13 Decembers-Grants to two voluntary organisations announced. 14 December- Statement on tribal languages and skills to be taught. 15 December- Statement, on land . rights - Woodward Committee announced. 20 December - Minister’s statement on intention to confer with Aboriginals. 21 December - Grants-in-aid announcement. ($103,000 Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Northern Territory) 22 December - Panter Downs purchase announced. (440,000 acres $100,000) 9 January - Cabinet agreed to$10.85m appropriation to Aboriginal Advancement Trust Account for 1972-73. 11 January - Minister announces plans for Aboriginal consultative committee. 12 January - Aboriginal secondary grants scheme extended. 17 January to 22 January - Minister’s visit to Queensland and Northern Territory Aboriginal settlements. 18 January - Statement on conditions on Palm Island, and request to Queensland Government to transfer responsibility. 19 January - Yarrabah grant announced. ($20,000 to purchase school bus) 19 January - Wee Waa investigation of conditions of itinerant Aboriginal cotton chippers. 19 January - Nomads grant announced. ($80,000) 25 January - Charges arising out of Aboriginal Embassy dropped. 26 January - Announcement on Gurindji land. 31 January - Visit to remote Aboriginal settlements in Western Australia. 1 February - Mitakoodi Housing Association grant. (Cloncurry $100,000) 1 February - Aboriginal field force statement. 4 February - $2.9m grant to Western Australia. 9 February - $2.9m grant to Queensland. 15 February - Visits to remote Aboriginal settlements in Northern Territory. 16 February - Announcement of measures to allow an increase in the number of Aboriginal Housing Associations in Northern Territory. 21 February - Aboriginal consultative Committee meets. 21 February - Report of Wee Waa investigation. 22 February - Announcement of proposals for additional Aboriginals to be employed in Public Service. 26 February - Aboriginal appointed to working party on homeless men. (Social Security) 26 February - Purchase of 286,000 acre property, Mt Minnie for Noualla group of . Aboriginals in Western Australia. ($35,000) 28 February - Legislation to repeal discriminatory sections of Migration Act introduced. 28 February- Request to Queensland Government to transfer reserve land to Aboriginals. 2 March- Turtles and crocodile farms. ($100,000) 7 March - Grants to New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. ($1.6m) 7 March - Oodnadatta Housing Society grant $90,000.
Debate (on motion by Mr Peacock) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Les Johnson, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill has 4 main purposes. In the first place it provides for the extension of the war service homes scheme to members of the forces who complete a specified period of defence service. Secondly, it provides for an increase in the maximum loan under the scheme from $9,000 to $12,000. It also provides for war service homes benefits to be granted to certain unmarried female persons with qualifying service under the Act. The fourth main purpose is to correct an existing anomaly in the war service homes legislation by providing for the extension of eligibility to certain persons who served overseas with the Australian forces in the 1939-45 War or in the subsequent war-like operations as an accredited representative of a welfare organisation.
In addition to these significant changes, the Bill includes a number of other amendments which are designed to facilitate the adminis tration of the War Service Homes Act. As honourable members will be aware, the war service homes scheme was originally introduced as a repatriative measure to provide homes for returned men and women from the 1914-18 War. The scheme was later extended to cover the 1939-45 War and the subsequent war-like operations involving Australian forces. Since the inception of the scheme eligibility in respect of service in the forces has been based on a period of service abroad involving operational risks beyond those normally associated with peace-time service. The provisions of this Bill will extend the scope of the scheme henceforth to include as qualifying service a continuous period of normal peace-time service of substantial duration. Persons who will benefit from this proposed extension of the scope of the scheme are those members of the forces on continuous full-time service on or after 7th December 1972 who, whether before or after that date, complete 3 years effective fulltime service. A person who was engaged or appointed for a period of full-time service of not less than 3 years but who is discharged on medical grounds before the completion of 3 years service will also qualify, unless the member was discharged before the completion of 12 months effective service for a preexisting medical condition. Effective service for the purposes of the proposed new eligibility provisions is defined in the Bill.
The Bill has special provisions dealing with persons undergoing a course of training at the. Royal Australian Naval College, the Royal Military College or the Royal Australian Air Force Academy and persons appointed as officers while enrolled in a degree or diploma course at a university or other tertiary institution. In effect, persons undergoing a course of training at a naval, military or Air Force college will not qualify for benefits unless they successfully complete their course of training. Persons commissioned under the undergraduate scheme will not qualify until they have given 3 years effective service following the completion of their studies. In accordance with existing arrangements under the War Service Homes Act persons who meet the eligibility conditions but are given a dishonourable discharge will not be eligible for benefits.
The Bill also provides for the extension of war service homes benefits to national servicemen and national service officers serving immediately before 7th December 1972 who complete the period of service for which they were engaged to serve or are discharged on medical grounds prior to the completion of that service. The proposed extension of the scope of the scheme to include a continuous period of normal peace-time service of substantial duration as qualifying service represents the most significant change in the scheme since the enactment of the original legislation in 1918. It has been brought about because of the Government’s decision to abolish conscription into the armed forces and to fulfil its stated aim of introducing conditions of service that will attract and retain regular servicemen in peace time. We believe that the way to attract and retain regular servicemen is to guarantee that they and their dependants will enjoy, both during and after their service, a living standard which is on a par with civilians of the same age. Because of the itinerant nature of his occupation a regular serviceman is at a considerable disadvantage relative to other members of the community in acquiring a permanent home. Frequent postings make it difficult for him to obtain housing finance from established home lending institutions. As a result, upon discharge, be is faced with the task of financing his home at a greater cost and over a shorter period.
The granting of war service homes benefits to regular servicemen on the conditions already mentioned will do much to offset the disadvantages inherent in Service life in relation to the acquisition of a permanent home. At the same time this measure will afford practical recognition of the significant contribution made to national defence by servicemen who undertake full-time Service commitments of a substantial duration. As we consider this measure an essential one in our program to improve service conditions we feel as a matter of equity that it should also be extended to those national servicemen serving at 6th December 1972 who voluntarily chose to complete the period of service for which they were originally enlisted. The retention of those young men who chose to remain is seen as valuable in the transition from a partly conscripted army to an all volunteer force. To reflect more aptly the type of service which will constitute qualifying service under the scheme upon the enactment of this legislation, the Bill provides for. the title of the Principal Act to be amended to ‘Defence Services Homes Act 1918-1973’. As a consequential amendment, the name of the body corporate established by the Act will be changed from Director of War Service Homes to Director of Defence Service Homes.
I come now to the provision made in this Bill for an increase in the maximum loan. The present statutory maximum loan of $9,000 covered less than 60 per, cent of the average cost of all homes built or financed under the scheme last financial year. While some credit-worthy applicants are able to supplement their loan under the Act with a secondary loan from a private . lender at a high rate of interest, it is difficult, and in many cases impossible, for the ordinary wage earner to finance a home on the basis of a maximum loan of $9,000. It is our stated aim to increase the maximum lending limit under the scheme to enable loans to- be made up to 100 per cent of the value of properties against which advances are made. In furtherance of this aim, this Bill provides for an increase in the maximum loan to $12,000 and for a reduction in the deposit required in respect of a home sold to an eligible person under Part IV of the Act.
The proposed extension of eligibility to unmarried female persons who have qualifying service under the Act is designed primarily to benefit single and widowed nurses and exservicewomen without dependants who served overseas with the forces in the 1939-45 War.
As the Act stands at present eligibility for benefits is limited, broadly speaking, to persons who are married, about to marry or who have dependants for whom it is necessary for them to maintain a home. This is in accordance with the purpose of the scheme to provide homes for eligible persons with families. However, we consider that there is a strong case on the social welfare grounds for exempting female persons with qualifying service under the Act from this requirement. In the majority of cases the nurses and ex-servicewomen who will benefit from the provision have given meritorious war service overseas. They are now approaching retirement and usually have no family to whom they may turn for a home. Ordinarily they would not qualify for housing accommodation under any of the public housing schemes of the States and they find it difficult to obtain a housing loan from institutional lenders on account of their age and sex. The scheme has always provided that the widow of an eligible person will be eligible for war service homes benefits and this is the case whether she has dependants or not. We feel that there is equal justification for granting benefits to single and widowed nurses and ex-servicewomen without dependants who have the necessary qualifying service under the Act.
The proposed extension of benefits to members of welfare organisations who served overseas with the Forces will correct an injustice which has been allowed to exist for far too long. When the War Service Homes Act was enacted in 1918, provision was made for the granting of benefits to members of the Young Men’s Christian Association who were accepted for service and served abroad with the Naval or Military Forces of Australia as representatives of that Association. However, no comparable provision was made when the Act was amended in 1941 to cover the hostilities which commenced in 1939. During the 1939-45 War representatives of welfare organisations served in such areas as North Africa, Greece, Crete, Papua, New Guinea, Malaya and Singapore and there were many casualties including some who died on service or became prisoners of war. Honourable members will agree I am sure that it is only equitable that they should be eligible for benefits on the same basis as members of the Forces and the Bill makes provision accordingly.
Other amendments include an extension of the definition of ‘holding’ which will enable a loan to be granted in respect of any land which an applicant is purchasing from a State on terms that entitle him on compliance with specified conditions to a grant in fee simple of the land where he satisfies the Director that he has a reasonable prospect of complying with those conditions. A provision has also been included which will empower the Director to grant a maximum repayment term of 50 years to all female dependants as defined in the Act who are eligible for assistance under the Act.
The Bill includes also a provision which will empower the Director to call up a loan where after the loan has been made available it comes to the knowledge of the Director that the purchaser or borrower or that person’s wife or husband as the case may be, was, at the time the loan was granted, the owner of another dwelling house. Sections 19a and 23 of the Act provide that assistance shall not be made available to any applicant unless the Director is satisfied that neither the applicant nor wife or husband (if any) of that person is the owner of any other dwelling house. There is an appreciable number of cases arising where it is established after a loan has been granted that although the applicant at the time he applied for the loan declared that neither he nor his wife were the owners of another dwelling house, either he or his wife did in fact own another dwelling house at that time and he or she still retains ownership of that home. A power for the Director to call up a loan in such circumstances is essential in order that he may enforce the requirements of the Act.
Other minor amendments include provision for the reinstatement as a tenant, a person whose tenancy has previously been determined under the provisions of the Act and provisions under which a defaulting purchaser or borrower may be called upon to meet the expenses incurred by the Commonwealth in obtaining a warrant of possession. The Bill also contains a number of provisions relating to the administration of the war service homes insurance scheme, including a provision empowering the director to reinsure his contingent liabilities under insurances effected in accordance with the Act and to use the funds of the war service homes insurance trust account to make contributions to the cost of maintaining fire brigade services.
Honourable members will appreciate from the summary I have given that this Bill embraces a wide range of matters, some of which will effect significant changes in the nature and the scope of the existing war service homes scheme. Since the scheme commenced in 1919 it has played a very significant role in the development of our nation with more than 330,000 persons having been assisted to become home owners. The enactment of this legislation will ensure that the scheme will go on making its important contribution to the national welfare by enabling eligible persons in all parts of the Commonwealth to obtain a home of their own. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, in support of the States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Bill I tabled figures and other information. I failed to ask for leave for them to be incorporated in Hansard. I now do that.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order! Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I thank the House.
Debate resumed from 28 February (vide page 47), on motion by Mr Hayden:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition has no desire to delay unnecessarily the passage of this Bill through the House. However there are some aspects of the Bill introduced by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) that the Opposition feels are in need of definite clarification and perhaps alteration for the benefit of all pensioners throughout this country. I therefore move the following amendment to the Bill:
That all the words after ‘that’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill, this House is of the opinion that (a) the Bill leaves unresolved the Prime Minister’s policy undertaking to raise the basic pension rate to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings and (b) the adjustments to the rate of and basis of entitlement for unemployment benefit will disturb economically desirable employment patterns in our society.
I will be brief in my comments on the amendment. The Opposition is just as anxious to see this Bill pass through the House as is the Government but there are some confusing sections of the Bill which I feel should be cleared up for the benefit of everyone concerned, especially the pensioners themselves.
The main point of confusion seems to stem from that part of the Government’s policy speech made during the election campaign which refers to an immediate increase in pensions and subsequent automatic adjustments twice yearly. Pensioner organisations, pensioner associations and quite a number of individuals have stated their concern to me personally. I feel there must be other people throughout the country who share that concern. I will read the specific part of the policy speech which I think is a little confusing. It states:
All pensions will be immediately raised by $1.50 and thereafter, every Spring and every Autumn, the basic pension rate will be raised by SI. 50 until it reaches 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings.
– When was that stated?
– This was stated in the policy speech made by the now Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). This seems to be the confusing part and it has been bothering people who have been approaching me. I would say that very few honourable members have not experienced a reaction from this statement since it became public. The reaction was that the Labor Party would raise pensions by $1.50 before Christmas. The plain impression given by the Labor Party was that if it became the Government it would do that. This reaction was more evident when the Labor Party did form a government. In fact some of the Press mentioned this. The age pensioner could hardly be blamed for thinking that the increase would become a reality because ‘immediately’ means now.
The Minister for Social Security and other honourable members will recall that the Prime Minister, quite rightly, during a Press interview stated that this could not be done before the Parliament met and the proposal was placed before the House, because it was necessary to obtain authorisation for such a proposal. The Prime Minister said also that there would be an increase in the autumn, early after the House sat. I acknowledge that this is now being done. He stated also that he never said that there would be an increase before autumn. This is the area where all the confusion is currently arising. I realise that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Social Security intended that there should be 2 increases in a financial year, although the average person regards a year as being from Christmas to Christmas. It was proposed that the first increase would be retrospective to the first pay period after the election. The question has been asked of me: Is this the immediate increase that has been promised and will there be another increase before this spring? In other words will pensioners receive $3 increase over this year, from Christmas to Christmas, or will they receive $4.50? I have no quarrells with the provisions of the Bill, but I invite the Minister to clarify this matter which is bothering to many people. I feel that I know the steps the Government is taking in this matter, but I think it would be an excellent idea publicly to clarify the situation through Government channels.
I have doubts and reservations as to whether with increases at the rate of $1.50 the Government will be able for some time to raise pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings. However, I am mindful of the Minister’s statement that the situation would be reviewed and alterations made if this result could not be achieved within a reasonable time. If this situation arises, will the Minister consider including provision for an increase in an annual Budget allocation? At present the average weekly male earning is listed as $104, 25 per cent of which is $26. The present pension is $20 and with the proposed increase of $1.50 it will be $21.50. A further increase of $1.50 in the spring would bring the pension up to $23. On this basis it would appear that it will take until the spring of 1974 to catch up with the proposed amount if average earnings remain static - a situation which I doubt very much. Can it be assumed that action will be taken to ensure that the pension will reach the desired 25 per cent by the end of 1974 or perhaps in the Budget of 1975? This seems to me to be an unusually long period to wait before the promise of the Government is fulfilled.
There are quite a number of other matters which we feel should be discussed and which my colleagues will elaborate later. I raised this one question with the Minister because there have been so many requests to have it clarified. I would like to give the Minister an opportunity to do this because I cannot defend the Government’s policy in this respect. To avoid any further complications in this matter and perhaps to clear up the existing confusion in the minds of the pensioners I recommend that the matters I have raised be clarified by adopting this amendment. I have no wish to delay the passage of this Bill unnecessarily, but there are other matters which we feel need attention and which my colleagues will mention.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
-I remind honourable members that the next speaker, the honourable member for Melbourne, will be making his maiden speech. I am sure that he will be afforded the usual courtesies. I call the honourable member for Melbourne.
– At the outset I should like you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to convey my congratulations to the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Cope) on being elected to the important position of Speaker of this House. I feel very confident that he will occupy that office for many years to come and will ensure that the proceedings of this Twenty-eighth Parliament will be conducted with efficiency and decorum. I am quite confident that he will cope. The Bill outlined by the Minister provides for substantial increases in all pensions, retrospective payments to 2nd December 1972 and then periodic increases until the pension reaches 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. The pension will then escalate with the movement of average weekly earnings.
The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) raised the question of the pension reaching 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. I direct his attention to the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) who said:
We are mindful that, if there is not some abatement in the rate of growth in average weekly earnings in 1970-71 of 11.3 per cent, then the regular annual 2 promised increases of $1.50 will have to be increased to achieve pension rates at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings within a reasonable time. Of course, we would be prepared to respond appropriately if such proves the case.
That statement may dispel some of the apprehension the honourable member might have had in moving the amendment. A number of anomalies have been removed, including 2 very important discrepancies which militated against the long term unemployed workers and junior workers. The Bill must be seen as the first stage of a new concept in social security. I am bound to say that the quantum of the pension is far from satisfactory. It is a mere pittance to those who find themselves, either through illness or for some other reason, unable to fend for themselves or their dependants, or who find themselves tossed onto the labour market by the policies of the previous conservative governments. It is typical, yet still shameful, that the discrimination against unemployed people should have been blatantly enforced by the defeated government.
The Government’s ability to increase pensions is restricted at this time by the fact that the people who now sit opposite have left the economy of this country in an appalling mess. The disastrous economic policies have forced the Government to divert money towards a major economic reconstruction. The architects of those policies should hang their heads in shame. It would be remiss of me if for the record 1 did not go back to outline where thenbrutal plans originated. In the 1971 Budget the McMahon Government deliberately put people out of work to keep over-award payments down. Two years ago this policy was advocated by the then chairman of Broken Hill Co. Pty Ltd, Sir Colin Syme. On 14th April 1971, he said:
Inflation in Australia is reaching danger level. We should regard the situation as very serious and encourage the Government to take steps to control it. We should then put up with what the Government does without too much whingeing. One necessary measure seems to be to reduce over-full employment.
The statement was surprising only because of the blatant way in which it was put forward. It gave an insight into the thinking of the then Government’s big business backers. Similar statements quickly followed from Ministers of the McMahon Government. For the benefit of profit, they argued, a situation should be created in which human beings who are able, willing and ready to work for their families, should be deliberately thrown out of work.
The demand-depressing action taken in the 1971 Budget when there were no real indicators of a demand recovery and the continued assertion in that Budget that wage increases were the basic cause of inflation led one to the conclusion that the McMahon Government had cynically decided to increase unemployment as a means of combating that inflation. This conclusion was reinforced by a statement made by the then Treasurer in January 1972.
The ‘Australian’ of 22nd January 1972 quoted the then Treasurer, when commenting on the latest unemployment figures which showed 120,574 persons registered for employment in December 1971, as saying:
We have achieved what we set out to do in that we have created an environment in which over-award payments are depressed.
The record speaks for itself. The former Government did achieve what it set out to do. The then Treasurer wanted to tame the militant unions, regardless of the cost in human misery. The man who carried through that cynical program of misery now sits opposite as Leader of the Opposition. He carries on a tirade of abuse at the drop of a hat, while pleading that he is not really anti-union. But he is the same person who before his entry into Parliament must have made a small fortune representing employers in the Commonwealth Industrial Court, kicking the insides out of the unions during the period referred to last night by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) in his maiden speech.
At that time, with the right honourable gentleman - that is, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden)- leading on behalf of the metal trades bosses, the metal trades unions were fined approximately $500,000 including costs, for simply defending the right of their members to fight for wages and conditions. The right honourable gentleman must rank as a failure as Treasurer and, on his performance so far, he can have long odds - perhaps 33/1 - about himself remaining Leader of the Opposition for the full term of this Parliament.
Now it is Labor’s task to put right the shameful wrongs of the right honourable gentleman’s policies. So far Labor has provided, firstly, some immediate relief to pensioners as a first step towards a whole new deal, and secondly, for the removal of discrimination against long term unemployed workers and junior workers. It must be some satisfaction to people who lost their jobs that we have won government, and that members of the former Government who were responsible for that inhuman policy are in their proper place on the Opposition benches. Labor has provided, thirdly, a generally more optimistic economic outlook as Australians realise they once again have leadership from their national government.
I wish to refer now to a number of other matters arising out of the provisions of this Bill. However, before I do I am bound to say that I have listened with a great deal of interest to some of the contributions made by Opposition members on such subjects as defence, tariffs and revaluation. I have also been revolted by the irresponsible behaviour of some people in calling for divisions in a way which is obviously designed to frustrate the proceedings of this Parliament. It is the responsibility of every member of this Parliament to expedite the passage of Bills such as the one before the House now in answer to the demand of the Australian people that the reforms outlined in the policy speech of the now Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) be implemented without delay. The Labor Party has a clear mandate. I therefore call on members of the Opposition to sheath their sabres, forget for a while their profound interest in the welfare of multi-national corporations, get their heads from under the haystacks, and reflect on the plight of the human beings who are recipients of pensions outlined in this Bill. In particular, I would like them to listen to some of the problems confronting the underprivileged residing in the inner suburbs of Melbourne.
The electorate of Melbourne which I now proudly represent in this chamber has changed little over the past decade. People who live in the electorate still cover a wide spectrum of the workforce. Accordingly, a great number of their hopes and their aspirations are union-based and union-orientated. My job in this place is to put their case. That poses, no embarrassment for me whatsoever. I am a unionist. I feel like them; I think like them; and I speak like them. I am of them and I am for them. For many years I have been a trade unionist and trade union official, and my years of experience in the industrial sphere of this country have demonstrated to me that the present welfare system, after deteriorating throughout 23 years of Liberal mismanagement, is now a crumbling, fragmented and socially unjust patchwork offering no real social security. I do not claim any literary pretensions. But I have noted with interest the title Dame Enid Lyons has chosen for her latest book dealing with her time as a member of this House. She has called it: Among the Carrion Crows.’ Thinking about that title we can find the key to the national feeling which recently swept my Party into government, giving us one of the strongest and clearest mandates for change in the history of Australian politics.
On 2nd December the Australian taxpayer decided to sweep the carrion crows from the Government bench, in many cases, thankfully, never to return. Their places on the Treasury bench have been filled by a team which reflects and upholds the electorate’s demands for new enthusiasms and new aspirations in government. It was Bulwer Lytton who said: ‘The prudent man may direct a state, but it is the enthusiast who regenerates it’. Within that framework it is a pleasure to be able to reassure all Australians that this nation is now governed by a team of enthusiasts, bent on regenerating lost hopes and lost causes for a nation we can all be proud of. One of the key enthusiasts is the Minister for Social Security and it is a matter of great pride to me that my first contribution to discussion in this chamber is in support of the new deal in social security he is initiating. I do not propose to engage in specific endorsement of the legislation which he has put so logically, rationally and irrefutably. It stands on its own. However, I do want to stress the social consequences in broad terms.
What the Minister has done here is to start the levelling process between: the haves and the have-nots in a manner which is long overdue. We are ending 23 years of misgovernment during which this country lost its recognised place as a world leader in social and political reform. This Bill could be seen as a technical legal matter, merely’ changing the rates of benefits, but to do so would be to neglect its real role. It is a symbol - a beacon - of things to come. No longer will a pension rise be a political football; dependent upon the imminence of an election or the likely collapse of another Liberal government. No longer will social security be used in a mean, vengeful spirit against workers in distress. No longer will workers grow older fearing that they will not be able to enjoy an adequate standard of living after retirement. Under the previous Government, workers who suffered injuries at work faced not only the impossibility of living on workers compensation payments but also the cruelty of not knowing for sure that they would get any benefit; workers were never sure when they would be facing up to the counter of a Commonwealth Employment Office week after week, having to wait 7 days to accept unemployment benefits which were only a fraction of the real cost of living; workers faced periods of sickness knowing that Commonwealth social security sickness benefits would barely keep a family from starvation; workers could never be sure they would not receive an injury at home which left them unemployable, and facing a lifetime on an inadequate invalid pension. More than any other electorate, the electorate of Melbourne will reflect the benefits in this Bill. Melbourne provides a perfect study in the extremes of affluence on the one hand and deprivation on the other - extremes which have been created within our society by a series of conservative governments. It is the heart of the nation’s industrial and commercial wealth, the very hub of the smoke and profit philosophy in practice, yet it contains some of the nation’s most appalling slums. This is the area in which live the homeless, the lonely and the needy. This is the area which requires dramatic improvements in the standard of education facilities to bring them into line with even moderately acceptable levels. This is the area which desperately needs locally-based, co-ordinated social services such as legal aid, emergency housing, community aid and professional counselling services. This is an area which requires urgent support for local government action to improve the social amenities such as libraries and childcare centres. This is an area where special attention needs to be offered to minority groups - Aborigines, migrants and students.
But, at the same time, it is the site of one of Australia’s most exclusive clubs, The Melbourne Club. But one cannot get in if one’s religion, race, or social position is not up to scratch. The area contains some of Australia’s most outstanding private schools - the rookeries of a series of conservative Prime Ministers. Yet it also features schools where children are taught in century-old firetraps, where 800 children are forced to play in a quarter acre of asphalted playground space and where children are forced to use school toilets which were condemned in 1928.
It is the setting for Australia’s biggest sporting stadium, the Melbourne Cricket Ground. But it could be filled twice over with the number of people living below the poverty line in the Melbourne metropolitan area. It is the evening playground for the people of the metropolis, the place where they spend their time and money.
But old people die unattended in their grey garrets just half a mile away, lt is the place where the knights of the Melbourne City Council conspired on schemes to add to their personal fortunes from profits which the underground rail loop proposal will bring.
It is the place where these reactionaries also decided, in conjunction with their allies in the Spring Street Liberal Government, to force the ratepayers of inner Melbourne to meet a bigger share of the cost.
As a member of the new Australian Labor Government I am pleased to have the opportunity of cementing the first brick in the foundation of a social security structure which will put the welfare of the community on a rational, socially-just basis and, for the first time since the last Labor government, offer some hope to the working man and his family.
Upon that foundation - this commitment to ensure the social security of all the people - we can build a new approach to the problems of the nation.
This Bill deserves support for the principle included of payments based on 25 per cent of average weekly earnings.
It deserves support for the $1.50 it gives to pensioners and the retrospectivity included in the payments.
It deserves support for the recognition that there is no difference between being sick in the short term and the long term.
And it deserves support for giving the younger worker the same benefts as the older worker. But for more than any of these specific reasons, it must be supported as a step towards a more democratic society, a more equal society and a more just society.
It is time the balance was restored and that is what I understand by social security. That is why it is my duty and my pleasure to rise in support of legislation of this type.
Finally, I wish to give warning to my Government that the election pledges which brought us to office must be implemented on a fair and balanced basis.
It disturbs me that the political pull of outer suburban areas may prompt discrimination against electorates such as my own.
All the social horrors that come with urban blight are clearly illustrated in inner city electorates such as my own.
I give warning that I cannot and will not stand by and see my people refused their fair and proper share of the new deal.
I commend the Bill to the House.
– Before I start my comments on this Bill I would like to add my compliments to those of other honourable members to Mr Speaker, the Chairman of Committees and those honourable members who have made their maiden speeches, such as the previous speaker, the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes). We all have to agree that the standard of maiden speeches that have been made has been very good and whilst I do not agree with all the comments of the honourable member for Melbourne, he did make an excellent speech at his first attempt in this House. I cannot say that I wish him a long stay but I am well aware of the nature of his constituency and, with God’s help, he should be here for some time to come.
Members of the Australian Country Party will not vote against the passage of this Bill. The Country Party appreciates that some of the improvements contained in the Bill will give needed assistance to many deserving people. We feel that the general community should be prepared to contribute to assist people who have lost their jobs through circumstances beyond their control. We agree that people who cannot obtain work through various sets of circumstances are entitled to be paid a reasonable sum to enable them to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. However, the trends in this Bill, together with statements made by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), are leading us towards the welfare state and do concern the Australian Country Party. We consider that some of the provisions in the Bill will create divisions and disturbance in our society. We are of the opinion that the increase of $1.50 a week promised by the Labor Government to be made at regular 6-monthly intervals will not reach the objective of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings.
The Country Party is further concerned with the implications of Labor’s social security programme on the total economy in the long term. We are most concerned that parts of this Bill could discourage people from working, particularly those in the younger age group. Many people who have had long experience in the field of social services have expressed a degree of horror at recent instructions from the
Minister relating to the conditions under which the unemployment benefit will be paid. Members of the Australian Country Party are concerned at the octopus-like growth of the Department of Social Security. I .am sure that some members of the Labor Party, particularly the Minister for Health (Dr Everingham), have a great deal of concern also. In the comparatively short space of 3 months the Minister for Health has seen his Department decimated by the power hungry Minister for Social Security. And the Minister for Social Security has only just started. He has been in office for only 3 months and in that time the Department of the Minister for Health has been decimated. The expansion of the responsibilities, authority and expenditure of the Department of Social Security is one of the worst examples pf ruthless empire building. 1 understand that hundreds of public servants have had to transfer from the Department of Health to the Department of Social Security.
The cost of these proposals is $126m in a full year and for the remainder of this financial year is more than $60m. Members of the Country Party believe that the diversion of some of this money to create job opportunities in country areas would have served a more useful purpose than increasing so greatly some of the payments to various people. Of course, I appreciate that it is not practical to divert money provided under this Bill to country areas at this stage. However, I press the Government to make more funds available for the purpose of creating more job opportunities in areas outside the capital cities. The policy of providing money for this purpose was introduced by the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. Under that Government millions of dollars were made available to the States which administered the scheme in co-operation with the appropriate local government bodies. A tremendous amount of good work was done for many communities, particularly in country areas, with this money. In addition, jobs were created for many people. I am sure that many State and local government authorities will be appalled at the recent statements by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) that the present Federal Government would demand a power of direction as to the use of any similar future provision of funds to counter unemployment. This implication dramatically illustrates the difference in philosophy between the Australian Country Party and the Labor Party in the preservation of the authority and responsibility of States and local government bodies. It is ridiculous to suggest that the Federal Government should specify the use of every few thousand dollars that local government spends from unemployment relief money.
This Bill, and other statements by this free spending empire building Minister for Social Security, clearly illustrate the basic differences in national philosophy between the Country Party and the Labor Government. There are 2 major issues to which I refer in particular. One is economic responsibility and the other is the creation of the welfare state. The measures announced in the Labor Parry’s policy speech show a complete lack of financial responsibility and indicate that in the long run the interests of the average hard working taxpayer will suffer from having to support the cost of the welfare state. We believe that continuing and further emphasis and funds should be directed towards encouraging people to work. The Country Party believes that some provisions in this Bill will encourage people to become mendicants of the taxpayer and the State. The actual results, of course, remain to be seen after the provisions of this legislation have been in operation for a period. Although it cannot be predicted with certainty it does appear that the increase in some unemployment benefits will lead to an undermining of the will of some people to work and to make a worthwhile contribution to the progress and economic development of Australia.
Of course, all unemployed people do not fall into this category; nor can it be overlooked that there are different and difficult employment problems existing in differing regions of Australia. However, the financial payments available to single unemployed persons in particular, together with the recent instructions from the Minister for Social Security, appear to provide a dangerous incentive for them not to work. Under this Bill it is possible for a married couple with 3 children of 16, 17 and 18 years of age - all unemployed - to receive a total of $102 a week for not working. Instructions given by the Minister in his statement of 19th January this year - and these are new instructions - mean that it will be possible for practically anyone, if so inclined, to receive unemployment benefits. The Minister virtually says that if a person decides that a job he is offered is not within his trade or calling or is not to his liking, he will be eligible for unemployment benefits. He says further that if a person is refused a job because of his appearance this will be sufficient reason for that person to be eligible for unemployment benefits. The scope offered to certain people by these conditions is frightening.
The Labor Government has said that it will relate the basic age pension to average weekly earnings. It has said that it will increase the pension by $1.50 a week every 6 months - the actual term the Minister used was ‘spring and autumn’ - until it reaches the target of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. It is my opinion, and this is shared by other members of the Country Party, that the stated $1.50 a week will not achieve the desired result. This opinion is based on the increase in average weekly earnings over the last 12 months of $14.80 per week. Twenty-five per cent of that figure is $3.93 per week. It can be seen that the amount of $1.50 paid twice a year will fall behind the $3.93 that the average wage has risen per week in the last 12 months. Further, for the quarter ending December 1972 average weekly earnings rose by $7.20 a week to $104 a week. Extending this figure on a yearly basis, and assuming that this rate of increase continues, the increase in a full year will be $28.80 per week. Twentyfive per cent of this increase of $28.80 per week is $7.20 a week. So the Government’s proposal will fall $4.20 per week behind its target.
In the event of this increase occurring, and if the Government adheres to its promise, it will not need $1.50 twice a year to raise pensions to the level of average weekly earnings; it will need more like $2.10 per week twice a year. This figure involves almost double the proposed commitment for the Treasury and for the taxpayer. Even now the commitment under this Bill is $126m in a full year. No dissection of the amount involved for the age pension and other associated pensions is available from the Minister’s second reading speech. It would be fair to assume that the age, invalid and widows’ pension payout would be by far the greater proportion of the $126m. If the payment has to go up from $1.50 per week to $2.10 per week to achieve the Government’s target of 25 per cent the Government will have to provide millions of extra dollars to meet its promise. It is the opinion of many people that this Labor Government, and particularly the Minister for Social Security, will prove to be a taxpayers’ nightmare.
The Government’s lack of economic awareness and responsibility is illustrated on page 17 of its policy speech where it states:
The basic pension will no longer be tied to the financial and political consideration of annual Budgets.
Everyone would agree that a pension should not be tied to a political consideration. Then followed the Government’s 25 per cent promise. How can any responsible person think that the payout on social welfare, involving as it does about one-fifth of the total Budget, can be disregarded when the financial aspects of Australia’s annual Budget are being considered. Yet the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), when he was Leader of the Opposition, promised that the basic pension no longer would be tied to the financial consideration of annual Budgets. This is a very worrying situation for the future financial management of the nation. Many people have expressed great anxiety at the enormous cost of the Labor Government’s proposals. I am amazed that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) has, if only by his lack of public comment, obviously given his blessing to this irresponsible concept. The social service expenditure by Australia, particularly under this Government, is surely inseparable from a Budget and must remain a basic budgetary consideration.
I am surprised that this Bill does not contain measures to help the people referred to on page 6 of Labor’s policy speech. These are the people who ‘depend on pensions for their sole income’. The leader of the Labor Party spoke of the ‘needless anxiety, insecurity and indignity’ that these people have suffered. This was before the general election. Now, when he has the chance to do something special for these people for whom he expressed such heart-rending concern, his Government gives to them no more than is given to people who have other sources of income. People who have property assets valued between $19,000 and $55,000 receive exactly the same sum of money as those people who are dependent on the pension. So the words of the Prime Minister set out in the policy speech, to which I have referred, have a very hollow ring. What has happened to the Prime Minister’s proposal which was made on more than one occasion that every pensioner and every unemployed person should each be given $100 in cash? It is like many other Labor promises. These people did not see $1 of the $100 cash payment that the leader of the Labor Party promised them.
The unemployment benefit provisions for single people mean that some young people will receive more than apprentices in certain trades. This must cause dissension amongst the younger people. A further division in our society will be encouraged to occur when an Australian who is willing and able to do a good days work sees consistently a family of 5, all unemployed, receiving over $100 a week for doing nothing. It is, of course, a well known . socialist tactic to create division and dissension in a nation. This helps to weaken and even destroy the economy. Apathetic people may well shrug this matter off but time will tell. I am sure that a sufficient number of Australians will wake up to the situation and at the first opportunity will throw this Government out of office.
In summary, the Australian Country Party feels that there are some desirable and necessary changes in this Bill hut . there are also some very disturbing and perturbing possibilities some of which I have covered, which this Bill may bring about. I hope that the pensioners will actually be better off . under this Government’s proposals but I warn the pensioners that financial expenditure on social services cannot be viewed in ‘ isolation from the general economy and the rest of the Budget. There is the ever present inflationary danger of unbalanced increases in Government expenditure. Unbalanced increases would cause damage to the pensioners more than to anybody else in the community. The previous Government was most conscious of its responsibility in this regard when it was implementing its financial policies. The Country Party will watch closely the effects of the measures in this Bill . and its members will continue to urge the Government to allocate more funds to create job opportunities and incentives to work particularly in areas outside capital cities.
– A friend of mine who I would have thought was a Liberal supporter but who tells me that this time he voted Labor also tells me that he is glad he did and the thing that has pleased him most about the Labor victory is that it has demonstrated to him that a change of the Party in government can actually make a difference. For the first time in his adult life he has come to feel that politics and elections do involve a real choice of policies and administration and not - as he had thought before - simply a choice between different sets of ministerial personalities. I think that many Australians are now expressing the same view with every justification. We have already had some substantive changes in policy and attitude and it is clear there are many more to come. We have seen changes in some of the most basic assumptions of previous governments and we will have to try to understand the nature of these changes if we are to be able reasonably to evaluate the new Government’s legislation. We have to understand, for example, that we have a new basic assumption in relation to constitutional matters which is that the outer limits of Federal power should be explored and not merely the safe inner core. Similarly, in foreign affairs, that self-interest and an assertive independence are not necessarily incompatible but can in fact be complementary. In the same way - to come more directly to the present Bill - we have to understand that in social welfare we now have an altogether different starting point on which to base our judgment of future programs.
In the past: - as any review of Hansard will confirm - our social welfare debates dealt very fully with all manner of things but very little with social welfare. Look at the record of the past 23 years and try to extract what the then Government saw as its social welfare philosophy - its long term aims. You need a microscope and a vivid imagination to discern them. The Liberal Government never talked about poverty, disadvantage, inadequacy, insecurity, loneliness, handicaps or frustration, What it talked about was money. Indeed, if any social welfare aim at all could be found in the Liberal Government it was the aim to keep social welfare spending to a minimum. In lieu of a generous pension we had a generous play with words. In lieu of any discusion of need there were discussions instead of statistics, percentages and indices. Now to tell the truth, the arguments of the Labor Party in opposition followed much the same unsatisfactory lines, but there was a very good reason for that. It is all very well to agree - as most people probably now do - that money payments alone are not the beginning and end of a decent welfare program. That is true enough. But if they are not the beginning and end they are, most certainly, at least the beginning and until money payments reach a reasonable livable level arguments on other requirements of a decent system are largely academic.
It is precisely for this reason that the present Bill is important not only for what it provides, but for what it represents - the first step towards a long term commitment to reasonable money payments for welfare. What amounts are ‘reasonable’ will depend on how much is required to provide pensions arid social security, payments which, firstly, are livable at a level of dignity which mirrors contemporary Australian standards and, secondly, are maintained, at that level automatically, that is, without the need for political gestures, much less charity. In future, pensioners will not have to wait for a pre-election budget, an election platform or - as occurred in that celebrated case 2 years ago - a motion of no confidence in the then Prime Minister before they gain some pension increase. Increases will come automatically and in line with clearly established and declared goals. To a considerable extent the Labor Government is foregoing important political advantages by committing itself to this course and by committing itself so far ahead. More than that, it is inviting increased expectations and pressures which it may well find hard to satisfy. Nonetheless .the Government’s program is right and it is long overdue.
The present Bill includes, among others, the following provisions. In the first place, anomalies between various groups of beneficiaries are replaced by largely uniform payment rates. The most dramatic increase occurs in the case of unemployment benefits and how belated this is can be illustrated by a table comparing annual unemployment benefits and age pensions, the latter themselves so clearly inadequate in the past years. I seek leave to incorporate this table.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– As will be’ seen, in 1966 the married couple unemployment benefit was $14.25. At the same time it was acknowledged by the married persons age pension that a couple could not possibly . live on less than $23.50. In 1970 the unemployment benefit was $17 while the married couple age pension was $29.50. Predictably enough, anguished voices have already been raised against the fact that, at the new unemployment benefit rates, a man with a wife and 3 children will . receive a sum equal, in some cases, to the minimum wage. Is that not the real meaning of the euphemism in part (b) of the Opposition’s amendment which says in vague and, I suppose honourable members opposite think, subtle terms:
The adjustments to the rate of and basis of entitlement for unemployment benefit will disturb economically desirable employment patterns in our society.
That is what honourable members opposite are talking about in that amendment. That is what the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) was talking about a few minutes ago. To those people who are concerned that the new rates will bring unemployment benefits so close to minimum wage levels I would respond simply by saying that that shows just how low the minimum wage is. It hardly demonstrates that the proposed unemployment benefits are too high.
Secondly, the Bill increases the base rate pension by $1.50 a week and, thirdly, and in many respects most significantly, the commitment is accepted to repeat this increase twice a year until the base rate reaches 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. It will then be maintained at at least that level by automatic annual adjustments. How this future level will compare with the past situation is illustrated by a table comparing single age pension benefits with average weekly earnings in Australia on an annual basis. I seek leave to incorporate that table.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– The policy as stated has to be seen as a minimum commitment and as flexible in 2 important respects. It may well turn out, for example, that a figure of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings is too low for the purpose we have set it. It has to be acknowledged that that figure has been arrived at in a completely arbitrary way. The same thing can be said about the so-called poverty line around which so much social welfare discussion has centred in the last 5 or 6 years. There is no call to apologise for this lack of exactness, however, because, in the absence of earlier government action in collating data, nothing better has been possible. So we guess as well as we can, it being universally understood that the resulting figures are highly conservative and certainly not generous.
It is also possible, as the honourable member for Indi sought to suggest a few moments ago that he had just discovered but as had been pointed out clearly by the Minister for
Social Security (Mr Hayden) in his second reading speech, that depending on the rate of increase in average weekly earnings, annual adjustments of $3 to the pension may well prove inadequate. In that case we have - the further commitment from the Minister that they will be increased further to allow the 25 per cent target to be reached within a reasonable period. That further undertaking is to be welcomed. With the progressive meeting of these clear commitments, the basic money payments problem will largely have been met. The opportunity and indeed the challenge will then be faced of tackling questions of greater complexity, such as how to integrate cash benefits with community welfare services and health services, housing policies and education programs, to mention just a few. A discussion of these matters is beyond the scope of the present Bill but one other matter is certainly relevant to it and, I believe, should not be avoided. It is the question of cost.
Whenever people ask me who will pay for ali these programs I have no hesitation in telling them: ‘You are’. There is nothing original in pointing out that nothing is free, whatever it is called. Free medicine like free travel, free education or pensions free of means test mean ‘free’ only in the sense of free to the recipient. They are far from free to the community as a whole. Certainly some of the additional cost will be found from the normal growth of Commonwealth revenue and more, hopefully, from savings in other areas. In other respects, a re-allocation of existing welfare expenditure could well be helpful - for example, from tax deductibility for dependent children to increased, child endowment, or from the current housing component of pension requirements to an accelerated program of pensioner housing construction. I hope to discuss these matters at some other time as well. But after all these possibilities have been recognised I frankly still believe that the consumer - the recipient - will have to pay more for these new services than he now pays. What does this mean? Does it mean that we will not be able to honour the pledge of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) not to increase taxation, or that other urgent priorities will have to be sacrificed to meet those of social security? I believe it means neither of those things. What it will probably mean is the introduction in Australia of specific social welfare contributions to finance the social welfare system. It is well within our capacity to do this. That some might doubt it is due to a misunderstanding of what is meant by the commonly heard but inaccurate assertion that Australians are the most highly taxed people in the world. That is far from the truth.
To illustrate my further comments in this respect I seek leave to incorporate a table comparing direct and indirect tax, and social security contributions expressed as percentages of gross domestic product in selected countries for 1969, those being the lastest figures available.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– I should point out in the first place that the countries with which Australia is compared in this table are those with which we normally compare ourselves. They are the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Sweden. As will be seen from this table, even in relation to direct and indirect taxes Australia is well below the highest taxed of these countries and only marginally above the lowest of them. But this really tells only part of the story because it fails to acknowledge the important contrast between the important role of social security contributions elsewhere as against their total absence here. This is well summarised in the table which shows a social security contribution of nil for Australia as against 5 per cent for the United Kingdom, 5.8 per cent for the United States of America and rising as high as 10.8 per cent for Germany, 14.5 per cent for The Netherlands and 14.6 per cent for France. The sum of taxation plus social security contributions leaves Australia far behind all the rest. In Australia’s case the figure is 24.7 per cent of gross national product as against 30.2 per cent for the United States of America which is the next lowest on the list, 37.1 per cent for the United Kingdom, 37.3 per cent for France, and 31.1 per cent for Canada. The difference in these figures reflects the extent to which our own social security system has been allowed to fall behind progressive world standards.
Within the Australian Labor Party in recent years we have been in the habit of declaring that our achievement of a pension level of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings plus provision for automatic adjustments to maintain that proportion would enable pensions to be taken out of politics. Frankly, I now see that as more of a hope than a possibility. We will no doubt be attacked for achieving our goals too slowly. After all, if the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), the former Minister for Social Services, can list a motion calling for the means test to be abolished this year when his own Government did not do it for 23 years, anything is possible.
Again, it is inevitable that, even before we reach our 25 per cent goal - itself so far ahead of past achievements - we will be hearing demands for an increase to 27i per cent, 30 per cent or 35 per cent or some other higher proportion. Finally, and simultaneously, we will be told by others that what we are doing is costing too much and in any case is being abused by people who are undeserving in one sense or another. I for one will not be ignoring these criticisms if only because all of them will be at least partly true. But they must not be allowed to obscure what will be far more generally true, namely that the social welfare program which this Bill sets in motion will be regarded by Australians of the future as needed as much for our self-respect as for our comfort, as long overdue and certainly as irreversible.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, since this is my first speech in the new Parliament, I ask you to convey my congratulations to Mr Speaker and his Deputy the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes), especially on their unanimous election by this House to their offices.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage*I most certainly will.
– Thank you. Before I make my contribution to this debate I should like to refer to something that was said by the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) during his maiden speech. I am well aware that it is not usual to criticise an honourable member’s maiden speech. After all, all of us in this House fully acknowledge that a maiden speech is quite an occasion. But as the honourable member himself did not follow all the conventions of a maiden speech I feel justified in making my criticism. The honourable member has a lot to learn about the working and role of the Parliament and I was therefore disappointed to hear him criticise the Opposition for using the forms of the House for quite legitimate purposes. The honourable member at this stage could not be expected to know that it has always been the tradition for governments of all complexions, when changes in the Standing Orders were projected, to refer such changes to the Standing Orders Committee on which all parties are represented. This Government chose not to do so on this occasion and that was the principle which we on this side. of the House were defending. We were protesting that the Government had thrown overboard the proper safeguards evolved through many years of parliamentary practice.
I should like to speak on the broad concepts behind a social service program as seen by those of us on this side of the House. As will be seen as my speech progresses, our feelings are consistent with the motion moved by my colleague, the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett). I think everybody would agree that a social service program is of increasing importance in Australia. In the first place, it represents and absorbs a very large proporiton of our national expenditure. In the second place, it exerts a correspondingly large influence in the daily lives of all of us. We on this side of the House do not necessarily oppose all the objectives which have been outlined by the Government. I am certain that there is a genuine desire amongst all members of this House to see a progressive improvement in the living conditions of the Australian population. It is quite natural and quite proper that, as this country becomes more affluent, all sections of the community should have some share in this affluence. So there is no argument, as I see it, on this broad principle.
Where there will inevitably be sharp differences between the Opposition and the Government is on how these laudable objectives are achieved and this will show the basic differences between the two sides of politics in Australia. On the one hand, we have the socialist path as exemplified by this Government. I think there is a tendency by the Australian Labor Party to view this path through rose tinted spectacles. They think that it will be roses, roses all the way, that somehow the path will be shortened, that all the difficult bends and corners will be straightened out, and that all that is needed to achieve this is an all knowing, ail powerful Federal government taking over the responsibilities for spending what is, as the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) acknowledged, our money. Then, the way will be smooth and the objectives achieved more quickly and more easily. We on this side of the Parliament are dedicated to recognising the pre-eminence of the individual as opposed to the State, that is, that the State should be run for the benefit of the individual rather than the other way round.
While recognising the responsibilities of government to make proper provision for those who are unable for some reason or other to make provision for themselves, we should try to ensure that such a situation existed for the minimum possible period and that policies should, where possible, be directed towards encouraging and enabling those disadvantaged sections of the community to become self-sufficient and an economic asset rather than an economic liability. In this respect I am thinking of such programs as rehabilitation, retraining and the like. This latter field was one in which I had a personal interest, being closely associated with the training activities of the Department of Labour and National Service, as it then was, during my period as Assistant Minister.
Great strides have been made in recent years in our retraining programs, as the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) recognised during the debate last year on the then Government’s training schemes for industry and commerce. However, we recognise that there will inevitably be some people who are unable to achieve the objective of self-sufficiency, even though they possess the will and the desire to attain it. Clearly, proper provision must be made for such people. But in making this provision, we on this side of the House are concerned that the methods used do not destroy the will and desire of those who, with encouragement and assistance, could lift themselves and their families from a position of being dependent on the rest of the community to a position where they are making a positive contribution to the economy. This, of course, is important from an economic point of view because no country or its citizens can expect to gain the full benefit of national growth if the growth itself is limited by having an unnecessarily large proportion of the population dependent upon others for their livelihood rather than making a contribution themselves.
More important than the economic aspect are the human effects of policies which destroy initiative and the incentive to become self-sufficient with all that implies in the loss of self-respect. I concede that many of the policies which have these results are conceived with the best of motives. Those responsible for evolving them and putting them into practice usually have a very real concern to improve the living conditions of the disadvantaged sections of the community. That makes it even more tragic - that all too often the eventual result is the opposite of what they were trying to achieve. Other countries offer some tragic examples of what can happen as a result of well intentioned but unsuccessful social service legislation. I emphasise that I am not speaking of legislation designed to improve the lot of those who are genuinely unable to look after themselves. I am talking about legislation which has resulted in the creation of what might be termed a class of professional unemployed, that is, those who are mentally and physically able to work and for whom work is available but who choose to live on social service payments of one kind or another.
There are well-documented examples of such cases, fortunately not many in this country. The great tragedy of this situation is that it breeds a mentality of acceptance not only in the adults but also in their children. It therefore has a perpetuating effect, and I can think of nothing more debilitating or humiliating to the people concerned, and nothing more dangerous to the future fabric of tha society of this country. Australia has been built on a great tradition of independence, self-reliance and hard work. These are the qualities which have enabled us to achieve our present level of development in such a short time. They are the qualities which will be required if we are to capitalise fully on the tremendous natural advantages and opportunities open to us. I have no doubt that these qualities are still present in full measure in Australia today. What we as a national Parliament have to do is ensure that they are inspired and utilised to the full. The ultimate tragedy would be that in our efforts to make what I describe as proper provision for those genuinely unable to maintain a decent and dignified place in this country, we should destroy the very qualities which have made it possible to make that provision.
This side of the House will work in Opposition, as it did in Government, for the betterment of the old, the sick, the disabled and all other truly disadvantaged sections of the community, but never let us forget that the nation’s capacity to help them and make proper provision for them is determined by how well the rest of us work, because if we provide needed finance or a needed service to someone who lacks it someone else has to earn the money to pay for it. There are 2 main consequences of this situation. The first is that for everyone who, as a result of these policies, is made better off someone else is inevitably worse off. It has been said many times, but I think it bears repeating, that in economics there is no such tiling as a free ride. I was very interested to hear the honourable member for Perth make specific reference to this a moment ago. For every benefit conferred, sometime somewhere somebody will have to pay the bill. The second thing is the opportunity cost that is involved. It is selfevident that if money is spent in one area it is not available to be spent anywhere else. Since no country is rich enough to fix all of its problems at one time, priorities have to be established. How well these priorities are allocated determines how well a country is governed. Of course the priorities will not be merely of a negative kind, that is, looking after those who have finished making or who are unable to make their contribution to the community. For example, the welfare and education of our children and the needs of young families must be of primary importance in establishing pur priorities. We must strive for equality in opportunity, but in trying to achieve it we must remember that we can never achieve equality of performance.
History teaches us that many of the great advances in all fields of endeavour are made by that very small number of really exceptional people, exceptional in the sense that they possess gifts far beyond the average. No nation, least of all one with a small population, can afford to neglect these people since they exert an influence out of all proportion to their number. So in our justified striving for equality of opportunity we must be prepared to recognise excellence when we see it and to encourage its full development. If we lose sight of these basic principles we destroy our ability to do the things which can be done now and should be done in the future. These are the principles and standards by which we in the Opposition will judge the welfare legislation brought forward by the Government. Our attitude will be determined by how that legislation measures up to these standards. Ours will be a humane) progressive and responsible attitude which emphasises the right of freedom of choice and the preeminence of the individual over the State. We believe that this attitude reflects the views of a majority of Australians and that they will endorse it when they next .have the opportunity to express their opinion through the ballot box.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I take this opportunity to ask you to extend to the Speaker my congratulations upon his election to .that illustrious office, and may I congratulate you and other Deputy Speakers on your elevation to the very high office you hold. In this my first opportunity to speak in this House since my re-election I have cause to regret that it is not an opportunity to make wide reference to the problems in my electorate or to thank extensively those people who worked so hard to ensure my return here. In particular I would like to thank my wife. As did all other candidates’ wives, she became so deeply involved. It would be wrong not to acknowledge the sterling efforts of my opponent’s wife in her collection of sick and absentee votes. I regret for her sake that there could be only one successful candidate in what proved to be one of the most expensive and unfortunate campaigns I have experienced. I regret its unfortunate tone and sincerely hope that campaigns in future will be conducted on a higher plane.
It gives me great personal pleasure to have an opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) on measures which not only bring equality to areas where anomalies have existed but also take politics out of pensions and benefits. In past elections all social security beneficiaries have had to wait anxiously to see which party was elected and then to see what promises it was prepared to keep. I might say that they were often disappointed over the years. But at long last some system of automatic adjustment and automatic pension levels has been established, making pensions and benefits no longer a political football’. It was interesting to note that in Western Australia the Federal election was fought on State issues. This applied in particular to my own electorate of Swan. It demonstrated to the electorate just how little national leadership the then Government had to offer. It demonstrated to social security beneficiaries just how little hope they could expect from my opponents and how little concern my opponents really had for pensioners. When Labor’s proposals were clearly and ably put forward the cry was: ‘Where is the money coming from?’ Frankly, we are still hearing it here today. We also heard the cry: ‘You will pay’, showing a complete disregard for the real needs of the under privileged within our community. This has been further illustrated by the attitude since taken by their Western Australian representatives. In fact one begins to wonder whether they are in the Federal or State Parliament.
In the social services field let us look at a few of the problems which have arisen out of the granting of increases in Western Australia. There can be no reflection on the Minister for the actions of those outside the Parliament but there is a reflection on the greed or lack of understanding of those parties to whom I shall refer. These increases in some instances have been taken completely or mortgaged in advance by so-called charitable organisations running aged persons homes for the purpose of receiving rent or maintenance payments which in many instances absorb up to 25 per cent of pension increases, and in fact in a number of cases substantially more. Automatic increases in rent attached to the automatic increases in pension are envisaged by these organisations, so instead of the people receiving the full benefit of each rise they will automatically lose up to 25 per cent of the increase as determined by the board of management of those homes.
Residents of these homes, who in the main have paid a donation of one-third of the cost of the building in which they reside, which donation is not legally recoverable - in fact they are prevented by the Act from recovering this amount of money - have protested that they would be financially better off in State housing commission accommodation because the rent for pensioners in such accommodation is much cheaper. Often they have no control over the amount of maintenance that has to be paid. I point out that no maximum amount is set out in the Act. No annual balance sheets have been distributed to the residents to justify these rises. No explanations have been made. The residents have not been granted representation on the boards of management of these homes. No election is held for membership of boards of management. There is no indication of the salaries being paid to those in control of the homes. It may well be that such persons are donating their time to the boards of control. This happens in many instances. In fact, I happen to be chairman of a body, the members of which all donate their time free of charge. It is unfortunate that, despite the good efforts of the Minister for Social Security to ensure regular pension payments and regular increases in pensions, action has been taken to mortgage such increases in advance. Such action is completely wrong and amounts to price rises without justification.
Hundreds of persons petitioned the Parliament during the last session requesting that action be taken to ensure resident representation on the boards of control of homes for the aged and to provide for the annual election of such boards which should report in detail to the residents of those homes. It is imperative that such action be taken so that the residents will have a complete understanding of the situation and will be able to live harmoniously and enjoy peace of mind in their retirement. I know of instances of persons entering such homes under contracts that provided for no maintenance payments to be made. Some of these persons have succumbed to pressures which have been brought to bear on them over a long period and are making maintenance payments. The appalling fact is that initially the Federal Government met twothirds of the capital cost of such homes and the remainder was sought through public subscription. Some charitable organisations are still seeking public subscriptions. I have made contributions myself so I have personal feelings about this matter.
The interior of many of these properties has been totally neglected. No maintenance has been carried out and will not be carried out until such time as the occupant pays the cost, leaves the home or passes on. This situation leads to dissension and anomalies. I have been given to understand that this situation has applied for a number of years. The creation of sub-standard accommodation is deplorable at any time. I hope that the Minister will be able to rectify the situation. The previous Minister was most reluctant to take any action. If the Minister cannot do so I will be perfectly willing to conduct a public appeal for funds to renovate disputed areas within such homes. It is only to be hoped that the boards of management will grant admission to the homes to contractors who are employed to undertake renovations. No matter what the reasons or the arguments, which undoubtedly will increase as the amounts allegedly owing by these residents become greater as a direct result of the pension increases granted by the Government, no-one should be disadvantaged in respect of the quality of the surroundings of his abode.
I appreciate that these organisations face rising administration costs. All possible government help should be given to them to reduce such costs even, if necessary, by the provision of management staff from the Department of Social Security. Such officers are experts in the field of administration and would be familiar with all aspects of the Act. Their services undoubtedly would remove the burden of administrative cost from the residents. When one has regard to the multiplicity of organisations in this field - frequently sited alongside each other - one can understand that it is not fair to expect voluntary workers to continue to bear the burden if they desire to opt out. It should be borne in mind that the money invested in these homes is either taxpayers’ money provided from Federal funds, money raised from contributions by residents or money received from public subscriptions. It behoves the Government to take a closer interest in the housing of our aged and to ensure that all pensioners benefit from pension increases.
Undoubtedly the real interest of those people who organise such homes is in the provision of adequate housing for the aged. I have participated in the organisation of aged persons’ homes and I believe that if the anomaly to which I have referred cannot be resolved, the New Zealand practice should be examined. In New Zealand the residents of such homes can capitalise on their homes - can sell them to the government for the housing of younger people or for the redevelopment of the area. The residents are given the opportunity to occupy government retirement flats at a nominal rental with no ingoing payment. In Australia there should be no mortgaging by outside bodies of pension increases without proper investigation, without representation of residents on boards of control and without a full and proper assessment of the needs of a particular establishment at a given time. Pensioners must be assured that maintenance charges are fully justified and that such payments are not to be utilised for expansion projects or for duplicated administrative costs.
Equally important, it is time that such units were made available on a no entry fee basis. Most people believed that this was the ultimate aim when these homes were first established. However, far too few are becoming available on a no entry fee basis. Even after such homes have been resold at a price in excess of the two times criterion, which is provided in the Act, a rent in advance ploy is being utilised on occasion. By rights most of these units should be available on a rental basis now. The charges for them should not be in excess of rentals charged by the State Housing Commission for similar accommodation. Some of these homes demand a payment of $7 to $9 a fortnight in advance plus one-quarter of all future pension increases. In addition charges are made for rubbish removal, for the attendance of a welfare sister and for a community centre. After meeting such charges the resident has little or nothing to put aside. The Western Australian State Housing Commission charges $6 for a double pensioner unit and $3.50 for a single unit with no ingoing charge and it maintains the grounds where necessary. It maintains the premises in a fit and proper condition.
The whole question must be examined. Many of these pensioners do not come within the categories listed in the findings of the survey on poverty conducted by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research. However, as this is the only reliable survey into poverty available at this juncture, one can assume that a similar situation applies in most major cities, including Perth. The findings of the survey as summarised indicate that more than 25 per cent of the aged were poor and that one in every 4 was in a state of marginal poverty; 35 per cent of aged pensioners were poor and one in 3 was marginally poor; and 14 per cent of aged non-pensioners were poor or one in 7 was marginally poor. These are the people who have provided the backbone of this nation. They served Australia in 2 world wars, weathered a depression and experienced many economic recessions under the previous government. The old catchcry of ‘more for the needy, not the greedy’, does not apply to them. They are the unfortunate victims of our growing affluence - the unwanted relatives of our new generation. Although they are not unloved in many cases, with our new standards - be they right or wrong - it is not now customary to look after one’s own aged as these current pensioners would have done for their parents.
It is universally accepted that this is a community responsibility - a government responsibility. I congratulate the Minister for recognising and accepting this community challenge. Undoubtedly it will continue to be an increasing challenge, for we have seen the decline of the large family. It is interesting to note in my electorate of Swan that the demand for larger accommodation units is from migrant families who, in some cases, live frugally if not in poverty. This situation is highlighted by the findings of the Melbourne survey which indicated that large families with at least 4 dependent children, and particularly those with more than 5, were poor or marginally poor. This is true of people who migrated to Western Australia when there was a building boom in the north and who are now back in the city area receiving lower wages. Many of these people were affected by the latter Budgets of the now Opposition and are now receiving unemployment relief.
Although these pension increases are to be paid retrospectively it will not solve all the problems of the needy because they have suffered for so long. For the man who retired 10 to 15 years ago, and his wife, the situation is often pathetic. Annual charity and blanket appeals and food hampers on festive occasions reflect not charity but abject poverty and bad government. Throughout Australia, particularly in Western Australia in relation to which honourable members have spoken of boom years for industry, enormous development and profits, no one can escape the shame of our community which allows people to be cold and hungry and, so often, too proud to ask for relief. We can only hope that the benefits proposed in the Bill will not be opposed, but that in this area of long neglect these genuine attempts to raise community standards among our social service beneficiaries will receive unanimous support.
We can only hope that the defeat of the previous Government will impress on them in opposition the need to put people before profits, the need to honour promises that have been made, the need to honour the mandate given to them at elections which were won on promises made by them. If they can learn this they will become a useful Opposition, able to contribute constructively to the Parliament with ideas to improve standards in the community. They must learn not to oppose legislation mischievously when that legislation could bring benefits not only to government supporters but also to their own constituents. Honourable members opposite should remember that for 60 years their policies have encompassed a national insurance scheme which has never come to fruition. In 1913, 1927-28, 1938 and 1949 promises of such a scheme were made but were never honoured. The Government of 1938 introduced a National Insurance Bill which received royal assent in July 1938, but the government of the day, no doubt under the influence of private enterprise organisations which it represented in the Parliament, prevented regulations being gazetted, as a result of which the Act did not come into force. In 1949 R. G. Menzies 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 tha complicated problems with a view to presenting you at the election of 1952 a scheme for your approval.
That is the end of the quote - the end of Menzies. Today, after 23 years, no such scheme exists and the means test is still in force waiting for the clearly stated policy of the new Government to be put into effect to abolish it.
The amendment proposed by the Opposition is farcical. The puerile attack by honourable members opposite on the increases proposed is amazing. On the one hand they move an amendment which states that the Bill cannot achieve the target it sets out to achieve, that is, to pay every pensioner a weekly amount which is equal to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings, and on the other hand they say it will be a taxpayers nightmare. What a constant contradiction of words and actions comes from the Opposition benches. Honourable members opposite argue that because apprentices in the main are underpaid, relative to our living standards, the unemployment benefit must be pegged at a level below or equal to the apprentices’ wage. They pay no regard whatever to living standards in the community. With tongue in cheek they say that the adjustment of the unemployment benefit will disturb economically desirable employment patterns in our society. What they should say, if they are honest, is that they wish to see a continuance of the unemployment pattern, a situation in which a skilled worker who is thrown out of a job would not be able to wait for a better position or accept retraining because he or she would be forced to accept the first position available. Because of the unsuitability of the person to the position, further job turnover or unsatisfactory service to the employer would result.
It is a pity that honourable members opposite are opposing this measure merely for the sake of opposing instead of concentrating on giving a swift passage to the Bill, which will benefit every social service recipient. They should not be attempting to delay its passage. They may rest assured that the Government will insist that the benefits are passed on as quickly as possible. Despite the Opposition’s alarm at the proposal to make payments retrospective, the Government will insist that the amounts be paid retrospectively. Honourable members on this side of the chamber hope that never again will a poverty survey result in findings so disastrous as those arrived at by the Melbourne poverty survey. We realise that more favourable results may be available in country areas and in other cities as a result of the increases which will be given by the Government, but it is unfortunate that such a period of neglect by the previous Government will still be reflected to some degree. However, it is impossible to make up such a tremendous backlog immediately. I am sure that as the problems are highlighted in the future they will be dealt with efficiently by the new Minister and the Government.
– The honourable member for Swan (Mr Bennett) and other speakers on the Government side of the chamber have shown some surprise that politics are involved in pensions. They made very political speeches in which politics were shown to be very much a part of pensions. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) made a very political second reading speech. It was the custom with the previous Government for a second reading speech to be a technical document of explanation. This matter will continue to be political because pensioners are people and people are politics. This Government will have to face more politics in regard to pensioners because of its failure to live up to its election promises which many people believed would be carried out and which will not be carried out by the legislation which is proceeding at present. It is all very well for honourable members opposite to say that the promise of an immediate payment of $100 to people on age pensions and unemployment benefit was not made in the actual Australian Labor Party policy speech. That promise was definitely made by Mr Whitlam in Perth. I have a copy of the ‘West Australian’ referring to the promise of $100. The matter was referred to again in Budget debates and in calculations of the cost of proposals if the Australian Labor Party became the government.
– It was not in the policy speech.
– I agree that it was not in the policy speech, but the important point is that people expected the pension increase because the promise was made. I had people coming to my office after the election asking when they were to receive their $100. This promise, too, was made by the Prime Minister in his policy speech:
All pensions will be immediately-
I emphasise immediately - raised by S1.S0 and thereafter, every spring and every autumn, the basic pension rate will be raised by $1.50 until it reached 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings.
The same people also asked me before Christmas when they would receive their $1.50 a week because it had been promised together with the $100. As to the pension rate reaching 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings, it has been pointed out already that with the present rate of inflation in this country and a twice yearly increase of $1.50, pension rates will never reach 25 per cent of average weekly earnings because the inflation rate would have to drop below 7i per cent per annum.
The Minister for Social Security mentioned in his second reading speech that the Government would be prepared to respond appropriately if such proved to be the case, the point being that the inflation rate may remain as high and, therefore, §1.50 would be insufficient. The honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) referred to reasonable time being allowed in which to introduce the changes. Considering that many Australians voted for the Australian Labor Party at the election in the belief that they were to receive additional benefits more or less immediately, I think it is up to the Government to say what is a reasonable time so that the people of Australia, particularly the pensioners who have been lulled into this belief, will have a clear indication of what will be the Government’s performance as distinct from the Government’s promise.
One thing to be remembered is that the greatest danger faced by people on fixed incomes, particularly pensioners, is rampant inflation. They suffer more from inflation than any other group in the community. While a government can appear to be giving something to people by increasing pensions it can be taking it away very effectively because of the inflation rate. As the bills come in, as they inevitably will - I am referring not to Bills in this House but to financial bills to this country due to the financial policy of this Government - the pensioners will have to ask the question, as will the people of Australia generally: ‘Have we really been made any better off or are we worse off because of this problem of people facing inflation on a fixed income as pensioners?’ This leads me to the general principle, but a false belief, adopted by some people that, because a country devotes a certain percentage of its gross national product to social welfare payments, the people of that country are better off. I think that a distinction must be drawn between a person’s welfare in absolute terms and a person’s welfare in relative terms. There is no doubt that if a high percentage of a country’s GNP is devoted to welfare in relative terms it could be said that those people are better off than are other people in the community. But if, because of the overall financial policies of the government of a country, that country stagnates and real improvements in standards of living and welfare do not proceed as promised or as hoped, the actual welfare of those people in absolute terms is slipping behind all the time.
I can remember the comparison that was made in the course of some of the disturbances that occurred in the United States of America. People suffering relative poverty were complaining. I think they were rightly complaining because in relative terms they were badly off compared with other people in their community. But the comparison was made that the people who were complaining - industrial workers, particularly in the Los Angeles area - in absolute terms were far better off and were achieving an improvement in welfare at a faster rate than were the average workers in Britain.
I agree that it is important to have relative welfare within a community. But this cannot be achieved with complete disregard for absolute welfare and for overall improvements in standards of living in a country which the policy of any government can effectively ruin. I think the position can be summed up by the story about a person who was driving down a street in a new car. A Labor Party supporter and Country Party supporter, were walking down the street. The Labor Party supporter said: ‘If I had my way that person in that car would be walking down the street with us*. The Country Party supporter said: ‘If 1 had my way we would all be driving down the street.’ I think that this story illustrates the difference between absolute improvements in welfare and relative improvements in welfare. Incidentally, that story originally was told, I believe, by an official of the union representing automobile workers in the United. States who was making the point that an American worker was better off than his British counterpart because America believed in absolute improvements in welfare.
In the speeches that have been delivered, poverty, when it has been mentioned, has been used in relation to city poverty. ! do not criticise this approach because various studies have made the point correctly that poverty is to be found in our cities. The honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) quite properly referred to this fact in his speech. But I think it would be a mistake and an oversight if we did not recognise also - I hope the Minister for Social Security does recognise - that in many ways a greater percentage of poverty exists in rural areas than in metropolitan areas.
Some of the policies that this new Government will introduce to assist in alleviating some of the problems of poverty will be applicable in metropolitan’ areas only. Not only is there a higher percentage of chronic unemployment in country areas, as indicated by rural unemployment relief grants, but also is there the problem of country people earning incomes which are below the minimum wage which is fixed for people in receipt of wages. In many of the smaller rural areas particularly in respect of dairy farms and banana plantations in northern New South Wales, owners of holdings receive very low incomes. My point is proved by the results of surveys by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. One should not forget that poverty is something more than the conditions found in a big city industrial ghetto. A person does not need to be unemployed or in receipt of a pension to be poverty striken. A person who is self employed, unlike wage earners, has no guarantee of a reasonable income. I know honourable members on the other side will say that the minimum wage is not high enough. That may be so but at least some form of minimum wage is guaranteed for those people who qualify for it.
We should not overlook the problem of rural poverty. As yet the means test is still applied. Many of the poverty stricken people in rural areas are debarred from receiving social service benefits because of the factors working against them. People who are self employed, particularly if they are property owners, cannot receive these benefits because the means test includes a calculation of 10 per cent notional return on property. This criterion must be met before these people can qualify for social service benefits. This requirement makes it almost impossible for them to receive these benefits. They may be poverty stricken but still be refused any type of pension as they cannot sell their property. .Because of the notional return calculation of 10 per cent - in many cases the actual return is a negative return on capital rather than a 10 per cent return - they are beaten all round.
I made this criticism of the previous Government when it was in power and I will continue to make it whichever government is in office. I believe that this is a most unjust feature of our social security system. The only way to overcome it is by the complete abolition of the means test. I will encourage the present Government to get on with the job of abolishing the means test.
– We will do that.
– Good. I am glad to hear that. The new rates announced in respect of unemployment payments are of considerable concern to me and to the Country Party. The rates for persons below the age of 21 years have been dramatically increased. The rate for 16-Year-olds has been trebled. It now equals the adult rate. I believe that this is not in the best interests of the people concerned and it is not in the best interests of our country. It discriminates against an adult and a married person. A study of the proposed increases reveals what I would consider to be discrimination against the more genuine person who needs assistance when he is unemployed. By fixing the rates in this way the Government will reduce the need for an unemployed person to take the initiative and to look for work. I agree that the proposed increase of $4.50 a week is nothing less than anybody should receive who cannot obtain work, particularly if he is over 21.
But 1 am concerned with the position of the person under the age of 21 years, particularly if that person is single. There are social implications for the nation in that case. The attitude of young people is that somehow or other they can get benefits without having to work for them. There are real contradictions between the circumstances of young people. Apprentices - I think Australia needs as many apprentices as it can train - receive a small income while they are training. Yet somebody out of work in the same age group will receive the adult unemployment rate. This situation is not good. The Minister stated in his second reading speech:
Unemployment benefits do not pander to lazy layabouts. The work test administered by the Department of Labour through its unemployment officers effectively controls the work shy.
But in a Press release from the same Minister on 19th January which was quoted earlier by the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten), the point is made that a person’s dress should not debar that person from receiving unemployment benefits. If one talks to employers about the standard approach of these young people who do not wish to gain work, one is informed that they deliberately do not have a wash and deliberately present themselves as dirty as they can, knowing full well that they will be refused employment. But under the new regulations, unemployment benefit will be paid to them. One has only to look at the shortage of workers at present in the fruit growing areas of Australia to see the facts of this situation. We are told on the one hand that Australia is suffering the highest unemployment rate that it has recorded. Yet in the Goulburn Valley fruit growing area and in the tomato and grape growing areas of Victoria, the shortage of workers has never been so great. I think that the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) pointed to a similar situation in South Australia. These conditions exist at a time when our unemployment rate is supposed to be the highest for many years. The reason for this state of affairs is that young people who do not wish to work find it easy to live very well on unemployment benefits. In summer they live in southern Victoria and in the winter months they travel to Darwin or Cairns. They live very well indeed. One has only to talk to the owners of orchards in the Goulburn Valley to hear of the blow-ins who think they might like to work in the orchards. When they are told what the work really entails they say: ‘No, I can do far better by continuing with my unemployment benefit’.
We have to be very careful in this country that we do not put such a squeeze on the self-employed person, whether he is a small businessman or a farmer, a person with some initiative - I do not mean a wealthy company but a person who wants to lead his own life and do something constructive himself - that he would say that the only organisations really worth being employed by are the Government service and big companies. We have to be careful that a person who wants to do something for himself is not squeezed from all sides. We have to be careful also that in some areas our social welfare payments are just to all in the community and that the penalties we impose on certain sections of our society do not outweigh the justice we are doing to others or, put another way, that we do not give to one section on the one hand and take away from another section on the other. We have to realise that there are important national and social goals which should not be jeopardised by certain other aspects of policy which sound good and are good but which at the same time are outweighed by these problems which will develop.
– So we do nothing.
– No. We take a realistic attitude. We want to remember and this would worry me very much if it happened - that unless we take into account all these aspects when considering an overall social welfare policy the same thing could happen here as is happening in at least one other country, at the present time. There a backlash has developed against social welfare which is now acting to the detriment of those who deserve and need social welfare. We have to be sure that in its application our policy is just to all sections of the community and that this backlash or reaction does not develop and retard the progress of true social justice in our community and, as a result, hurt more those people whom we are trying to help with this legislation.
– It would appear from what the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) has just said that he feels that quite a high percentage of our young people do not want to work and that all that this increase in unemployment benefits will do is encourage people not to seek jobs but to become dirty, unwashed layabouts with long hair. I think he shows a lack of faith in our young .people because I am positive that a high percentage of them want jobs and do not want to be in a position of needing unemployment benefits with all the degrading aspects associated with them. He comes from a rural area. I come from what I would call not a rural area but a non-metropolitan area. It is an area where jobs are limited for a certain class of people. It is an area in which there is a limited number of apprenticeships. It has quite a high proportion of Aborigines who because of their background find difficulty in obtaining jobs. Probably a very high proportion of them have to live on some assistance from the Government in the form of unemployment benefits. The only chance they have of keeping their families under any sort of decent circumstances is for us to make sure that they get reasonable assistance from the Government.
They have the responsibility of sending their children to school as well as the responsibility of seeing that their children are reasonably well dressed. But without jobs and without unemployment benefits things would be very grim for them indeed. Those who have jobs find that the whole family makes a valiant effort to try to make their conditions a lot better. The honourable member for Murray spoke about people not wanting jobs but my understanding of the way the Department of Labour works is that if a person does not have a work record he does not get unemployment benefits. If a person cannot produce proof that he has applied for a job recently or worked recently he does, not necessarily get unemployment benefits. I understand that that is the position - just or unjust, and I have my reservations about it - if a person cannot produce some sort of record to show that he has worked.
Social services has been a pretty hot issue over the last few years. In 1969 we saw the question of social services and the treatment of pensioners becoming a very hot political issue. It was one of the main issues which brought about the reduced support for the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. From 1969 onwards we saw gallup polls showing an erosion of support for that Government and I am sure that this question was one of the reasons for that erosion of support. It appears that the Liberal-Country Party Government used social services mainly at times when pressure was put on it, such as when people showed that unless the Government was prepared to do something they would vote it out of office. That situation applied over the last 12 months and in the last Budget we saw some improvements in social services and the treatment of age and other pensioners. I think it is a fact that this would not have happened had it not been for the pressure put on the previous Government by the people to change completely all that it had said in the past.
It had said since about 1953 that it was impossible to do away with the means test, notwithstanding that the Liberal and Country Parties, were elected in 1949 on their promise to abolish the means test, but it found in 1972 that it was possible to abolish it and it did subsequently give some relief to the people who were being penalised by that means test. At this point it cannot be argued that the previous Government did not realise that the Labor Party’s policy, which was part of the 1969 policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), to do away with the means test within a period of 2 Parliaments was something which the people wanted and something which the people considered they were justly entitled to. The Liberal-Country Party Government saw that if it was to have a chance of winning the 1972 elections it would have to do something about the abolition of the means test. So what happened? It did introduce some alleviation in the means test and this was something which everybody on this side of the House approved. But it was something which we realised the then Government had taken from our policy. The means test was something which the then
Government had decided to do away with completely. The previous Government’s attitude followed the same line that we had already taken, that is, that the means test would be abolished within 6 years. As I said earlier, the whole question of the treatment of social service pensioners and the matter of unemployment benefits have always been political footballs but at last we have a very responsible and conscientious Minister who has shown by his actions to date as Minister for Social Security that he has a genuine concern for the less fortunate in our society. Every action he has taken since being appointed Minister for Social Security has been towards relieving poverty and want within our society.
This Bill is indicative of his approach and the approach of the Labor Party to the whole question of social services. The Bill does not provide a great deal and we know that the increases which are included in it will certainly not solve all the problems that the less fortunate in our society face, but at least it does go part of the way. As a result of the promises of action to follow this step, promises such as increasing the age pension twice yearly until it reaches 25 per cent of the average wage, we will achieve a position where our people upon retirement are not forced to accept a much lower standard of living than they had been used to. Other matters such as national superannuation were also contained in Labor’s election promises but at least the step taken by this Bill is a start. I am sure that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) will be untiring in his efforts to make these promised changes and do away with the poverty that exists in our society.
Over the last 3 years we have seen developed by the South Australian Labor Government a completely different attitude to the question of the needy in Australia. The South Australian Government, like the present Federal Labor Government, has shown a very sympathetic attitude to the less fortunate in society. It has announced some beneficial proposals such as rebates on rates which it will introduce if it is re-elected, as I have no doubt it will be.
The increases in pension rates that are to be granted under the legislation before us show how far this Government is going in its effort to eliminate poverty. The standard rate of age pension will be increased by $1.50 a week to $21.50. This is the first step in the Government’s plan to bring pensions up to a reasonable level of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. This discrimination that exists at present between A and B class widows will be eliminated. The B class widow will not only receive the general increase of $1.50 a week but also will be brought to the level of the A class widow. This will mean a total increase of $4.25 a week. At present the difference between the pensions is $2.75 per week. 1 do not want to take up my full time. I know that honourable members on this side of the House want to see this Bill passed through the House. I understand that this is the attitude, too, of members of the Opposition. I conclude by once again congratulating the Minister for Social Security on the Bill which he has introduced. This is the first step by the present Government in a genuine attempt to do away with poverty. The Minister has taken this matter so much to heart that he will in future legislation take further steps to eliminate the poverty that does exist. Whilst this Bill is a big improvement, we know that it is not the end. With the sympathetic Minister that we have it will not be very long, as Was said the other day, before Australia has the best social service system in the world.
– I think the House should agree that the Government that went out left the economy in a very good state and it left great reserves - and we should be glad of this - which will enable a forward social service policy to be conducted. If we had remained in office we would have done this: We would have pushed on with a forward social service policy. I would remind the House that during the last three or four years our social service policy has been one of progress. We did leave resources. We showed real restraint. As against the easy accusations which were made in this House a few moments ago, we did not at election time put forward policies for election purposes. Just the opposite. We have left for the incoming government a margin, a momentum, which I hope it will continue.
In the social service field, as in other fields, the Government is the inheritor of something that the Australian people have created during our time in office. I hope that the Government will be able to continue the same progress that we showed. After all, it is not from the electors’ point of view so important which government is in power or which gov ernment is not in power. From the electors’ point of view it is important what is done for Australia and how fast and how far our progress goes. I would suggest that the House would appreciate this. I am sure that honourable members on this side of the House will appreciate that we will look on all of these things as Australians and when something is done which is good, even if this be done by a government of another colour, we will applaud and support it.
The main purpose of this Bill is to raise the main rate of pension by $1.50 per week. The Government has a mandate for this and should be therefore supported. It is regrettable, of course, that there is a little tack of clarity in the Government’s formulation of policy. Some people would say that the pledge of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) was to give not $1.50 now but $3 by autumn of this year. I do not press this point. This is not the only situation in which the Labor Government made promises which were perhaps a little far-reaching and which it may not be able to honour in their entirety. As I said, I do not press this point. I say only that, there was a little lack of clarity in the formulation of the promise and that some people, when they read the text of the Prime Minister’s policy speech, might think that there should have been given $1.50 immediately and another $1 .50 this autumn, which would come within the ‘thereafter’ phrase in the Prime Minister’s policy speech. However, be that as it may, I think that we should all support the present rise. However, I wonder if it can be squared with the Government’s announced objective.
I listened with some care to what the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) said about the situation, that if the $1.50 did not turn out to be enough the Government would consider increasing the . amount. I acknowledge that the Minister said this. But let us just look at the figures. If the average weekly earnings are to rise by $12 a year-and that seems to be about par for the course at the moment - an increase in pensions of S3 a year, which is twice the proposed increase of $1.50 to be paid each spring and autumn, will just about hold the present relative position and the Government will never under these circumstances be able to catch up . to . 25 per cent of average weekly earnings simply by giving an increment of $1.50 every 6 months. This may be so, and all of us fear that the inflation under the Labor, administration will be somewhat fierce and will be greater in the wage category than the $12 per week rise in average weekly earnings that I have suggested. It seems to me that under present conditions we are not likely to catch up. I do not want to be taken as attributing the inflation which I am afraid will occur to extravagant social service expenditure. I do not hold that view. It seems to me that the elements of inflation are somewhat deeper and more massive, lying as they do in industrial indiscipline rising to industrial sabotage and to extravagant wage claims. Whereas I support the proposal that we should tie the rate of pension to some external index, it seems to me that average weekly earnings are not the happiest of indices to tie it to because, first, it is volatile and it fluctuates. The difference between the March and December quarters, for example, is obviously fairly well known but, more importantly, it is itself subjective and is itself indicative only of a section of the community. I would rather have tied the rate of pension to national income per capita. The results would not have been vastly different over the past couple of years but it seems to me that this is a fairer and more practical criterion to invoke.
I now come to a part of the Bill which causes me, as it caused other speakers on this side of the House, a certain amount of apprehension, and that is what is being done in regard to unemployment benefits. 1 admit that it is desirable to give to those who are unemployed through no fault of their own relief on a scale greater than the accepted norm. I agree about that. But what is the best way of doing this without at the same time involving yourself in quite important difficulties? It is all very well for honourable members opposite to brush these difficulties away but in the United Kingdom there has grown up a class of what you would almost call ‘professional unemployed’. Those who follow the comic strips in the newspapers will remember Andy Capp. Andy Capp is not altogether a figment of the imagination. In the midlands of the United Kingdom there is a class of professional unemployed. We do not want this in Australia. I will assert rather than admit that our past system was not sufficient but I am not in any way convinced that the acrosstheboard approach of the Government at the present time to this matter is any better. You do, it is true, get rid of one evil but it may be that you invoke a worse one. This can compound if you have changes in administration.
There are 2 changes which the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has made clear. Firstly, he has relaxed certain of the safeguards in the Department of Social Security and has changed the administration in that regard. Secondly, he has gone away from the old Chifley-Evatt-McKenna concept and is using unemployment relief in order to help finance rolling strikes. Rolling strikes are one of the most important forms of industrial sabotage which I assert is a key component in the inflationary spiral.
But there is something else which has been done. I think that the success of what was in the past my Department has been due very largely to the influence of a man who was the Director-General and I hope that the House will go with me in regretting the circumstances, whether they be ill-health or whatever they may have been, that have caused the retirement of Mr L. B. Hamilton, O.B.E., as Director-General of Social Services. He is a great loss to the administration of that Department and I think, on a wider scale, to other departments also.
Sitting suspended from 6.14 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I had mentioned that there were many good features in the proposals for increasing the rate of unemployment benefit. Everybody appreciates that fact. The question is: Does the harm that is done sometimes outweigh the good features? It is all very well to say that the work test can be applied. All of us who have had some practical experience in this field know that there are ways and means of avoiding the effectiveness of the work test. As good as this proposal is in so many respects, it has those unfortunate features. It has an especially unfortunate impact on particular groups. Let me instance two of them. The first are the Aborigines in the northern part of Australia. This is a matter of which I have some practical knowledge. I assure the House that the introduction of this Bill spells ruin for Aboriginal advancement in the north of Australia. The Aboriginal people there will be doomed to a life of scrounging, hanging on and penury. The hopes we may have had for their advancement vanish with this Bill.
The second group, which is perhaps of even greater importance because so many people are involved, are the children - people under the age of 21. This Bill grants to them the full unemployment benefit rate. That is a most retrograde step which will have social consequences of quite immense impact. It means that those who leave school will have no incentive to find jobs immediately because, if they can manipulate the work test as so many of them can, they will live in small communities or at home. It is important that these habits of idleness be not inculcated in people who leave school. Every parent with children in this age group will agree with me. These children will be able to bring into the home large incomes through unemployment benefit because there is no expense for a child who is being maintained at home, as most children of 16 and 17 are. This $21.50 a week is quite a big sum: Let the House have no illusions about that.
In this Bill we are putting our imprimatur to an engine of social change of quite massive consequences, lt may be that these consequences will not appear immediately. They will not, but the deterioration which is inherent in this scheme over the long term - surely in a matter like this the House should have some regard for long term consequences - is quite massive indeed. I suggest to honourable members that they should think very carefully about the long term effects of the proposal to pay full rates of unemployment benefit - I am not speaking about sickness benefits - to people under the full adult age. I know that this is the popular thing to do and it is the type of thing which will gain the immediate plaudits of the unthinking, but it is a bad thing to do because its long term consequences can be quite disastrous. The Government has no mandate for this kind of social change. The Governor-General’s Speech refers to the Government’s proposals being designed to achieve basic changes in the administration and structure of Australian society. I do not think the people who voted the Government into power really understand that such massive changes in this and other fields were contemplated.
I will not refer to the figures quoted by the Minister except to say that some of them are wrong. The main error was in the omission from the comparison table of supplementary assistance, which is included in Professor Henderson’s basic poverty line, which makes an allowance for rent. The figures are therefore misleading to the extent of about $4 a week. No doubt when the Minister has greater experience he will not repeat this kind of egregious error. I do not want to trip the
Minister so I will let the matter pass for the time being.
Professor Henderson, who has been inquiring into poverty, has found a number of people living below what he calls the poverty line, but in general they are not the people dealt with by this Bill. We should be thinking more in terms of the low income earner. The beneficiary under this Bill may be better off than many normal low income families. 1 hope that the Government has some plan for helping in this field, but this was not mentioned in the Governor-General’s Speech. It is a field which was set as one of the targets of the outgoing Government which undoubtedly it would have dealt with effectively if it had been returned to power for these 3 years. The omission of this matter -seems to me to be evidence of a lack of some sense of proportion in dealing with social service and social security matters. There are many good things in this Bill and many that I perhaps more than any member of the Opposition would support, but there are some defects and some blemishes and I have tried to draw them to the attention of the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Collard) adjourned.
Reports on Items
– Mr Speaker, I present the report by the Tariff Board on cathode ray tube display terminals. I present also the following reports by the Tariff Board which do not call for any legislative action:
Cotton yarns (by-law); and
Disinfectants, insecticides, fungicides, weed-killers, etc. (by-law).
Pursuant to statute I present also the Special Advisory Authority’s report on phthalic anhydride.
Ordered that the reports be printed.
Debate resumed from 28 February (vide page 70), on the following paper presented by Mr Barnard:
United States Defence Installations in Australia - Ministerial Statement, 28th February 1973. and on motion by Mr Daly:
That the House take note of the paper.
– I move:
The Opposition had thought, based on statements made by honourable gentlemen opposite when they were in opposition and from a reading of the Australian Labor Party platform, that we would have a real battle on our hands to protect the national interest in this matter against prejudicial disclosures and even repudiation of treaty obligations. We now find that no such disclosures or repudiations have been made and that in all significant respects the stand taken by the present Government is the same as that taken by the previous Government. As the amendments suggest, we welcome and approve the Government’s clear declaration to this effect.
Of course, the statement does contain sections designed to appeal to the ideological attitudes and conventional wisdom of various groups in the Australian Labor Party, both inside and outside the Parliament. But, as has been widely recognised in the public debate that has ensued since the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) made his statement - I am sorry that he is not here tonight - this statement is the shadow and not the substance. These sections are window dressing, designed to give the appearance that the new Government had lived up to the expectations it had aroused by its own statements in Opposition and, hopefully, to head off those who had been asking awkward questions about conforming with the Party platform. I give as just one example of this window dressing the brave words about the United States communication station at North West Cape contained in the statement. The Minister for Defence said:
We must, however, insist on seeking renegotiation of certain treaties where this is necessary to obviate the complete exclusion of Australia from any effective control over a defence installation on Australian soil or to obviate any possibility that Australia could be involved in war - and a nuclear war at that - without itself having any power of decision.
He went on to say:
I shall be speaking later about the problems of this kind in relation to the United States naval communication station at North West Cape.
These are strong, determined, nationalistic words indeed - enough to make any red blooded Australian stand at attention with national pride.
But what do we find when we come to that part of the statement which purports to translate this aspiration into reality? Some time this year, the Minister for Defence will travel to the United States to have discussions with the United States Secretary of Defense and his advisers. Parenthetically I hope that he enjoys the trip. The Minister for Defence went on to say that the United States is prepared to make the North West Cape installation a joint installation. We are told from other sources that a message from the United States authorities arrived just in time to save the Minister for Defence from acute embarrassment in his own Caucus or Cabinet, or both. What does the expression ‘joint installation’ mean? Does it mean joint control? The Minister has not told us. Perhaps he does not know. But in any case, he went on to say:
We will, of course, be examining whether this would be desirable.
He was referring to the creation of a joint installation. I leave the House to speculate as to why, after such a red blooded demand for joint control, the Minister should render the whole exercise meaningless by casting doubt on its desirability. Perhaps the Government has suddenly realised that joint control would be inconsistent with Article 2 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? I doubt it but, nevertheless, that is a possible explanation. I doubt it because the Government had such as emotional drive to ratify that treaty as soon as it came into office that I question whether many honourable members opposite had even read it.
Perhaps the Government has realised that joint control in an installation of this nature is both dangerous and meaningless. This was well demonstrated by the then Government when this matter was extensively debated in this House in 1963. I have been rereading that debate. I made a speech in that debate and, even though I say it myself, it was not a bad speech. I gave consideration to quoting from that speech to support the point that I am now making but, regretfully, I have come to the conclusion that honourable gentlemen opposite would not attribute to it the objectivity it undoubtedly had. So I will content myself by quoting briefly from Mr Toohey who, until recently, was the private secretary, loyal servant and confidant of the Minister for Defence. Writing in this week’s ‘Australian Financial Review’, Mr Toohey had this to say:
What really emerges, however, is that any meaningful control over the station is impossible.
Apart from the obvious point that the US is hardly likely to accept a situation in which Australia could snatch its finger from the nuclear trigger in a time of crisis, there are severe practical problems in exercising control.
The time for decision making in a crisis situation is likely to be so small that the Australian Prime Minister could not be contacted in time to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
And what happens if he does say ‘no’ and the US President simply ignores him?
Without wishing to put too finer point upon it, a stiff note of protest to the US after a nuclear war is not likely to have much impact.
That statement was by Mr Toohey who, as I mentioned, until recently was a confidant and secretary to the present Minister for Defence who made this statement on the United States defence installations in Australia. I do not wish to pursue the question of North West Cape any further. 1 have discussed it at some length for no other purpose than to provide an example of my contention that those parts of the statement which purport to convey the impression that the Government has made significant changes from the situation which existed under the previous Government are mere window dressing.
I said earlier that repeated statements by Australian Labor Party spokesmen while they were in opposition had aroused expectations and. indeed, fears that there would be radical changes, disclosures and repudiation of agreements when they came into office. These statements, as the House well knows, were overwhelmingly directed at the Pine Gap and Woomera installations. As an example, I should like to quote from a statement made by the present Minister for Defence on 1st September 1971. He referred to the Pine Gap station near Alice Springs as ‘a nuclear link in United States nuclear warfare, systems’. He said:
It ls shameful that all information about the function and operation of American bases in Australia has to be ferreted out of American technical journals and scientific books . . . The Australian Govern ment has always refused to disclose information on which a rational debate on the Austraiian role in a nuclear war could be based. Obviously the Pine Gap base is a prime nuclear target, a fact that has been repeatedly denied by the Government.
He went on to state:
If these bases were knocked out the United States warning and retaliatory system would be jeopardised. In these circumstances an all-out effort would certainly be made to destroy these 2 bases before a major attack was launched against continental United States.
These are the sorts of life and death issues, thundered the former Deputy Leader of the Opposition, now Minister for Defence, which Government secrecy has kept from the electorate. Surely, he went on, the Australian people have the ultimate right to decide whether they should accept or reject the risks of integration into American nuclear strategy in this way. This is pretty strong stuff - a clear implication, I am sure the House will agree, that we, the then Government, had told the Opposition nothing and that the Opposition when it got into Government would tell everything. To put this to a test let me compare a statement made in this House by the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) when Minister for Defence on 1 4th December 1971 about Pine Gap with the present Minister’s statement last week. In his statement the honourable member for Farrer had this to say:
Premature disclosure of classified information could only be prejudicial to Australia’s defence interests.
In the Minister’s statement before the House he said:
The previous Minister for Defence had this to say:
Federal and Northern Territory members of Parliament may enter with prior permission but certain areas are restricted to those with a need to know.
The Minister for Defence said in his statement:
At the same time I wish to announce that the Government has decided that members of this Parliament must have a special right of access to the 2 installations . . .
The honourable member for Farrer, the previous Minister for Defence, had this to say: 1 must stress that the facility is entirely defensive and it cannot initiate offence.
The Minister for Defence in his statement that we are debating tonight said:
I state clearly that neither station is part of a weapons system and that neither station can be used to attack any country.
The honourable member for Farrer stated:
Members of the Government with a need to know are fully conversant with the activities of the facility. Some Australian officers with the need to know have full access to all areas of the facility.
The Minister for Defence had this to say:
I could go on in this way quoting bit by bit from the statement of the Minister for Defence and what had been said, in one instance, by the Minister for Defence in the previous Government and what had been stated also by other Ministers for Defence before, but I think I have said enough to make the point that it was sheer hypocrisy to suggest while in Opposition that in some way, when the Opposition became the Government, it would make revelations which we were not prepared to make.
– Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired. Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and wish to defer my right to speak.
– The 3 points of the Opposition addendum would be acceptable if the second point did not exist as a clear attempt to prejudice the negotiations that the Australian Government will have with the United States of America on this matter. I refer to an out-of-hand declaration made by the Opposition that the Australian national interest and independence are not jeopardised by the continuance of the agreements under which United States defence installations remain in Australia. The approach of the Opposition to this question contrasts with its approach during its period in government. There appeared to be very clear rights given to the Australian Government under Article 3 of the agreement between the United States and Australia about the United States Naval Communications Station at North West Cape. It states:
The 2 Governments will consult from time to time at the request of either Government on any matters connected wilh the station and its use. Except with the express consent of the Australian Government, the station will not be used for purposes other than purposes of defence communication, and appropriate
Australian authorities nominated by the Australian Government shall at all times have access to the station.
This article of the agreement was destroyed by an exchange of notes between United States Ambassador Battle and the former Minister for External Affairs, Sir Garfield Barwick. In the exchange of notes on 7th May 1963 the United States Ambassador wrote to the Minister for External Affairs as follows:
I enclose a copy of my memorandum of our conversation of today concerning the construction of Article 3 of the VLF Agreement. Whereas this construction is not intended to restrict the Government of Australia’s right of consultation, it is intended to spell out clearly that consultation does not carry with it any degree of control over the station or its use. If this is in accordance with your understanding, I would appreciate your so indicating.
The reply which came from Sir Garfield Barwick was in the affirmative to the Ambassador’s memorandum which read as follows:
After a full and complete discussion regarding consultation on use of the station with Minister for External Affairs, it was clearly understood that consultation connoted no more than consultation and was not intended to establish Australian control over use of station nor to imply any Government of Australia design to restrict at any time United States Government use of station for defence communications including, for example, communications for polaris submarines, lt is also understood that it was not intended to give Australia control over or access to the contents of messages transmitted over the station.
The Minister replied:
Thank you for your letter of today’s date enclosing a copy of your memorandum of our conversation concerning the construction of Article 3 of the Agreement concerning the Naval Communication Station at North West Cape. Your memorandum is entirely in accordance with my understanding.
In other words, on that exchange of letters consultation, which appeared to mean something quite strong in the agreement, was whittled away until it meant virtually nothing. It is not true to say that it is impossible that this station can be an involvement of Australia in nuclear war without its consent and it is not true to say that the words the honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes) who led for the Opposition, quoted from the speech by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard), are a sop to some sort of opinion in the Labor Party. This paragraph expresses exactly the view of all members of the Government, including myself: lt states:
We must, however, insist on seeking renegotiation of certain treaties where this is necessary, to obviate the complete exclusion of Australia from any effective control over a defence installation on Australian soil or to obviate any possibility that Australia could be involved in war - and a nuclear war at that - without itself having any power of decision.
Those honourable members who have been in the Parliament as long as I have will know that when honourable members opposite were in government it was a settled technique for them to suggest that this country was enormously important in the eyes of the United States of America and in the eyes of the United Kingdom.
– You say it is not?
– I certainly say it is not important in the eyes of the United States nor are the things that the Opposition, when it was in government, regarded as important by the United States. For example, both Australia and Holland were allies of the United States. The Minister for External Affairs in a Liberal government, Sir Percy Spender, went to The Hague to urge the Dutch to stand firm over West Irian. Sir Robert Menzies rejected the views of Subandrio that Indonesia had a valid claim on West Irian and indicated clearly that the whole area was strategically important to Australia. When Senator Robert Kennedy came out in a move of United States policy which sought to buy Sukarno out of the Chinese communist orbit by handing over to him West Irian, what the former government for at least 15 years when I sat in Opposition said was that a crucial Australian interest had been thrown to the winds. It was of no importance to the United States whatever nor was Holland, as a NATO ally of the United States, of any importance to the United States in its claim over West Irian. Factors other than the American policy brought Sukarno down, otherwise there could have been some significant confirmation of some of the views of the late government which it once held on West Irian.
This VLF station has very important connotations for Australia. Of all of the weapons that Australia has perhaps least interest in seeing developed in the world, the Polaris submarine happens to be it. The Western world has great industrial cities sitting right on the coast. One can name them and see them as great conurbations right next to the water - ‘New York, San Francisco, London, Liverpool, Yokohama, Tokyo, Bombay, Calcutta, Sydney and Melbourne. Any of the great western concentrations of industry and population - name it and it sits right on the coast. If a Polaris submarine controlled from the VLF station in the Indian Ocean sends a rocket from the Indian Ocean at a Soviet industrial complex, at least there are chances of interception in its flight of thousands of miles if the counter missile missiles mean anything. But if a Polaris missile with a nuclear warhead is sent from a few miles out of Sydney at Sydney or any of these great western concentrations of population there are no chances of interception.
It is not a weapon that we should be. enthusiastic about and I do not believe that if there were a development of tension in the world that caused the Soviet Union to attack the North West Cape installation, the United States would necessarily treat that as the casus belli and sentence to death 100 million Americans in retaliation for an attack on that station, lt could, in a certain diplomatic situation, be an area where a warning attack was made which may lead to a change in United States policy. In any event, it would not be an installation of sufficient importance to the United States for it to risk a very large section of its population. Of course, it is an enormous advantage to great powers to have installations which can direct a striking down of their enemies on other people’s territories to give them time to decide whether the casus belli had arisen where they needed to risk everything.
– What are you talking about?
– I am speaking about the difference of interest between 2 countries in the creation of this North West Cape installation. There are enormous advantages to the United States. The advantages to Australia are extremely problematical if one postulates a situation of extreme tension where we may be moving towards nuclear war.
– What is the Government going to do about it?
– Order! The honourable member for Griffith will not persist in interjecting from a seat that is not his own. He will be quiet or I will take action.
– 1 say that at the moment we are in a relatively lucid interval in international affairs and that lucidity began to develop at about the time when this agreement was signed. The lucidity began to develop when Khrushchev was a sensible coward over Cuba. He was taunted at the time by the Chinese as a coward but instead of risking a nuclear war with the United States he was prepared to withdraw. The Soviet Union was trying to develop the exquisite advantage of having the control of critical nuclear weapons on somebody else’s soil. The United States reached the point when the presence of those critical nuclear weapons of somebody else’s became an issue where President Kennedy was willing to risk a nuclear war. Iq the fact of that, Mr Khrushchev climbed down and the weapons were withdrawn, lt would, of course, have been a very dangerous position for Cuba to have been in to have consented to be used. We say that because of the disparity of risk this whole question should be renegotiated so that it can become quite clear that without our consent the VLF station in the north west is not used. The expression weapon of defence’ has been used. Heavens above, what is defence with a Polaris submarine? Is it retaliation? I presume that would be defence. Or is it a pre-emptive strike? That also could be called defence. In this particular context the word ‘defence’ is a very difficult one to follow. We believe that this agreement should be renegotiated to give Australia some of this control which the former government pretended in its treaty it was giving to the Australian people and which it violated in a private exchange of notes between Sir Garfield Barwick and Mr William Battle. That watering down behind the back of people who were given this paraded agreement in the Parliament is something that the Government finds highly objectionable. To say that consultation will take place and then to say that consultation means nothing means that that section needs renegotiations. We want to be consulted. We do not want in a treaty words that say we will be consulted while a private exchange says we will not. We want to be consulted and as a bare minimum in re-negotiation we would want to reestablish the full meaning of Article 3. But, of course, that would not of itself be going far enough. We are harbouring on our soil an installation that could be critically important in a nuclear war. The Government rejects entirely the second clause of the amendment moved by the Opposition because we regard it as a deliberate attempt to prejudice negotiations which would restore Australian authority on its own soil in a defence installation in which it has every right to equality and every right to be consulted.
– The Minister for Education (Mr
Beazley) is always easy to listen to, even when he is talking about matters that are not before the Parliament at the time. At present we have before us a motion to take note of the statement made by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard). I was interested to hear the views of the Minister for Education on Indonesia under Sukarno, or even the value of the Polaris missile as a weapon of defence, and would be quite happy to debate those subjects with the Minister at some appropriate time. I think it would make an interesting debate. Tonight we are discussing the statement made by the Minister for Defence about United States bases in Australia and the amendment which has been proposed by the Opposition. The statement by the Minister for Defence covered 5 installations, of which the North West Cape naval communication station was only one. Another 2 were at Amberley and Alice Springs. As far as I am aware those bases have not been the subject of any serious questioning by either side of this House. It is clear from the Minister’s statement that there is no foundation for any complaint whatever about either of these installations, either under the previous Government or under the present Government which intends to continue them.
There has been considerable complaint in the past by the Australian Labor Party concerning the North West Cape naval communication station. Honourable members will recall that at the time the base was established the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Calwell, and the then Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam, had to wait upon the Australian Labor Party’s Federal Conference for a decision about what their attitude should be towards the North West Cape station. They were instructed by the ALP Conference to oppose its installation, and they did oppose it. It is now quite clear from what the Minister for Defence has said that the present Government no longer holds that view, but rather holds the view which the previous Government held about the North West Cape installation, that it should be maintained, subject only to one qualification, that is, Article 3, the only relevant matter on which the Minister for Education dwelt.
The Minister for Defence certainly has made the point that he will consult the United States Government to ensure that the agreement between the United States and Australia regarding North West Cape is literally applied and that letters exchanged 10 years ago interpreting Article 3 will in some way be altered or superseded. This is a minor matter, but great play was made by the Minister for Education about Sir Garfield Barwick agreeing that the word ‘consult’ in Article 3 meant consult. 1 would not have thought that was very surprising. I should think that anyone who believes it does not mean consult but means control would have a job ahead of him. However, I do not object to the Government’s saying that at least it will talk to the United States about the meaning of Article 3. Sir Garfield Barwick as a lawyer was not a man who easily gave very much away on the interpretation of words. Article 3, if any honourable member wishes to read it, says: ‘We will consult’. That meant, and the letters exchanged said we agreed that it meant, consult. ‘Consult’ does not bind either party to take notice of what is said in the consultation. I should have thought that went almost without saying. I do not object to the fact that 10 years later the Government wants to make a great point of the meaning of the word ‘consult’, or suggests that it means perhaps a little more, perhaps a sharing of control. If the Government can get that, good luck to it.
The Government should not suggest that Sir Garfield Barwick was giving anything away on the interpretation of the agreement. The fact is that the title to and sovereignty of the land on which the signal station is situated belongs to Australia and remains vested in the Australian Government. Furthermore, as I understand it, busloads of tourists are shown over the base from time to time. 1 have visited it myself. North West Cape is not one of those highly crucial and highly secret stations that need to be the deep concern that it has been in the complaints so far made by the Australian Labor Party. I do not think the present Minister for Defence has suggested that there is this objection to it. For all the noise that was made by the Minister for Education, it is not that type of base, lt is clear that the past complaints of the Australian Labor Party were lacking in any foundation apart from some kind of militant antiAmericanism which motivated them.
I refer now to the 2 more recent installations, those at Pine Gap and Woomera. Many honourable members will recall the relatively frenetic complaints that were made about them in this House by various members of the Australian Labor Party. These complaints were persisted in, notwithstanding that the Government at the time made 3 points quite clear, lt made it quite clear that these installations were not part of a weapons system and were not able to be used to attack any country. It made it clear that the Australian national interest and independence were not jeopardised by the agreements under which these installations were allowed on Australian soil. It made it clear that it was necessary to preserve secrecy with respect to certain aspects of these installations. The previous Government’s assurances on these points seemed only to drive the Australian Labor Party critics in the Parliament to increased frenzy in their complaints. Yet the Minister’s present statement adopts these 3 points as the reasons for present Government policy. It certainly offers access to members of this Parliament - that would be a difference - but his statement makes it quite clear that the matters of secrecy will continue to be withheld from honourable members and the public as before and this apparent concession is really only a marginal alteration of the previous Government’s attitude.
In the broad, the Minister’s statement regarding the 2 bases in central Australia confirms the attitude of the previous Government. I am not complaining about this. On the contrary, the Minister who is now in the seat of responsibility has a sense of responsibility in recognising the correctness of the previous Government’s policy on these bases. I only hope that in the interests of Australia the Minister for Defence will be able to stand up to the perfervid critics within his own Party who have shown their dislike of America and who criticised the policy of my Party when it was in Government and who may now, I fear, become his critics because he has given precisely the same reasons as my Party gave. I believe the House should take the opportunity afforded by the amendment which has been moved by the Opposition to make clear its views on these bases so that there may be an end to this sniping and criticism of the bases. In this way the world in general and the United States in particular will know where Australia stands in relation to these bases. Honourable members should give the Minister that much support and pass this amendment so that we will have, in substance, a bipartisan policy on this important matter. Perhaps it could serve as an example and a precedent for other defence and foreign affairs subjects because this is an area where in a democratic country, it is certainly in the interests of the country if the contending political parties can arrive at bipartisan policies. Let me cite some other examples. The Minister for Defence puts forward in his statement precisely the reasons that the Opposition put forward earlier. I only suggested to him that we wanted to give him support.
– I was not giving support to you.
– Do not talk about irrelevancies. There are other instances where this applies. Before the last election the Australian Labor Party deleted from its platform all reference to the South East Asia Treaty Organisation. It was described by the then Opposition’s spokesman on foreign affairs, the honourable member for St George (Mr Morrison), as an irrelevant dead horse. I can understand this view being held by academics and by the honourable member. After all, there were the obvious changes which anyone taking a superficial look at the world could have been impressed by at once. France and Pakistan had virtually left SEATO. The world, particularly South East Asia, had changed since SEATO was entered into.
Yet since attaining Government the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has had talks with the Prime Minister of New Zealand which I understand covered SEATO among other topics. It appears that now that the Government has the responsibility, it is looking in depth at this matter and has a greater appreciation of the current residual significance of the Manila Treaty. Senator Willesee, Special Minister of State and Minister assisting the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in an address given at Perth University on 19th January this year, spoke of the Government’s recognition of the importance which certain members continued to attach to the Treaty. He indicated that the Government did not propose to make any significant changes without first consulting especially with Thailand, the Philippines and the United States. This is almost a return to the bi-partisan policy followed previously by the present Opposition when in government. From my own experience as Foreign Minister, I know what these countries would say if they were consulted. It may be that here too is an area where, if real responsibility is assumed, there is a measure of agreement between us and an end to the previous criticisms so much based on political grounds.
As to the Five-Power Arrangements, it seems that there is a new found disposition, at least on the part of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence, to appreciate for the first time the significance of these regional arrangements. As to the continued stationing of some support troops in Singapore, it is not yet clear what the outcome will be. Perhaps we will not know what the policy of the Government is on this matter until the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party at Surfers Paradise in July tells the Government what it must do. But at least the Prime Minister’s visit to Indonesia and the gentle admonition on this matter given to him by the Indonesian Foreign Minister. Mr Adam Malik, can have left the Prime Minister in no doubt about the views of our nearest and largest neighbour on the significance of the stationing of Australian troops in Singapore under the Five-Power Arrangements. So, I suggest to the House that we should welcome the substance of the approach adopted by the Minister for Defence as outlined in his statement which is the subject of this debate. We can give effective expression to that view by carrying the amendment which has been moved by the Opposition.
– The contributions made to this debate by Opposition speakers tonight have been very interesting. I rather thought that the speech by the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr N. H. Bowen) was the more interesting of the 2 mainly because of the way in which he stressed the fact that the Opposition - that group of parties - was pleased with an approach which could be described as representing some sort of bi-partisan attitude in matters of foreign affairs and defence.
I have not been in this Parliament as long as has the honourable member for Fremantle and Minister for Education (Mr Beazley). But in the period that I have been a member the previous Government when in office attempted to extract every ounce of political advantage that it could from foreign affairs and defence. Now that the former Government is in Opposition it says that it welcomes the fact that the Labor Party in Government is better informed and now sees these matters similarly to the way in which it viewed them. For all those years everything was done to prevent the Opposition receiving information about these bases. Former leaders of the Opposition and responsible shadow Ministers were prevented from receiving information on which the Opposition could make informed judgments on these matters.
The honourable member for Parramatta said that he welcomed the substance of the approach by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard), that the Minister for Defence was being responsible and that the Opposition wished to support him. The honourable member claimed that the Prime. Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Minister for Defence have a new found disposition towards the FivePower Arrangements and that there is a new attitude towards consultation with our near neighbours.
Let us assume that those things are true. The Labor Party’s attitude towards our alliances and the importance that we attach to good relations with other nations in our region have always been crystal clear for those people who were honest enough to inform themselves about these things. The basic point is that in all the years that the present Opposition occupied the Treasury bench no attempt was made to inform the then Leader of the Opposition or any of his senior colleagues about the realities of these agreements.
I feel sure that this Government in office will rectify that matter. We do not expect the Opposition to agree with us on every aspect of defence or foreign affairs policy. What we do say is that we should give the Opposition facilities through which it is privy to information so that it can make responsible judgments. This is something that the Opposition denied to the Labor Party for all the years that Labor was in Opposition.
Let us consider some of these questions. The. honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes) said that there has been no change in policy. In his Ministerial statement the Minister for Defence said as reported at page 68 of Hansard :
As is well known, previous Australian governments chose to exclude the Leader of the Opposition from those who were briefed on the activities and functions of these stations, lt was necessary therefore, as 1 have said in the past, for us to wait until we became the Government before we could develop a policy in respect of these stations founded on a knowledge of what they do, how they can be used, how they are controlled, and whether Australia has properly preserved its national interests in the arrangements entered into by the previous Govern ment. This unfortunate situation which the previous Government forced upon us in the past, has been rectified. A week ago 1 offered the Leader of the Opposition an opportunity, of being fully briefed on the activities of both these installations. He has accepted my offer and has been briefed.
The Minister is not referring to the previous Leader of the Opposition: he is referring to the present Leader of the Opposition, who was a senior Minister in the previous Government and who had never been briefed on the functions of these facilities.
Let us examine some of the statements that have been made tonight. It has been said that the statements of the Australian Labor Party over the years had aroused significant fears. What were these significant fears? Were they fears about the Australian-American alliance? This alliance was established under a Labor government. In 1942, when John Curtin made his appeal to the United States for assistance, the standard of patriotism in Australia was loyalty to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Members of the then Opposition - non-Labor parties - attacked the Labor Party at that time for making an approach to the United States. In the war years the Labor Government - I remind the present Opposition that the then Opposition surrendered the government of this country by default in 1941 - co-operated very closely with the United States and our other allies in prosecuting a successful war effort. This goodwill was carried over into the years of peace.
Why should there be any suggestion that any Australian-American treaty arrangements would be imperilled by the election of a Labor Government in Australia? The fact is that this Government is very carefully reviewing all of our relations with our allies and with our neighbours in this region with a view to strengthening the ties that bind us to neighbouring countries with a view to developing the alliances to which this country is committed into effective arrangements in accordance with the needs of today. The point has been made about the changing values in the South East Asia Treaty Organisation by the honourable member for Parramatta. Everybody knows about these and the Labor Party mentioned them as long ago as 1955 and 1958. But this is not to say that SEATO has no value at all, that consultations should not be carried out with Thailand, because this is the only arrangement which
Thailand and Australia share. But surely any of these treaty arrangements should be subject to scrutiny, should be kept up to date and should be instruments of real value, not merely agreements which we have inherited. The Government is being blamed for being honest.
During all those years in which the Labor Party and its leaders were kept uninformed about these matters, the Labor Party expressed, and rightfully so, certain fears. That is what the then government wanted the Labor Party to do. lt always wanted to be able to go to the people of Australia and suggest that they could not trust the Labor Party. Now we find the former government parties in Opposition welcoming the responsible attitude of this Government, welcoming the substance of approval given to previous arrangements insofar as they have been approved in statements which have been made by the Minister for Defence. They are now saying that the Minister for Defence is acting responsibly and, of course, the latest example of this attitude is the suggestion that we might be able to move towards some bipartisan approach in matters of foreign affairs and defence. 1 put it to the Opposition that the Labor Party has always acted responsibly in these matters. The Labor Party in the past sought information on which it could make proper judgments and that information was denied to it. The then Government extracted every ounce of political advantage from the fact that the Labor Opposition was kept ill-informed.
The agreement relating to the North West Cape installation was signed in 1963 by the then Minister for External Affairs and the then American Ambassador, lt was signed only a few months before the election in 1963 - an election in which the Labor Party substantially improved its majority in this parliament through a vote on the issue of defence. That is the position. We do not propose to accept the ammendment because the position is not yet entirely satisfactory. But what did the Opposition expect at this stage of the game without there having been any discussions with the Government of the United States? Did it expect this Government to throw down the gauntlet and throw out a challenge? Is the Opposition trying to destroy the American alliance from which it has extracted so much political advantage over the years? Only members of the Opposition can answer that. The fact of the matter is that the Minister for Defence has made a statement which has been welcomed by Opposition spokesmen for being responsible, balanced and well informed. The Minister for Defence has indicated that there are some matters the honourable member for Fremantle drew attention to them - which have yet to be explored with the United States Government. The Labor Party has not had 23 years in government during which it could sit down and talk to the United States Government, but the Minister for Defence intends to take the earliest mutually convenient opportunity to explore the attitude of the United States on this matter and to make sure that the United States Government understands the Australian attitude.
We live in a time of increasing nationalism. That does not mean that this Australian Government is “about to cut adrift from previous associations and alliances. It means an intelligent response to the Nixon doctrine and that the Australian Government intends to see that Australia has an obvious personality of its own in this part of the world which does not reflect only in the matters of foreign affairs and defence but also in many more subtle areas such as in attitudes to migration, foreign aid and the like. Australia will have a more constructive role in our region, not merely as an agent of outside powers, of erstwhile colonial powers, but with an individual Australian personality operating in the region. That is the task of this Government. So we have before us a statement by the Minister for Defence which places before the Parliament a great deal of information which has never before been presented to the Parliament indicating that the new Leader of the Opposition, unlike the previous Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, has been briefed on the functions of these installations so that he might go to his party and tell the many other people on the Opposition side of the Parliament who also do not know what these installations are all about a little bit more than we now on this side of the House were told in erstwhile days. The Minister for Defence will go to the United States and put an Australian Government point of view. We can all be assured that good relations will continue between this Government and the Government of the United States and .hat the sovereignty of Australia, which is of vital interest to the Australian people, will not remain as it is now but will be restored. That is the purpose of the statement which was made by the Minister for Defence and it is precisely for that reason that the Government rejects the amendment moved by the Opposition.
– Before supporting the amendment 1 wish to comment on a few remarks which have been made. One was made by the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley), who said that the North West Cape station and the Alice Springs, Woomera and Amberley stations would be critically important in a nuclear war. That is exactly why they are here and that is why they should remain unimpaired. That is what the Minister said tonight.
– I spoke only of North West Cape.
– The North West Cape and Pine Gap installations are early warning systems and that is why the previous Government supported their presence and is why the Opposition now still supports their presence. The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) spoke of a change in policy. Anyone who says that the previous Government should have done this and should have done that over the previous 23 years fails to take into account that over that time there must inevitably have been changes. There must have been changes in policy. But what we do not want to happen now is for the left wing of the Labor Party to change that policy which is still being espoused by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard).
When the Joint Defence Space Research Facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs was proposed in 1966 there were many of us in Alice Springs who were overjoyed. Its construction would provide work for the townspeople and would bring population, business and more outside interest to ‘Alice on the line’ - 900 miles of it and mostly all single track. Both American and Australian personnel of outstanding ability came to that country and they liked it. Over all they have had a very good effect on the town. The then Labor Party member for Alice Springs in the Northern Territory Legislative Council deplored the proposal saying that it would attract Chinese rockets. Can you imagine that in these days? China is now the Government’s best friend. Despite the great kowtow, that could still occur. But at least the Australian Government will have had some years of topline intelligence which is given through these early warning systems. I hope for the sake of Alice Springs and Australia generally that the Government does not turn its back on the clear foresighted policy of its predecessor in retaining these bases. 1 commend the Government’s intention revealed in this statement not to repudiate any treaty. As a resident of Alice Springs naturally I welcome the Pine Gap base because, as I have said before, not only is it of tremendous advantage to the security of Australia but especially of tremendous advantage to Alice Springs. Two bases were not mentioned. One was the joint geological and geophysical research station or the old 421 detachment at Swartz Crescent, Alice Springs, which has been there for the last 14 or 15 years. No one has complained about it. No one has complained either about the one at Amberley, which is also doing an outstanding job for the security of Australia. The other base in Alice, as I have said before, is the Joint Defence Space Research Facility at Pine Gap which is known locally as the space base. In general my remarks refer to the Government’s policy towards the bases at North West Cape, Woomera, Alice Springs and Amberley.
The Minister for Defence in his statement said that members would recognise that these installations are defence projects. They have been referred to as such and were continually referred to as such by members of the previous government. I remember that in this place I called the Pine Gap installation an early bird warning system and that is exactly the sort of service that the base is rendering. Therefore I would think that it is of tremendous importance to have this base and the other bases operating in the Australian defence system. But members of the Minister for Defence’s party demanded the removal of these bases when they were in Opposition. One of them, who is now the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant), described the base at Pine Gap as national treachery. Now, thank goodness, we have a complete reversal of form. Because changing circumstances have brought about some knowledge of these bases and the Minister for Defence has been briefed he is able to see the vital importance of these bases to Australian security.
Last session during a very heated speech in this House another member of the Australian Labor Party said:
I would take to task any member of any defence committee in Australia who tried to inform me that the existence of these bases in Australia will serve Australia’s defence.
That is the sort of thinking that has come from the other side of the House and I commend the Minister for Defence who was at the table for taking the stand he has taken and for producing a report on United States defence installations in Australia. I only hope that he takes note of the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition so that we can go into this joint security business side by side. I can only hope that the Minister continues to disagree with the left wing sentiments of members of his Party who have been pressuring him both inside and outside the Parliament to have these major security bases closed.
The Minister says that it is not the Government’s intention to repudiate any treaty. I only hopethat what he says will stick. He says that the treaties could be renegotiated. But was there any renegotiation over the Five Power Arrangements when Australia so stupidly ratted on the other parties to those arrangements.
– The honourable member just said that he supported it.
– - Why did the Government take this action? It did so because of the over-riding strength of the left wing of the Party, a section that could well include the honourable member who interjected. Can the Minister and the Government withstand the left wing influence? I only hope for Australia’s sake that it can. The Minister is accused of being under the control of the Department of Defence and the United States of America. I am sure he is not and I am sure he is doing the job in accordance with the way be sees it. I only hope that he can continue to do it that way. But I have very grave doubts as to whether his element in the Government will be able to withstand the pressure that will be brought to bear on him by the left wing unions.
We in the Alice are worried that the Government may not be able to withstand left wing pressure and may have to close the bases. We must remember that the Govern ment was over-ruled by the left wingers in regard to the export of merino rams. What will happen if the unions tell the Government what to do about the bases in Alice Springs and Woomera?
I welcome the statement and the amendment. I hope that the Government sees fit to approve the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition and that Australia will renegotiate the treaties so that it will have a greater control over these defence installations. I believe that this requirement would be fair enough. However, I hope that the Government does not bow to the left wing element in the Australian Labor Party because that is the group which realises that these bases are of great importance to the security of Australia. I recognise that the bases are important and, 1 say again, I hope that the Minister for Defence will be able to withstand the left wing pressures. I now move:
That the question be put.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Order! The question now is that the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes) be agreed to.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. J. F. Cope)
Majority . . . . 9
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed (vide page 323).
– The Social Services Bill seeks to amend the Social Services Act and, naturally, we on this side of the House, appreciating what it will mean to many people, wish to see the Bill passed as speedily as possible so that the recipients of social service benefits can more quickly enjoy the substantial improvements to the Act which this Bill sets out to provide. Therefore it is not my intention to delay the House to any great extent. The provisions in this Bill are sufficient to leave no doubt in the minds of the people that the Labor Government intends to ensure, by way of legislation or other means at its disposal, that the entire population of Australia - not just some small sections of it - will be able to look to the future with a feeling of security. For instance, it will be seen that the very people directly concerned with the measure now before the House can look to the future with complete confidence, safe in the knowledge that at long last there is a federal government in Australia which will treat them as persons who have a right to live in a dignified and respectable manner. They can look forward with the knowledge that while there remains a Labor government in the federal field they will be treated with the respect and sympathy they deserve as citizens of this great country. Certainly that was something they could never look forward to during the life of the LiberalCountry Party coalition Government.
The amendment moved today by the Opposition to the motion that the Bill be read a second time and the speeches of Opposition members in this debate are sufficient proof that the Liberal-Country Party Opposition can see no reason for the increases which we have proposed in pensions and other social service benefits. For 23 years the aged, the invalid, the handicapped, the sick and the unemployed have suffered immeasurable hardship and, in many cases, just a miserable existence due to the attitude and policies of an unsympathetic, inconsiderate and disinterested government. That situation and those conditions will now change. What a great relief it must be to so many of those people to be able to see ahead of them a clear future of security and happiness rather than one of utter despair.
Last week, on the very first business day in the Parliament of the new Government, we had the pleasure and satisfaction of witnessing the introduction of amending legislation which will go a long way - certainly not all the way because there is still much more to be done - towards correcting the many anomalies and injustices in the existing Act which have been created and aggravated by the previous Government. No-one could expect to find the wrongs imposed over so many years rectified by one Bill. Over the years the Liberal-Country Party Government introduced a number of Bills to amend the Social Services Act, but invariably those Bills were not notable for what they contained in the way of increased benefits or for what they did to improve the Act or the circumstances of the recipients. They were notable in particular for what they failed to provide, what they failed to do and what they left undone as well as for the further anomalies and injustices which they created. What a significant and welcome change is the present Bill. As the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) said during his second reading speech, this Bill will not only remove a number of the seriously unjust and penalising anomalies in the existing Act but will also provide generous increases in all pensions and in sickness and unemployment benefits.
The existing amounts of benefits payable in the several areas of social services will, as a result of the proposals in the Bill, be increased by amounts ranging from $1.50 a week to $14 a week. That is certainly a very welcome change from what we had become accustomed to expect from the previous Government, when the increases generally ranged from 50c down to nothing. For instance, between October 1961 and 1964 married pensioner couples received no increases at all. Between October 1964 and January 1968 they received a total increase of 75c a week. Incidentally, if measured against the consumer price index which the then Government claimed to adopt as a measuring stick, that latter amount was less than half the increase the pensioners should have received during that period. Of course, they have never caught up. Perhaps I should also point out, while referring to the previous Government’s ‘generosity’, that over the period of 20 years between 1950 and the end of 1970 the average weekly increase in each of those years for married pensioner couples was only 52±c and for single pensioners it was a mere 43 4c This can only be described as being no better than extremely miserable and certainly it did nothing to help the recipients overcome their problems.
The Government intends to improve very substantially the circumstances of social service recipients. The people know its intentions in relation to pensioners and the average weekly male earnings. The Government has said that its first move in that direction will be to increase pensions by $1.50 a week and that thereafter the base rates will be raised by a further $1.50 a week during each spring and autumn session of the Parliament until such time as the pension reaches 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings. Furthermore, the Government has said that while it remains the Government, which will undoubtedly be for many years, the rate of pension will not be allowed to fall below that 25 per cent level. The Bill which we are now debating is the first legislative step in the direction of our final objective. We have taken the very first opportunity of honouring our promise to the people in this regard. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, this attitude is completely opposite to the attitude of the previous Government in relation to promises. One immediately recalls its promise of 1949 to abolish the means test. For a continuous period of 23 years it had the opportunity to honour that promise. Indeed, it was invited to do so on several occasions by the Australian Labor Party which would have been happy to support such a proposition. As everyone knows, the previous Government failed to accept the invitation.
In July 1969 the then Liberal Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), told a Liberal women’s rally in Brisbane that the means test should not be abolished and would not be abolished and that he could see no reason why it should be abolished. Yet despite that refusal to honour a promise made over 23 years ago, despite the fact that one of its Prime Ministers said as recently as July 1969 that it should not be abolished and despite the fact that the immediate past Liberal Minister for Social Services, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), did not attempt to abolish it during his term of office, we now have the ridiculous and hypocritical situation in which that self same immediate past Minister has submitted a notice calling for its abolition in the 1973 Budget. It would certainly be in line with the hypocrisy displayed by the Opposition if we were to see the right honourable member for Higgins second the motion.
As 1 said earlier, this Bill will provide some generous increases in pensions, and those increases will be made retrospective to the first pension day following the election on 2nd December last year. Referring to the retrospectivity provision, I should point out that the previous Government and its Ministers always claimed that it was extremely difficult and well nigh impossible to backdate pension payments. They always refused our requests to do so. This shows the difference between an apathetic and disinterested government and a vigorous and considerate government. Of course there were difficulties and obstacles, but unlike the previous Government our present Government and the present Minister acted promptly and positively, and very quickly proved not only that it could be done but also that it would be done on this occasion. The Minister for Social Security and the Cabinet are to be congratulated for the way in which they have acted to give the pensioners a fair deal.
This Bill also honours a further election promise of the Labor Party in that the rate of class B and class C widows pensions will be raised to the same base rate as class A widows pensions, namely $21.50 a week. Due to the fact that the previous Government has treated these women as second or third class citizens and paid them at a rate of $2.75 a week less than the class A widow, the rate of $21.50 provided in this Bill will mean an actual increase to them of $4.25 a week. It therefore removes an injustice that we were not prepared to tolerate. The Government has also grasped this early opportunity to correct the unrealistic and unjust provisions which exist at the moment in relation to unemployment and sickness benefits. It is well known - the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Whittorn) made it clear the other night as did other honourable members on the Opposition side that the present Opposition does not believe in assisting people who, through lack of opportunity, through no fault of their own or through sickness, are unable to obtain employment. The honourable member for Balaclava would deny relief to all sufferers on the ground that he believed that there are some who are voluntarily unemployed. I would not disagree that there is the odd one in that category but, by the same token, I would point out that there are a number who may be and in fact are placed wrongly in that category simply because they are victims of some particular condition that requires some particular type of treatment to put them back or to bring them forward to a condition, physical or mental, in which they could accept and be acceptable for employment.
The Opposition stands condemned in that during 23 years in government it failed to take any action to help those poor unfortunate people and was prepared simply to leave them to face their hopeless future. Under the Act as it stands at the moment, except in such cases where sickness payments have been made for a period of 6 consecutive weeks, a single person aged 18, 19 or 20 years who is unemployed or sick and unable to obtain work may receive the very generous amount, according to the previous Government, of $11 a week. If such a person is only 16 or 17 years old the benefit, again apparently generous in the eyes of the Opposition, is $7.50 a week. I have never been able to work out how a boy or a girl 17 years of age could live on an amount $3.50 a week less than that received by persons 18 years of age, but there it is. What happens in all these cases, or in many of them, is quite obvious. They cannot exist on the amount that is paid to them and they must therefore become dependent upon their parents who, in many instances, are in very poor circumstances themselves and may even be pensioners. Those young people have either never worked before or have never worked long enough to accumulate any moneys and, therefore, in desperation are forced to look other ways and means of gaining a few dollars and the only ways and means that are available to them are not acceptable to society and therefore they are quickly on the road to ruin.
The previous Government has undoubtedly done a very great disservice to a large number of people, particularly young people, simply by refusing to pay realistic benefits to the sick and the unemployed. We intend to correct that deplorable situation. The majority of those who are now unemployed have been forced into that position as a result of the previous Government’s Budget of 1971 and they are entitled to sympathetic consideration; they will receive it from this Government. Unemployed unmarried adults and unmarried minors who do not have a parent resident in Australia receive the princely amount at the moment of $17 a week. Those people and the juniors to whom I have referred will, when this Bill receives royal assent, be entitled to receive $21.50 a week, which represents increases ranging from $4.50 a week to $14 a week, which is further proof of the miserable attitude displayed by the previous Government in this regard.
At the moment, a married but unemployed or sick adult or a married minor receives only $25 a week, made up of $17 for the husband and $8 for his wife. This is to be increased by $12.50 to a total of $37.50 a week, or the same amount that will be received by married age or invalid pensioners. It is only fair and proper that they should do so. Actually, a young married couple with the breadwinner out of work and, for instance, trying to pay off a home or furniture could be in a much worse financial situation than some pensioners. Therefore, there seems to be no reason why they should not receive the same amount. Also, at present, where a sickness benefit has been paid for at least 6 consecutive weeks and the person is 16 to 21 years of age, that benefit is only $13 a week. This will be increased to $21.50 a week. Adults and minors who are married and in a similar situation, having been on sickness benefits for 6 weeks, will enjoy an increase from a total of $28 a week to $37.50 a week.
The several discriminations imposed by the previous Government in this respect have been removed. As I said earlier, there is much more to be done before we will be satisfied. But this is a good Bill; it will go a long way towards removing those injustices and anomalies to which I have referred. It is a Bill that deserves the full commendation of this House. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) is to be congratulated upon introducing the Bill so early in the session. It deserves the full and unanimous support of the chamber.
– Mt Deputy Speaker, I join with other honourable members who have taken part in this debate and the debate on the Address-in-Reply in congratulating you and Mr Speaker on your election to the high offices that you now hold. This is not my first speech in this House, although it is the first opportunity I have had to speak in this chamber since the opening of this Parliament. In 1966 1 was elected to this House as the representative of an electorate which, although called Sturt, was substantially different from the electorate which 1 now represent.
I thank the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) for his acknowledgment earlier this week of my presence here. He knows full well that the fact that T am now sitting in this House at all is evidence of a resurgence of Liberal interest and support in South Australia. He will receive further proof of this resurgence next Saturday when he finds that the tide of public opinion is running strongly in favour of many Liberal candidates in South Australia. As- the honourable member for Adelaide knows, Sturt was won against an overall swing to Labor. The Liberal wins in Sturt, Stirling, Forrest and Bendigo should be a constant reminder to the Government of the Liberal Party’s determination and capacity to regain the confidence of the people. The honourable member for Adelaide drew attention to the few vacant seats on this side of the House. The number available for Liberal members who will be elected at the next election is so limited that the only solution will be that we will have to move to the side of the House on which the honourable member for Adelaide now sits and he will have to move back here.
My election on 2nd December has given me an exciting and challenging responsibility to fulfil on behalf of the electors of Sturt, whether they voted for me or not. I will do my best to interpret their wishes and aspirations and to give expression to their idealism. I value greatly the opportunities I have had to talk with, rather than merely to talk to, many of the people who live in Sturt. I look forward to a continuation of this 2-way communication. It is important that a member should know the views of those he represents, and it is equally important that they should have some idea of his approach to government. The change in government resulting from the election on 2nd December will arouse increased public concern as to the political philosophies which motivate their politicians. This country has not had a change of government for 23 years. Some have forgotten, whilst others have never had the opportunity !o know, the full significance of such a change. But it involves not merely a change in the administrators but also a change in the let of values by which the administration is conducted.
In the Speech delivered by the GovernorGeneral upon which this Bill is based, for it deals with one of the matters referred to in the Speech, the new Government presented its program. The methods by which we as a people move towards new horizons in any policy area must be critically examined. A socialist government uses methods significantly different from those which would be used by a Liberal government. Because the methods they use are new, their prescription causes the excitement of a new wonder drug. At first it seems to many that it will achieve by a miracle the objective for which all profess to be striving, a better life for all Australians. This Bill is but an illustration of the use of the device of the wonder drug. Previous Liberal governments continuously improved Australia’s social security program. Whilst there are still areas where reform is needed, to deny that improvements have been made is an exercise in political partisanship. 1 have for some considerable time supported the concept of index related pensions. It is fashionable to regard the average weekly earnings index as the best index with which to create a nexus. I venture to suggest tonight that there will come a time when we will question the efficacy and the suitability of this nexus. There will come a time when we will question the relationship of the pension to the index.
This Bill is claimed to be a first step to relating the pension to an index. It is a very tentative step, because if we look at the current rate at which average weekly earnings are rising we can be forgiven for estimating that over the next period of 12 months those average weekly earnings are likely to rise to an extent that would require an increase in the pension in excess of 2 instalments of $1.50 per week. 1 acknowledge that the Minister in his second reading speech drew the attention of the House to the Government’s concern that it might have to review the question of the rate at which the pension was increased to achieve the target of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. But one of the great bases upon which the Australian Labor Party put forward this proposal during the election campaign was its desire to have a pension rate ‘that will no longer be tied to the financial and political considerations of annual budgets’.
Until the 25 per cent level is achieved the increases in pension rates will continue to be tied to financial and political judgments, yet in the way in which this Bill has been presented, in the way in which the proposals contained in it were referred to in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech, there is an attempt at deceit by the Government to create the impression that the goal that it is setting out to achieve has already been achieved. It has not been achieved, and unless the Government makes a realistic assessment of the current rate of increase in average weekly earnings it will not he achieved for a substantially long period of time. In the meantime the Government, which itself claims that pensions are no longer to be determined on the basis of political considerations or of financial considerations, will find that these considerations will continue to influence the determination of the level of pension.
So it is important that the Australian people should understand that the objectives which the Labor Party promised to achieve in its policy speech and in the speech of the Governor-General are a long way yet from achievement. It is important that the people should understand that this is only a tentative step and that in the meantime the future determination of pension rates will depend upon political decisions. The Government is using double talk and the art of camouflage to create an impression that the Bill will achieve a relationship between the pension and an index. It is no closer to the achievement of that relationship than were any of the decisions of the previous Government which continued to increase the real value of the pension. Thus we can see that the pensions are not as yet index-related. Pensions are still subject to political and financial considerations and will be until the 25 per cent level is attained. Unless the Government takes early action in the light of the increasing level of average weekly earnings, pension rates could in fact fall further behind average weekly earnings than they are today as a consequence of the rapid increase in average weekly earnings. Yes, the Government has said that it will keep these matters under consideration, but in keeping them under consideration it has a situation in which the determination of rates of pensions is still contingent on financial and political considerations.
The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) referred to the back dating of the pension increases. A question that we might well ask is: When does spring begin and when does autumn begin, and when will the future increases take place? Everyone knows that following the election there was a period when there was a great deal of speculation as to the date from which these pension increases would operate. That they operate from the first pension pay day following the election date shows at least that the Government was consistent with some attitudes it had previously expressed, but I would urge it now to show a consistency in the future by letting the public, and particularly those who depend on the. pension, know when the pension increases will take place.
There are many other aspects with regard to the whole field of social welfare to which I would have liked an opportunity to have addressed some remarks, but the ambit of this Bill is limited to the proposals contained in it. Let me say briefly that I continue to support the early abolition of the means test and the introduction of a meaningful national superannuation scheme, but in looking at the establishment of such policies serious consideration must be given to the source of funds. I was concerned to hear speakers on the Government side indicate that they had in mind that contributions would be imposed as a means of collecting revenue to pay pensions. It needs to be pointed out that at the present time pensions are paid out of general revenues, revenues collected through a tax system, which in some areas is admittedly in need of reform to ensure proper equity across the community. Nevertheless one of the bases of the system is to achieve a redistribution of income. Merely to fulfil an election promise not to increase taxes by collecting the necessary income by calling it a contribution is again typical of the double talk that we are becoming accustomed to hearing.
– How would you introduce national superannuation?
– I would introduce national superannuation by paying adequate minimum pensions to all out of general revenues, and having an efficient and effective system of income taxation whereby the revenue is fairly collected, and on top of the basic adequate minimum pension I would give encouragement to the establishment of employer-based superannuation schemes with proper ability to integrate the benefits paid through those schemes with the basic pension paid out of the tax revenue. In this way people would be encouraged to save according to their own choice.
– Is that not a form of taxation?
– That is not a form of taxation, because by being involved in their employer-based superannuation schemes people would have various options open to them as to the extent to which they wished to provide out of today’s income for their future retirement. They would provide benefits according to their own choice. They could be encouraged and rewarded for their efforts in choosing to move for retirement. To simply conceive a national superannuation scheme which involves a massive transfer of the responsibility of payment for present pensions away from the general tax revenue to a fund derived from contributions will impose upon the Australian community a burden which will be greater upon the middle and lower income groups than on the higher income groups. The people will quickly see that they have been misled into a scheme that they thought would provide for them real and genuine benefits when all that would happen, if such a scheme were introduced, would be to change a few names and collect revenue under the guise of contribution when, in fact, it would be taxation.
I applaud the proposal that pensions should be index related but I express concern that the impression is being created that the 25 per cent goal has been achieved and that the relationship sought has been achieved when, in fact, we are a very long way from it. I support the Bill because I believe that the increases to the pensioners are needed and deserved by them in order both to maintain their standard of living and enable them to share in the prosperity of this country.
– I welcome the increase in pensions and the opportunity to speak on the Social Services Bill because it allows me to emphasise the Opposition’s recognition of the importance of social welfare measures. It is, in fact, a matter of public record that the most effective and farreaching social welfare initiatives introduced in Australia have been the result of LiberalCountry Party governments. I think of the introduction of age and invalid pensions, child endowment, homes for the aged, the national health scheme, the easing of the means test and, of course, the foreshadowed abolition of the means test. This is, without any shadow of doubt, an impressive, record of care and concern for the needy and underprivileged in our community.
The record of the Government is yet to be established but it should note that the Opposition parties will be carefully analysing its initiatives and proposals in the field of social welfare. The Opposition will seek to ensure that every measure is consistent with humanitarian objctives, meets those objectives in the most effective manner and has an impact which benefits the greatest number possible while remaining within the bounds of economic responsibility. The Bill is not opposed by the Opposition, but in seeking its amendment we make 2 points. First, the Bill leaves unresolved the policy undertaking of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to raise the pension rate to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. Secondly, the adjustments to the rate of and basis of entitlement to unemployment benefit will disturb economically desirable employment patterns in our society.
In relation to the first point, there has been considerable confusion, as my colleague the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) has rightly pointed out, concerning the Labor Party’s election promise. Pensioners throughout the country came to believe., as the result of a sentence in the Australian Labor Party policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister, that they were to be the recipients of what became commonly known as the
Christmas bonus’. They were deluded by the word ‘immediately’ contained in the policy speech in the sentence which reads:
All pensions will be immediately raised by $1.50 and thereafter, every Spring and every Autumn, the basic pension rate will be raised by $1.50 until it reaches 25 per cent of the average weekly, male earnings.
This promise was not capable, of implementation in the terms in which it was put forward because it could be achieved only through legislation, and that is a process which necessarily takes time. It was, I believe, a promise dishonoured against the context of the statement made in the Prime Minister’s poli speech. The Prime Minister and bis advisers knew exactly what the. position was ana yet they chose this misleading reference for the Australian Labor Party policy speech. The honourable member interjecting has a very large mouth which he would be well advised to keep closed. By using the word ‘immediately’ without any qualification the ALP caused considerable frustrations-
– Your government never gave any retrospectivity.
– The honourable gentleman is obviously very frustrated for various reasons which, perhaps, it would not be proper to entertain here. By using the word ‘immediately’ without any qualifications the ALP caused considerable frustration and bewilderment among tens of thousands of age and invalid pensioners and people on fixed incomes. In many cases known personally to members on this side of the House their frustration turned to anger when they were told that the first payment could not be made in anything less than 3 months.
While the proposal to establish a nexus between pension rates and some external index has merit, it is questionable that the planned course of tying pensions to average weekly male earnings is the most effective way. I do not intend, because of pressure of time, to canvass this point in depth. I want to observe, in passing, that average weekly male earnings have a tendency on occasions to be volatile and fluctuate relatively widely. The second point to be made concerning average weekly earnings concerns the impact on them of inflation. The Bill proposes 2 increases of $1.50 a year, making a total of $3, and the aim is to bring pensions up to one quarter of average weekly male earnings. But these earnings have been rising by about $12 a year recently, which means that the proposed increases will do no more than hold the present relativity.
The effect of the new Government’s wide range of policy initiatives, grants and sundry expenditures - no matter how meritorious each of them may be individually - will be an exacerbation of the inflationary trend in the Australian economy. On this side of the House we recognise the very real impact which inflation has upon all members of the Australian community, particularly those for whom the Government party has alleged a monopoly of concern - pensioners, people on fixed incomes, the rural sector and other disadvantaged groups. It is ironic that this inflation should today be caused, in increasing measure, by a Labor Government, when the Party it represents has so often professed concern for people in this particular disadvantaged position. Inflation, more than any other factor, destroys their standard of living and causes real suffering and hardship.
I turn briefly to the significant point that adjustments to entitlement for unemployment benefit will disturb economically desirable employment patterns in Australian society. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has instructed his Department to pay unemployment benefits to people who cannot obtain jobs reasonably similar to those which they have previously held. The result of this policy is that a skilled or semi-skilled worker who refuses a menial job will receive unemployment relief. We believe that people who are not prepared to take jobs simply because they do not like those particular jobs should not be paid unemployment relief. No reasonable person for one moment would suggest that any individual who is unable to obtain a job should be denied the benefit of unemployment relief. When circumstances over which he has no control prevent him from taking employment he should not be required to pay an additional penalty by being denied unemployment relief. The former Government recognised this by providing to people who found themselves in these circumstances the maximum benefits economically possible, but it always exercised the greatest possible degree of economic prudence in establishing appropriate benefit rates. I believe this is in complete contradistinction to the attitude adopted by the Minister for Social Security, who displays reckless regard for taxpayers’ funds in relation to unemployment benefits. ,
The Minister announced with some pride recently that more Australians than ever before were receiving the unemployment benefit as a result of new government initiatives. This is the position when the unemployment level in Australia has shown a dramatic downturn. I believe that what the Government is putting forward is contrary to the philosophy of work ethic which has been responsible for building this country to the stage it has reached. Because the parties have made an agreement concerning the conclusion of the debate I conclude by saying that the Minister for Social Security and his Government should not continue to misuse taxpayers’ funds by making the unemployment benefit available to people who refuse to accept jobs open to them or who conduct themselves at job interviews in such a way that they are regarded as unemployable. We understood from what the Minister has said that if a person’s general demeanour - namely, his long hair and unkempt appearance - is such that he is unable to obtain work from an employer he has every entitlement to the unemployment benefit which is provided to him by the Minister for Social Security from the taxpayers’ funds. We believe that the Government has already committed itself to unprecedented levels of expenditure and should examine programs of this nature with a greater degree of responsibility than that which it has been prepared to show so far. I support very much the amendment which is before the House.
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 Hayden) read a third time.
Revaluation of Currency: Effect on Exports -
Flood Relief in Victoria
Motion (by Mr Hayden) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I wish to speak tonight on the effects of revaluation on the wealth producing industries of this country. Measures have been taken by the Whitlam Government to reallocate resources in the economy by 2 revaluations, the first unilaterally against all currencies last December by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), the Treasurer (Mr Crean) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard) without reference to Cabinet, and the second against the United States dollar by not following the United States devaluation. These actions will have far-reaching and detrimental effects upon the economy as a whole. The full impact of these double barrelled revaluations upward of the Australian currency will not be felt fully in the rural sector until the world supply situation for rural exports moves closer to world demand.
There is a shortage of wool in the world at the moment due to the long period of low prices and alternative land usage for grain crops, meat production and, of course, a dramatic change in fashion trends. The world production of wheat, coarse grains, and meat is down largely due. to the unusually bad seasons in most of the agricultural countries, especially the Soviet Union and China. World trade in wheat, for instance, is at an all time high, mainly because Russia has had to import large quantities of wheat. China has been a big importer of wheat from both Canada and Australia. World wheat prices have reached record levels but, when supply comes closer to demand, when better seasonal conditions obtain throughout the world, then we will feel the full blast of these decisions on the economy. At today’s exchange rate parities our customers throughout the world can buy Canadian wheat or nickel at about 18 per cent cheaper than the Australian products and United States wheat can be bought at about 18 per cent cheaper than the same level as it could be prior to the December 1972 decision. South African wool, in exchange rate terms, is now 26 per cent cheaper to customers than it was before the August 1971 international currency realignment. What an incredible disadvantage this is to our rural industries after 7 years of difficult seasons, low world prices and international marketing difficulties. More and more evidence is accumulating to demonstrate the cost to Australia’s export industries of the recent currency changes.
The most recent appreciation against the United States dollar will cost the mining industry of this country$1 43m annually in gross terms. When one adds the $10Om annual loss due to the December upward revaluation we have a total loss of $243m per year for the Australian mining industry. It is a sad fact that the value of Australian iron ore contracts in the Pilbara have been reduced by $1 12m by these 2 decisions. Mr D. E. Taplin, the President of the Export Division of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales, has expressed the concern of exporters of manufactured goods. On 16th February Mr Taplin said:
Australia’s international monetary and trading policies are becoming curiouser and curiouser. Taken in conjunction With the effective revaluation of 6.3 per cent in 1971 and the more recent unilateral revaluation of 7.05 per cent in December 1972, Australian exporters are now faced with the fact that in the worst circumstances their products must be 23.5 per cent more expensive in some overseas markets than similar products exported by the United States.
The situation in our greatest export earner, the rural industries, is little better. The Chairman of the Wheat Board has already announced that wheat growers face a loss of §US18.5m on outstanding contracts. The Government decision will cost the cotton industry $5m for the full year. The dairy industry also faces severe losses since contracts with South East Asian countries for dairy products were written in United States dollars. These are worth $27m and their value is now reduced by $3m. There is a $20m a year trade with the United States in cheese and other dairy products. Unless these contracts can be rewritten, which is unlikely in a highly competitive market, the loss to the Australian dairy farmers could be $2. 2m a year.
The most recent figures for exports of meat to the United States indicate a loss of $45m to the meat industry. There will be a loss of $4m on the export of fish, $4m on the export of sugar, SI. 5m on the export of wool, and of course the fruit and canning industries face almost annihilation from the export markets. On the figures I have cited, alone, the loss to the Australian fanners from the so called sit pat decision amounts to $79m. These figures do not give a complete picture because other industries, such as the oil seeds industry and the coarse grains industry, are highly dependent upon the export market and will suffer greatly as a result of this revaluation. When the loss of $79m suffered by the few industries that I have mentioned is added to the loss of between $150m and $200m as a result of the December decision, we see that the socialist Government in its unilateral and gratuitous decision has dealt a staggering blow to those industries. We are told that those rural industries will receive adjustment assistance. This is meaningless except in the case of fruitgrowers. This promise is a pitiful and deceitful attempt to cover up the socialists’ deliberate policy of downgrading the importance of the wealth-producing industries of this nation.
What is even worse is the deliberate plan to transfer resources from the wealth-producing sector of the economy to other sectors dearer to Labor’s heart. In effect it represents a reallocation of resources from the less populated and more export orientated States and the Northern Territory to the cities of Sydney and Melbourne. The export surpluses from Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have been contributing to the import surpluses of New South Wales and Victoria.
Let us examine the trade distribution of the States in 1971-72. In Australian dollars f.o.b., New South Wales imports exceeded exports by S560m; Victoria’s imports exceeded its exports by $29 lm; Queensland’s exports exceeded imports by $71 lm; the amount for Western Australia is $664m; South Australia’s amount was $204m; Tasmania’s was $139m and the Northern Territory’s was $23m. This policy, of course, must slow down our national growth rate because the greatest growth potential in Australia is in the smaller States.
I believe that the decision taken by this Government will have very serious and detrimental consequences to the nation and will ultimately lead to a great degree of unemployment. This is a decision aimed right at the heart of the rural export industries and the export industries of Australia. Unless the wealth-producing industries are capable of surviving profitably, the essential social welfare policies that have been announced by this Government - the grand dream of the Labor Party for this grand society - will go by the board because the finances to support the objective will not be available. If the people of Australia are put out of work because the industries in which they work have suffered and cannot compete with their competitors overseas, the Government will have to answer to the Australian people for this decision. I believe that by the end of this year the full impact of these 2 crazy decisions, making the Australian dollar the most overrated currency in the world, will make its presence felt in this community.
– I thank the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) for providing me with the backdrop for my speech tonight. But before dealing with him and his shallow analysis of the Australian economy I should like to deal with the position which exists in the Goulburn Abattoir. Last Wednesday, 28th February, the Goulburn Abattoir was informed out of the blue that 3 meat inspectors would be transferred. Eight months ago a killing-line there was stopped and meat inspectors were removed to match the production of the plant. Last Friday the number of inspectors at the abattoir was reduced from 11 to 8.
– Were they Department of Primary Industry inspectors or State inspectors?
– They were DPI inspectors. The withdrawal of meat inspectors from an abattoir is a serious move as it means that production must be reduced, staff laid off and contracts may have to be cancelled. Meat inspectors must cover a wide range of goods and deal with a wide range of export conditions. Various countries specify different conditions, and particular blends in terms of the export throughput of the abattoir require different rates of inspection. At the moment, in Goulburn and throughout New South Wales generally - this will lead me later to the remarks made by the honourable member for Gwydir - a strong demand for carcass meat has come from Japan. In order to export carcass meat to Japan, it is necessary to cut glands. Why this is necessary, I do not know. An offer by the industry to have its own staff cut these glands has been rejected and the departmental officers have insisted that they should do this job themselves. Having looked at the position at Goulburn, it is my consideration that the Department of Primary Industry is preoccupied with the American market to an excessive extent. In addition to the veterinary requirements in relation to the inspection of meat, the normal quality control inspection operation in which samples are taken of the product is not followed. Every carcass must be inspected. For all practical purposes, meat inspection is an input in the production process. The relationship between the production decision and the inspection decision determines the output at each meatworks.
It seems to me that the consultation that exists between the managements of the various meatworks and the Department of Primary Industry leaves a good deal to be desired. I believe that it is absolutely essential that the inspectors who have been removed from the Goulburn abattoir should be returned to that plant if we are to avoid a situation in which staff will be laid off. It is interesting to examine the reasons why this position has arisen at Goulburn. Similar circumstances have manifested themselves throughout New South Wales. This development gives the lie to Country Party calls for devaluation of Australia’s currency. The day after the American dollar was devalued by 7 per cent, the price of Australian meat sold to America rose by 10 per cent. The Country Party has been telling us that rural producers will be penalised by the American devaluation. The fact is that prices on the American meat market have increased by 10 per cent. The reason for this increase is clear cut. If members of the Country Party who are seeking to interject will allow me to continue, I will give them a lesson in marketing.
Abattoirs in New South Wales are supplying one of the largest demands that has ever been experienced in this country for Australian meat for export to Japan. Contrary to what has been suggested, this demand seems to be well established and looks like being a long term demand. Japan is now paying world record prices for Australian meat. In view of devaluation and its alleged effects on primary producers, honourable members may well ask why this is happening. The real position - Country Party members avoided mentioning this when analysing the situation - is that relationships between various currencies do not matter. What matters is our selling strength and our bargaining strength in any market. The fact is that the bargaining strength of nearly every agricultural industry in Australia is so great that world prices must be paid for our products even by the United States of America. It is a load of rubbish to say that prices paid for goods exported to America will fall because the American currency has been realigned. The fact is that present wool prices, wheat prices and meat prices prove what I am saying.
– What is the real reason for those prices?
– As the honourable member for Wimmera knows, wheat prices are contract prices. The low wheat prices which growers are receiving at present are a legacy of the administration of the former Government. To-day Australia’s agricultural industries enjoy one of the strongest bargaining positions that they have ever attained. The decision on the Australian currency taken by the present Labor Government has been demonstrated to be so timely as to be an embarrassment to the Opposition. The Opposition’s argument would hold water if the bargaining position of our agricultural sector was weak when the revaluation decision was made. The contrary is true. The bargaining position of our rural industries was strong. I point out that sugar growers in Queensland are still waiting for payment of the money that was promised to them by the previous Government as compensation following the earlier devaluation decision by the British Government.
I return to the question of meat inspections. We seem to be confronted with an incredibly strong demand for meat, due partly perhaps to the fact that the world respects our trading position and the wisdom of our economic decisions. But when one examines the problem that exists among the meat inspection services in this country one is struck by the fact that there are 2 meat inspection services, the State inspection service and the Commonwealth inspection service. This position is ludicrous because these 2 inspection services have separate facilities built into every abattoir in which they operate. The Goulburn abattoir has toilets for the State meat inspectors and toilets for the Commonwealth meat inspectors. I am not sure what the position is with women’s and men’s toilets.
Surely this situation requires examination. In South Australia the Commonwealth carries out the functions of both the State and Commonwealth meat inspectors. In New South Wales the current thinking is that it may be best to hand over the responsibilities of the Commonwealth inspection service to the State inspection service I have an open mind on the matter so long as the job is done properly and the flow of meat inspection services does not inhibit our potential to export meat or even to slaughter meat for human consumption. If this can be achieved I will be satisfied. But it seems ludicrous to have 2 services operating, thus duplicating costs and creating the sort of difficulties we have had at the Goulburn abattoir and at other abattoirs in New South Wales. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your patience but the same could not be said of my opponents on my right.
– I was amazed to hear the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) criticise the fact that 3 meat inspectors from the Department of Primary Industry have been transferred from the Goulburn abattoir. As the Government, through the Department of Primary Industry, is in charge of meat inspection at the present time the honourable member should see the relevant Minister and get those inspectors back to Goulburn. I have had a lifetime of experience in meat inspection. There are certainly 2 meat inspections, State and Federal. If the honourable member for Eden-Monaro can alter the situation he will be doing a great service to the industry because we have been trying for 15 to 20 years to do this. He will find that the State meat inspection service has built up an empire and will not break it down. He will find also that the same is true of the Federal service under the Department of Primary Industry. Neither service will give way and as a result we still have 2 meat inspection services.
The price of meat is determined by supply and demand. If there is a short supply a big price can be obtained for the product. The meat industry in Australia has been built up over many years by good management, by primary producers co-operating with the operators and by the Liberal-Country Party Government pushing out into export markets throughout the world and increasing our trade with Japan, the United States and elsewhere and securing long term markets which will be of great benefit to this country for years to come. Contracts have been arranged for the supply of 38,000 tons of beef to Japan, 400,000 tons of beef to the United States of America and, provided the Government does not mess up negotiations, we will be supplying 600,000 tons within the next few years to the European Economic Community.
I did not rise to mention this subject principally but I had to reply to the honourable member for Eden-Monaro. He is a theoretical man and not a practical man. I want to speak about a matter of great importance to Australia - the manufacturers’ export incentive scheme. This is a scheme which has brought great benefit to this country and if it is done away with it will seriously affect us economically and particularly our employment situation. On 30th June this year the present arrangement for Australian export incentives expires and there is a very strong rumour that the Government will drop this scheme. This action would considerably affect the incentive to Australian manufacturers to seek export markets, which will result in a loss to Australia. This rumour is current not only in the lobbies of Parliament House but also outside and the Treasurer (Mr Crean) and certain senior Cabinet Ministers are, I understand, in agreement with it. Payroll tax export incentives were introduced in 1960 and the incentive has been most effective in encouraging increased export activity. It is important that the impetus given to increased exports, particularly of manufactured goods, be maintained. During 1971 payroll tax was transferred to the States but exporters received the same benefits from the previous Government. The calculation of the payroll tax incentive entitlement continued, based on the Commonwealth payroll tax rate of 2i per cent and payments so calculated were paid direct to exporters.
During the quarter ended 31st March 1972 some 1.095 claims for payroll tax rebates amounting to SI 5.957m were allowed. Of this amount SI 2.378m was allowed to 800 firms for 1970-71 exports, $2.788m to 210 firms for the 1969-70 exports and 85 firms shared $790,000 for exports in earlier years. Since the inception of the scheme on 1st July 1960 tax rebates totalling $241,767m have been allowed. Australia cannot afford to drop export incentives. Such a move would, firstly, create unemployment, secondly, increase costs on the home market and. thirdly, slow down new investment in production facilities. The building of exports requires organisation and careful business investigation and attention over a long period of time. These markets have been achieved by manufacturers over the past 10 to 15 years and any move to discontinue incentives would destroy most of the export gains that have been achieved over this period. It is estimated that for every 1,000 jobs lost in factories another 1,000 could be lost in service industries. Reduction in output would increase the cost of local production and reduce its competitiveness on the home market at a time when currency decisions have already aided imports.
People who make allegations about export incentives not being necessary and claim that they give manufacturers unwarranted profits are ignorant of the export trade. Such claims have no basis in fact. I sincerely ask the Government to look very hard at this proposition and before making any change to carry out a thorough investigation of Australian manufacturing export trade and the benefits to be derived from continuing export incentives.
Mr WHAN (Eden-Monaro)- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Order! Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The honourable member for Paterson (Mr O’Keefe) claimed that I was a theoretician and had no practical experience. As a professional man I take this as an insult. I draw his attention to the fact that I advised his Government for some 8 years on wool marketing. Most of the advice it failed to take. The practicality of that advice and the benefits which would have flowed from it are now testified in the form of a company called Economic Wool Producers Ltd which is quite successful.
– I rise briefly to comment on a few points made by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) regarding meat inspection services. I could not help but listen with amazement to the honourable member for Paterson (Mr O’Keefe) who criticised the honourable member for Eden-Monaro and attempted to blame this Government for some, of the problems in the meat inspection service. Since 1958 when the United States entered the Australian beef market we have seen no end of chaos in meat inspection services in Australia. Let it be remembered that the honourable member for Paterson was a supporter of a Government which reigned here for 23 years and which has been primarily responsible for the chaos in our meat inspection services. So do not try and blame the new Government which has been in office for just over 100 days for the chaos which the honourable member’s Government has left us and which we have inherited.
The first point I want to make is this: There are always some periodic problems in Australian export meatworks and those which supply the domestic market due to a number of factors which one would expect. Problems arise with transfers between meatworks and between regions which are caused by periodic flushes in seasonal conditions and periodic droughts. There are also problems with respect to transfers of meat inspectors, as well as holidays, service leave and so on. All of these factors cause problems. Basically the Department of Primary Industry adheres to 2 priorities in the allocation of meat inspectors. The first priority is in respect of routine postmortem examinations. This allows livestock to be slaughtered and inspected. The second priority applies where additional processes are asked for by overseas countries. This could involve practically all matters affecting the export of mutton whether it be in carcass form or boneless form. Most countries which import Australian mutton demand certain processes which have to be followed if we are to sell the mutton. To the best of my knowledge I have not had and I cannot find any serious complaints or breakdowns in respect of the first priority which concerns post-mortem examinations, except for the periodic ones which I mentioned which result from transfers, service leave and so on.
The honourable member for Eden-Monaro mentioned the extra processes involving, for example, cutting the glands of sheep carcasses. There have been breakdowns and this matter is now being thoroughly investigated by this Government which has issued instructions to the Public Service Board and to the Department of Primary Industry to get in and solve these problems. The abattoir staff themselves, in consultation with some overseas countries, have put forward a request that the staff carry out this additional process but this request has been rejected by the various organisations and abattoirs concerned.
The main point I want to make is this: In post-mortem examinations every carcass has to be examined. This is something unique in meat inspection services. There cannot be random sampling. Every piece of meat must be examined under the Australian international codes of hygiene. Where a post-mortem inspection is carried out. which is the first priority, there is no telling the delays that might occur with respect to meat inspection. But with respect to the additional processes relating to all the different standards demanded by international markets in relation to mutton in carcass form or boneless form, there have been periodic breakdowns in the works concerned. This is exercising the mind of the Government through the Public Service Board and the Department of Primary Industry to secure, if necessary, more meat inspectors and to train them in these specialist fields so that we can overcome the problems which occur. I will arrange for the Department of Primary Industry to study the remarks made by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro and to supply him with a detailed answer to the various questions that he asked tonight.
– On the night of Tuesday, 20th February, exceptionally heavy rain fell in the Seymour area in Victoria. I mentioned to the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard), who was Acting Prime Minister at the time and who released a Press statement 2 days later concerning the flood damage that took place, that I wished to draw his attention to the matter. But I notice that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) is sitting at the table tonight. Although the Minister for Defence was Acting Prime Minister at the time of the flood I think this matter really concerns the Treasurer more than the Minister for Defence. The very heavy rain in the Seymour area came on top of heavy rain over the previous few days. The result was a disastrous local flood in which one person died. Altogether 135 houses along the sides of Whiteheads Creek were flooded, many of them seriously, and insurance is not payable on flood damage.
On Thursday, 22nd February, the Acting Prime Minister issued the following Press statement:
COMMONWEALTH OFFER OF ASSISTANCE IN SEYMOUR FLOOD DISASTER
The Acting Prime Minister, Mr Lance Barnard, today expressed the Commonwealth Government’s concern at the flood damage in the Seymour area.
In extending sympathy tothose who had suffered in the floods, Mr Barnard said the Commonwealth was prepared to sympathetically consider any request submitted by the Premier of Victoria for assistance.
He said the Commonwealth would join with the State Government of Victoria on a dollar for dollar basis in the normal way for financing schemes for the relief of personal hardship and distress in the affected area.
I congratulate the Acting Prime Minister on his promptness in this regard. Seymour is not in my electorate. It is in the electorate of the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) who also was very prompt in directing attention to this matter.
I draw the Treasurer’s attention to the fact that Seymour was not the only area that suffered that night in the heavy downpour.
The same cloudburst extended from Rochester in the north west to Seymour in the south east. It was not only in Seymour that houses were flooded and property was damaged. I make no criticism of the Acting Prime Minister for mentioning only Seymour because that was dramatic; that was where the news was. I ask the Treasurer for the same offer as was made for the flood victims of Seymour be extended to other people who suffered in a similar manner from the same rain on the same night.
Four types of flood damage resulted from the heavy rains in Victoria. In addition to house damage, damage to personal effects and property damage, hundreds of miles of fencing was lost in the Rushworth area that night. A considerable percentage of the tomato crop in the Goulburn Valley, which is the major area in Australia producing tomatoes for processing, was lost. Some of the crop was several feet under water for some days. The main irrigation channel which serves the Goulburn Valley burst its banks and intensified the flooding.
There was also road damage. The Shire of Charlton, which is in the Wimmera electorate, estimates that $75,000 will be required to repair road damage alone. The total rate revenue of the Shire of Charlton in a year is $100,000 or a little more. So virtually the whole of its revenue will be required to make up this loss.
There was also considerable damage from soil erosion in my area and in the Charlton area. I know it is always a problem to determine just how much flood damage assistance and what type of assistance can be provided. I ask the Treasurer to extend in a suitable manner the same assistance as has been offered to the Seymour people to the other people who similarly suffered. I suggest that this assistance could be given in the usual manner - that is, in conjunction with the States. The State members of Parliament for the area who represent all parties have spoken to the Premier of Victoria about this matter. I hope that the Treasurer, in conjunction with the Premier of Victoria, can agree to an extension of this flood damage assistance to all of the people who were affected that night.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.50 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1), (2) and (3). I understand that some Ministers and at least one other office-holder in the present Parliament have employed relatives on their personal staffs. Such appointments are matters for the office holders.
Wildlife Conservation (Question No. 212)
asked the Minister for the
Environment and Conservation, upon notice:
What action is being taken to implement the recommendations and findings of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I have invited Commonwealth and State Ministers responsible for fauna conservation to a meeting in Melbourne on 9th March 1973. The recommendations of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation have been included on the agenda for this meeting.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Secondary Industry
Minister for Social Security
Attorney-General and Minister for Customs and Excise
Special Minister of State
Minister for Northern Development
Minister for Labour
Minister for Urban and Regional Development
Minister assisting the Treasurer
Minister for Primary Industry
Minister for Minerals and Energy
Minister for Social Security
Minister for the Media
Minister for Repatriation
Minister for Labour
Minister for Education
Minister for Tourism and Recreation
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs
Minister for Immigration
Minister for Health
Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee
Minister for Defence
Minister for Overseas Trade
Special Minister of State
Minister for Repatriation
Minister for Minerals and Energy
Minister for External Territories
Urban and Regional Development Committee
Minister for Services and Property
Minister for Urban and Regional Development
Minister for Transport
Minister for Works
Minister for Housing
Minister for the Capital Territory and Minister for the Northern Territory
Minister for the Environment and Conservation
Deputy Prime Minister
Special Minister of State
Minister for Services and Property
Minister for the Capital Territory and Minister for the Northern Territory
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 March 1973, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1973/19730307_reps_28_hor82/>.