29th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. G. G. D. Scholes) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
– I inform the House of the death on 30 April of the Honourable Charles Lydiard Aubrey Abbott who was a member of this House for the division of Gwydir from 1925 to 1929 and from 1931-1937. Between 1928 and 1929, Mr Abbott was the Minister for Home Affairs. On behalf of the House I have forwarded a message of sympathy to the relatives of the deceased. As a mark of respect to the memory of the late honourable gentleman, I invite honourable members to rise in their places. (Honourable members having stood in their places.)
– I thank the House.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country is causing and will cause widespread inconvenience, confusion, expense and distress.
That there is no certainty that any significant benefits or indeed any benefits at all will follow the use of the new weights and measures.
That the traditional weights and measures are eminently satisfactory.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed, and that the Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional and familiar units to be restored to those areas where the greatest inconvenience and distress are occurring, that is to say, in meteorology, in road distances, in sport, in the building and allied trades, in the printing trade, and in retail trade.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Beazley, Mr Lynch, Mr Donald Cameron, Mr Chipp, Mr Duthie, Dr Edwards, Mr Fisher, Mr Fry, Mr Garrick, Mr Jarman, Mr Katter, Mr Killen, Mr Lamb, Mr Millar, Mr Riordan and Mr Willis.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble Petition of the undersigned, all being of or above the age of 18 years as follows:
1 ) Your Petitioners oppose and seek the deletion of those provisions of the Family Law Bill 1974 which supplant the existing grounds by the introduction of the sole ground of irretrievable break-down, which remove any consideration of fault, and which will weaken the family unit while causing more widespread injustice because:
Your Petitioners commend the divorce legislation introduced in Great Britain in 1973, which acknowledges the importance of the family unit, mirrors community requirements, secures justice for innocent people and establishes a realistic definition of irretrievable breakdown and call for similar legislation to be provided in Australia.
Your Petitioners, therefore, humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will make provision accordingly. by Mr Drury.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We the undersigned Citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia by this our humble Petition respectfully showeth:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Fry.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That marriage is an exclusive lifelong partnership between one woman and one man, which should not be dissolved at the will of one party after 12 months notice nor without a reasonable attempt at reconciliation and
That a husband should normally be responsible for maintaining his wife and children within marriage.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Family Law Bill 1974 be amended
To specify three objective tests for irretrievable breakdown, namely
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr James and Mr Kerin.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respecfully showeth:
That the mathematician Leonid Plyushch has been incarcerated since January 1 972, for his civil rights activities in the Soviet Union.
That he was tried in his absence in a Kiev court for antiSoviet activities.
That, despite lack of any evidence of mental incapacity, he is being held in the special psychiatric hospital at Dnepropetrovsk reserved for the most violent cases.
That he is being heavily drugged and being denied independent medical assistance.
That his circumstances are described more fully in the Paris newspaper, le Monde, of 28 December 1974.
That Soviet embassies, including that in Australia, have failed to respond satisfactorily to questions from the international mathematical community.
Your petitioners therefore most humbly pray that the Australian Government seek further information from the Soviet Government on this matter.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Beazley and Mr Riordan.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble Petition of the undersigned employees and agents of the Australian insurance industry respectfully showeth:
That the insurance industry is already coping with
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will reject the Bill.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr King.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the establishment of an Australian Government Insurance Office will:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives rejects completely the Australian Government Insurance Office Bill 1975.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the reduction of the allowable deduction of education expenses under Section 823 of the Income Tax assessment Act from $400 to $150 is $50.00 below the 1956-57 figure.
That this reduction will impose hardships on many parents who have children attending school, whether nongovernment or government; and particularly on parents with more than one child at school.
That this reduction will further restrict the freedom available to parents to make a choice of school for their children.
That some parents who have chosen to send their children to a non-government school will have to withdraw their children and send them to government schools already overcrowded and under-staffed.
That the parents to benefit most relatively from educational income tax deductions, in the past and even more in the future, are the parents of children in government schools and this has a divisive effect in the Australian community.
That parents should be encouraged by the Australian government to exercise freedom of choice of the type of school they wish for their children. The proposed reduction means an additional financial penalty is imposed on parents who try to exercise this choice and discourages them from making an important financial contribution to Australian education over and above what they contribute through taxation.
That an alternative system, a tax rebate system, could be adopted as being more equitable for all parents with children at school.
To compensate for the losses that will follow from the proposed reduction and to help meet escalating educational costs faced by all families your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should take immediate steps to restore educational benefits to parents, at least at the 1973-74 level either by increasing taxation deductions or through taxation rebates.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Garrick.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Family Law Bill 1974 would be an unjust law if passed since the innocent party could be divorced against his or her will after a year’s separation.
That the Bill does not only facilitiate divorces but changes the nature of marriage and the husband-wife relationship. Legislation ought to reflect public opinion, not attempt to condition it. Gallup polls indicate 75 per cent of Australians are opposed to the concepts of the Family Law Bill. Therefore Parliament has no mandate from the people to ask such a far reaching change in the nature of our society.
That children need a stable emotional and psychological environment in which to grow up. This stability is upset by divorce. A high proportion of criminals come from broken homes. Consequently any law which makes divorce easier is harmful to society.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Parliament so vote as to defeat the Family Law Bill.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
In view of the appalling need of millions of people in Vietnam, that immediate aid in much larger proportions than has been given to date by the Australian Government, be sent as quickly as possible. For humanitarian reasons, the innocent victims and also defenceless, have a right to be fed, receive medical aid and villages rebuilt, we in a land of plenty should not deny help of this kind, to another in need.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government will act on this matter without delay.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the members in Parliament assembled will move to immediately revoke all whaling licences issued by the Australian Government and to reimpose a total ban on the importation of all whale produce.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr McKenzie.
– I inform the House that the Minister for Health, Dr Doug Everingham, left Australia on 10 May to attend the 28th World Health Assembly being held in Geneva. He is expected to return on 17 June. In his absence, the Minister for Environment, Dr Moss Cass, will act as Minister for Health.
– I wish to inform the House that the parliamentary Party of which I am Leader is now called the National Country Party of Australia.
-Mr Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Country Party on its change of name.
-Order! I suggest the Leader of the House resume his seat.
- Mr Speaker, I thought on such an auspicious occasion -
-Order! I am sure the Leader of the House will find an opportunity to make that speech.
– I ask leave of the House to congratulate the Country Party.
Opposition members- No.
-Leave is not granted.
– I give notice that at the next sitting I shall move:
That this House censures the Prime Minister for deliberately misleading the House on 9 April when, in answer to my questions about cables to Hanoi and Saigon, he claimed that the communications were substantially the same.
Motion (by Mr Whitlam)- by leave- agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition moving the motion forthwith.
– I move:
That this House censures the Prime Minister for deliberately misleading the House on 9 April when, in answer to my questions about cables to Hanoi and Saigon, he claimed that the communications were substantially the same.
The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has misled this Parliament and the people of Australia. This debate centres on this issue and this issue alone. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will try his desperate best to confuse and diffuse the issue and that he will seek refuge in the gag and past history, in hair-splitting semantics and in other diversionary tactics. But nothing can change the fact that the Prime Minister misled this Parliament knowingly and deliberately. He took this course because he was not prepared to speak plainly to the Australian people of his policies and of his bias towards communist North Vietnam. The evidence is conclusive.
The indictment is based on four sets of documents which should be read in conjunction to establish the Prime Minister’s record of duplicity. There are the cables which he said were substantially the same and which he sought to hide from the Australian Parliament and people. The cables are not substantially the same; they are substantially different. To claim otherwise is blatant evasion. It is untrue. There were the 13 March letters leaked by the Prime Minister’s Department against the Prime Minister’s own alleged principle of keeping communications between governments secret. They were meant to explain away the difference in the cables. In fact they confirm the substantial difference.
There is the letter of the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr J. F. Cairns, addressed to the North Vietnamese Charge d ‘Affaires in reply to a letter on 10 January from the North Vietnamese. This letter proves that the Australian Government had already accepted North Vietnam’s abrogation of the Paris Peace Agreements fully 2 months before it called on South Vietnam to obey them. There is a departmental document dated 30 January 1975 which is an accurate record of the performance of North and South Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government concerning their adherence to the Paris Agreements. That document, in many ways, is more damaging than the letters and the cable. It shows that the North Vietnamese violations of the Paris Accords were much more serious than those of the South. It shows that the Prime Minister was prepared to ignore official evidence, the advice of his own Foreign Affairs Department, in the process of misleading the Australian Parliament and of supporting the cause of North Vietnam.
The misrepresentations, the deception, did not begin on 9 April when he told us the cables were substantially the same; they began early in this session when he implied that South Vietnam and the United States were in principal breach of the Paris Agreements. The deceit has been continuous. The Prime Minister’s deception has been aiding and abetting communist North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government in their war against the South. To do this he was prepared to betray the interests and the wellbeing of hundreds of South Vietnamese refugees. He personally delayed action for 3 weeks, despite appeals from colleagues and official advisers, and established guidelines so late in the day and so narrowly drawn that very few refugees would qualify. Our Embassy was almost out of Saigon before it was given the task of processing applicants.
He would not take this matter to the United Nations. He would not try to marshal the conscience of the world. He went off to Peru hoping the problem would disappear. But it does not. He is shamed and embarrassed by the prospect of some thousands of South Vietnamese refugees making their own way to our shores. Then, after having long refused to refer the matter to the United Nations, he said: ‘So long as other countries are involved Australia will be too’. What compassion, what humanitarianism from this Prime Minister! What about the Vietnamese abandoned in Saigon, those who had close ties with Australians and who most deserved our help? They were victims of the Prime Minister’s politically motivated procrastination. They were rejected because to help them would have meant loss of face with Hanoi.
The fact that the Prime Minister was prepared to support North Vietnam and betray South Vietnamese refugees is, however, incidental to the central charge against him- the charge of deception of this Parliament and the Australian people. We are concerned with deceit and duplicity that will have far reaching implications for the Prime Minister’s reputation in Australia and for his dealing with other countries. The Opposition does not condemn flexibility and pragmatism in foreign affairs nor does it condemn proper relations with countries holding to different ideological beliefs. We do not wish to tear up the recognition agreement with China, with North Vietnam and with North Korea. But we do condemn deceit and double dealing. Smoke screens such as the history of Vietnam cannot and will not be allowed to obscure the indictment of the Prime Minister.
Let me now come to the evidence of the cables. In his cable dated 2 April to Hanoi the Prime Minister, who was Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time, said:
We would genuinely like to see in Saigon a government which will genuinely negotiate for reunification as provided for in the Paris agreements.
We appreciate that Thieu has given no indications that he is willing to do that, and the Australian Government understands the sense of frustration which has given rise to renewed recourse to military pressure on Thieu although it cannot condone that recourse.
Let me examine the implications of those words. The Prime Minister was thereby condemning the Saigon Government and placing the blame on it for failure to negotiate and to abide by the Paris Agreements. By implication, the Prime Minister was saying that blame should not be attached to Hanoi or to the Provisional Revolutionary Government; rather, the Australian Government ‘understands the sense of frustration’. The Prime Minister went on to offer the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam some public relations advice. He said: . . . the Australian Government believes it would have a most favourable effect if the PRG were to make it clear that recent military operations had had the aim of applying pressure to secure the observance of the ignored political provisions of the Paris agreement and that the operations would cease when satisfactory assurances were offered -
That was gratuitous advice indeed when it was the PRG which had in fact broken off talks on 2 grounds, both of which were contrary to the Paris Agreements. The PRG had broken off the talks earlier during 1974 and refused to resume until President Thieu resigned and until American aid to South Vietnam had ceased. We know what would have happened if President Thieu had resigned. If a concession had been made a further demand would have been the result.
Our Prime Minister offered public relations advice to the Provisional Revolutionary Government on how it could explain to the world and justify its military operations. Was the Prime Minister thereby hoping that he would find it easier to explain to the Australian people his own underhand support for communist North Vietnam? This infamous cable to North Vietnam continued with the Prime Minister saying that his Government would urge on the Thieu Government ‘the necessity of carrying out in good faith the provisions of chapter 4 of the Paris agreements especially article 12 on the National Council’. As it was the Provisional Revolutionary Government that had broken off discussions concerning the establishment of the National Council of Reconciliation and Concord the Prime Minister ought to have addressed that remark to North Vietnam and the PRG and ought not to have made it a point of criticism against the South.
He went on to say in the same paragraph that he would be urging the Thieu Government to implement chapter 5 on reunification. That is the chapter which indicates that reunification should be carried out step by step by peaceful means on the basis of discussions and agreements. Why was that point not pressed on North Vietnam and the PRG, whose forces had been increased from 145 000 to 400 000 during the period of the agreement? Whose country was under attack? The Prime Minister’s own Foreign Affairs Department condemned North Vietnam in relation to these developments. The main point to be made about this cable is its understanding and real sympathy for the North and its emphasis on criticism of the Thieu Government. Those criticisms should much more appropriately have been directed to North Vietnam and the PRG, but they were not made against North Vietnam or the PRG. The cable shows the Prime Minister’s partisan leanings and his personal and secret support of the communist North.
The Prime Minister’s apologists have tried to muddy the waters by making an issue of the fact that his Hanoi cable had instructed the ambassador to make representations as soon as possible to the DRV and the PRG, while the Saigon cable said:
We wish you to take every opportunity in discussion with members of the Government of South Vietnam to explain the Government ‘s position.
The Prime Minister’s apologists have tried to interpret this as implying that the Prime Minister was taking a stronger line with the North than with the South. What a farcical excuse. The Prime Minister wanted immediate representations made to North Vietnam because he wanted the Australian Government’s sympathy to be made more fully evident in Hanoi at the earliest possible moment.
Let me come to the cable to the South and see what our even-handed Prime Minister said. That cable was curt and abrupt. It stated:
All parties in Vietnam will resume working together. A prime requirement is for the South Vietnamese to carry out in good faith the provisions of chapter 4 of the Paris Agreements especially article 12 on the national council for Reconciliation and Concord and chapter 5 on the reunification.
It was North Vietnam and the PRG that were in breach on these 2 points. The Prime Minister had become a master at double-dealing and blaming the wrong party.
The Prime Minister also said that our Ambassador in South Vietnam should take every opportunity to make the Australian position known to South Vietnamese not members of the government. In other words, he was attempting to foster circumstances in which the South would be undermined. If the Prime Minister had come into the open and expressed these views openly, thus making public his support for North Vietnam, the whole matter could have been debated on its merits. But he chose not to do it that way. He knows full well that Australians would not have supported his attitude and would have condemned any government that publicly took that pro-communist, double-dealing stance. So he sought to do it by deceit and by subterfuge. On 9 April, in answer to a question in the Parliament, he said that the communications were substantially the same, knowing that they were substantially different. Some of his apologists have argued- one can assume only in panic- that by ‘communications’ the Prime Minister meant all the communications between Hanoi, Saigon and Australia. It was perfectly plain in the context of the charges made by the shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs that the question referred to the cables and the cables alone. It was plain in the context of the debate that the cables were at issue. The Prime Minister knew this full well. Even he cannot avoid that.
The Prime Minister protested that it was in breach of high international principles to release communications between governments. He went on to say, in answer to a question I had asked earlier:
There is no truth whatsoever in the allegations that the honourable member for Kooyong has made. He has even purported to quote from the cable.
Those words ‘he has even purported to quote from the cable ‘ are contained in the Prime Minister ‘s answer. He went on to say:
The quotation which he purports to make is inaccurate. The communications I sent to Hanoi and Saigon were substantially the same.
The Prime Minister, who presumably saw the cables as Acting Foreign Minister before they were dispatched, knew that they were substantially different. Let me turn now to deal with the diplomatic letters of 11 March. Far from exonerating the Prime Minister, far from providing a balance for the bias so plainly evident in the cables, a proper analysis of those letters reinforces the bias and reinforces the hidden support that the Prime Minister was giving to the North. This aspect is all the more serious because on 13 March the order for the withdrawal of northern forces had not yet been given by President Thieu. There were many people still hoping that South Vietnam could maintain its independence and viability. The letter to South Vietnam has a key additional paragraph which alters the whole tone of that letter. That letter states:
I trust your Government will take early and positive steps towards the establishment of the National Council of Reconciliation and Concord…… I also trust your
Government will observe Article 7 of the Agreement concerning the piece for piece replacement of armaments, munitions and war materials.
It was North Vietnam and the PRG which were principally responsible for the cessation of discussions concerning the establishment of the National Council of Reconciliation and Concord. Article 7 of the Agreement concerns the piece for piece replacement of worn out or damaged military equipment. The Prime Minister would have known, if he had read his own Foreign Affairs Department briefing, that because of congressional cuts in United States aid, South Vietnam was provided with much less than piece for piece replacement. Let me emphasise that it was the PRG that had broken off talks. Further, the Northern armies, the PRG armies, had expanded greatly in size. They had been rearmed with modern and effective Russian weapons on a much greater than one for one basis. Australia was well aware of the huge build-up in Communist forces. If the Prime Minister were even handed, these points would have been covered in the letter to North Vietnam. Why were they excluded? It was not clear on 13 March that the North was going to win. There was fierce fighting, but no rout of Southern forces. Why was the Prime Minister at that stage seeking to put additional pressure on the Thieu Government? I suggest that it was because, much earlier than this, the Prime Minister had made up his mind that he wanted North Vietnam to win and he wished to offer what moral support he could.
One ironic aspect of the affair is that, although the Prime Minister fawned on North Vietnam, he appears to have won few marks from those he sought to cultivate. On 6 April our Ambassador in Hanoi had a meeting with North Vietnamese Foreign Affairs officers to discuss Australia’s letter of 13 March. At the end of the interview, the North Vietnamese handed over an aide memoire, selected parts of which were subsequently leaked to the Canberra Press Gallery as part of a desperate and belated smoke screen. True to form, the communists were not content with the support they were getting; they wanted still more. If Government supporters find comfort in that, the Opposition does not.
We come now to the next interesting document, a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister dated 13 February to Mr Nien, Charged ‘Affaires of the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Our Deputy Prime Minister at least is an honest man; he is an avowed and unashamed supporter of the North Vietnamese and the PRG. He writes that he has received a letter of 10 January 1975, from Mr Nien setting out the 2 point proposal of the PRG. He said that he had passed it on to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) and asked him to give it a sympathetic eye and ear. What does that mean in the words of the Deputy Prime Minister? On any normal diplomatic reading, the North Vietnamese Charge would be entitled to believe that the Australian Government would act upon that request. That is basically what circumstances proved to be the case.
Honourable members might wonder what the 2 points of the PRG program were. Those 2 points involved the resignation of President Thieu and the end of all United States support for the Government of South Vietnam. These 2 demands were both contrary to the Paris Agreements. The Paris Agreements said nothing about the resignation of President Thieu. The Paris Agreements specifically allowed for continued United States support. Here was the Deputy Prime Minister supporting a proposal, which was, in itself, in breach of the Paris Agreements, in the interests of North Vietnam and the PRG and against the interests of the South.
There has been a constant thread linking the Prime Minister’s cables and letter and the letter of the Deputy Prime Minister. The Paris Agreements, in their strict terms, are pressed strongly on South Vietnam. The breaches of the Paris Agreements by North Vietnam and the PRG are largely ignored. The Government, through the Deputy Prime Minister, has put itself in a position of supporting breaches of the Paris Agreements quite specifically in the interests of North Vietnam. Did the Prime Minister have all these matters in his mind when he deceived the Parliament on 9 April and said that the cables were substantially the same? The more one examines the evidence, the more one finds that the Government is culpable and stands condemned and convicted by its own demonstrable deceit, partiality and double dealing.
Let us now consider the Foreign Affairs document dated 30 January 1975. It is titled ‘International Issues- Vietnam, 2 years under the Paris Agreements’. It is prepared by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. It is for selective distribution to certain chosen people. I am sure the Prime Minister is on the list. The document points out that at the time of the Paris Agreements, there were 145 000 North Vietnamese regulars in South Vietnam. Since then, and in contravention of the Agreements, the North Vietnamese had continued to move materials and men south in numbers far in excess of the agreed one-for-one replacement level. By January this year the North Vietnamese and PRG forces would have totalled 400 000. By the time Saigon fell, they would have totalled 600 000 in South Vietnam. Nowhere in his remarks on these matters did the Prime Minister ever refer to this massive increase in military strength. We know he was far from ignorant of the facts.
The document goes on to say that the Communist forces were believed to have enough equipment in South Vietnam to maintain an all-out offensive for a full year. The document goes on to say that although the South Vietnamese forces were well equipped they were dependent for resupply on a one-for-one replacement from the United States. Coupled with the 30 per cent cut in American military and economic aid, and the resultant shortages in fuel and ammunition, they had been forced to make economies in army activity and in air and artillery support. The document says that neither side had been blameless in violating the provisions of the Agreements but in the ceasefire aspect the head of the Canadian contingent on the International Commission of Control and Supervision laid almost all the blame for ceasefire violations on the North Vietnamese and the PRG forces. The document says that talks between South Vietnam and the PRG aimed at establishing the National Council for Reconciliation and Concord, whose main task would have been to organise elections in South Vietnam, had broken down. It points out that it was the PRG supported by North Vietnam which had refused to resume the peace talks in either Paris or Saigon until Thieu had been removed and American aid withdrawn.
These are the very points that the Deputy Prime Minister supported. The Government was prepared to condone breaches of the Paris Agreements if this supported the cause of the PRG and North Vietnam. It deliberately set about concealing this from the Australian Parliament and the Australian people. The Prime Minister deceived the Australian Parliament and people in concealing these facts. He did worse than that. (Extension of time granted.) In the Parliament he put the principal blame for breach of the Paris Agreements on South Vietnam and on the United States. Why did he ignore the facts as provided by his own Department? Does he read his own Department’s briefs, or do they just go to selected journalists and selected academics? The Prime Minister has worn 2 faces. He misled the Parliament. He has favoured a communist cause, and has sacrificed many hundreds of refugees in the process.
The Prime Minister did have a proper course open to him. He could have argued openly that the Foreign Affairs document of 30 January 1975 was falsely based. He could have argued openly that it was South Vietnam which was principally to blame and that North Vietnam was innocent. He could have made the substance of his cables plain and said that he believed that North Vietnam ought to win, that the PRG ought to win, that they both ought to be given moral support from the Australian Government. If he had done this, he could at least have been praised for some plain speaking and honesty in revealing a radical change of policy to the Australian people. He chose not to do so. He chose by secret, deceitful and surreptitious means to hide the real intentions of his Government. In the process, he deceived the Parliament.
Members of both sides of the House know from regular experience that the Prime Minister has little respect for the institution of Parliament. I think this is a point which has been borne out in particular by this debate and by the allegation being made against the Prime Minister. A Prime Minister must set an example and he, above all, should observe the truth with absolute scrupulousness. What about public reaction? Let me take just a sample of the commentaries from around Australia. Creighton Burns, in the Melbourne ‘Age ‘, said on 30 April:
It is time the Prime Minister did some straight talking on Vietnam and for the sake of his Government as well as his own reputation, he ‘d better have some good answers.
The Melbourne ‘Age’ in its editorial on 29 April said:
These cables which the Government adamantly refused to table or even to show privately to the Leader of the Opposition seem to confirm the Opposition’s accusations of duplicity and hypocrisy in the Government’s attitude to the 2 Vietnams. More than that, they provide striking evidence that the Prime Minister deceived, and we would put it no higher than that at this stage, Parliament and the public in declaring that there was no truth whatever in the allegations first made by the Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Mr Peacock.
The editorial continued: … the miserable evidence suggests that our Government has betrayed refugees and dealt in a two-faced way with foreign governments and with the Parliament and the people of Australia.
The ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ was more blunt; under the heading ‘A Government we Cannot Trust’ it said in plain language that the Prime Minister had lied to the Parliament and deceived the Australian people.
We need to acknowledge the consequences of the Prime Minister’s duplicity and deceit. We know what it has done to his reputation at home. At a time of great domestic stress, with loss of national confidence, continuing high and tragic unemployment, and rampant inflation, the Prime Minister has destroyed his credibility. This has occurred when Australia needs forthright, courageous and responsible governmentelements all lacking today.
What are the consequences further afield? They not only involve Hanoi, Saigon and Australia: They also involve every other country with which we have international relations. The Whitlam Government will not again enjoy full trust on the international scene. Other governments will never be certain whether or not Australia is engaged in double-dealing.
The champion of the Communist cause in North Vietnam is the same man who in Washington last Friday described America as ‘the world ‘s last and best hope ‘. What hypocrisy from a man whose Government’s actions and policies have helped push the United States along the road to isolationism. The Prime Minister has impugned the reputation of Australia. That cannot be repaired while he remains in office.
The Prime Minister has been exposed as a man lacking in compassion, lacking in concern for people whose lives are in jeopardy, lacking in principle, and fully prepared to mislead and deceive this Parliament. The Government’s numbers presumably will lead to an inevitable conclusion of this debate unless some members of the Labor Party find the courage of earlier days. But whatever the tally of the votes, the record cannot be expunged. The words of this debate will leave the Prime Minister condemned. We can expect much subterfuge and selfjustification but that will not alter the facts. The Prime Minister has been devious. He has been mendacious. He has destroyed his own reputation. The Parliament will not lose sight of the duplicity of this Prime Minister.
-Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion.
-On 30 April the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) demanded that I return immediately from the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Jamaica, reassemble the Parliament and answer his trumpery allegations that I had misled this House. Let me compliment him on his exquisite courtesy, his statesmanlike language repeated and embellished again today, his refined patriotism and, in particular, his sense of proportion, his perspective in great affairs and, above all, his perfect timing. He made this demand 10 years and one day after Sir Robert Menzies announced Australia’s military commitment to the regime in Saigon. Saigon had just surrendered. The 30 years ‘ civil war in Vietnam had ended.
I was meeting with leaders of 32 other governments, most of them representing nations on or around the Indian and South Pacific oceans, some of them slated as dominoes under the old discredited theory. I was scheduled to see the President of the United States of America, the Secretary of State, leaders of Congress-both Houses, both parties. But the Leader of the Opposition, responding in exactly the same way as the Leader he deposed always did to the latest headline, the last newspaper editorial, wanted me to abandon my responsibilities for an exercise in semantics.
I acknowledge that an allegation of deliberately misleading the House is serious if it can be sustained. But this particular allegation- not just flimsy but absolutely false- could not be sustained for a minute; the minute it would take for anybody- the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) or the leader writers of the ‘Age ‘ and the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ whom the Leader of the Opposition has just quoted- to read the record, the record then available.
The charge- that of deliberately misleading the House- is based on the publication of 2 cables sent by the Department of Foreign Affairs on 2 April to our Ambassadors in Hanoi and Saigon. These are so-called secret cables. They sound so much more sinister if they are described as secret. They are no more secret than any other cables which go to any overseas post. The purpose of these cables- as they both specifically state in their paragraphs- was was to request our ambassadors to reinforce the views expressed in the Prime Minister ‘s letter of 1 3 March.
The letters of 13 March referred to were communications, Government to Government. The cables of 2 April embodied departmental instructions on how the Government believed those letters should be followed up in oral representations. It is a well established and desirable practice that such communications should not be published. The circumstances surrounding the disclosure of these documents and the extraordinary charges arising from their publication make it necessary that in this case I depart from that practice. Accordingly, I ask leave to have incorporated in Hansard, firstly, my letter of 13 March 1975 to His Excellency Nguyen Van Thieu, then President of the Republic of Vietnam; secondly, my letter of the same date to His Excellency Nguyen Duy Trinh, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam; thirdly, a cable dated 2 April from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Australian Ambassador in Saigon, Mr Price, entitled ‘Vietnam Representations’; and, fourthly, a cablegram of the same date from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Australian Ambassador in Hanoi, Mr Wilson, entitled ‘Vietnam Representations’.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The documents read as follows)-
I have the honour to reply to Your Excellency’s letter of 25 January 1975 concerning the situation in Viet-Nam, and the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Although the Australian Government was not one of the signatories to the Paris Agreement, we have consistently supported its implementation and have looked to all of the parties to the Paris Agreement to abide by its terms and to ensure that another opportunity to achieve an enduring peace in Viet-Nam is not lost.
Unfortunately, Australia’s hopes have not been realised. There has been continued lack of progress in the implementation of both the political and military provisions of the Paris Agreement, now more than two years old, and continued fighting in South-Vietnam.
The responsibility for this situation cannot be placed on North Viet-Nam alone. I trust that your Government will so act as to enable the violence which is causing so much suffering to be reduced, and as soon as possible brought to an end. In particular, I trust that it will for its part take early and positive steps towards the establishment of the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord as specified in Article 1 2 of the Paris Agreement, and will observe Article 7 of the Paris Agreement concerning the piece-for-piece replacement of armaments, munitions, and war materials.
The Australian Government confirmed to your Embassy in Canberra on 11 November 1974 that it supports your Government’s call for the resumption of the peace talks both on the political level at La Celle-Saint Cloud and on the military level at the Two Party Joint Military Commission talks in Saigon. It is my Government ‘s hope that it will be possible for all parties in Viet-Nam to set aside the deep-seated animosities caused by the tragic events of the last two decades and to work together- whether within the established machinery or under new arrangements- towards a peaceful and enduring settlement in Viet-Nam.
I take this opportunity to renew to Your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.
His Excellency Nguyen Van Thieu, President of the Republic of Viet-Nam.
I have the honour to reply to Your Excellency ‘s letter of 27 January 1975 concerning the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Although the Australian Government was not one of the signatories to the Paris Agreement, we have consistently supported its implementation and have looked to all the parties to the Paris Agreement to abide by its terms and to ensure that another opportunity to achieve an enduring peace in Viet-Nam is not lost.
Unfortunately, Australia’s hopes have not been realised. There has been continued lack of progress in the implementation of both the political and military provisions of the Paris Agreement, now more than two years old, and continued fighting in South Viet-Nam.
The responsibility for this situation cannot be placed on South Viet-Nam alone. I trust that your Government will so act as to enable the violence which is causing so much suffering to be reduced, and as soon as possible brought to an end. The Australian Government was disappointed at the cessation in 1974 of the peace talks both on the political level at La Celle-Saint Cloud and on the military level at the Two Party Joint Military Commission in Saigon, and supports the resumption of these talks without pre-conditions. It is my Government’s hope that it will be possible for all parties in Viet-Nam to set aside the deep-seated animosities caused by the tragic events of the last two decades and work togetherwhether within the established machinery or under new arrangements- towards a peaceful and enduring settlement in Viet-Nam.
I take this opportunity to renew to Your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.
Fm. Canberra/File 626/2/9/2
We wish you to take every opportunity in discussion with members of the RVN to reinforce the position expressed in the Prime Minister’s letter of 13 March to President Thieu that:
And to state the view that until that requirement is met there is no chance of there being an early end, or even significant reduction, in the violence which is causing so much suffering.
Bangkok, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, London, Manila, Moscow, New York, UN, Paris, Peking, Rangoon, Saigon, Singapore, Tehran, Tokyo, Vienna, Warsaw, Washington, Wellington.
Fm. Canberra/File 626/2/9/2
Viet-Nam Representations (underlined)
We wish you to make representations as soon as possible to the DRV and PRG at a suitably senior level to reinforce the views expressed in the Prime Minister’s letter of 13 March to DRV Foreign Minister, Mr Trinh, and to state the Australian attitude towards the present fighting in South Viet-Nam and the implementation of the Paris agreements.
In addition to handing over a copy of Mr Whitlam’s statement made today, you should say that
PM and C
Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, London, Manila, Moscow, New York (UN), Paris, Peking, Rangoon, Saigon, Singapore, Teheran, Tokyo, Vienna, Vientiane, Washington, Wellington, Hanoi.
On 8 April the honourable member for Kooyong asked me a question in these terms:
I refer … to Government statements that the Government has urged both sides in the Vietnam conflict to end the current hostilities and abide by the Paris Peace Accords of 1973. What precise representations have been made? Were, in fact, the same representations made to each side?
There have been communications certainly in the last three or four weeks but there were also communications 2 years ago in the middle of 1973 and they have been to both sides though not in the same terms because while it is true that there have been gross breaches of the Paris Agreements by both North and South Vietnam and by the Provisional Revolutionary Government and perhaps by the United States of America, nevertheless the breaches have not been all of the same kind . . . The Government, I repeat, has on several occasions communicated- sometimes in writing, sometimes orally with both sides.
Let me now repeat: They are not in the same terms. On 9 April, the following day, in reply to a question from the Leader of the Opposition I said:
I have noticed suggestions that there was some difference in the tone of the communications I sent to Hanoi and Saigon . . . There is no truth whatever in the allegations that the honourable member for Kooyong has made . . . The communications I sent to Hanoi and Saigon were substantially the same. There was one matter obviously which I mentioned to Saigon which I did not mention to Hanoi. That concerned the National Council for Reconciliation and Concord. It concerned Saigon alone. There was a matter which I mentioned to Hanoi but not to Saigon, namely, links with the Provisional Revolutionary Government. That concerned Hanoi and not Saigon . . . There is no truth in the allegation. Presumably the honourable member for Kooyong was somewhat surprised at the sharp tone of the note to Saigon. He would be gratified by the equally sharp tone of the note to Hanoi.
Presumably it is upon some interpretation of particular words in these answers that the allegations that I misled the House are based. In such circumstances a defence could be made by choosing the most favourable or most reasonable construction upon words. However, in this matter I am not satisfied with that. I am not prepared to concede that the meaning of what I said was open to any misrepresentation or misconstruction whatever, except through malice or gross incompetence. The words stand as they are. My answers stand as they are. I stand absolutely by them. At all times, in all cases, they express the truth as plain as English can express it- the exact truth, the literal truth, the truth in letter and in spirit. Any reader of these answers and of the documents which are now incorporated in Hansard can come to one conclusion only.
Where my letters of 13 March were substantially the same I clearly specified. Where they were different I clearly specified. Why they were different I clearly specified. Where Australia’s representations in Hanoi and Saigon were the same I clearly specified. Where and why they were different I clearly specified. Of course, in one respect the 2 sets of documents, my letters on the one hand and the cables to ambassadors on the other, do differ- not in their purport or purpose but in their very nature. The letters were direct written communications from me as head of government to other governments. The cables are instructions from the Australian Government to Australian ambassadors to make oral communications. The cables clearly specified that they are intended as a follow-up, as a reinforcement of those letters. The cables are meaningless without reference to those letters. That is not my assertion; it is so stated in the cables themselves. It is possible to interpret the letters in isolation. It is possible to interpret the letters and cables in combination. What is not possible is to interpret the cables in isolation. They have no meaningful existence as an expression of attitude, as a statement of policy or direction and advice to the ambassadors, in isolation.
Let us look at the real meaning and purpose of all these communications. By doing so we can also discover the real purpose behind this charge of deception made by the Opposition. It is the purpose of the communications, not the verbal contents, to which the Opposition really objects. The essential purpose of our communicationsthe letters and the cables- was to try to stop the fighting and get negotiations started. In that approach from beginning to end, through every twist and turn of this terrible war, my Party which now forms the Government of Australia has been consistent. In Opposition we sought to end the fighting and get negotiations going. In government we sought to get both sides to fulfil their undertakings under the Paris Agreements of January 1973. Equally consistently, the parties now in Opposition sought the opposite solution. As a government they denounced all negotiations and encouraged every escalation of the war. In this sense and, this sense alone, the policies of the Opposition succeeded; ours failed in this sense and in this sense alone. We always sought a political settlement. We were urging it 3 weeks before Saigon fell. We failed. For as long as they held power the parties opposite sought a military solution. They succeeded; they got it.
In particular, this Australian Government tried to promote adherence to the Paris Agreements. We lost no opportunity to encourage the Vietnamese parties to implement the Agreements to the full and to deplore the breaches of the Agreements by both sides. Of course, we were able to do this only because we were diplomatically represented in both Saigon and Hanoi. Only one other government took an approach similar to that of Australia right to the very end- that government of the European nation most deeply involved, most deeply experienced and, one might say, most bitterly experienced in Indo-China, the Government of France. On 9 April, the day on which I gave the answer on which this motion is based, President Giscard d’Estaing said:
To put an end to the suffering of the South Vietnamese people … to allow it to preserve characteristics to which it is attached, there exists no solution other than the urgent application of the provisions set out in article 1 2 of the Paris accords envisaging the undertaking of a political solution and which stipulates: In a spirit of conciliation and without seeking mutual elimination. This solution requires the setting up of a national council of reconciliation composed of 3 equal parties. For this procedure to take place political authority must be exercised in Saigon exclusively by persons who make known their will to carry it out. Refusal to make the changes necessary to begin the search for the only political solution henceforth possible, whatever the obvious difficulties, will result only in the misfortune of the Vietnamese people and the disappearance of the chances which remain for it to preserve the diversity of its beliefs and characteristics.
Was this, to use some of the choice language of the Leader of the Opposition, on 30 April and again today, ‘fawning, grovelling, jumping at the crack of the North Vietnamese whip’? It expressed the same approach as the Australian Government: We failed; France failed. But we are not ashamed of having made the effort and we are certainly not ashamed of having failed in the company of France.
The real paradox of the Opposition’s charges, the quintessence of hypocrisy, lies in this: It is not the difference in our approaches to Hanoi and Saigon which they really resent; it is the similarity. What irks the Opposition is that we urged both sides to honour the Paris Agreements. What irks it is that we urged both sides to negotiate. What irks the Opposition Parties is that we deplored Saigon’s political breaches as well as Hanoi’s military breaches of the Paris Agreements. Let us at least console ourselves with the delicious irony of the present moment. I have to stand here to defend myself, as the head of a government, against the parties whose policies in
Indo-China helped create a generation of slaughter and devastation.
At the end of a war in which the Australian involvement terminated the day we became a government words like ‘deceit’ are flung about by men who participated in the greatest deceit ever practised on the people of Australia. It was a deception that began 10 years and 2 weeks ago when the Australian people were conned in to believing that the commitment of an Australian battalion to Vietnam was the result of a request from the Government of South Vietnam. There was no deceit, no deception, no misleading a month ago when the Australian Government made a last, though doomed, effort to end the war through political means. But mighty deceit and misleading there were assuredly at the beginning. (Extension of time granted). We have seen the spectacle of the Leader of the Opposition receiving his instructions from the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ and his ammunition from the Melbourne ‘Age’. Did the leader writers of these 2 papers, whom the Leader of the Opposition quotes one wonders, pause for a moment 2 weeks ago before inditing their high flown outpourings about ‘the greatest scandal since Federation’, about ‘callousness’, about ‘shame’, about ‘inhumanity’? Did they recall for even a moment their urgings of 20 January 1965 that troops be sent to South Vietnam and the unwavering support they gave the military policies of the United States, aided and abetted by the then Australian Government for years and years thereafter? Where was the pride of the ‘Age’ in its investigative reporting on 30 April 1965? On that day it wrote:
This new commitment has been made in response to the formal procedure of a request for more help by South Vietnam and accompanied by an assurance of American cooperation.
The lessons of Vietnam have to be learnt. Now is the time to learn them. This is the time for Australian people to learn how we got into the war in Vietnam- at this time, when the honourable member for Kooyong is suggesting that Australia must be prepared for participation in more ‘Vietnams’. This is not my interpretation alone. I shall quote from an editorial appearing in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ on 12 May 1975. It stated:
Australia, he said, should prepare for another Vietnamstyle war in South-East Asia, and could not ignore- and dare not eliminate- the possibility that it would need to give further military aid to Asian countries.
In his reference to military aid Mr Peacock left little doubt that he was referring to troops as well as equipment.
His terminology that Australia should be prepared to help countries in the region ‘beset by political problems’ is the recipe for another Vietnam.
He seemed to extend the possible need for Australian intervention to Papua New Guinea, despite the fact that the country’s Prime Minister, Mr Somare, has specifically ruled out Australian military aid in any crisis.
But the most worrying point remains that Mr Peacock is apparently prepared to commit arms and troops to countries ‘beset by political problems’ which could have no relevance at all to the defence of Australia. Mr Peacock sounds Uke a voice from the early sixties rather than a spokesman for a political party anxious to present a contemporary policy to the electorate.
One is left with the conclusion that the Liberals have lived with and advocated Vietnam-style wars and non-recognition of Asian realities for so many years that they find it hard to accept anything else.
I am having prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs a paper which will substantiate the way in which we got into this war. There is a paper prepared by the Editor of Historical Documents covering the origins of the Australian involvement in Vietnam. Since, however, it includes Cabinet documents belonging to the previous Government, documents which the present Leader of the Liberal Party will not allow me to see, I cannot look at that paper. However, I am having the same distinguished author prepare a paper from Foreign Affairs documents which are available.
What a lesson the honourable member for Kooyong has to learn from the way we got into the last Vietnam war. This is the Liberal spokesman for Foreign Affairs who can seriously say in his prepared statement of last Friday:
Recent events have made it clear that our long-standing views were correct. How could anyone now support those who claim there was a civil war in South Vietnam?
A man who, saying this, can also say:
There could well develop a shared interest -
Between the Soviet Union and Vietnam- in keeping China from extending its influence southwards . . .
I wish he would make up his mind. For a generation we were always taught that this was what the Vietnam war was all about- ‘to stop the downward thrust of China between the Pacific and Indian Oceans’. The consistent characteristic of the Opposition Parties’ approach to Vietnam remains- to treat it as an issue from which political capital can be squeezed, to divide the Australian people, to exploit the suffering the war has caused and is still causing, for political advantage here at home. It has never been so disgracefully demonstrated as now, in the treatment of the Leader of the Opposition of the question of refugees.
What other Parliament in the world would now be debating these momentous events in the terms set by the Opposition? What other significant party in the world takes the line now that the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Country Party of Australia take? None. There is no political party in any part of the world which now takes the position which the Australian Federal Opposition takes. There is no other leader of any significant party who would take the line of the Leader of the Opposition, no leader who would attempt to reduce the great debate to this level and to these terms. There is no other significant party which would go along with such futility, such sterility, such puerility. Ten years ago a Liberal Prime Minister said: ‘If I am the last Prime Minister to denounce negotiations I will denounce them’. Ten years later the Liberal Party is the last party left to denounce negotiations and to denounce those who attempted right to the eleventh hour to get a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Vietnam.
– All the double talk, all the quick foot action cannot excuse the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) from one of the gravest breaches of parliamentary performanceof deceiving the Parliament. He tried to say that the telegrams were the same. He tried to say that he had explained that there were specific differences. But why did he refuse to allow the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to have copies of them? Why was it that, when the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) brought this matter to the attention of Parliament, the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs sent a memo through the Department to collect all the telegrams and have them put in the safety deposit box of the Department of Foreign Affairs?
For 2 weeks the Australian public have been fortunate to be able to examine the cables which were sent to Hanoi and Saigon, and they have made their own j udgment- that the Prime Minister did send different telegrams and that he deliberately misled the Parliament. His integrity is under challenge. But the thing that came through most clearly today in the Prime Minister’s speech to this House in trying to excuse himself was that we on this side of the Parliament resisted the communist aggression, the communist advance, in South Vietnam whilst the Australian Labor Party condoned it. That is what is quite clear in what the Prime Minister said. As is usual on these occasions, the Prime Minister displayed that he is the master of double talk and avoided the real issue- his deceit of this Parliament. I say ‘on these occasions’ because we seem to be having a lot of these occasions lately. When we have a Prime Minister with principles of this kind and whose Goverment acts in this way it is little wonder that such debates as this occur. But it is a pity because there are many major issues that should be debated. Inflation is bad, unemployment is bad and is getting worse. But can we ignore the fact that there is a clear case of deception by the Prime Minister in relation to these cables? That is what this debate is all about.
The Prime Minister has done everything to try to confuse the issue by his double talk and by just glossing over the issue as though it does not matter at all. I suppose that he will be shielded by the men who sit behind him who know full well that he does not deserve their protection. This afternoon the Leader of the Opposition spelt out indisputably the difference between the cables sent by the Prime Minister to both Hanoi and Saigon. In view of the firm and categorical denial of any difference by the Prime Minister on 9 April and supported in another place by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee), there is clear evidence for everyone to see that the Prime Minister -has deceived this Parliament and tried to suppress and keep secret the Government’s real feelings and attitudes. Therefore this is a matter of utmost concern for the Australian people. All the counter-charges, all the allegations, accusations and red herrings thrown about by the Prime Minister this afternoon do not alter the inescapable fact that the Prime Minister has deceived the Parliament and the nation.
The Prime Minister has been exposed for duplicity in foreign affairs. His integrity and trust must now be challenged. Under the Westminster parliamentary system there is nothing more serious, no greater felony, than the misleading of Parliament by the Prime Minister. When the deception is in the most important area of foreign affairs the felony is made doubly serious. The Prime Minister’s departure from the truth must place in question Australia’s position of trust with other countries, particularly those to which we look as being friends and allies. The whole issue exposes the devious attitude of the Government to the cause of communism. If the cables had not become public- goodness knows what other messages have been conveyed- the Australian people would never have known that their Government had, in the most secretive way, been double dealing to assist and encourage the communist cause in South Vietnam. In other words, the actions of this Government have been tantamount to conspiring to help communist expansion in Indo-China. This could have lasting and serious consequences for other countries in South East Asia and, of course, ultimately for ourselves.
The whole balance of political power and military strength has now been altered in favour of the communists in one of the most potentially unstable regions of the world. Vietnam has now one of the best equipped and largest military forces in the world. It seems that as a result of a communist victory the Soviet Union probably will establish a naval base in South Vietnam. All these things can hardly be claimed to be in the long term interests of Australia or her friends in this part of the world. The letters and the cables, as demonstrated by the Leader of the Opposition, verify that the Government has been more than sympathetic to communist aggression and communist victory in Vietnam, a victory which will mean that systematically and ruthlessly any Western influence or political opposition will be removed. Obviously, the Prime Minister is conscious of the general feeling of the Australian public. What other reason can be given for the underhand way in which he has handled this matter. Why did he mislead Parliament? Why did he try to hide and cover up these cables? There are many issues that cluster around this central matter of deception. There is the issue of the Prime Minister’s support for the communist side in Vietnam. There is the issue of the Prime Minister’s efforts to withhold from Parliament and the Australian people the support that he had been offering.
There is the issue of the Prime Minister’s continuing effort to place all the blame in Vietnam on the side under attack- South Vietnam. It has been the people in the South who have been suffering the aggression of communism who have been blamed by the Prime Minister continually for the continuation of this war. Not a word of blame, of condemnation or rebuke has passed the Prime Minister’s lips in regard to the communist side. The only words that he has uttered about the communists have been the words of understanding or the words of advice. The words that have passed from the lips of the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) have been words of encouragement to the communists. But I believe that that would be about par for the course and that we would expect that from the Deputy Prime Minister.
There is also the issue of the Prime Minister’s attitude to the Vietnamese refugees and the sense of shame this has caused so many Australians. These are important matters. They reveal a great deal about the attitude of this Government. But I repeat that the heart of this debate is the deception practised by the Prime Minister. Deception is a fairly kind word, I venture to say, for what the Prime Minister did on 9 April in answer to a question- challenge- by the Leader of the Opposition. The ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ used a more appropriate word in its editorial of 30 April 1975. It stated:
The Prime Minister has lied to the Parliament.
It is this deception, this act which the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ called lying, which has moved the Opposition today to censure the Prime Minister on behalf of the Australian people whom he deceived. By trying to divert attention away from his deception, the Prime Minister today did not remove the distrust that he has drawn upon himself; he only compounded it. By talking about matters which have nothing or little to do with his deception of the Parliament he has not allayed the fears or suspicions which his deception had created; he has only deepened them. All that the Prime Minister had to do today was to admit to the House that he was wrong when he said in the Parliament on 9 April that the 2 cables he sent to Hanoi and Saigon were not the same as they were claimed to be. He could have told the House frankly that he was in error and that after looking at the cables again he now agreed that they were substantially different. But, of course, the Prime Minister did not do that. How can any of these things justify the Prime Minister’s excuses today for his own actions? The simple fact is, as the Prime Minister knows and everyone else knows, that he did not tell the truth when he said in this House on 9 April that the cables were substantially the same. The simple fact is, as the Prime Minister knows and everyone else knows, that the Prime Minister has given support to the communist cause in Vietnam. No amount of waffle by the Prime Minister or anyone else can change these facts.
The Prime Minister has developed his own technique for dealing with these frequent attacks on his integrity. He has had to do so because his actions spark off these attacks on him. We have seen him use this technique on many occasions. This technique involves ignoring the substance of the matter and retreating under the smokescreen of raising matters which have nothing to do with the subject. To me, and I am sure to most people, this technique does nothing to help the Prime Minister; it merely gives greater substance to his guilt. We can recall a number of occasions on which the Prime Minister has used this technique. We recall the shabby way in which the Prime Minister got rid of the previous Treasurer by replacing him. What a ghastly error of judgment that was! The technique was used on that occasion. We recall the destruction of a former Speaker and the fundamental breach of principle and privilege which was involved in that episode. The technique was used then. We recall the Gair affair and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation affair when the Prime Minister misled Parliament and the Senate acted to impeach him. We recall the many occasions on which the Prime Minister has breached tradition and convention. The same technique has been used on every occasion.
Why does the Prime Minister do this? Why does he go to such trouble to avoid the issue, to cover up and to hide? The most apparent reason is that he simply does not want to acknowledge his errors. But I think there is a deeper reason, one which is becoming clear to more and more people. It is expediency. It is becoming more and more clear that, when the Prime Minister sets himself a course, nothing will stand in the way of it; principles are cast aside, integrity is forgotten, the truth becomes a casualty and deception becomes common place. If the Prime Minister decides to get rid of a Minister, he relentlessly pursues the objective until he achieves it. If the Prime Minister decides to get rid of the Speaker and to assert his own domination of this House, the shamefulness of any action required to achieve that result will not stand in his way. If the Prime Minister decides to try to rig the numbers in the Senate or to try to rig a court, he sets out to do so with an admirable yet reprehensible singlemindedness. If the Prime Minister decides that he wants to side with the communists, he does so; and, when this bias is exposed, he denies it and tries to hide it
I suppose that there are many matters, in which the Prime Minister has been involved, which will not leave irreparable damage. Of course, there will be some continuing damage resulting from the Gair affair, the ASIO affair, the Cope affair, the Crean affair and all the others. But the damage that will flow from the Prime Minister’s bias towards the communist cause and the deception in which that bias has led him to engage will not be easily rectified. Certainly, his standing in the eyes of members of this Parliament and in the eyes of the Australian people has been badly damaged, if not destroyed. But what is much more important is the damage that he has done to Australia. The Prime Minister is here today and gone tomorrowI am talking about the political scene, not his trips overseas- but Australia will be here for a long time. We have to live and work with other nations and to have their trust for a long time. The great tragedy of this Prime Minister is the damage which he has done not only to himself but also to this country. We cannot earn the trust of other nations if we have a Prime Minister whose attitudes and actions are based on expediency.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson)Order! The right honourable member’s time has expired.
– The guilty men have raised themselves from the bloody mire of Australian involvement in Vietnam to point their fingers. But have the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Fraser) and the Leader of the National Country Party of Australia (Mr Anthony) forgotten the appalling My Lais of the Vietnam War, the searing deadliness of the napalm bombs, the deathdealing bombs that were dropped, not only on Hanoi but also on the rest of Vietnam by the United States of America? Their memories are conveniently short. Not once did they protest, and now they talk of humanitarian principles. These men who plunged Australia into war, these men who applauded killing, these men who applauded violence, these men who supported the United States’ invasion of Cambodia and of Vietnam, not once protested about United States transgressions when evidence showed that both the Americans and the North Vietnamese had transgressed the 1954 Geneva agreements. Yet they talk about even-handedness. Not once was a protest made by them. They talk also of deception and of lies. These people belong to the very Parties that lied and lied and lied to the Australian people about Australia’s involvement in Vietnam.
I turn now to the statements that were made for the benefit of the Australian people about why Australians were in Vietnam. Infamous documents were distributed to con the Australian people. They were deceitful and lying. One of these documents states:
Australia values the closeness and strength of its friendship and alliance with the United States. Our forces are in Vietnam to help the Government of the South at its request to resist a military campaign against it.
I emphasise the words ‘at its request’. Honourable members may recall the words of Sir Robert Menzies. Many honourable members in the chamber were in this Parliament in 1965. 1 shall quote what the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, said on 29 April 1965 because it indicates the deception and the lies upon which Australia’s involvement in Vietnam was based. He said:
The Australian Government is now in receipt of a request from the Government of South Vietnam for further military assistance.
He went on:
I think I should say that we decided in principle some time ago- weeks and weeks ago- that we would be willing to do this if we received the necessary request . . .
I see that the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) is now in the chamber. He will recall very well the events I am relating. Repeated requests were made by the Australian Labor Party, then in Opposition, for letters that were exchanged with Vietnam to be tabled. Many years later they were. It is very obvious from those letters that what was involved was not a request from the South Vietnamese Government but the acceptance of an offer that was made under the sponsorship of the United States by Australia. If one wants to go into the details of how that particular offer to the South Vietnamese Government was manipulated, one can find it all in the Pentagon papers and the exchange of telegrams with Ambassador Maxwell Taylor. To save the time of the Parliament I refer honourable members to details on page 330 of the Hansard of 19 August 1971. The South Vietnamese Government was not anxious to have other military forces operating in South Vietnam but the United States, for its own purposes, wanted to have a broadening of the alliance so that the United States President could tell his own people that there was a wide support for United States policies.
So things were engineered. But the important thing is that that exchange of documents which led to Australia’s involvement in Vietnam took place on 29 April, that the then Prime Minister made his statement on 29 April that the Aus.tralian forces were ready for embarkation several weeks earlier. It is the very same man, the right honourable member for Lowe, as then Prime Minister and before that as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was always maintaining that the Vietnam war was winnable.
The Opposition when it was in government was not interested in the concept of negotiationof a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam conflict. It believed this great mystique generated by the propaganda machines of the Pentagonthat the war was winnable. What did the right honourable member say on 22 March 1966? I quote from Hansard. He said:
The only other point that I want to mention is the argument of the Leader of the Opposition -
Who is now the Prime Minister - that the war in Vietnam is unwinnable. That may have been the case a year ago when it looked as though it could have been a long drawn out struggle ultimately leading to a stalemate and possible compulsion at the conference table. That is not the case today.
This is what the right honourable gentleman said on 22 March 1966. From that time on there was no effort and no sincere attempt by the Opposition when it was in government to reach a negotiated settlement on the Vietnam war. Yet members of the Opposition come here today and criticise the Labor Government for seeking even at the eleventh hour- we have been doing this ever since we came to power in 1972- a negotiated settlement of that war. These men who believed that the war was winnable have now found out that the war was winnable. This is the hypocrisy that motivates honourable gentlemen opposite.
I now come to the telegrams and to the letters of 13 March that the Prime Minister tabled today. I hope that representatives of the ‘Age’ and the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ are listening very carefully to this because there was never such an orchestrated response to the headline hunting statements of the Leader of the Opposition than the way that the ‘Age’ and ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ took up the case and ran with it. I will read the 2 letters of 13 March which the Prime Minister tabled today because I think they should be read. They will appear in Hansard tomorrow but I think it important that everybody listening, especially the few members of the Opposition in the chamber at the moment* note them. The letter to the Foreign Minister of North Vietnam states:
I have the honour to reply to Your Excellency’s letter . . . concerning … the implementation of the Paris agreement.
Although the Australian Government was not one of the signatories to the Paris agreement we have constantly supported its implementation and have looked to all of the parties to the Paris agreement to abide by its terms and to ensure that another opportunity to achieve an enduring peace in Vietnam is not lost. Unfortunately, Australia’s hopes have not been realised. There has been continued lack of progress in the implementation of both the political and military provisions of the Paris agreement, now more than 2- years-old, and continued fighting in South Vietnam.
I want honourable members to listen very carefully to this statement because this was a statement made to the Foreign Minister of North Vietnam. The Prime Minister said:
The responsibility for this situation cannot be placed on South Vietnam alone.
In identical words in a letter to President Thieu the same paragraphs appear but the wording then becomes:
The responsibility for this situation cannot be placed on North Vietnam alone.
As the Prime Minister has pointed out, the intent and the purport of the letter of 13 March followed up by the telegrams were to bring about negotiations. Is that such a bad thing? I know that for years the Opposition denied any attempt at meaningful negotiation. But the Prime Minister, in putting forward the proposition, allocated blame both to North Vietnam and to South Vietnam. Where, in an opposition, would one find men who would have the guts- just the plain ordinary guts- to make a statement like that to both sides? For so long the Opposition refused to accept the existence of China. It refused to accept the existence of North Vietnam. As a matter of prime Australian interest we have sought to ensure that the Australian viewpoint is put in those capitals which matter.
If the Opposition Parties had been in Government it would have been impossible to send even a communication to North Vietnam because they would have continued to hide their heads, ostrich-like, as they did for over 2 decades in relation to China. So the Prime Minister put these viewpoints. He put them strongly. I believe the Parliament will support the proposition that the Prime Minister acted with great courage and in the interests of the Australian people in seeking to reach, even at that late stage, a settlement by negotiation of this long drawn out conflict. This is what the Opposition is seeking to criticise. The fact is that the Prime Minister sent very explicit messages. I hope that people will stop and read the messages and not read just the headlines which flow from the comments of the Leader of the Opposition.
-Read the cables.
-I have read the cables. I trust that the honourable member for Moreton might, one of these days, sit down and read the cables. They put forward both propositions. The cables were sent on the same day to both North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The substantial difference was that in the case of South Vietnam we were urging them to adopt a policy on the political side of the Paris agreements and to establish a national council. On the other side we drew attention to the violation by North Vietnam. Obviously the 2 messages were similar in substance in the sense of what they were seeking to achieve. They were obviously different in the points which they brought up because there was an essential difference between the violations of both sides. These were the statements made by the Australian Government. I find it absurd that the Parliament has to waste its time with a repetition of the old catalogue, trying to substantiate the errors and the lies of the Opposition when it was in Government. We have conducted our policy in relation to both North Vietnam and South Vietnam. It is a policy which those guilty men opposite could never have sought to adopt because at the stage when they had the opportunity to protest and to make their views known, not one word was ever said. What monumental hypocrisy.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, today the indictment made by the Opposition -
Motion ( by Mr Nicholls) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the motion (Mr Malcolm Fraser’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the negative.
-Mr Speaker, I ask that questions be placed on notice.
-For the information of honourable members I present a communique of 27 April by myself and the Prime Minister of Peru, Major-General Francisco Morales Bermudez, and the text of the communique issued on 6 May 1975 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kingston, Jamaica.
– Pursuant to the provisions of section 23A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1973 I present a copy of the report with maps showing the boundaries of each proposed division by the Distribution Commissioners for Victoria together with copies of the suggestions, comments or objections lodged with the Commissioners. I advise the House that the documents will be debated early next week.
Motion (by Mr Daly) agreed to:
That the report and maps be printed.
– Pursuant to the provisions of section 23a of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1973 I present a copy of the report with maps showing the boundaries of each proposed division by the Distribution Commissioners for New South Wales together with copies of the suggestions, comments or objections lodged with the Commissioners. These documents also will be debated, with others, early next week.
Motion (by Mr Daly) agreed to:
That the report and maps be printed.
For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Committee of Reference for Defence Forces Pay titled ‘Reserve Forces Pay and Allowances’.
– Pursuant to section 19 of the Fishing Industry Research Act 1969, I present the fifth annual report on the operation of the Act during the year ended 30 June 1 974.
– For the information of honourable members I present the resolutions of the ninety-first meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council held in Sydney on 14 February 1975.
– Pursuant to section 15 of the States Grants (Schools) Act 1972-1973 I present a supplement to the annual report on the operation of that Act for 1973 relating to grants for recurrent expenditure in non-government schools. This statement relates to payments made in 1974 in respect of 1973.
– For the information of honourable members I present a report on the meeting of the
Australian Education Council held in Perth during 17 and 18 April 1975.
– For the information of honourable members I present details of funds approved for payment, and of advances made to the States for expenditure on government and nongovernment schools under the States Grants (Schools) Act 1972-1974 and the States Grants (Schools) Act 1 973- 1 974 down to today.
- Mr Speaker, may I ask the Minister whether there will be an opportunity to debate these matters? Obviously I have not seen the papers but it seems to me that this is an area in which there would normally be a debate.
– I was not moving that the papers be printed; I was just tabling them.
– Pursuant to section 40 of the Australian National Airlines Act 1945-1972 I present the twenty-ninth annual report of the Australian National Airlines Commission for the year ended 30 June 1974, together with financial statements and the reports of the AuditorGeneral on those statements.
– Pursuant to clause 11 of the 1972 Airlines Agreement, Ansett Transport Industries Ltd has submitted to me financial information in respect of that part of the company and its subsidairies relating to the operation of air services during the year ended 29 June 1974. 1 now present this financial information which has been compiled from the audited accounts of the company and has been certified as to correctness by 2 directors.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of a working group established to review the economic and environmental aspects of the export hardwood woodchip industry, dated April 1975, together with attachments constituting volume 2 of the report.
-Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I claim to have been misrepresented in an editorial in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ of Monday, 12 May. The editorial said that in a speech I made to the Institute of International Affairs on Friday last I said:
Australia should prepare for another Vietnam style war in South East Asia.
The fact is that I did not say that. I assume that the ‘Australian Financial Review’ has taken that from a headline that the ‘Australian’ newspaper ran on Saturday. It was not in my speech. Therefore, because the editorial is wrong, and because the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) quotedproperly from a newspaper and the report was wrong, I seek leave to have the entire speech incorporated in Hansard.
-Order! I suggest to the honourable gentleman that the practice -
– No. I have not read the speech.
-Order! The Leader of the House will allow me to deal with the situation. I suggest that the pressures on Hansard would be such that if honourable members making personal explanations were able to incorporate in Hansard speeches made outside the House it would be very difficult -
-I accept that, Mr Speaker. You have given me the opportunity to indicate that I did not say the words alleged in the editorial of the ‘Australian Financial Review’ yesterday.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Common Informers (Parliamentary Disqualifications) Bill 1975.
Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Power Bill 1975.
Road Safety and Standards Authority Bill 1975.
– I move:
Customs TariffProposals Nos 13 and 14 ( 1975).
Mr Deputy Speaker, The Customs Tariff Proposals I have just tabled relate to proposed alterations to the Customs Tariff 1966-1974. These
Proposals formally place before Parliament, as required by law, tariff changes introduced by Gazette notices during the last recess. These changes arise from the Government’s decisions on recommendations by the Industries Assistance Commission in its report on glass and glassware and the temporary assistance authority in its report on consumer electronic equipment and components. A comprehensive summary setting out the nature of the changes in the duty rates and the origin of each of the alterations contained in the Proposals is now being circulated to honourable members. I commend the Proposals.
Debate (on motion by Mr Adermann) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Hayden, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill before the House will give effect to the undertaking given by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on 29 April 1974 when he stated in his policy speech:
We will extend medical benefits to cover consultations with optometrists.
Subsequently, in more detailed announcements, the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr J. F. Cairns, and I have reiterated this Government’s intention that benefits for optometrical consultations would be introduced within our health insurance program. This Bill authorises the payment of such benefits to the whole community under Medibank.
The provisions in the Bill enable benefits to be provided for services performed by optometrists, agreeing to participate in the new arrangements, and who enter into an undertaking with the Australian Government. Benefits will be payable for services by participating optometrists in accordance with Part II of the Health Insurance Act. The Bill provides for this to be achieved by the inclusion of four new items, relating to professional attendances by participating optometrists, in Part I of Schedule I to the Health Insurance Act. As will apply in relation to all medical benefits under Medibank, the benefits will be paid at the rate of 85 per cent of the negotiated schedule fees with a maximum patient payment of $5. Participating optometrists will agree to provide consultations covered by the undertaking at fees no higher than those negotiated between the Australian Optometrical Association and the Australian Government.
Where a participating optometrist elects to accept the assignment of benefits, he will accept the benefits in full settlement and the patient will not be required to meet any portion of the fee. Participating optometrists will undertake to accept the assignment of benefits for most consultations with persons with pensioner medical service entitlement, any other low income groups agreed between the Australian Optometrical Association and the Australian Government, and dependants of these 2 groups. The provisions of the Bill authorising the payment of benefits under the new arrangements will be effective from 1 July 1975, the date from which medical benefits under Medibank will be payable.
Honourable members will recognise that the introduction of the arrangements authorised by this Bill will further expand the already wide range of services to be available under Medibank. They will also remove the limitation existing under the present health insurance scheme where Australian Government benefits are not payable for a professional service resulting in the prescription of spectacles. I might mention that the present proposals do not extend to the provision of financial assistance towards the costs of spectacles or contact lenses. The Government is fully aware of the factors which need to be considered in relation to the provision of such assistance and the matter is currently under examination.
Before I outline the new arrangements in greater detail and draw to the attention of honourable members the more important provisions in the Bill, I wish to emphasise 2 points. Firstly, the proposed optometrical benefit arrangements were developed in close consultation with representatives of the Australian Optometrical Association. The proposals have also been discussed with representatives of the Aus.tralian Medical Association and the Australian College of Ophthalmologists. Secondly, participation in the new arrangements will be entirely at the option of the optometrist concerned. It is considered that in the great majority of cases patients seeking optometrical attention, not involving the prescription and fitting of contact lenses, will require only one or two consultations. However, it is recognised that there may be special cases in which more than 2 consultations may be necessary during a course of attention. It is further considered that generally such attention should not need to be sought more frequently than at intervals of 12 months.
The Bill therefore provides for benefits in respect of professional attendances by participating optometrists for 2 separate items- an initial consultation and a subsequent consultation- in any 12 months period. It further provides for the payment of benefits for additional consultations, in excess of an initial and subsequent consultation, where the attending optometrist has certified that, in his professional opinion, the patient required the additional consultations. Available information indicates that these patients comprise about 9 per cent of optometrists’ patients. The operation of this provision will be kept under review to ensure that no significant changes in optometrical practice develop. Any significant change would, of course, cause a reconsideration of this provision. The Australian Optometrical Association has given a quite clear indication of expected utilisation. If this utilisation rate is exceeded we will have to move to review the procedures associated with this benefit. The new benefit arrangements authorised by this Bill will also extend to consultations resulting in the prescription and fitting of contact lenses. In these cases benefits for the initial consultation will be paid at the rate of 85 per cent of the schedule fee. However, 2 levels of benefits for all consultations following the initial consultation will be payable, based on whether the contact lenses were prescribed and fitted to provide significantly improved vision as compared with spectacles, or as a patient preference.
It is proposed that the regulations will prescribe, as prescribed classes of patients, persons with the following conditions, being patients whose vision will be significantly improved by the use of contact lenses rather than spectacles:
The first 8 conditions which I have outlined were drawn up by an independent ophthalmologist. The list of conditions has been accepted by the Australian Optometrical Association. The operation of these conditions will be reviewed periodically to ensure that patients who reasonably require the prescription and fitting of contact lenses are not disadvantaged. All consultations associated with the prescription and fitting of contact lenses, other than the initial consultation, will be covered by the one benefit item. In the case of condition 9, the Australian College of Ophthalmologists has expressed reservations about the utilisation rates which might follow this provision. If, in fact, utilisation rates under this provision seem excessive, the conditions will be promptly reviewed.
In cases where contact lenses are prescribed and fitted to persons, included in a prescribed class of patients, and a full benefit of $60 has not been paid in respect of a similar course of attention commencing within the previous three years, the full benefit of $60 will be payable. In all other cases the Government believes such patients should not be entitled to higher benefits for a subsequent consultation than would be payable in respect of a normal course of attention not related to the prescription and fitting of contact lenses. Clause 6 of the Bill provides, therefore, for the benefit payable in these cases to be an amount equivalent to the benefit for a normal subsequent consultation, or such other amount as is prescribed by regulation.
Clause 8 of the Bill is a key provision. It provides for the Minister for Social Security to draw up a common form of undertaking. An optometrist wishing to participate in the new benefit arrangements will be required to give an undertaking in accordance with the common form. The Minister may draw up the common form of undertaking only after consultation with the Australian Optometrical Association and he may only vary the common form of undertaking following consultation with that Association. For the information of honourable members I would like to outline briefly the more important matters to be included in the common form of undertaking. The undertaking will outline the kinds of services to be provided by participating optometrists and will detail the maximum fee to be charged by the optometrist for a service to which the undertaking relates. Regard will be had in the common form of undertaking to the fact that a participating optometrist may be a person or a company employing optometrists. In such cases the participating optometrist providing optometrical services at a number of practice locations may wish to enter into an undertaking in respect of only some of those locations. The locations to be covered by the undertaking will be specified in the undertaking.
Honourable members will recall that earlier I referred to the fact that a participating optometrist in most cases will provide consultations to persons with pensioner medical service entitlement and their dependants without charge to the patients. This will be achieved by the inclusion in the common form of undertaking of a provision whereby the participating optometrist will undertake to make arrangements, in accordance with sub-section 20 (3) of the Health Insurance Act, for the assignment of benefits in respect of these patients. The effect of this assignment will be that for consultations provided to these persons, the participating optometrist will accept benefits in full settlement. The participating optometrist will not undertake to accept assignment of benefits for these patients in cases where the provisions in clause 6, to which I have already referred, apply. The common form of undertaking will also state the amount a participating optometrist may charge in addition to the normal consultation fee, for a domiciliary visit made at the request of the patient. This charge will not attract benefits under the new arrangements.
The Bill also provides for the establishment of Optometrical Services Committees of Inquiry and Optometrical Services Review Tribunals. These bodies are to have similar roles, and are to be established and function similarly to the Medical Services Committees of Inquiry and Medical Services Review Tribunals, already authorised by the Health Insurance Act.
Honourable members will be aware that there has already been introduced into this House a Bill setting up an Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It is proposed that the question of appeals against decisions which may be taken under the provisions of the Bill being transferred to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, will be taken up when the Tribunal commences to operate. It will be taken up as part of a comprehensive review of similar types of decisions, already authorised by the provisions of the Health Insurance Act, being considered by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
This Government recognises that special arrangements may be necessary in respect of persons living in isolated areas. In a situation where an optometrist with a principal practice in one town visits outlying areas periodically, higher charges are necessarily made to offset the additional costs involved. To ensure that persons in such areas are not deprived of the benefits under the proposed new arrangements, because of the requirement that fees be no higher than the negotiated schedule fees, the Bill, in clause 18, empowers the Minister for Social Security to make special arrangements for the provision of optometrical services, by participating optometrists, to persons in isolated areas.
Clause 20 of the Bill is a transitional provision designed to cover the situation where at the commencement of the new arrangements a patient is in the process of a course of attention at 1 July 1975 and the course extends beyond that date. In conjunction with authorising the new optometrical benefit arrangements, the Bill also repeals existing section 13 of the Health Insurance Act. This section provides for regulations to prescribe reduced amounts of medical benefits to be paid in respect of medical consultations as a result of which spectacles are prescribed.
In line with the philosophy of the Medibank legislation as a whole, the purpose of this Bill is to extend to all Australians an improved system of health benefits. We believe in universal availability of health services as a right and that belief commits us to make changes in the existing pattern of benefits. The lack of benefits for optometrical consultations has been an obvious flaw amongst the very many other deficiencies of the present scheme of health insurance but nothing had been done about it by the previous LiberalCountry Party Government.
When we came to plan a national, equitable and universal health insurance program we saw that optometrical benefits not only should, but could, be included by a government which had a real commitment to progress. Because we had a vision of what was possible and because we were prepared to form policies, enter into negotiation and then make decisions we have been able to produce a well constructed system for the provision of optometrical benefits which can be integrated within the comprehensive Medibank program.
Before commending the Bill to honourable members I would like to express appreciation to the Australian Optometrical Association for the constructive approach it has adopted in negotiations which enabled the optometrical benefit arrangements in this Bill to be formulated. I also appreciate the advice and views offered by the Australian Medical Association and the Aus.tralian College of Ophthalmologists on this matter. I commend the BUI to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Chipp) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 22 April on motion by Mr Hayden:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– May I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation. Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this BUI and the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill 1975 as they are related measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of both Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering both measures? As there is agreement, I will allow that course to be followed.
-The 2 Bills we are now discussing deal with increases in pension rates announced by the Government some time ago. To remind the House, the age pension for single people is to be increased by $5 a week and the married rate is to be increased by $4.25 a week. The legislation also deals with the increase in unemployment benefits, the second phase of the abolition of the means test and something else concerning the unemployment benefit to which I will refer in a moment.
At the outset I say that the Opposition will support both of these Bills and give them the expedition that the Government requires. Before I proceed with my speech may I try to overcome an illusion that seems to be around in the electorates. There seems to be some mischief in many electorates- in some cases caused deliberately by members of the Australian Labor Party, in other instances caused by other factors- where the blame for these increases in pensions not being paid earlier seems to attach to the Federal Opposition. This is basically and palpably untrue.
On the second last day on which this House sat before the recess, which was 22 April, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) introduced the Bills which we are now debating. The intention was to have the pension increases payable as from 1 May. The Opposition could not understand why there was so much delay in introducing the Bills. But as I said, they were brought in on the day before we rose for the recess. In the company of the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), who is the Leader of the House on this side of the chamber, I spoke to the Minister for Social Security and the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) and said: ‘Look, if you want these Bills passed before the House rises for the recess we will give them to you today or tomorrow with the minimum of debate and we will be prepared to pass them in the Senate’. If that offer of the Opposition had been accepted these Bills would have been passed by both Houses of Parliament by 23 April so as to allow the increases to be paid by 1 May.
Today is 13 May and we are still debating in the House of Representatives these 2 Bills which will be passed today without any delay on the part of the Opposition. They will go to the Senate where we will not offer any opposition and they will be passed there with expedition. But the point I make is that the reason pensioners have not yet received these increases is that the Government did not bring the legislation forward for debate on 23 April. When I made the offer in company with the honourable member for New England, the Leader of the House and the Minister for Social Security said: ‘Yes, we will do that and bring them on tomorrow’. When I saw the notice paper for the next day I was surprised to find that the Bills were not listed for debate. I still do not know why they were not so listed on that day. Because of the mischief that has been caused, in some cases deliberately by members of the Labor Party blaming the Liberal and National Country Parties, I thought I should make the position clear.
I am sorry that the honourable member for Henty is not in the House because I wrote her a note saying that out of courtesy I wanted to inform her that during the debate on this legislation I would be making some critical remarks of her. I refer to Mrs Joan Child, the honourable member for Henty, who wrote a letter on 1 May 1975 to the ‘Moorabbin Standard’, a local newspaper that circulates extensively and almost exclusively in her electorate, in my electorate, the electorate of Isaacs and to some extent the electorate of Holt. I am astonished at what she had to say in her letter but my innate sense of gallantry will restrain me from saying about this lady what I really believe and what I would have said had the honourable member been a man. Therefore, with my usual gallantry I will restrain myself and I will not say what I really believe. I read to honourable members what she wrote to the editor. She said:
Sir, I have had numerous phone calls and representations this week from pensioners who have not received increases in their pension cheques. The increase was passed through the 2 Houses of Parliament last month and should have been paid on May 1 . The Appropriation Bill to appropriate money to pay the increases passed through the House of Representatives last week and the Senate failed to pass it.
In fact, 27 Labor senators voted to sit on and pass the Bill while 28 Liberal-Country Party senators voted to adjourn the House. The Independent senator from Albury was not present having returned to Albury. The House was duly adjourned at 5 p.m. (Although the House of Representatives sat through till 1 1 p.m.). As the Appropriation Bill did not pass the Senate we cannot, therefore, pay the increases. When Parliament resumes the Bill should be passed by the Senate and the increase will be paid retrospective to May 1. Signed (Joan Child) Member for Henty.
I repeat a certain extract of the letter which states:
The increase . . .
That is to the pensions- was passed through the 2 Houses of Parliament last month and should have been paid on May 1 .
That refers to the very Bill which we are debating today, 13 May. Mrs Child, because obviously she has had a lot of complaints from pensioners that they have not received the increase in pension, has resorted to the paltry, mean, untrue device of saying: ‘Well, the Bills have been passed by the Houses of Parliament but the reason you have not got your increases, dear pensioners, is that the Liberal and Country Party senators went home early’. It is bad form in this place for someone who has been here for 13 years, as 1 have, to give advice to somebody who has been here for only 2 years and who looks like being what is called a oncer. But I shall remove that restraint from myself and suggest to Mrs Child that she will guarantee herself to be a oncer in the Parliament if she continues to tell deliberate untruths which she knows to be misleading, as I am sure the reading of that letter into the record indicates.
When I reported this news in my Party room today as a matter of interest, I was surprised to hear many of my colleagues in the Opposition, such as the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron), the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier), and many others, say: ‘Yes, but that rumour that it was the Liberal and Country Parties in the Senate which stopped the pension increases being paid before 1 May is around our electorates too’. I hope that what I have said today will at least persuade the listening audience, which at this time of day is at its largest, of the untruth of those allegations. I do not attach any blame in this to the Minister for Social Security. As far as I know he has been ignorant of the mischief which has been put abroad by members of his own Party. Being the man that he is, I am sure that had he known that that mischief had been put abroad he would have disowned it in a flash. I know that when he gets up to respond to the debate on the second reading speech he will disown the untruths told by the honourable member for Henty.
The cost of these pension increases, that is, the $5 and the $4.25 for married people, will represent about $480m a year additional to the Treasury. Of course, this adds to the massive deficit which this Government has already run up in its mismanagement of the economy. The Opposition does not object to these increases, we support them. If it had not been for this massive increase of $5 a week to pensioners, they would be the ones in the community who would suffer because of the unbelievable mismanagement of the economy by the Labor Government. It will cost taxpayers almost $500m extra to finance this plugging of another hole. The Minister, in his second reading speech, states that this increase goes towards the Labor Party’s goal of bringing pensions up to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings, seasonally adjusted. He makes the point proudly that the increase brings the pension up to 24.5 per cent of male average weekly earnings, seasonally adjusted. Then he cannot restrain himself. He has a tilt at the Opposition by pointing out that when the Liberals were last in power the pension was only 2 1 per cent of average weekly earnings. I do not quibble at bis figures. But I wish he would tell the full story because as of today, 13 May, when the $5 has not yet been paid to pensioners, the pension which pensioners are now receiving is 21.1 per cent of male average weekly earnings, seasonally adjusted.
So, as of this day, the Labor Party is and has been paying pensioners at a rate which is equal to the percentage of average weekly earnings which the Minister denounced the last Liberal Government for paying. The tragedy is that as soon as this increase becomes law- whenever it becomes law- and is payable, from that day onwards its percentage of average weekly earnings will continue to be eroded because of the rampant inflation which is going on in this country and about which the Labor Party does not seem to care. Our policy in the Opposition has been stated clearly. We believe in the indexation of pensions. We do not believe that pensions should be a political football and that a Minister should come into the House and grandstand by saying: ‘We will give you pensioners $5 or $6’. We believe and we have announced as our policy that pensions should be indexed and tied automatically to the appropriate index for increases twice a year so that they will not be susceptible and subject to political chicanery.
– What is the appropriate index?
-The Minister asks: ‘What is the appropriate index?’ I am glad of the interjection because the Minister has deliberately misquoted me and the extract from ‘The Way Ahead’, which is the policy document of the LiberalCountry Party of Australia, when he has said that the Liberal and Country Parties would index the pensions to the consumer price index. If the Minister searches ‘The Way Ahead’ from now until kingdom come he will not see such a reference. What he will see is that we will index the pension to what, after the final Henderson report recommendations, will be a suitable index. Maybe it will be average weekly earnings. Maybe there will be another index. But as I pointed out to the Minister for Social Security in another speech, because of the way in which this Government is mismanaging the economy, with rampant inflation and with unemployment rising, it might be to the disadvantage of pensioners to have their pension indexed and tied to average weekly earnings. There may well be another index which will give more justice and equity. This Bill increases unemployment benefits also. We do not object to that. In fact, we compliment the Labor Party on adopting Liberal-Country Party policy in making unemployment benefits payable as soon as a person is unemployed or becomes sick. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will know that previously when a person got the sack he had to wait a week before he was eligible for unemployment benefits.
– That happened during the time of the previous Government.
– I acknowledge the interjection of the honourable member for Barton and say it is true. It is true also that that policy has been carried on by the Labor Party for the last 2 years. In May 1974 we announced that in the case where there was genuine hardship, where a man with 3 children had been sacked from the job that it was inequitable that he had to wait a week for the unemployment benefit. We could see no justice in that. He would have no income coming into his house to feed himself and his 3 children. So we recommended- it came out as policy- that unemployment benefits begin from the day after a man is sacked. Since May 1974 we have been pleading with the Labor Party to implement this. The honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) drew my attention to this matter. I am glad that the Government has now copied our policy. I compliment the Government on doing so. I also compliment it on extending the benefit so that it is paid to a former prisoner as soon as he is released from gaol. This is a progressive reform of which we approve.
I would like to remind the House of the cost of unemployment benefits now. Unemployment is reaching a very high level, and that costs the nation an enormous amount of money. I will detail these figures very quickly. Unemployment benefits for the year will cost $158m. The Regional Employment Development scheme will cost $ 15.5m. The structural adjustment assistance scheme- that is, assistance to individuals because of tariff changes- will cost $30m. That is a total of $203m. The indirect costs of unemployment are through the National Employment and Training scheme- under which history will show some of the great scandals of our time have been perpetrated- which will cost $14m; the special adjustment assistance, which will cost $0.267m; the special assistance to non-metropolitan areas scheme, which will cost $4m; and the special payments to the States for unemployment, which will cost $240m. The total of those direct and indirect costs means that spending on unemployment relief this year at this moment looks as though it will be $46 1 m.
That $46 lm is being paid by the Australian taxpayer to people for doing nothing, paid for one of two reasons: Either there is no work for them or there is work but the scandalous way the Labor Party has softened the work test has allowed to flourish in this country a race of bludgers who are doing nothing, want to do nothing and yet are being paid for it by the Australian taxpayer. That $46 lm is not a small sum for the taxpayer to be paying out for something that is completely non-productive. One could build on that by saying that the reduction in sales tax on motor vehicles is costing the Australian taxpayer something. That was a device used by the Government to get employment moving, as were the extra funds for housing. So the total cost of unemployment which is a direct result of the economic mismanagement of the Government is over $460m. Because it is so costly, I suggest that there is a need for careful administration.
I have referred to bludgers. I will give 2 examples which bother me very much. I am indebted to the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) who brought this matter to the attention of the House a few weeks ago. Instead of giving specific examples, I will mention a couple of matters which I think will cause some concern. A survey was conducted in March by the Roy Morgan Research Centre Pty Ltd in Melbourne. This is the organisation which for years conducted the gallup polls. As I understand it, this was the first independent unemployment survey conducted. At that time the official unemployment figure was 298 000 people; say 300 000 people were out of work, according to the Government. The Roy Morgan Research Centre in its survey found by a sample of 10 000 people- by this sampling method great accuracy can be obtained, as we know from the organisation’s surveying of election results- that only 224 000 people were out of work. This leaves a balance of 75 000 people unaccounted for. In other words, the Government says that the number of people unemployed is 75 000 more than an independent sampling survey indicates.
What are the possibilities? One is that the margin for error in the independent survey is so great that it is wrong by 75 000 out of 300 000. To anyone who has studied statistical method that would be an absurd proposition. Of course the margin for error is not that great. Could it be that the Commonwealth Employment Service is so lax in taking out the cards of people when jobs are found for them that the unemployment figures are inflated each month? That would be an absurd proposition, because I am sure that a ministerial direction has been sent out to every CES office saying: ‘For goodness sake, as soon as you find somebody a job take his card out of the file so as to make the unemployment figure realistic’. So that is not a possibility.
What I do think is a possibility- and this terrifies me- is that there are 75 000 dual or multi registrations of people who are collecting not one cheque but more than one cheque and who are registered at more than one place, and this is not being policed by the Minister or by the Department for several reasons. One reason is that the Minister does not want it policed because he does not want to put pressure on the unemployed. Another is that the Department is so hideously overworked at the moment that it could not possibly police it. I have had brought to my notice cases in which the computer keeps paying people for whom the Department has found a job 2, 3 and 4 weeks before. How many honest people return those cheques? How many people do not? Does the Department follow these people up? If so, when? The Department of Social Security is now responsible for policing the abuses of unemployment benefits and because of the overwork associated with the economic situation the policing has not been carried out on a sufficiently large scale.
Abuses of unemployment benefits are becoming simpler. Why the Minister and the Department have oversimplified the system and made it so easy to get unemployment relief, I do not know; but they have. Now only one form must be lodged monthly with the Department of Social Security to keep those cheques rolling in, and that form can be lodged by mail. Under the old system a person had to lodge the form personally each week at the local CES office in order to continue being paid the unemployment benefit. I am prepared to be as sympathetic to the unemployed as anybody. In fact, the Opposition’s posture on paying the unemployed immediately they are sacked indicates that. But I do not think it is any great hardship for a person who is unemployed to go to the local CES office once a week, lodge a form personally and say: ‘I am still unemployed’. To allow it to be done by proxy once a month means that a person can sit at home, post the form each month to the Department of Social Security and collect a cheque. We have heard of Utopia and the welfare state; but this is ridiculous.
I refer to a letter, which I have been given authority to quote, from a firm of licensed surveyors, M. M. Fisher and Associates, of Altona Street, West Perth. It says that they recently advertised in Perth for survey hands to be engaged on both rural and metropolitan work. After advertising extensively they received replies to their advertisements from 5, 3 and 2 people respectively. While all the figures published show unemployment running at record levels and far in excess of the 1961 credit squeeze level, an advertisement this firm placed in 1961 brought 50 applicants; whereas its advertisements now bring 5 applicants. Where are the unemployed? Or is it that they have never had it so good? Is it that it does not pay them to work? Is it that they do not have to meet a work test?
This is costing the nation over $400m, and I think it is the job of a responsible Opposition on behalf of taxpayers to ask the Government: ‘Are you spending our money responsibly or are you giving it to any bludger who wants to stay at home and post in an application form once a month?’ Mr Fisher goes on to give an example which is sickening. He says that he is prepared to back it up. He said:
An example of this is in our neighbourhood: Six young people sharing a house, all on the dole, enjoying a combined income- before casual jobs- of $2 1 6 per week.
That will be increased by another $30 per week as soon as we pass this Bill. They are receiving $216 each week from us, the taxpayers. Mr Fisher continues:
Allow $35 for rent, a figure 1 know they pay, $30 for each of the 2 cars they run, and they have a ‘family’ income of $ 1 2 1 after housing and transport expenses are paid.
Mr Fisher asks the plaintive question:
How many families of six are in this enviable position?
There is the naked question: How many families of six are in this enviable position when the breadwinner is working? In this house there is not a soul working, and they are on the dole, being paid for by us. This disturbs the Opposition. One wonders how far we will go with this ridiculous welfare state. I am also concerned about the Department of Social Security. The ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ is sometimes ridiculed in this place by the Government. I remind the Government of an article which appeared on 2 April 1975. It is headed:
Six-hour wait at Social Security office.
The article states:
At 9.30 a.m. yesterday, Mrs Gloria MacLennan arrived at the Department of Social Security . . . Pitt Street and took ticket number 105.
We give ticket numbers to people now. We are treating them like cattle as they go in to wait for social service benefits. The article continues:
In due course her number was called- at 3.50 p.m. well over 6 hours later. In the meantime, she sat among more than 50 people, each one steadily growing more angry. She watched as one young girl fainted.
So the story goes on. Mrs MacLennan is not alone. The article states further:
An elderly man leaving the same office yesterday said that he had received no cheque for several weeks. His landlady was knocking on the door of his lodgings each day asking if his cheque had arrived.
Others complained bitterly of waiting times comparable with Mrs MacLenna’s
The advertised opening hours of the office are from 8.30 a.m. until 4.5 1 p.m. Yesterday the ‘office closed ‘ sign was put up at 3.30; inside the doors were more than 50 people, many having been there since the morning.
I do not know whether that is true. I should like departmental officers who are present to tell me through the Minister, whether that is true. If it is true, it is a national scandal. If it is true, will the Minister for Environment (Dr Cass), who is supposed to be humanitarian but who laughs -
– I was thinking about what you were saying -
-Do you find it amusing that people have to wait 6 hours at the Department of Social Security?
-Order! The honourable member for Hotham should direct his remarks to the Chair.
– We are deeply concerned at the mismanagement because of the number of people involved and because of the state of the economy. I have expressed concern on behalf of the Opposition but because of the rate of inflation and the difficulties experienced by pensioners we support these measures and will give them expedition both here and in the other place.
-I welcome the opportunity to speak in this cognate debate. I want to concentrate my remarks on the Social Services Bill 1975. Other speakers from the Government side will refer to the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill 1975. 1 was delighted to hear the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) say that pensions would not, if the Opposition were in power, be a political football. Of course, he has a very short memory. I refer him to the time when the Opposition was in government and pensions were just that. Every time there was an election it dangled the counter bid in front of the electors of how much money was going to be handed out.
When this Government came to power it made a promise which it has kept. It stated that every 6 months an adjustment would be made in the rates of pension and it would strive to ensure that the rate of pension reached 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. If the Opposition has learnt nothing else in opposition but the fact that pensioners are not to be held to ransom every time there is an election and a carrot dangled in front of them to try to win their vote maybe its period in opposition has not been completely in vain.
The honourable member for Hotham referred also to the abuse of the unemployment benefit. We are aware of this. I think the term used by the honourable member for Hotham, when referring to people abusing unemployment benefit, was ‘bludgers’. We have seen in the Press the use of similar statements to that used by the honourable member for Hotham. We know that it is an easy type of statement to make and it is very difficult to assess the accuracy of such a statement. Of course it is true that in any system of 1 social welfare- the honourable member for Hotham is aware of this- there will be a percentage of people who will abuse that system. I submit to this House that the majority are not abusing unemployment benefit. It is an insignificant minority that would abuse such benefits by being the type of person who would register in 2 places or some such subterfuge as this.
I have had plenty of reports made to me and I have always said to the person: ‘Give me the name of the person who is abusing unemployment benefit and we will have the matter investigated ‘. In all the claims that I have heard made, only one name has been given to me, and that case was investigated. I have heard such claims made by the Opposition. I trust that members of the Opposition are doing their part and are reporting such matters to the Department of Social Security so that investigations can be carried out. We, as a government, naturally would not want people to be abusing unemployment benefit. We would want them stopped from doing so, if this is the case, and appropriate action taken against them. Of course, the honourable member for Hotham also is aware that the work test is, in fact, carried out at the present time. I put to him: Is a system that is good to be discontinued because of a few people? I submit that this system that we have developed since we have been in office is one based on social concern.
The principal features of the Bill were outlined by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) in his second reading speech. I should like to repeat them. They are: To make a substantial increase in the basic rate of pensions and benefits; an increase in additional payments for children; the implementation of the second step in the Government’s program to abolish the means test on age pensions; provision for unemployment, sickness and special benefits weekly in advance instead of weekly in arrears; and provision for the imediate payment of special benefit for people newly discharged from prison. These are the obvious and readily discernible provisions of the Bill. What is not so obvious- but what should be clearly understood- is that this is a continuation of the record of the Whitlam Government, to seek out constantly new ways of making a life of dignity for those who receive any form of welfare payment. These payments are a right; not a handout. They are not charity. They are the free entitlement of all people in Australia who, for one reason or another, find themselves in a situation where they are recipients of these benefits. This Bill is also a clear recognition by this Government of the need to increase benefits. This applies particularly to pensions, so that the most vulnerable people in the community do not suffer needlessly in an inflationary period.
Since the Labor Government took office in December 1972 its record of pension and benefit increases has, I believe, been outstanding. On the first day of the first session of the Parliament it introduced a Bill to provide increases in all pensions, unemployment and sickness benefits. Since then not only has the social welfare system been rationalised; benefits and pensions have increased at a far greater rate than increases in prices and wages. Let us look briefly at the advances the Whitlam Government has made in this area and compare them with the record of its predecessors. In October 1972 the married pensioner couple rate was $34.50 a week. By July 1974 this had been increased to $51.50 a week- an increase of 49.3 per cent. This compares with an increase of 3 1 .6 per cent in the consumer price index and a 40. 1 per cent increase in average weekly earnings. This legislation seeks to increase the pensioner couple rate to $60 a week, another step in the expressed aim of adjusting the pensioner rate twice yearly until it reaches 25 per cent of average weekly earnings.
The increase in unemployment benefits and sickness benefits has been even more spectacular. In October 1972 the weekly payment to a single recipient more than 21 years of age was $17. By July 1974 this had been increased to $31 a week- an increase of 82.4 per cent, compared with a 31.6 per cent increase in the consumer price index and a 40.1 per cent increase in average weekly earnings. Of course this Bill increases that amount to $36 per week. So I could go on citing these striking examples of the Whitlam Government’s continued progress in the area of social welfare and how this contrasts with the inactivity of the Liberal-Country Party governments when they were in office for 23 years.
One of the most outstanding examples is the first historic step towards the abolition of the means test on age pensions which was taken by this Government in September 1973. Since that date all residentially qualified members of the community aged 75 years or more have been able to receive age pensions free of the means test. We are now taking the second step on our program for abolishing the means test for pensioners more than 65 years of age. This Bill will give effect to that second stage. Age pensions, free of means test, will be made available to people in the 70 to 74 years of age group as from 1 May. This of course will increase the number of people eligible. An estimated 43 000 people who are currently receiving pensions at reduced rates will benefit from this measure by becoming entitled to payment at the maximum rate. In addition to that, an estimated 56 000 people who are now excluded because of their means will become eligible.
Nobody would question the need to increase pensions and to keep them up to reasonable living standards. In this Bill we have kept to our promise to abolish the means test for everybody over 70 years of age. However, there would be some who would question the priority of need, whether the Government should as its next step reduce the age of eligibility by 5 years, or whether it should phase in the means test abolition over a number of yearly periods. It is my own view- I underline that it is my own viewthat the next step should be to reduce the means test-free age to 69 years next year, then to 68, and so on.
– That is Budget time next year?
-Yes. This is what I am referring to. I stress that it is my view. I repeat that I say this because on the priority of need I for one would want to see the base pension kept at a relatively high rate. The aim is 25 per cent of average weekly earnings and that promise must be kept.
Another significant step forward in this Bill is the proposal to make unemployment, sickness and special benefit payments weekly in advance instead of weekly in arrears. The honourable member for Hotham said that in this case we are copying Liberal Party policy. I suggest to him that some of the things that are now stated in ‘The Way Ahead ‘ are lift-outs of policy that have been espoused by this Party and in fact are being put into practice. The effect of this measure, of course, will be to reduce by 7 days the time it takes the claims claimant to receive the first benefit cheque. This has been happening since January and illustrates the deep concern of this Government about the delays which have occurred in paying benefits, particularly unemployment benefits.
There is still another highly important part of this legislation which is worthy of comment, not because of its cost to the Government but because it recognises an area of social deprivation never before taken into consideration by any government in Australia. I refer to the special benefit to be paid immediately to people newly discharged from prison. Criminologists and penologists will affirm that a majority of our gaol population are recidivists, that is, people who relapse into crime and return again and again to prison. A clearly definable reason for this is that in many cases they are not given an adequate opportunity to re-establish themselves within the community. They leave gaol with little money, sometimes only a dollar or two. They are faced with considerable expense in securing accommodation. They have outstanding debts which have accumulated while they have been in prison and many are left to rely on handouts from churches and welfare and voluntary charitable organisations. They have paid their debt to society but in this sense they are still being punished. The end result of this is that many of them again lapse into crime and in many cases return to gaol.
This Government is keenly aware of this problem and the need to salvage these people for useful and fruitful lives in the community. The Government has taken in this legislation another step to fill a gap in our social security system which should not have been allowed to continue. The rate of benefit, means test and method of assessment and entitlement will be in accordance with the normal unemployment and sickness benefit provisions, whichever are appropriate. The idea of this special benefit payment is to tide these people over until they qualify for either unemployment benefit or sickness benefit. But it is hoped that with the worry of finding food and shelter when they leave prison lifted from their shoulders they will be able to find jobs and return to society as useful citizens. This benefit will decisively change the present objective circumstances which make so many of these people relapse into crime.
For this provision alone this measure would be a great step forward in social concern. But it is much more than that. In the current session of this Parliament we have considered a number of Bills and we are considering some of them at present. I mention the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill, the Children’s Commission Bill, the National Compensation Bill, the Road Safety and Standards Authority Bill. We have seen the passage of the Bill for the establishment of Medibank, to come into operation on 1 July. All these measures are progressive and forwardlooking within themselves, but when they are taken as a whole one sees them as elements in a program of social concern and as essential items in the great objective we are seeking- to establish the rational use of the community’s resources towards a life style which allows the fulfilment of the best aspirations of all Australians. I commend the Bill to the House.
-In entering this debate I wish to take up the point that was made so well by the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). Honourable members will recall that he mentioned that rumours were circulating in many electorates throughout Australia that the delay in the payment of increases in the pension rates was caused by the Opposition. These are false stories, stories that have been circulating in my electorate of Petrie also. They are malicious and they are untrue. I suggest that the blame falls on the Government, and particularly on the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), for not bringing the Bills before the Parliament at an earlier date. It is true to say that the money will be paid from 1 May to all people who are entitled to receive the benefits, and no one will really lose. But the point was made by the honourable member for Hotham- I think it is worth emphasising- that it was not the Opposition’s fault that these Bills were not passed. The question I ask the Minister for Social Security and the Government is: Did the Government bring the Bills in late to delay the payout of several millions of dollars?
Also I want to take the honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow) to task on the point he made about having doubts that the bludgers and the exploiters of the Government’s unemployment benefits scheme did in fact exist. Let me assure the honourable member that his own Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) recognises the problem. A little later on I will quote from an interview with the Minister which clearly indicates that he recognises this problem. I suggest that the honourable member for Holt talks with some senior officers in the Commonwealth Employment Office because they will enlighten him on the situation. There is ample proof that there is exploitation of this scheme.
The Opposition supports these Bills but makes the point that the Government should sharpen up its approach by making payments to those who are really in need. We agree that we must bring extra benefits to that section of the community that is most in need. The Bills provide for increases in pensions, additional payments for dependants of pensioners, unemployment benefits and sickness benefits to be paid weekly in advance and also immediate payment of special benefits for persons newly discharged from gaol. In addition there is the very important abolition of the means test for people in the 70 to 74 age group. I think it is very pertinent to point out that the estimated cost of these benefits for a full year is $587m.
I would like to direct my comments now to some of the points made in the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security. He gloated that the standard or single rate pension now represents 24.5 per cent of seasonally adjusted average weekly earnings, but he went on to qualify that by stating that the comparison was made with the December 1974 figures for seasonally adjusted average weekly earnings, which was the last quarter available to him. If the Minister were in the chamber at the moment I would ask him to look back over the last 5 months at least in which the inflation rate has been running at 20 per cent. I would suggest to him that average weekly earnings now have increased quite considerably since the last quarter of 1974. I believe that the Minister is being deceitful in drawing a comparison with average weekly earnings back in 1974 when we have inflation currently running at the tremendous rate of 20 per cent.
He went on to comment that in the last year of office of the Liberal-Country Party Government the comparable proportion of the pension to average weekly earnings was 21 per cent. A few minutes ago the honourable member for Hotham pointed out to the House that the figure that this Government has been paying in recent times is still only 2 1 . 1 per cent. The Minister also claimed that the single or standard rate has increased by 80 per cent and that the combined married rate has increased by 74 per cent since December 1972 when the Australian Labor Party formed the Government. That is true. Then he went on to say that in the same period the consumer price index has increased by 31.6 per cent. He stated:
This indicates that there has been a substantial redistribution of purchasing power to pensioners and social security beneficiaries.
I offer the suggestion to the Minister that many items in the consumer price index do not affect the pensioner. I invite the Minister for Social Security to come with me into a supermarket in which the average pensioner does his shopping. I assure him that I have a number of pensioners in my electorate, particularly in one section of the electorate. I invite the Minister to come with me and compare some of the price increases of the commodities commonly purchased by a pensioner. Let us consider some of them. In December 1972 a pint of milk cost 12c; in May 1975 it costs 18c- an increase of 50 per cent. Bread which used to cost 26c a loaf now costs 38c a loaf- a 46 per cent increase. A pound of bacon rashers used to cost 96c but in May 1975 costs $1.58- an increase of 64 per cent. The price of butter has increased from 56c to 67c- an increase of 20 per cent. In December 1972 a 5 lb bag of potatoes cost 30c; it now costs 45c- an increase of 50 per cent. A 24 oz can of jam cost 25c; it now costs 34c- an increase of 36 per cent. A pair of sandshoes cost $6.99; it now costs $10.50- an increase of 50 per cent. Certainly the price of beef has gone down but lamb and pork have increased in price. If one takes items at random, as I did, one finds that the increase was something like 41 per cent. Of course, I have not mentioned the increase in local authority rates which in this same period has been quite considerable.
On 10 April I made a speech in this House during the grievance debate in which I highlighted some of the problems that exist today with the exploitation of the unemployment benefits being paid to a great number of people in this country. I spoke of the exploitation not only from the point of view of the cost to the economy but also from the point of view of the moral cost to the nation. I want to enlarge a little on this subject today. I believe that this will refute the statements of the honourable member for Holt. My first comment relates to a statement made by the Minister for Labor and Immigration. A headline in ‘The West- .Australian’ on 12 March 1974-a little over 12 months ago- read ‘Cameron’s warning to slackers’. The article stated:
The Minister for Labor, Mr Cameron, warned last night that ‘slackers’ might lose the right to unemployment benefits.
He said he was giving thought to reducing unemployment benefits for people who were out of work and refused to be retrained for other jobs.
He went on:
I’ve got no sympathy for people who can be described as the professional unemployed person, who just won’t work and who treats unemployment benefits as being a suitable or satisfactory alternative to working … I want to get rid of slackers.
– How is he getting on with that?
Mr HODGES The honourable member for Wakefield asks: ‘How is he getting on with it?’ I suggest that the Minister for Labor and Immigration has taken no action whatsoever. It is the Department of Social Security that foots the bill for those people who are registered as unemployed. I wonder how many prosecutions there have been. I wonder how many checks have been made to ensure that the work test has been properly applied. Let us look at another statement- a Press release by the Minister for Labor and Immigration. It stated:
The liter-departmental Working Party on the ‘work test’ has now completed its review and I am indicating in this statement the relevant decisions.
The Working Party, consisting of senior officers of the Department of Labor and the Department of Social Security, was set up by the Minister for Social Security, Mr BUI Hayden, M.P., and myself to conduct a thorough examination of the work test and the procedures followed and instructions to officers concerned with its application.
That is dated 14 April 1974.
– Yes, 1974-a little over 12 months ago. He went on to say:
The Working Party expects these guidelines to minimise abuses and to identify the ‘work shy’ more effectively.
The Press statement finished by saying:
The Permanent Head of my Department, Dr Sharp, is issuing instructions to the CES to observe strictly the new procedures and guidelines from now on.
Obviously, they are more empty words from the Minister for Labor and Immigration and the Minister for Social Security. I continue my remarks to refer to an interview given by the Minister for Labor and Immigration on the ‘A.M.’ radio program in regard to unemployed persons. The Minister was asked:
Mr Cameron how long have you been aware that the unemployment benefits have been exploited?
The Minister answered:
It came to my notice a few weeks ago following the reports in some sections of the press about what they described as a multi-million dollar racket and suggesting that practically everybody in the community was on unemployed benefits. There is evidence that following those press reports that a lot of young people who previously had not done so had applied for unemployed benefits, apparently believing, ‘well everybody else is on it, according to the papers, we might as well join the queue’.
The interviewer then asked:
Is it a multi-million dollar racket?
The Minister answered:
No it’s not. Of course it never was, and it’s not now. In point of fact, the survey that I ordered into this matter showed that out of those who are getting unemployed benefits, and it’s well to remember that only 40 per cent of those who are unemployed are in receipt of unemployed benefits, that only 3 per cent of that 40 per cent who are getting unemployed benefits were thought to be bludging, to use an Australianism.
I wish to update those figures because now approximately 55 per cent of the registered unemployed are receiving unemployment benefits. Can we take the fact that the percentage of people registered as unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits has jumped from 40 per cent of the unemployed in April 1974 to approximately 55 per cent in April 1975 as an indication of the position that has arisen? I suggest to the Minister for Labor and Immigration that there is a multi-million dollar racket in Australia at the moment in this regard. Let us assume that, as the Minister stated, only 3 per cent of those who are receiving unemployed benefits are bludging. I believe that the percentage is probably 6 per cent or even as high as 10 per cent. There are approximately 150,000 people in receipt of unemployment benefits in Australia today. I was unable to obtain the April figures, but I am working on the March figure, which would be something of the order of 150 000 people. Three per cent of that figure is 4500. When we average out an unemployment payment of $60 a week- I guess it is now about $70 a week- this means a payment of something like $270,000 weekly or $ 14m annually. If the number of people receiving unemployment benefits went as high as 10 per cent of unemployed people- I believe it could be- this figure would jump to approximately $47m. So it is indeed a multi-million dollar racket. I also quote from an article by a well known dedicated Labor man and dedicated socialist which appeared in the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’ of 14 February 1975. The headline reads:
Union head urges dole out.
Mr Arch Bevis, the State Secretary of the Transport Workers Union in Queensland, had this to say in the article:
I think the Government should consider cutting back existing benefits to make people want to get work, he said . . .
People are going on the dole for three months or so, going back to work, and what they lost in wages they make up in tax rebates, he said. If my contention can be proved, and I believe it can, then the Government should reduce the present dole rates.
– Who said that?
– The Queensland State Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, Mr Arch Bevis, in a newspaper article of Friday, 14 February 1975.
– That fellow has a bit of sense.
– As the honourable member for Forrest reminds me, he has a lot of sense. At present 150 000 people receive unemployment benefits at an average payment of approximately $70 a week. I cite this figure because one must remember that the single rate of unemployment benefit is $36 a week, the rate for a married couple is $60 a week, for a married couple with 2 children it is $74 a week and for a married couple with 3 children it is $8 1 a week. So bearing these figures in mind I would say at a conservative estimate that approximately $ 10.5m weekly or $550m annually is being paid out in unemployment benefits. It is time that the Government had a long hard look at this tremendous waste to our nation.
But what about those genuine people for whom the payment of the benefit weekly in advance, as is proposed by this Bill, is extremely important? This is a humane approach and the Opposition has much pleasure in supporting it. People often need money immediately. The people who are genuinely unemployed often refrain from registering as being unemployed. Their pride will not allow them to do so. People who have this very problem have contacted me. They have held off from registering week after week in the hope that they will be able to find employment. Eventually they realise that they must register. Private enterprise is in such a depressed state in this country today, brought about by this Labor Government- there is no doubting this and the people of this nation daily are beginning to realise it- that jobs are scarce and business has no confidence. Surely the return of business confidence must be the long term answer to the lack of jobs in this country. In this situation we will find that people will want to receive unemployment benefit payments in advance. As the Minister said in his second reading speech, this will cost $9.4m in a full year. But the Government has a responsibility to ensure that the unscrupulous dot not capitalise on this immediate payment. It must surely tighten the reins to ensure that only those who are in need are the ones who receive.
I want to mention in conclusion the abolition of the means test for the 70 to 74 year old pensioners. I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that at the moment there are approximately 43 000 pensioners who are receiving the reduced rate pension and who will benefit by this abolition, and that in addition 56 000 people who are presently excluded from receiving a pension will receive one. These people have paid taxes all their lives and surely must be entitled to receive this pension. I sum up by saying that personally I am delighted to support the increase for all classes of pensioners, the abolition of the means test for those aged 70 to 74 years and the increased benefits for the genuinely unemployed. But I charge the Government to adopt a more stringent policing of exploitation of the unemployment benefits scheme by the loafing, bludging dole set.
-The standard rate of pension will rise after this Social Services
Bill is passed through both Houses of Parliament from $3 1 a week to $36 a week. This means that pensions will have increased by $ 1 6 a week since this Government took office. Since we assumed office in December 1972 the standard rate of pension has increased by 80 per cent and the combined married rate by nearly 74 per cent. For the same period the consumer price index has increased by 31.6 per cent. So disregarding the supermarket list presented by the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges), the buying power of the pensioner has certainly been increased since this Government took office. But the rate of increase in pensions is of little interest compared with the peace of mind that pensioners completely dependent on their pensions have had since this Government took office. No longer do they have to wait for a Budget, as they did in the old days of the Liberal-Country Party coalition government, to find out that they would perhaps get a kiss if the government was between elections and popular or perhaps an increase of $1 if an election were imminent and the government unpopular. No longer do they have to wait for another bone to be thrown to them. They know full well under this present Government that their pensions will be adjusted twice annually to try to maintain the pension level at 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings. They know full well that the philosophy of this Government is founded on a floor of welfare and that our every effort is towards guaranteeing them the right to a living income that has regard to the cost of living.
For over 20 years, pension increases at Budget time paid no regard to the need of pensioners. The only criterion for the increases under the Liberal-Country Party coalition Government was how popular the Government was or how close it was to an election. I say to pensioners very clearly and seriously: ‘Pay full attention to the remarks of the new Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) when he says that a Liberal-National Country Party Government would reduce spending in all areas, except that of education, and increase spending in the area of defence’. There was no notice of intention to increase pensions. The Leader of the Opposition simply said that his Government would maintain spending in the social security area. He did not say that his Government would increase pensions twice a year so that pensions would be maintained at the rate of 25 per cent of the average weekly wage.
Let me return to the remarks of the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). It is typical of him that he should take me up on what was an honest mistake. As he said in the course of his speech, he has been a member of this Parliament for 13 years. I have been a member for just less than one year. I made an honest mistake. The legislation appeared on the blue paper for debate and passage, and I thought it had been passed. It is typical of the shallow approach that the honourable member for Hotham makes to the problems of the dependent and the handicapped that he should try to mount a major attack on this issue. Instead of the misplaced gallantry that the honourable member for Hotham displayed to me, he might have tried for some small understanding of the problems of new members. He has been a member for 13 years. He said that I am a oncer. I might remind him that I am not. If he thinks that I am a oncer, at least I can think that he is a has-been.
He cannot even attack me honestly. He prefaced his remarks by saying how much more strongly he would have spoken if I had been a man. Why can he not see me as a member of Parliament, one who has made an honest mistake and is honest enough to say so? I often wonder why the honourable member for Hotham so vigorously denies that he is a male chauvinist. Maybe it is because he is a male chauvinist. I am not ever afraid to say that I have made a mistake. The only people who do not make mistakes are those who do not do anything, say anything or think. I wish the honourable member for Hotham the joy of his efforts, but I remind him that much more can be achieved by constructive thinking than by empty gestures such as ‘fighting at the barricades’.
– Give him a handkerchief.
– Yes, the honourable member for Hotham needs one. He would be far better employed serving his electorate than pouring criticism on me. I believe that we should speak to the Bill and not to irrelevant matters; so I shall continue my remarks on the Bill. This Bill also provides for an increase of $1.50 a week for dependent children of pensioners and supporting mothers. This increases the amount for each dependent child to $7 a week. The overall increase for a single pensioner with 2 children will be $8 a week. This is a far cry from the 25c or 50c a week increase we used to receive under the former Government when I was a pensioner. These increases will flow on to the special benefits and sickness benefits, to sheltered employment allowances and to unemployment benefits.
The new policies in respect of widows or supporting mothers with one child and no property affecting will mean that such a person will now be able to receive other income to a higher level without losing her entitlement to a widow’s pension. This will be a great incentive to single parents to re-enter the work force instead of being wholly dependent on the pension. Age pensions will be payable free of means test to all those in the 70 to 74 years age group. Honourable members will recall that the first stage of the abolition of the means test was commenced in 1973. It is interesting to note that the Opposition has been making noises about abolishing the means test entirely. I prefer to look at the Opposition’s track record rather than to take the words of Opposition members at face value. The Opposition’s track record shows that it had many years in which it could have abolished the means test but in fact it did nothing about it. Words cost nothing; it is deeds that matter.
Unemployment benefits will now be paid weekly in advance instead of in arrears. This will assist those who are in financial difficulties. This afternoon the honourable member for Hotham insulted every person who is receiving unemployment benefits. He grouped them all together and called them bludgers. It must be great for the man who is out of work, who has a family and commitments and who may be listening to this debate, to be told that he is a bludger because he is collecting unemployment benefits because he cannot get a job. Of course there are people in the community who are taking advantage of unemployment benefits. Did they suddenly pop up in 1972 when the Labor Government took office, or did they exist before? There will always be those who will take advantage of such a situation. I ask the honourable member for Hotham not to lump them all in together as bludgers.
The appropriation legislation on which I made my mistake contained provision for extra loans to ex-servicemen. That is probably where I got so upset because some of those people who were waiting for defence service home loans had to take out quite expensive bridging finance because the Senate did not sit on and pass the legislation. I had those facts right; it was the other points on which I was wrong. I suggest to the honourable member for Hotham that, instead of attacking me, he should concentrate on making sure that his new Leader will ensure that the Senate will sit on and pass Appropriation Bills when they are needed.
-I have listened with interest to the apology by the honourable member for Henty (Mrs Child). That apology would have sounded slightly more sincere if she had left her remarks at that apology instead of in turn attacking the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). The honourable member made the point that the honourable member for Hotham had been a member of this House for 13 years and that he should have some sympathy for a member who has not been here very long. The alternative view that can be taken is that those who have not been here very long should be more careful before they go racing into print.
If the honourable member is sincere- I accept that she is- the Opposition would expect that she would now write to the same local newspapers, in the same way as she wrote before to blame the Liberal-National Country Party Opposition for what she said had occurred, and say that the mistake was hers and that it was not the fault of the Liberal-National Country Party Opposition that the Bills in question were not passed by both Houses of the Parliament. The Government, for some reason best known to itself and better known to the honourable member for Henty than to members on this side of the House, decided not to proceed with the legislation. This was after the offer had been made by the honourable member for Hotham that the Opposition would ensure a quick and speedy passage for the legislation. If the honourable member for Henty is completely sincere, as she said she is- I have no doubt that she is- I believe that she will write to the same newspapers letters setting out those facts and including the points that we have made, and make sure that those letters are published. I understand that with respect to the war service loans aspect, the honourable member may not be correct in her remarks and I suggest that that matter should be checked before anything further is said about it.
I commend generally the provisions of the 2 Bills now before the House. Let me summarise in point form what they are. The Social Services Bill 1975 seeks to increase the single pension to $36 a week. The pension will be provided means test free to those who are 70 years of age and over. The waiting time qualification will be cut out and the proposal to make unemployment, sickness and special benefit payable weekly in advance instead of weekly in arrears will, with the passing of this Bill, reduce by 7 days the time it takes the claimant to receive a first benefit cheque. The allowance for dependent children will be increased by $1.50 a week. Special benefit will be payable immediately to persons newly discharged from gaol. Provision is also made for benefits to be paid to the credit of building society accounts.
The Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill 1975 provides for service pensions to be paid free of means test to persons 70 years of age and over.
That provision is comparable with the similar provision in the Social Services Bill. The Bill provides further that, in respect of those still subject to the means test for service disability pensions, 50 per cent of income will be disregarded in the assessment of the disability pension, with that part of the pension to be free of means test for application of other pensions. The service pension is to be extended to veterans of other Commonwealth countries who now reside in Australia. That latter aspect has been in the policy of the Australian Labor Party since the 1972 election. Quite a number of Commonwealth returned service men and women in my electorate had begun to despair that this proposal would ever be presented. But it is being presented now.
I wish to comment on many of the points to which I have referred. The first which I mention is the payment in advance in respect of unemployment benefits and some other benefits. I note from the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) that this procedure commenced on 13 January. In my electorate in January, February and March the payment of unemployment benefits was running anything up to 6 weeks behind. People in my area would be most surprised to hear that unemployment benefits were actually being paid a week in advance from 1 3 January.
Let me give several examples to make a specific point. In this respect I am not in any way criticising the officers of the Commonwealth Employment Service office or the Social Security office in my electorate. These people were swamped. They worked very hard then, and they are still working hard. When one looks at the National Employment and Retraining Schemethe NEAT scheme- one finds that many people in dire circumstances are dependent on receiving or are hopeful that they will receive an affirmative answer to their applications. But in my electorate at least, the processing of applications under the NEAT scheme is running months behind. These people can do no other planning as to what they will try to achieve for themselves. They have no idea when an answer will come. Looking at the Department of Social Security, one finds that when people in receipt of pensions move from one State to another the transfer of their pension entitlements takes some months. I wish to make the point constructively and sincerely that much of the administration of areas of our social welfare services, be it unemployment benefits, NEAT applications or other forms of pensions, is in a mess. It would greatly help people in need if they could get speedy answers, or answers at all, to some of their problems. I think many ordinary people are losing faith in the Canberra colossus of Government departments. Unless pressure is applied by somebody no result will be obtained. I think that the average person feels that damage is being done in social welfare areas particularly in a time of need.
I support what previous speakers on this side have said about scandals in the payment of unemployment benefits. One of the better known ones, and one that has been publicised in the newspapers from time to time, involves interstate truck drivers who, as well as having a job- a well-paid job- register for unemployment benefits at the start and end of their interstate truck runs. For example, a man driving from Melbourne to Adelaide registers in Melbourne and in Adelaide and obtains benefits in both places.
At the present time there is no junior unemployment rate. Once a person turns 16 years he goes on the adult rate. I believe this is leading to considerable social injustice. The Opposition Parties believe that there should be a reduced rate of unemployment benefit for juniors between 1 6 and 1 8 years of age. At the present time some apprentices are receiving less in take-home pay than they would receive if they were on unemployment benefits. This country needs apprentices as much or more than any other group of people. I know of 16-year-olds in my electorate giving up their jobs because the money available to them to spend if they work is less than if they do not work and receive the unemployment benefit. They are made figures of fun by their friends of the same age group, who ask: ‘Why should you work when we can play around all day and be better off financially for it?’ This problem was mentioned by the honourable member for Hotham. Not only are young people developing an attitude to life which is not conducive to playing a constructive working role in our society, but also a complete social injustice is being done to the vast majority of young people who want to do something for themselves and for the country.
One of the problems associated with malpractices in the payment of unemployment benefits is the question of identification. False names can be used. It is hard to check them. We do not have an identity card system. It is quite common for people to obtain a driving licence when they reach 18 years of age. Perhaps drivers’ licences could be used to identify people. I will welcome any criticism from speakers opposite on the points I make. Medibank cards will be available to everybody in the future. The question is whether they should be used as some form of identification of persons registering for unemployment benefits so that false names cannot be used, or at least double applications can be detected more easily than they can at the present time.
The availability or proximity of an office of the Department of Social Security or Commonwealth Employment Service affects people in gaining satisfaction from Government departments. I congratulate the Government on the establishment of a number of new offices for both the Commonwealth Employment Service and the Department of Social Security. I and other members have been told, in answers to questions, where these offices have been established. I am afraid I must say that more of them have been established in metropolitan areas than in country areas. I want to give an example of the problem that people in my electorate face. Mine is a rural electorate, small in area. Echuca and the surrounding districts, which extend into 2 States, have a population of 20 000 to 30 000 people. The nearest office of the Department of Social Security to Echuca is 50 miles away, in either Shepparton or Bendigo. Anybody who has any trouble in Echuca has to pay a very high trunk call charge to telephone either of these offices. Very little public transport exists and it is expensive.
Generally people in country areas are of a higher average age than elsewhere and it has been pointed out that unemployment and other problems in relation to welfare are generally greater in the country than in the city. Country people are severely disadvantaged in their ability to contact an office and get some sort of satisfaction. I am pleased to say that the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) has agreed to the establishment of a Commonwealth Employment Service office in Echuca but so far the Department of Social Security has not agreed to establish an office there. This is just one example of a situation which exists in many country areas.
I note also that the legislation provides for benefits and pensions to be credited to permanent building society accounts. Initially this will apply only in respect of child endowment. I am reminded of a debate which I think concerned the same subject of increases in pensions and which took place in this House about 8 months ago. I asked the Minister for Social Security what was happening with the suggestion that pensions and benefits be paid into bank accounts. I think such a method of payment would be of some value both to efficiency within the Department and to the beneficiaries, particularly those people who are now receiving pensions free of means test. I was told that either the system was already available or it soon would be. On checking with the Department of Social Security today I was told that it is still not available. I hope that the brave words of the Minister in his second reading speech, indicating that the payment of benefits to the credit of permanent building society accounts will be introduced, will be borne out a little more quickly than has the suggestion of making payment of benefits to the credit of bank accounts. Also, in the move to make payments to the credit of permanent building society accounts I hope that a similar arrangement in respect of bank accounts will not be overlooked.
Will pensioners actually be any better 00 The Minister stated in his second reading speech that the basic pension of $36 per week will represent 24.5 per cent of average weekly male earnings in the December quarter. As the honourable member for Hotham quickly and correctly pointed out, as at the commencement date for the payment of the new rates in May, the pension as a percentage of average weekly male earnings has been reduced to 21.1 per cent. Let us extend the argument a Utile further. There will not be another increase in the pension for 5 months. This will occur on 1 October. This is the usual procedure following on the Budget. What percentage of average weekly male earnings will the basic penison be in October when inflation is roaring on in this country at the present rate? I suggest it will be lower than has ever been the case under any government, either LiberalCountry Party or Labor, since the war. If any Government supporter is brave enough to say that it will not be so, I would like him to challenge me on that figure.
One should add also to this the fact that many people are now taxed on their pensions whereas previously they were not. This applies to those people in the 65 to 70 years age group. These people will be even worse off as the rate of pension increases and they move into a higher tax bracket. Everyone knows the effect of moving into a higher tax bracket: In many cases the increase in taxation is greater than the increase in income.
I turn to the supplementary benefits and dependent children’s allowances. One of these payments is increased in this Bill. I think it is conceded generally that the areas of greatest need concern pensioners at the lowest level of income who either need rent assistance or have dependent children. We heard brave words in the Minister’s second reading speech about an 80 per cent increase in the basic pension. However, it could not be said that there has been an 80 per cent increase in supplementary benefits or dependent children’s allowances since Labor came to power. Why not? Surely these are the people in the area of greatest need; these are the people who should have received the greatest increases. So one cannot say that this group of pensioners is any better off. They will be worse off.
But there is still the question: Are pensioners worse off? The major point against this Government is that inflation ruins people’s savings. All the old people are having their savings reduced overnight by the ravages of widespread and galloping inflation. So to me it is absurd for this Government to claim that generally pensioners are better off now than they ever have been.
I refer to a specific inequality or injustice which I see in the legislation. It arises in respect of the phasing out of the transitional benefit in respect of aged blind persons, 65 years and over, receiving a pension. Since 1953 any blind person has received a means test-free, tax-free pension. With the free of means test age pension in respect of people 75 years and over, and now 70 years and over, coming into effect, together with the taxing of pensions in respect of people 65 years and over, an inequality is created. This was recognised by the Government and a transitional benefit of $3 per week was introduced to make up for the fact that the pensions of blind people aged 65 years and over would now be taxed.
The transitional benefit is to be phased out by this piece of legislation. We will have the absurd injustice and inequality of a blind person who between 16 and 65 years of age receives a pension free of means test and free of tax but whose pension will be taxed the moment he or she turns 65 years of age. So at an age when blind people have greater financial problems and commitmentsand I think that this would automatically be accepted- they will actually receive a lower pension than what they received before. The Government cannot say that it is unaware of this position because I have correspondence which has been sent by the National Council for the Blind, which is an association for the blind, to various Treasurers of this Government pointing out this anomoly
I believe that the Government injustice should do one of 2 things: It should continue to make the pension received by blind persons completely tax free throughout their lives and not just to the age of 65; or if that produces problems in the Taxation Office, the transitional benefit of $3 a week should be continued permanently if that is the amount required to make up for the taxation that is levied on them.
The legislation still leaves other problems of weakness. A major problem concerns single fathers who have been deserted, widowed or divorced. There are more than 20 000 fathers with dependent children in this category in Australia. I believe that the special benefit is not appropriate to this group of people. A different type of benefit is required because unlike the supporting mother- the widow or the divorceewho generally stays at home and needs income, the single father for a variety of reasons goes out to work and needs supportive services in the home. The means test will disqualify a man in this category because of the income he earns. I think that we need to look at the problems of single fathers in a different way altogether and provide something for their children, certainly up to a certain level of income.
There is also the general inequality of the means test itself. There are 2 scales- the income scale and the assets scale. The assets scale is set so that there is a notional return of 10 per cent on any assets. Who in this period of depressed returns for investments could say that 10 per cent is a figure that is achieved. I believe that only one scale should be subject to means test and that is a scale based on actual income received whether it is income from the work that a person does or income as a return on investment. I understand that this system is used in some other countries. This is particularly desirable if one can accept what the honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow) has said, namely, that the abolition of the means test for people between 65 and 70 years of age may not happen immediately but is more likely to take place over a period of 5 years. If this is the case this area of inequality will continue for some time unless something is done to straighten out the application of the means test.
The major argument against the Government, its attitude to welfare and its so-called concern with the ordinary Australian is none of the points that I have made, valid though they are. The major argument is the triple evils that this Government has brought to this country, namely the evils of inflation, unemployment and excessive taxation, all of which are greater now than at any time in our history.
The consumer price index shows that cost of living increased by 17.6 per cent in the last 12 months. Federal Government income, which is derived mainly from taxation, for the last 12 months increased by a staggering 43 per cent. Unemployment now stands at 4.7 per cent which is the highest percentage since the depression. What does this mean to the savings of the average Australian the stability of our society or the dignity of work? No matter what this Government does by this Bill or any other piece of legislation, the overall result of the Government’s actions to ordinary Australians is a dangerous reduction in the welfare of the people of this country. What is even more depressing is that the future heralds even more depression because of increased inflation, unemployment and excessive taxation.
-There are a number of significant measures in this BUI. (Quorum formed.) But the 2 most important are obviously the $5 increase in the standard rate pension and the second stage of the means test abolition covering persons of 70 years of age and above. In this context I believe that it is worth recalling the Government’s original commitments on these 2 measures. These date back to Labor’s 1972 election program. At that time we undertook to abolish within 3 years the means test for persons over 65 years of age. We also entered into a commitment to increase the base pension by $ 1 .50 every 6 months till a level equal to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings was reached. I think it is worth pointing out and repeating- it has been done often enough before- that at the time of the 1972 election no commitment was entered into with respect to a time scale for the achievement of pensions equal to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings, though many people assumed that the 3 year target applied to that as well. But in any event, by this BUI we have now for all effective purposes reached 25 per cent of average weekly earnings 6 months ahead even of the target ascribed to us, if not volunteered by us. In other words, we are running well ahead of our commitments in this respect and it is interesting to observe the relative improvements which are accordingly involved.
To demonstrate the points I wish to make at this stage I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table comparing increases in the rates of pension, increases in average weekly earnings and the consumer price index over the period December 1972-the time of the 1972 electionup to the present time.
- (Mr Keith Johnson)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The documents read as follows)-
– This table shows, among other things, the following: That the single standard rate pension over the period since December 1972 rose by 80 per cent; over the same period average weekly earnings rose by 55 per cent; and over the same period, using a calculation since the exact up to date figures are not available, the consumer price index rose by 41 per cent. That last figure shows that pensions over the period of the Labor Government have increased approximately twice as fast as the cost of living which puts into rather strange light the comments of the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) about pensioners still not being better off. Coincidentally, the table also shows that the pension has increased twice as fast as it would conceivably have increased under a Liberal-Country Party government, since the most that it could have been expected to do on the basis of 1972 Liberal statements- that in itself being a vast improvement on previous performance- was to introduce a system of regularly up-dating pensions according to cost of living indices, not average weekly earnings as we adopted.
These figures show one other thing which I think it is worth referring to briefly. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) in his second reading speech felt obliged to comment on the intermittent criticism which we hear in relation to the rate of increase of the married pensioner rate not equalling that of the standard pension and, accordingly, the married rate not equalling 25 per cent of the average weekly earnings. Obviously that has been the result of the fact that the married rate pension has not increased at double the increase of the single pension over the period since 1972. 1 agree with the Minister’s comments on this subject to the effect that the available evidence supports some continued differential. But in response to any criticism of unfulfilled commitment I think 2 other matters are relevant and worth saying.
In the first place, as I have already indicated, the commitment which we made and to which we have always referred was in terms of a $1.50 increase every 6 months. That commitment was always understood to refer to the single rate pension. But even if it were stretched to apply in full to married pensioners, each married pensioner under that program would now be entitled to $24.75 a week. In fact, under the present Bill they will receive $30 a week. Again, under the consumer price index linked Liberal Party proposal each married pensioner today would receive $24.25 a week. Again I contrast that with the $30 a week actually provided under the present legislation.
– Which Liberal proposal is the honourable member talking about?
-Every statement which was made leading up to the 1972 election could only be understood as referring to a Liberal Parry proposal linking pensions with the consumer price index. I return to my original theme. I believe it can be fairly said that our commitment to a pension equal to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings has been effectively achieved at least 6 months ahead of time. On the other hand, to be fair again, it also has to be conceded that the abolition of the means test is already 6 months behind the original schedule. Of course we want all commitments to be met always on time, but if that has not been possible then I believe that what has actually happened represents a proper order of priorities. I will have something further to say about the future consideration which we have to give to these same matters. However, before doing that I shall raise some general considerations which come to mind as a result of the cost of the measures included in this Bill. I approach that by way of some historical comparisons.
In 1968 the whole cost of age, invalid, widow, sickness, unemployment and special benefits was $594m. In 1963 the total cost of all expenditures under the Social Welfare Act was $590m. By contrast, this Bill provides $587m in additional benefits over a one year period alone. In other words, the increases in this Bill, for all practical purposes, equal the entire cost of the pension program as recently as 7 years ago and the entire cost of all Social Welfare Act benefits as recently as 12 years ago. I find that most impressive and almost awe inspiring. Yet during the Minister’s second reading speech I could not help being struck by the fact that his announcement of the sum involved did not seem to impress anyone except me. No one in the House sort of whistled through his teeth, or said ‘phew’, ‘wow’ or ‘that is a hell of a lot of money’. Well, it is a hell of a lot of money and it puts a number of very heavy obligations upon us.
The first of those obligations is to see that not only is this money well spent but also that it is best spent, that we are not excessively generous in some areas at the expense of other areas which should be receiving more assistance than is now provided. Secondly and more uncomfortably, the sheer scale of the finance involved again serves to remind us that social security accounts for such a large proportion of Commonwealth expenditure and the growth of social welfare expenditure represents such a large proportion of growth overall that it is impossible to ignore social welfare as an aspect of the more general economic debate in which the Parliament is involved.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was attempting to make the point that the scale and growth rate of social welfare expenditure make it an unavoidable element in the general economic debate in which the Parliament is involved. Unfortunately, the form of that debate has not been as enlightening as it might be. For example, the pattern of discussion on the recent Appropriation and Supply Bills seemed to come down pretty well to only 2 general propositions. From the Opposition side we heard that the economy is in a serious position and that the only workable solution is a contraction of Government programs or at least a reduction in their rate of expansion. From the Government side we replied to the effect that we are committed to the implementation of our programs and that therefore the main attack on inflation must come by way of restraint in wage claims. Additionally it was said, and said reasonably enough, that if the Opposition wants to reduce Government activity let it nominate the areas to be cut. Of course, the Opposition declined that invitation and there the argument seems to be frozen, with the opposing parties at arm’s length and inflation meanwhile continuing at a very serious rate.
I believe that this social welfare debate provides a useful and appropriate occasion to take the matter at least one small stage further. We should ask ourselves, for a start, whether social welfare programs have any role to play as part of the general case for wage restraint. I believe that they have. I suggest that on any logical basis that part of the case is irrefutable, just as the logic of wage restraint as a trade-off against last year’s tax reductions is also irrefutable. Unfortunately, though, it is not at all obvious that either argument will be accepted where it counts most. On the contrary, it still appears to be the general case that in Australia the term ‘standard of living’ is equated with net disposable income. One of the great frustrations of the Government has to be seen in its inability to persuade Australians that such measures as are applied in this Bill- age pensions at record levels, the abolition of the means test and unemployment benefits at unprecedented rates, not to mention the provision of better education, roads, hospitals, recreation facilities and so on- are all part of the standard of living and have to come out of our net disposable income, there being no way to provide them indefinitely in addition to former levels of net disposable income, especially where the latter term is talked of by way of reference to real purchasing power.
Our failure to gain acceptance of this proposition could have the most far reaching effect on Australian politics. On the one hand it could force the Labor Government to retreat from the full scale, rapid rate implementation of our programs. Failing that, it could in the end defeat Labor, leading to a government which would not only retreat from our programs but also actively attempt to put them into reverse. In many respects this potential for a change in pace and direction in the very sorts of benefits provided by this Bill demonstrates one of the fundamental differences between the parties. The Liberal Party and the National Country Party say that they want a maximum of free personal choice in the application of personal income. The Labor Party says that there are expenditures that are so important and the unavailability of these benefits is so detrimental to people who simply do not have enough income to make that choice that we should make certain benefits universally available. That involves substantial redistribution of income and is, of course, inconsitent with any unqualified view of free personal choice in the application of personal income. That is one of the choices Australians always make at election time, though no doubt the choice comes more clearly to attention during activist- that is, Labor Party- governments.
I move from these more general considerations to just one or two specific items. Two areas which benefit from increases in this Bill are the supporting mother’s benefit and the special benefit. I link them because the latter benefit is the only form of assistance to supporting fathers and is much less than the supporting mother’s benefit, though the position of the 2 groups is not only analogous but also identical in principle. There is an $11 difference in direct benefits received by the 2 groups- $9 if there is not a child under 6 years of age involved- but a very significant difference exists also in the application of the respective means tests on allowable earnings. As I understand it, in round figures a supporting mother can earn $ 120 a week without losing the whole of the mother’s benefit, but the supporting father can earn only about half that sum before losing the whole entitlement to a special benefit. I will leave more detail of this problem to another time, but the least that can be said about it now is that such an obvious anomaly has to be tackled. The estimates of cost, which I have seen, to put supporting fathers in the same position as supporting mothers in respect of benefits range between $20m and $30m. It may seem incongruous to raise this alongside an acknowledgment of calls for restraint; but this remains an area that is impossible to ignore with any sense of justice.
There is one other particular area which I think must also be mentioned, though necessarily only briefly and in passing, and that is the position of nursing homes. A couple of weeks ago, in the last cycle of sittings, I asked the Minister for Social Security a question about nursing homes. Unfortunately, the Minister at that time felt unable to commit himself to additional aid. No doubt his concern was not to encourage expectations of an open-ended commitment. That concern is well based, as is his argument that it is not the role of the Government to guarantee the profitability of private homes. His reference to the new Government policy of meeting deficits of non-profit homes is also highly relevant; but, with every respect to the Minister’s undoubted concern to combine maximum assistance with responsible management, I believe that additional factors have to be taken into consideration. Firstly, an open-ended commitment to nonprofit organisations carries no less dangers than such a commitment to profit making organisations. Secondly, relief from financial pressures for non-profit organisations can readily lead to increased costs throughout both systems. The reason for that is that restraints on staff and salary demands can be largely removed. Thirdly, the profitability of private nursing homes is already effectively subject to government control. Finally and above all, if nursing home patients, the majority of whom are pensioners, are left with unbridgable financial gaps, where are they to go? To suggest that they should go to the non-profit homes is reasonable enough, but there are not enough of these available. At least to this stage that sort of suggestion does not provide the cure.
Again this is not being strictly relevant to the Bill before us, so I do not develop it further now; but I raise it as a second area where, irrespective of any desire for restraint in Government spending, additional and not less Government expenditure in the area of social security will be called for. I am sure that I am not the only member with suggestions for additional expenditure. The consideration that arises in the current economic framework is this: If the growth of expenditure overall is to be reduced, social security payments must play some part in the process, if only because social security payments are such a large proportion of the whole. So to paraphrase a question that was popular in earlier days, where are the savings to come from? There are some small ones which come to mind and which have been raised in this debate. There is an argument as to whether the 16-year-old unemployment benefit is too great. One could argue for or against that. I happen to come down personally in support of the proposition that they are probably excessive, and some small saving might be made there. I have heard it argued that there is as great a case for the unemployment benefit to be included in taxable income as there is for the inclusion of the age pension, with which it is now on parity. I am inclined to accept that proposition as well. But all that amounts to chicken feed. It will go nowhere near meeting the problem.
The basic problem that has to be faced is that there are only 2 major items of expenditure. One is involved in keeping benefits to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings and the other in continuing with the abolition of the means test. One or other of those simply has to suffer if social security is to play any part in this process of restraint in the growth of Government expenditure. I think it will be clear from what I have said in relation to both of these points, prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner, that I would come down in favour of restraining the further extension, at this stage, of the abolition of the means test.
The honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow) made a suggestion as to how that might be done. I want to make it clear that I, for one, would go further. I am fortified in that by the highly responsible attitude taken by some people who have been most prominent in the campaign to abolish the means test. I want to refer briefly, if time allows, to a brief extract from the most recent publication of the Association for the Abolition of the Means Test of Western Australia. It is amongst the most active groups in favour of the abolition of the means test and it states, after talking about the economy: ‘If success’ -
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I have promised to be brief in my remarks tonight in order to allow some other honourable members to join in this debate. I will confine my remarks to the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill 1975. However, first I would like to make a brief comment, further to what previous speakers have said, on the statement by the honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow) during this debate that, in his opinion, the final abolition of the means test should be over a period of 5 years. I also noticed in the evening papers that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has made similar suggestions to the Cabinet. This is in complete contrast to Government policy which is that the means test be abolished in the life of this Parliament. I suggest that it will be very difficult for the honourable member for Holt to explain to his electorate- if his and the Minister’s suggestion is adopted- that because of its maladministration of the economy this Government cannot keep its promise to abolish the means test completely in the life of this Parliament.
To revert to the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill, I commend in particular the increase in pension rate for war and defence widows. I do feel, however, that consideration should have been given to increasing the rate payable to the wife of a special rate or a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner and, in fact, the wives of all general rate pensioners. It has always seemed an odd thing to me that while we increase the pensions of the TPI pensioner, the intermediate rate and the general rate recipients, we have never increased the allowance that is payable to the wives affected. Surely, if it is felt that it is necessary to increase a repatriation pension in order that a member may meet additional increases in the cost of living, it would be reasonable to assume that the allowance paid to the wife of the member should be increased also. I am not saying that this Government is fully to blame for this situation. Previous governments also have neglected this. I ask this Government -if it is still the Government when next there is a review of pension rates for repatriation membersto give consideration also to increasing the members ‘ wives ‘ allowances.
I notice that the Bill also provides for the abolition of the means test for those repatriation and service pensioners aged 70 years and over. In his second reading speech the Minister stated that this will go a long way towards the Government’s objective of abolishing the means test for all service pensioners aged 65 years or over. Whilst I applaud this move, I would ask for the Government’s further ruling on this matter. The reason for my request is this: The service pension, which we know is equivalent to the age pensionin fact it is the age pension but it is granted to those ex-servicemen who have served in a theatre of war and is commonly known as the burnt-out diggers’ pension- is payable at 60 years of age. The service pensioner gets the advantage of a pension 5 years prior to his civilian counterpart. This is compensation for his service in a theatre of war. While he can receive this pension at 60 instead of 65 years of age, I notice that the means test abolition is applied under conditions similar to those applying to a civilian age pension. For instance, the means test will now be abolished at age 70. We hope the age will be further reduced to 65 next year- that is, if the idea of the honourable member for Holt does not get through. This means that while the exservice member is entitled to receive an age pension at 60 years, the abolition of the means test does not apply to him under the present Bill until he is 70 years of age. If the ex-service member is entitled to a pension, as compensation, 5 years earlier than his civilian counterpart, why then is it that the abolition of the means test is not comparable? It almost appears that the payment of a service pension 5 years earlier than normal was resented and that no further consideration of compensation will be given.
I ask that the Government consider this question of the abolition of the means test for exservicemen as a principle of compensation. I ask that it consider applying this abolition in the same manner as entitlement for Service pensionsthat is, where the means test will be abolished at 70 years of age for civilian pensioners then the means test abolition would apply for Service pensioners aged 65. When it is abolished for pensioners aged 65 then Service pensioners should have a means test abolition at 60 years of age.
– Why did you not do something about it when you were the Government?
-This is according to the principle of compensation. I have said before- I take the point that the honourable member for Kalgoorlie has made- that this Government is not fully to blame for this situation. Previous governments are also to blame. But this Government is in the saddle now and I am asking the Government, when it next considers this matter- if it is still the Government- to take into account these matters. I also welcome the fact that disability pensions, when regarded as income in the assessment of a Service pension, will now have an amount of 50 per cent of pension disregarded for this purpose. This will mean a great deal to a number of ex-service members in the community.
I also notice that this Bill will extend Service pension eligibility to ex-servicemen of Commonwealth countries other than Australia. This is more than welcome to me. As a previous shadow Minister for Repatriation I had included this as part of our repatriation policy. It is pleasing to note that this Government also thought that this was important and has adopted the idea. I have no desire to delay the passage of this Bill through the House any further. As I have promised to make my remarks brief, I add my support for the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill.
-The House is debating 2 Bills, the Social Services Bill 1975 and the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill 1975. The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) who has just resumed his seat was the first speaker in the debate who has made reference to the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill we are debating conjointly with the Social Services Bill. I am pleased to note his interest in that matter. I take it that he is voicing, on behalf of the Opposition, support for the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill along with support- which has already been indicated but sometimes with some qualifications- by the Opposition for the Social Services Bill.
I agree with the honourable member for Herbert that it would be nice to be able to extend extra benefits to the dependants of recipients of war service pensions. I think it would be nice also to abolish the means test for those aged 60 to 65 who are on a Service pension, or to hold out the prospect of abolishing the means test. We are reminded, on the other hand, of the pleas of the Opposition that the Government should cut expenditure. I wonder whether anybody on the Opposition side has contemplated how much extra it will cost- in addition to the $600m which will be required for these 2 Bills- to implement the 2 measures to which the honourable member for Herbert referred. That is saying nothing about the other controversial element that has been entered into this debate- whether we should phase out the 65 to 70 means test for all aged persons over a longer time than we contracted to do during the election campaign. I think it is true, as one critic said, that it takes a lot of courage sometimes to renege on a policy promise.
– To back pedal.
– Yes, to back pedal, withdraw or amend in relation to the changed circumstances with which one is confronted. We have been charged with having maladministered the Australian economy, with special reference in this debate to the development of unemployment at a much greater scale in Australia than I or, I am sure, anybody else would wish. But this morning I was listening to the Australian Broadcasting Commission ‘AM’ program and I heard reference to the fact that in the United States, where there is considerable economic and technological expertise, at present the rate of unemployment is running at more than 9 per cent and inflation is running along with it. Various countries that we regard as having sophisticated economies likewise are in the same dire straits. So if anyone has the recipe for overcoming this problem plenty of countries would be willing to have it and would probably pay dearly for it.
– Change the government.
-Some countries have changed governments but that has not necessarily achieved the desired result.
– Change President Ford, he means.
Mr REYNOLDS America has a Republican government which I suppose is equivalent to the Opposition here. To change the Ford administration might not be a bad idea either but I will not buy into the problems of other countries; we have enough of our own. The Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill is one further step by this Government in what I regard as an epochmaking crusade on behalf of veterans and the dependants of veterans of all wars who fought on Australia’s behalf. Things have happened in the last 2Vi years that I never thought would happen during the previous 1 1/2 years when I was an Opposition member of this Parliament. Things have happened during the 2lh years of the Whitlam Labor Government that I think many people would never have expected from a government that was supposed to be a pacifist government- a government allegedly not interested in defence. Things have been done in the repatriation field without honourable members crowing that the Returned Services League and ex-service bodies had direct access to the Cabinet of the day. The Government has introduced measures for humanitarian reasons and out of gratitude to all those ex-servicemen and ex-service women who have died and left dependants and those who are still with us but who have incurred disabilities. We have done our best to try to recompense them for the sacrifices they have made.
In speaking to this Bill the honourable member for Herbert summarised some of its provisions. The highest rate of pension- the totally and permanently incapacitated pension- is to be increased by yet another $4. This is on top of an increase made in I think, November. This will raise the TPI pension to $68.10. In the limited time at my disposal I shall show honourable members that most single TPI pensioners will get a lot more than $68.10. The intermediate rate pension for those ex-servicemen suffering disabilities which interrupt but do not prevent their work capacity or work operations will be raised by $3.50 to $48.05. What is called the general rate or 100 per cent pension rate will be increased by $3 to $28 a week. The war and defence widow’s pension will be increased by $5 a week to $36 a week and the standard rate of service pension, which has already been mentioned as equivalent to an age or an invalid pension, will be increased by $5 a week to $36 a week. The married rate will be increased by $4.25 to $30 a week for each of the marriage partners. The means test on service pensions, as for age pensions provided under the Social Services Bill, will be abolished for all persons now 70 years of age or more. Already it has been abolished for those 75 years or more. Now we are taking it a further step to apply to those aged 70 to 74 years.
War pensioners will get a further increase in pension because many war pensioners receiving the TPI rate will probably also be eligible for a very sizeable increase in their service pension since we have taken the second step towards wiping out from the means test the war pension and allowances that are provided for such war pensioners. I calculated, and I had the legislative Research Service of the Parliamentary Library check it for me to ensure that it was correct, that a single TPI pensioner will have half of his war pension of $68.10 disregarded for means test purposes. That will mean that not only will he get the $4 increase in his TPI pension but he will also gain another $8.50 in his service pension entitlement providing he has no more than $400 in savings. I know this sounds a little complicated, but the sum total of pension increase for such a TPI ex-serviceman will not go up by only the $4; it will in fact go up by $12.50 a week, after having had an increase back in November last. This would apply for other pensioners.
Dealing with figures in a debate like this when people do not have the figures in front of them is a difficult task. It is difficult to indicate the position so I will not labour the point. But I wish the House to take note that many war pensioners will be entitled to substantial increases in service pensions as well as their war pensions. They will be a lot better off than even it appears in the figures that I have cited. That is just one sample. With the indulgence of the House, I should like to have incorporated in Hansard a table which has been shown to the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). He has no objection to its incorporation. The table shows the increases in various war pensions since 1965-66 to 1974-75.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
– I thank the House. The table indicates the increases in pensions over the years, firstly in relation to average weekly earnings per male unit employed and secondly in relation to the consumer price index. This afternoon I heard the question asked whether pensioners are better off today than they were two or three years ago. I invite honourable members to go along to pensioner organisations, as I have done. Almost every individual there will say that he is substantially better off than he was. The table shows this in statistical terms. I will not bore the House by quoting from it. It shows that in some cases the pension rate has increased by more than twice the rate of increase in prices as measured by the consumer price index. The reality of the situation is the amount of goods and services that can be provided with the current pension, which is increased twice a year instead of, as in the past, sometimes only once in 2 years and then only by 50c or $1. Pensioners are a lot better off today than they were in the past. This is evidenced by the number of pensioner organisations that nowadays are able to go on picnics, travel interstate and go on bus trips. This is a wonderful thing to see. The pensioners enjoy each others’ company in the senior citizens centres, for the erection of which this Government has doubled the rate of subsidy.
I do not want to take up the time of the House unduly but I would be remiss if I did not mention briefly some of the things that this Government has done in the last 216 years. I have alluded to some of the things contained in this Bill. There have been increases in a variety of compensation payments over and above price rises. The table that has been incorporated in Hansard will vindicate that. There has been the progressive disregarding of the war pension as income for the means test applying to the Service pension. The Government started off by disregarding one-quarter of the pension. Now it has disregarded another quarter. So half the war pension does not count for means test purposes. Lots of other people in the community would like to think that their superannuation, for instance, could be so disregarded for means test purposes.
Members of the defence forces of British Commonwealth countries are now eligible for Service pensions providing that they have been resident in this country for 10 yean. Many British exservicemen who took their discharge in Australia at the end of World War I or World War II and who have paid taxes in this country for years ask why they cannot receive the benefits of a Service pension in the country of their adoption. It has happened now, and it has happened under a Labor Government. Then there is the matter of portability of pensions which works the other way. Persons who have received pensionswhether they are Australian born or exservicemen and women from British Commonwealth countries- like other kinds of pensioners in the community will be able to take thenbenefits with them to some other country and retire there if they wish to do so. This Australian Government has pledged to pay them that pension for the rest of their lives.
The Government will provide free repatriation hospitalisation and medical treatment for veterans of the Boer War and of World War I. Exservice organisations have been asking for this for many years. The Returned Services League has had it in its pension plan. The matter has been raised in this Parliament but nothing happened under any previous government. Within Vh years under the Labor Government all these things have happened. All those ex-servicemen from World War I and the Boer War- there are not many Boer War veterans left now- will be automatically entitled to full repatriation hospital and medical treatment. The Government will provide a subsidy for nursing home care for the treatment of ex-servicemen suffering disabilities which are not caused by war. This will be a big help to those people. If they are not eligible to enter a repatriation hospital they can be heavily subsidised in nursing homes. One thing that has been asked for for years and which is now provided is the requirement that the repatriation boards and the entitlement appeal tribunals give reasons why they reject an application for a war pension. If an ex-serviceman or woman feels that he or she has a just claim, he or she applies for pension. If it is rejected it will now be compulsory for the tribunal to give reasons for the rejection. That will enable the applicant to make a further appeal in the knowledge of why he was knocked back in his initial application. This will help him in his task.
I will mention only a few more of these benefits which have come about in the mere 2lA years since Labor took office. I refer to the recognition of de facto wives and the provision for exnuptial children. This is a humanitarian act by the Government. The use of repatriation hospitals will be extended. Beds in repatriation hospitals were unused while many patients outsidecivilians as well as wives and children of exservicemen who were looking for hospital accommodation were not able to receive it. These beds will now be made available. This is not only a very humanitarian benefit for the patients but also it gives a broader experience to the medical staff who operate in repatriation hospitals. I have already referred to the abolition of the means test. There will be an extension of benefits to children of ex-servicemen and women. It will no longer stop at 16 years of age. If the child happens to be in full-time education the benefits will continue. The funeral benefit has been doubled from $50 to $100. Nonrepatriation patients have been granted access to the repatriation artificial limb and appliance centres. Many civilians are now able to make use of the wonderful expertise that is available at repatriation hospitals after the amputation of a limb or some other such treatment.
The treatment of cancer sufferers is a very humanitarian act and one for which I pleaded for many years. I would like the Government to take the step I advocated when in Opposition- many others did the same- and to make cancer an automatically accepted war disability. The Government has gone to the extent of saying that cancer sufferers automatically receive treatment. Now I want it to go one further step. All those who were prisoners of war now automatically receive full repatriation hospital and medical treatment. One would have thought that this would have happened long before this. Honourable members will see that in the sphere of repatriation the Government has done a job that has earned very high praise from the ex-service organisations of this country. They have called it what I started out by calling it- epoch making, historic. It is a tremendous development and it has all happened in 216 years.
-One has never doubted the good intentions and the sensitivity of the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds). I know that over many years he has made a case for the extension of the benefits to a number of areas. But one has to express a deal of regret that so much expenditure is involved in this Bill for the little return it will make to the recipients of the benefits. The little return is related to the value of the $500m-odd proposed to be expended in the Bill. Quite frankly, the dollars to be expended are not worth the dollars that would have been expended a year or so ago, and therein lies the very great tragedy. There is both joy and sadness in this measure. There is joy because the Government is dealing with at least 5 areas. It is dealing with an increase in the standard rate of pension. It has further liberalised the . means test. It is dealing with those who are newly out of gaol. It is allowing certain moneys to be paid in respect of building societies and other areas and, as significantly as all the others, it has acted to enable unemployment benefits to be paid very quickly to those who qualify for the unemployment benefits.
It is worth spending a few moments in dealing with the increase in the standard rate pension. The standard rate pension is to be increased to $36 a week. So, it is said immediately that the contract or undertaking of the Government to make that pension payment equivalent to a quarter or 25 per cent of average male weekly earnings has been met. There is a little deception in that. The deception is significant. During the period of time for which the payment of this $36 a week will operate- it will operate up until late September or October- it will not be worth 25 per cent or a quarter of average male weekly earnings; it will be worth something like 2 1.5 per cent of average male weekly earnings, which is a very significant difference. It is this little deception which ought to anger those on the opposite side who have preached to the people over and over again the virtue of a government which, frankly, is paying benefits in devalued dollars.
In fact, the average shortfall in the value of that pension over the period for which it is to operate, which is from now until the end of September, is nearly $6 a week in today’s money values. So there is a very great deficiency. The deception deserves to be exposed for what is is. It is a tragedy that this has happened. Immediately one says that, Government supporters will say to us: ‘You people say that if you were in Government you would cut Government spending and that Government spending should be less’. Nobody in bis right mind would say that a domestic deficit of $l,700m or $l,800m is wrong. The tragedy is that a domestic deficit of that size is needed even to get the economy going at the very sluggish rate at which it is going today. There is real concern when one detects in the minds of Government members the idea that that domestic deficit is not to be phased out and that it is something they look at with glee and to be continued indefinitely into the future. So let us rid ourselves of this silly argument concerning the size of the Government’s deficit. We will see the phasing out of that according to how private industry in Australia gets going again.
Of course, that is related very intimately to the $500m involved in this Bill. I only wish that all of those dollars were worth what they appear to be worth at first glance; but apparently they are not. The devaluation of the $6 a week increase in pension to which I have referred during this period is not a big deception; but it is a significant one. It is a very significant deception for those people who are concerned with the payment. It is a very significant deception which makes the pension far less valuable than it otherwise would be. I say this, believing that there would be little chance of contradiction: At the time at which this Government will go to an election the pension payable will not be equivalent to 25 per cent of the then average male weekly earnings. I say that that promise of the Government will not be kept. Let us not engage in little deceits by changing the time period for which the calculations are to be done.
The real sadness in the Bill relates to the unemployment benefits. They are to be paid immediately and much more quickly than in the past, but the tragedy is that the pressures which have caused this to come about are some of the most dynamic and some of the saddest of this nation. After all, they have become necessary because the most binding social contract which a government can give to Australia has been broken. I read again from the White Paper on Full Employment introduced into this Parliament on 30 May 1 945 while John Curtin was still Prime Minister. It is the most binding and significant social undertaking given to all Australians. On that occasion the Government had this to say, courageously and not frightened of not being able to carry out its promise:
Full employment is a fundamental aim of the Commonwealth Government. The Government believes that the people of Australia will demand and are entitled to expect full employment. Unemployment is an evil from the effects of which no class in the community and no State in the Commonwealth can hope to escape unless concerted action is taken.
That undertaking or promise was given while Australia was still at war. At that time Australia was still involved in World War II. John Curtin was still Prime Minister of this nation. He was not to be Prime Minister for very much longer. But, with the confidence of being able to deliver the benefits of that promise, the promise was made. All decent Australians should applaud that contract; but it has been broken. There was no fear then on the part of the Government.
There were no statements that the Government made the promise so long as unemployment was not imported or that the promise was made on the understanding that inflation was not imported. The undertaking was given without qualifications. Australian workers and Aus.tralian business- aU Australians- said: ‘We support that proposition’. The promise has been broken.
There are one or two areas of sadness and concern in respect of the unemployment benefit which up to this moment have not been explored. It is much easier for a person to register for employment than to receive an unemployment benefit. The receipt of the dole represents real distress. That is when distress begins. Unfortunately, on the latest data available, of those people who have registered for employment there is the greatest proportion that one can measure since World War II who are having to receive the dole. Let me cite the figures for March. I hesitate to introduce too many figures into the debate, but they have to be introduced. As at March 1975, of those who had registered for employment- these are the registered unemployed- 58 per cent or 58 people out of every one hundred had to receive the dole. For 58 people out of every one hundred this was a measure of real distress. In former years, the figure never varied much above 40 people out of every one hundred receiving the dole. The figure may have been 38, 39 or 40 people out of every one hundred. So the measure of distress is not to be gauged merely by the figures that are given monthly in regard to the unemployed in Australia. Currently, the number of unemployed in Australia is about 265 000 people. It is the proportion of those people for whom the dole has been necessary as a way of life that is the real tragedy at which I think all Australians would rebel and about which aU Australians should express concern.
In fact, this has occurred despite the fact that Australia has embraced a stagnant or very slowly growing work force and immigration rates have been altered to bring down the unemployment rates. This Bill deals with unemployment through the payment of the unemployment benefit I ask the Government to take the firmest action and the most courageous action it can in order to carry out the social contract which is now 30 years old. We do not want the Government to wobble from its obligation. We want it to wobble back to the obligation and to come back to it firmly. If it takes action nobody on this side of the House, certainly not me, Will seek to propose action which would cause the Government to depart from that obligation.
It will be noted that in these remarks I do not say that the Government deficit has to be cut; I do not say that spending has to be cut overnight; I do not say that spending has to be cut across the board. That is a foolish proposition. It is a proposition which, if carried out now, would cause another 100 000, 150 000 or 200 000 people to be out of work who otherwise would not be out of work. Nobody says that the Government should do this. What we say is quite clear. I will state it again: The domestic deficit at which the Government is aiming in these circumstances, given the.amount of production which is not occurring and given the amount of the total national product, is not wrong now. But it is wrong if it is to be found necessary as a long term measure. We do not want it to become a long term measure. If it does become a long term measure, one will find that in other Bills, as in this Bill, large amounts of money will be spent, but the dollars proposed to be spent will not have the buying power which we would all want them to have.
I was given 10 minutes in which to make a few remarks. I have been speaking for 1 1 minutes. Let me say this finally: In the task of making purchasing power appropriate to the money expended, the Government ought to rid itself of the delusion of persecution mania. There is no delusion worse than the persecution mania. If the Government considers that it has strayed from the path of economic balance because it has been persecuted from overseas, or because it has been persecuted by private enterprise, or because it has been persecuted by those who, outside its ken, have wanted to destroy the economy, it ought to rid itself of that delusion and of that mania. If the Government is able to do so, it will be able to get the country back to a situation of full employment and of very little inflation, and it W111 be able to introduce social services legislation about which, when we read in the last sentences that $300m, $400m or $500m of funds are to be expended, we can all rest confident that that expenditure represents real dollars and not illusory purchasing power.
-I wish to make a few brief comments as this debate reaches its conclusion. The House is debating cognately the Social Services Bill 1 975 and the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill 1975. The principal features of the Social Services Bill are the substantial increases in the basic rates of pensions and benefits, the increase in additional payments for children, the implementation of the second step in the Government’s program to abolish the means test on age pensions, provision for the payment of unemployment, sickness and special benefit weekly in advance instead of weekly in arrears and provision for the immediate payment of special benefit to persons newly discharged from gaol.
The Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill contains provisions which combine with those in the Social Services Bill. The Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill authorises changes in the Repatriation Act and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. The Bill provides for increases and other improvements in repatriation benefits foreshadowed in last year’s Budget. It also authorises an increase in the war and defence widows pension fate. This is one of the aspects of the Budget of 1974-75 still in the mind of the Australian Government. It is one of the few left from the Budget of 1974-75 as so many of the policies that were expounded in that Budget have in fact been abandoned.
I thought that it was worth while to make reference to some of these points that emerged in the speeches of 2 of our thoughtful members in the House of Representatives. I refer to the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) and the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds), for I detected on this occasion for the first time an awareness that seemed to express itself in terms of restriction of Government expenditure and of a realisation of the problems that we are facing in Australia. The Opposition supports this legislation. We are in favour of the concept of financial support by the Government for people who are in need in the community. But this legislation ought to be seen in the context of the Budget which must be introduced this year. In August of this year, the Government will have to introduce a Budget which will purport to deal with some of the enormous problems which are causing those in the Government today to think in terms of restricting the growth of Government expenditure. When that Budget is introduced we will understand whether there will be even the most remote possibility of returning to the contract to which my colleague, the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns), has been referring, and that was admitted into this Parliament in the form of a White Paper in 1945.
The honourable member for Perth made it apparent that the Government, in his own judgment, had failed to make it clear to the Australian people that the whole standard of living had to be seen in the context of the national income. It must be seen in the context of what the country can afford. This is a very different line of argument for people who, to the best of my knowledge, have been arguing since 1949 when I first came into this place that it is within the capability of the Government of Australia to look after people from the cradle to the grave. In almost every election campaign that I can recall, the proud boast of the Australian Labor Party has always been that it would be able to outbid all members of other political parties in their attempts to influence the Australian people and to induce them to believe that the Commonwealth of Australia will be able to provide for aU of them from the cradle to the grave simply if they vote for the Australian Labor Party.
I submit to you, Mr Speaker, that in the next 12 months in this country we will see problems arising which will make the problems of the last 12 months pale into insignificance. It is against that background that I believe we should look with great seriousness and good sense at these problems to which reference has been made not only by the honourable member for Perth but also by the honourable member for Barton. I would have imagined that the honourable member for Barton would have been, as much as any member of the Government, keenly in support of the announced pOliCY which was to the effect that the Government would pursue the abolition of the means test right through to people of the age of 65 and above, within the life of this Parliament. I very much doubt whether that will be done in the life of this Parliament or of the next Parliament. No matter what government sits on the Treasury bench, the fact of the matter is that when the economic truths are clear to the Aus.tralian people and when the degree of mismanagement, the degree of profligacy of the Australian Government over the last 2 years becomes known to the Australian people, there will be a great political retribution.
It is understandable for people to have their expectations improving from year to year. I take the view that those expectations have been encouraged to a degree that is quite sad. In company with my friend from Lilley I hold the view that the problems which are coming up and which must be dealt with in the Budget for 1975-76 are problems which will affect the welfare of all Australians, and in their direct capacities they must be able to withstand the impact of the policies that will be introduced.
A great deal has been said about taxation. Nothing is ever said about the diminution in the value of the dollars that are picked up. Those dollars, when they are received into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, are less and less able to do the things which they were able to do some years ago. No reference has been made, for example, to the savings of pensioners. I refer to people who are age pensioners, invalid pensioners and war widows. People such as these are now sitting back and looking at the sums of money that they have in the bank, and it is gradually dawning upon them that at this stage in the Australian society that money is losing its value at the rate of 1 6 per cent per annum. I think it was Professor Friedman who said recently that any government which stood up and said: ‘Vote for us; we are going to put an insidious 16 per cent tax on all of your incomes ‘ would not get the vote of any person who could add up. I thank the House for the opportunity to make these brief comments on the measures before the House.
- Mr Speaker -
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
-Is it the wish of the House to proceed to the third reading forthwith?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Luchetti)- Is it the wish of the Committee to consider the Bill as a whole?
Clauses 1 to 3- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 4 (Interpretation).
– I want to make two very brief points in regard to clause 4, which deals with 2 matters.
Motion ( by Mr Nicholls) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr Hayden)- by leaveproposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– There are 2 matters I think I should raise on the third reading.
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 22 April on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
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.
Debate resumed from 15 April on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The purpose of this Bill is to establish a Children’s Commission. This Commission’s functions will be to ascertain the needs of the Australian community for services for children and to make recommendations with respect to those needs. At the outset I bring to the notice of the House the fact that the Opposition Parties will support the second reading of the Bill. We do however want it to be known that we would tackle the problems sought to be resolved by the establishment of this Commission in a somewhat different way. When we come to the Committee stage of the debate we will put forward a number of amendments for the consideration of the Committee.
During recent years much public attention has been focused on the need for more effective policies relating to the care and education of the preschool child, but those who have been most vocal have more often than not had a special interest in only a single aspect of the total problem. For example, many have rightly wanted to see an expansion in the availability of pre-school education, whilst others have been more concerned to press for the provision of a greater number of child care centres. The former group place emphasis on the educational needs of children, especially those in the 3 to 5 year old age group. The latter are anxious to overcome the problem of the care of children whose parents need to work.
There has been much report writing about each of these areas of concern, but little attempt to define a comprehensive philosophy as to the care and education of children. The Fry Committee’s report, though entitled ‘Care and Education of Young Children’, concentrated heavily on the educational role of both pre-school and day care centres and the need to use professional and sub-professional staff in each. The Social Welfare Commission in its report entitled ‘Project Care- Children Parents Community’ put greater emphasis on the urgent need for good quality custodial care and other childhood services, especially for those in greatest need. It paid little attention to the role of parents as the primary care givers and how they should be supported in that role. It considered substitute care rather than mother care.
The Priorities Review Staff was then asked to report on these reports. It did so in a paper entitled ‘Early Childhood Services’. The principal recommendation of this report was that the responsibility of co-ordinating and administering these services should be assigned to a Minister without vested interests. The Ministers for Education (Mr Beazley), Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) and Social Security (Mr Hayden) were all excluded on this ground, and responsibility was given to the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen). Despite this move, the comprehensive nature of the problem has not been fully recognised. Perhaps this is because the platform of the Australian Labor Party with regard to childhood services deals primarily with the care of children other than that provided at home by their parents. Such an approach has the unfortunate consequence apparently deplored by the Minister for Education that it assumes the eclipse of the family.
The definition of ‘services for children’ contained in the Bill besides including the education of pre-school age children includes only services to children ‘not being cared for in their own homes’ other than services to those children who are described as having special needs. The reference to general assistance to parents in relation to raising children does not appear to contemplate the provision of comprehensive assistance. When read in that overall context of the definition, its intended content seems very narrow. Increasing public concern is being expressed at the ad hoc approach to policies and programs relating to children. In my view the establishment of a commission with the purposes set out in this Bill will not enable the Commission to do what many like the New South Wales Federation of Infant School Clubs think it should do, namely ‘establish a philosophy in relation to ultimate goals incorporating standards, innovations, needs and priorities in relation to families’- and I emphasise ‘families’- ‘and the community’.
What is urgently needed is a clear definition of the philosophy behind the nation’s approach to pre-school care and education. The role of the family, and in particular the mother, must be clarified. Without a philosophy there is danger that ad hoc decisions designed to help individually deserving cases will promote trends which will not be in the overall best interests of the community in general or children in particular.
The tendency to distinguish between the care of the pre-school child and the education of that child has led to an unfortunate narrowing of public awareness and national concern. Firstly, the distinction has sometimes created the impression that education and care are mutually exclusive concepts, when they are not. They are closely inter-related, especially for the 3 to 5 year old. Secondly, the distinction has often hidden the importance of special consideration being given to the needs of the very young child, the child 3 years of age and under. Thirdly, the call for the provision of pre-school education outside the home has led to the assumption that concern for care should be limited to that provided outside the home. There is now a growing public recognition and expression of the view that there is no ideal substitute for home and family life for the young child. At its 1974-75 annual conference the New South Wales Federation of Infant School Clubs called upon the Government ‘to ensure that no pre-school child is deprived of his or her mother’s care for financial reasons, especially in the first 3 years ‘.
Most Australian families either choose to care for their pre-school age children especially those of 3 years of age and under, or would like to be able to make that choice. The major objective of any child care policy should be to make this possible for those who, through economic and social pressure, are now unable to do so. Governments, and the community itself, must take positive action to counteract some of the economic and social pressures affecting families. Programs which provide substitute care should be structured to fulfil a genuine need and not so as to create a need where today none exists. We must concentrate our national energies and resources not only on creating new day care facilities but also in a wide-ranging community approach to child care. We must endorse the trend to family orientation of child care by strengthening the capabilities of families with measures designed to improve their social and economic conditions.
To do this we must recognise that there are a wide range of economic and social policies which, whilst not being child care programs per se, influence the way in which children are cared for and by whom; their mothers or a substitute. Such matters as taxation policies originally designed for a nation of single income families or taxation concessions and child endowment and other benefits which have lost their real value are matters that are in need of urgent attention.
As pointed out by the paper on family welfare published by the Social Welfare Commission, Australia lacks a coherent family policy. We have tended to place emphasis upon particular problems and upon individuals. In doing so we have often hindered rather than fostered the normal growth and development of the family as a nurturing unit. It is a sad commentary on a socalled affluent society when only the children of the well off can expect to enjoy continuous access to their mothers from birth to the age of 3, or even 5 years.
Growing numbers of families find themselves unable to reconcile the financial difference between the childless, 2 -income situation of early married life with the single income family role that comes with parenthood. Frequently this economic dilemma is resolved by the mother going out to work. In the case of mothers of infants and pre-school children the decision is often taken with misgivings- a sense of guilt on the part of the mother and feelings of inadequacy on the part of the father- often with resulting tensions and disruptions to normal family life. The parents rationalise that they had no choice, as, in truth, many of them do not.
Another factor that helps to perpetuate the working mother syndrome in respect of mothers of young children is that everybody is doing it. The emphasis now being placed on personal fulfilment for women in their non-maternal role provides further incentive over and above the economic necessity which compels many a mother into the work force while her children still need her presence at home. The traditional emphasis on the importance of the maternal role has, I believe, suffered on both counts, and there is now a need to help contemporary women achieve the balance that they are entitled to find between personal fulfilment and maternal responsibility. The economic necessity and social pressure which force mothers of young children out to work against their better judgment have been developing steadily over a decade or so and, I believe, are now approaching a serious stage.
Unfortunately, this Bill does little to come to grips with the core of the problem. The mother who is not employed at all, frequently because she believes it is in her family’s interest that it have her full time care, is disadvantaged and in fact often ignored. That mother is largely ignored by this Bill. Much legislation discriminates against the normal 2-parent family and, in addition, places 2 -income families in an advantaged position when compared with those families where the wife and mother stays at home to care for her children. More and more people are starting to realise that in both the long and the short term it is intolerable to have a situation where mother and child are deprived of mother care solely for financial reasons.
Women’s groups, educationalists, social workers and the medical profession have all gone on record in recent times advocating the need to make it possible for mothers to stay at home to care for their young children if they choose to do so, instead of being forced by economic circumstances to go out to work. Pressure of opinion is building up in favour of measures designed not to prevent mothers who, for personal reasons, want to continue their careers, from doing so but aimed at helping those who, solely for economic reasons, feel obliged to leave their children in the care of others so that they can earn a second wage for the family.
In speaking of the hallmarks of the development of the policies of the Liberal Party of Australia and the new National Country Party of Australia, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) recently said: … to give effect to our concern for those who need our help we would be developing policies to assist mothers forced to work who would sooner be at home looking after their children.
This will be our endeavour. We are sorry that this Bill does little to provide these mothers with the real assistance they need.
I was interested to receive in the post yesterday the April edition of the Queensland State Service Union newsletter. In it the Union drew attention to the hardship caused to the single income family by excessive taxation. This burden can be overcome in 2 ways: Either by the mother, irrespective of the ages of her children, going to work, or by significant tax reforms so that the current discrimination against the single income family is removed. The Union suggested a number of measures to remove some of the discrimination. Such suggestions included consideration of voluntary income splitting of the incomes of husband and wife; the restoration of concessional deductions for dependent spouses and dependent children to realistic levels; the restructuring of the tax scale on an overall basis; an increase in child endowment; and the restoration of the deduction for education expenses. These and many other proposals, such as some form of family income maintenance or a mothers’ allowance, are deserving of detailed study and appraisal in an attempt to design a policy for the care and education of the pre-school child.
In addition to reducing the financial pressures which prematurely force women out of work there is a need to help parents to understand and provide for the needs of their young children. Community situations in which parents can, with growing enjoyment and confidence, make best use of their own knowledge and resources in the development of their children must be promoted. Equally important is the design of policies and programs which will enable the mother of young children, while giving primary importance to her role as a mother, to maintain her interests and social contacts in such a way that the combination gives her, taking life as a whole, adequate opportunity for self-realisation, both within and apart from the family.
It is because of the whole wide range of matters that affect the development of the young child that the Opposition proposed the establishment of a children’s bureau under a minister of community development.
In the long run a Commission such as is proposed by this Bill could tend to become coercive rather than responsive, and unnecessarily restrictive, inflexible and bureaucratic. By contrast a children’s bureau, structured as proposed by the Liberal and Country Parties, would provide a central source of input to a committee of ministers who would retain responsibility for the administration of programs within their specific portfolios. It would monitor community trends, assist in evaluating the effectiveness of on-going programs, control multi-disciplinary research, disseminate information to and from the community and provide advisory services to parents and community groups.
If families are to be given the opportunity of providing adequate home based care for their young children, measures with both direct and indirect consequences must be introduced to ensure that a real choice is available where today no real choice exists. Each family, if it wishes, should be able to find a type of support which has been described by Margaret Mead as the process of ‘re-surrounding the nuclear family’. Employment is not the only answer to the loneliness sometimes experienced by the home based mother. Social isolation can be overcome by measures designed to create or return community living to suburbs where it has never existed or where it has been depleted. This can be done in a wide variety of ways, including the encouragement of play groups and toddlers groups which provide opportunities for social interaction of mothers as well as their children. Though these groups are based on the principle of self-help, there is a need to stimulate their establishment. The provision of child care centres available for occasional use, the suitability and availability of playgrounds together with the provision of community amenities such as libraries and toy-lending services, can also provide valuable support to a mother engaged in the full-time care of a child.
But the most significant way in which support could be given to individual families to overcome the financial difficulties that now face them when the mother chooses to provide full-time home based care is to change those laws and practices which now discriminate against families which make this choice. In designing tax and social security programs we have so often been wholly absorbed in achieving an equitable vertical redistribution of income between the wealthy and the needy that we have overlooked the importance of the longitudinal redistribution between the more affluent periods of our lifespan and those where the requirement and demand on family resources are great and, unless they are supplemented, place us in the category of the needy. There will, however, always be those children for whom substitute care must be provided. It is essential that care of an appropriate standard be available to all who require it. The Minister for Education at a seminar held at the Australian National University in 1974 said that he believed that adequate child care centres need to give a child responsive appreciation and predictable warmth of the type that would be available in the home.
It is to be hoped that in expanding the number of available places in child care centres through local government and other community groups adequate recognition will be given to the role of the private child care centres which to date have provided more than 70 per cent of care facilities. A pluralistic approach should be followed and the Australian Federation of Child Care Associations and its constituent members should be given appropriate recognition and encouragement.
Though it is most desirable that family day care schemes should be expanded, this should occur only if subject to close supervision and regulation as to the standards of care to be made available in this way. Family day care has its strengths and weaknesses, but care provided by those working in a substitute mother role through the family day care schemes needs to be evaluated. Such schemes should take their place among the whole range of child care facilities and not be seen as a magic formula in looking after children who are away from their parents.
We would have liked to find in the Bill greater emphasis both on the need for research into the care and education of pre-school children and on the importance of evaluating the effect of those programs which no doubt will be supported by the Commission. In providing support we think that money should be made available through the States as is the case in the fields of primary and secondary education, and that the Bill should include a provision requiring the Commission to work in close consultation and cooperation with the States in the development of comprehensive child care and education programs. Where funds are made available in this way to State and local government bodies and community based charities and non-profit organisations it is to be hoped that the minimum number of strings will be attached. Organisations which have developed a distinctive style in the provision of child care facilities or education for the pre-school child should not, through the imposition of strings, be required to conform to a standard method of providing care or pre-school education, provided of course that the services offered though diverse in character meet acceptable minimum standards.
It has been made clear that assistance in the first instance will be made available where the greatest needs can be established. Those who through their own efforts demonstrate the willingness to accelerate the date of the provision of facilities ahead of the priorities determined for them must be informed as to whether or not they will receive any assistance. If self-help can be encouraged in the short run, in the long run more resources will be available to those in greatest need. Those who are now willing to raise funds to establish facilities should not be penalised on a dollar for dollar reduction in the Government’s support available to them either in the short run or in the long run. The Government and the Commission must make it clear to concerned community groups whether community effort will be rewarded or whether they should sit back and wait until their turn comes for an allocation out of the public purse.
I conclude by again drawing to the attention of the House the fact that there is no doubt that the widespread provision of early childhood services involves a major piece of social engineering. The manner of this provision will inevitably have profound effects on social practices. These effects may be largely a matter of conjecture. It is important that an attempt be made to predict their outcome in order that the purposes of the community can be fulfilled and not denied. If programs result in the home based care of young children becoming more difficult for a community that would prefer to provide such care, policies and programs must be appraised and redesigned to produce those results which are wanted by the community at large rather than those sought to be imposed by those who would seek to press substitute care of children upon a community which wants mother care to be available for them when mother care can be made available.
– I support the Children’s Commission Bill 1975 with deep personal pleasure as already I have seen the hope and enthusiasm which the proposal has given rise to within the electorate. It is a measure that has met with public acclaim and, despite efforts by opponents of the Government to suppress the knowledge of the benefits to be gained, those concerned with child care and those in public life have been able to spread the message widely. It is only by public participation and by community groups that the maximum benefits will be felt.
I was disappointed by the tenor of the address just delivered by the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson). I believe that he failed to notice- at least he appeared to fail to noticesome of the provisions contained in the legislation. I refer to items such as assistance to parents in connection with the care of their sick children in their own homes at a time or times of the day when the parents are engaged in employment; such matters as meeting the needs of children suffering disadvantages for social, economic, health, ethnic, locational, cultural, lingual or other reasons and encouraging diversity, flexability and innovation in the provision of services for children. I would have liked to have heard something of that nature.
However, the funding of day child care centres in Western Australia has been restricted in one sense by the election promise of the existing State Government to commence pre-school centres. Such centres are being funded by the Australian Government mainly under a 1974 agreement. Whether these controversial centres best utilise funds I will leave to later speakers to state and to the experts who will attempt to utilise such centres to the maximum advantage. However, I doubt whether they are what the community wants. It is hoped that out of a promise made during the fervour of an election a sound and sensible State child care system will evolve. It is ironical that the very people who decry Australian Government participation have to rely in the main on the Australian Government for funds in this area of child care. Already the Interim Children’s Commission has approved day care centres in areas of need. It has cooperated with shire councils and with other people who have applied. Applications have been rejected only where the evidence and planning were inadequate. It is hoped that the socioeconomic surveys will show where needs exist and that the appointment of catalysts or, in common terms, research and community child care guidance people, will produce suitable recommendations. No doubt my area already has similar welfare workers. The necessary information is already to hand and we can move immediately to provide facilities.
An aspect of child care which alarms me is the tendency to embark on grandiose building projects without examining facilities available in the community which could be put to dual use. This situation, for that matter, applies to any area of community welfare spending. What does it matter if a house is converted for use? Perhaps this would give a more family atmosphere. Use could be made of a police and citizens welfare club which stands idle all day or of a disused community building such as a shire office, a fire station or like buildings of a semi-industrial or office nature. Such buildings are eminently suitable for conversion and they could be utilised in these areas. The State housing commissions have older-type homes. It could be possible to make them available for this purpose and so serve areas which are neglected. Let us face it, in the past the State housing commissions, particularly in Western Australia, have been prone to erect homes over large areas without providing for community welfare in the area. This would give immediate relief in the problem areas. If these measures are found to be inadequate, further action, by way of building, could take place. But it would be disastrous to expend a large proportion of the $75m which this Bill provides on bricks and mortar and little on actual care.
One area which concerns me relates to the latch-key child- so-called for want of a better term. These children go to school early and leave late. Others are left in an empty house or flat and they have to make their own way to school. They return to an empty home or to a neighbour or friend- until, of course, their welcome wears out. This is not restricted to low income areas; it is reflected in the higher income areas where the mothers work. The formerly accepted standard that women work because they have to has gone. Today they feel that they have a right to work in order to contribute their skills and abilities to the community. This Bill recognises this aspect. It provides for pre-school and after-school care and, just as importantly, for holiday care. If we are to continue to have working families and if we are to encourage working parents to raise families, then governments must make provision for the care of these children. It is obvious, after these many years with chambers of commerce attracting women to the work force, that industry generally has failed to initiate these provisions. So it becomes a community responsibility.
In my area at Bellmay an out of school child care group has started a pilot project. It was funded initially by a grant of $4,000 from the State community allocation. It was housed in an old, disused, demountable school structure and the adventure playground adjacent to the school was utilised. This is an ideal project which has impressed all with its success. It was a project started with minimum funds and minimum staff and equipment. It has given a lead to such centres in Western Australia. But the most pleasing aspect is that it is a place where children are going because they want to go. It is catering for children who wish to go there after school to undertake some creative hobby, thus ensuring that the children who are there because of other circumstances feel that they are not a race apart. Their special friends are not precluded from sharing time with them. I am sure that this area will receive funding, along with the day care centres; that is, those established by the private sector and those which are funded by the Government, such as the centre recently established in the Belmont Shire with which I am acquainted. But this brings about a continuing problem for those children once they leave the day care centre and enter the normal schooling stream. They are left unattended before and after school. Because they have been subject to an orderly, supervised and directed type of life, they are less able to adjust to those unsupervised hours. This is one reason why I suggest that there is an urgent need to make a continuing provision for such children.
Another unfortunate factor also applies in relation to the holiday period. When school closes there is a period of 4 weeks when children are without supervision. They are left to their own devices. Urgent attention should be given to full day care in a holiday atmosphere. This is an area where community groups should be looking for funds. Perhaps a fee should be charged. Recently, at a public meeting dealing with these matters I was surprised to hear a sum of from $10 upwards suggested. If this were applied across the board without some subsidy for those whose parents were fully committed financially, those children would be precluded and this would defeat the purpose of the Bill. In my area there are sufficient riverside sites which are isolated enough yet close enough to residences and transport to allow such holiday functions to take place. Also there are the nearby hills areas. Again it needs town council and public participation to make such an occurrence factual. The proposals need to come from the community to ensure that this is what the community wants.
I know that in my electorate there is a need for someone to check hospital admissions of mothers in order to see what can be done for their families. I daresay that this would apply in most areas. There is room for a community voluntary service based on outgoing home child care problems. This legislation highlights the fact that this is only the beginning of the child care area in Australia. It is an area which has been sadly neglected for many years under previous governments. It is to be hoped that in this one area true co-operation between State and Australian authorities will take place. This is not an area for petty politics. The basis of planning which has been achieved to date is a credit to the Interim Commission and to the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen). I reiterate that for the legislation to be wholly successful community participation must become a significant factor. I commend the Bill.
-Despite its imperfections, this Bill which seeks to establish a Children’s Commission is a genuine attempt to overcome one of the major social problems arising from a technologically advanced consumer society which claims a high standard of living, therefore requiring a large percentage of its work force, both male and female, to participate fully in the production of the goods and services required by the community. The need for the expansion and further investigation of the faculties which have been available in the past was recognised in 1969 by the last Federal Liberal Party Government. In October 1972 the Child Welfare Grants Act was passed. That Act provided for research grants and for funds to assist local bodies or interested groups to establish and run child care centres. This was given further attention by the present Government in 1973, when it established a PreSchools Committee under the chairmanship of Miss Joan Fry. The report of that Committee was released in December 1973.
In fact, the legislation we are debating tonight is the product of no less than 3 reports. Firstly, as I noted, there was the Fry report of 1 973. That was followed by the Social Welfare Commission report of July 1974. Then the Priorities Review Staff was asked to make a further report. That was brought down in August-September of the same year. These reports were directed at trying to overcome the very real problems which were faced both by the Fry committee and by the social welfare committee in this context. Unfortunately, as has been pointed out by the leading speaker for the Opposition, the Bill lacks a specific statement of Government philosophy towards the education and early care of the children of Australians. It is a major problem, one which I am sure all members of this House appreciate that. It is a problem which will take a long time to overcome.
The proposals in this legislation is that a substantial sum of money, some $885m, is to be spent over a period of 10 years. In view of the current situation facing the Australian economy and the obvious need to reduce Government expenditure it is necessary to make sure that we carry out our responsibilities to the Australian electorate and make certain that these funds, will be adequately used throughout the community especially where the requirement is most urgent. It is necessary also to emphasise that this is a major national problem. It is not one which is restricted specifically to certain sections of the population. I would like to give to the House some interesting statistics. In May 1973, according to the Bureau of Census and Statistics, there were 28 1 700 persons in the labour force responsible for some 365 000 children under 6 years of age. Approximately one in three of these children remained at home in the care of relatives or friends and about one in ten attended nurseries, creches or home day centres.
In 1968-69 the available child care facilities in Australia catered for approximately 14 000 children only- not a very high figure- and in New South Wales, my own State, in 1972, the most recent figures available, there were some 760 registered child care centres coping for 39 913 children up to 5 years of age. Twenty-five thousand of these were assumed to be between 3 years and 5 years of age, the majority of whom could have been attending kindergartens. The estimated number of 3 and 4-year-old children in New South Wales in 1972 was over 165 000. Thus, only 15.7 per cent of eligible children were attending pre-school in 1972.
The emphasis behind the Bill seems to suggest that most women in the community wish to be in the work force. This is a presumption which the Opposition questions. On the basis of statistics which I have available there is good reason to suggest that in the philosophy behind legislation of this type more attention should be given to ensuring that all parents, whether they be single or dual parents, are given as much opportunity as possible to make their own decisions as to whether they wish to enter the work force or, in the case of mothers, remain at home to look after their children, especially in their earlier years. There is obviously a trend towards 2-income families and we are all aware of the reasons for this. It is because in a consumer society such as this, faced in particular with a very high inflation rate, the need for more women to enter the work force to try to make ends meet is growing year by year.
In addition to that we must take into account the fact that women have a much higher standard of education than they were given previously, which is excellent. It is something we must all applaud. When women are educated they have every right to fulfil their expectations during their lifetimes. Despite these factors married women comprise only 22 per cent of the total work force at present and 70.8 per cent of those are of child-bearing age, which I take to be between 15 and 44 years. Thus the majority of women in the child-bearing category still remain at home and receive little assistance in bringing up young children. Therefore the problems which we are debating cannot be simply overcome by talking in terms of that section of the female population which wishes to enter the work force.
One of the major difficulties which Australia has faced is that for too long the need to build up a pre-school and child care infrastructure, especially at the local government level, was not given the amount of attention which perhaps it should have. In 2 years living in Israel I had the opportunity of seeing at first hand the effective operation of a well integrated system of community welfare organisations under the control of local government. Every child over the age of 2Vi years was guaranteed entry into a pre-school for 6 days of the week. In that country it is a 6-day working week and not five as in Australia. The hours covered were from 8 o’clock in the morning until 5 o’clock in the evening. I believe it will take a long time for Australia to reach that standard but it is an objective that is worth considering very seriously especially for those children whose parents wish to or have to enter the work force.
There is still a real need which has not been covered adequately in my opinion in this legislation to establish again at local government level sufficient facilities so that all women and all single parents, including men, are given the opportunity to put their children into adequate day care centres even if only for a short time so that the mother or the father may, for instance, go to the dentist. It is a remarkable thing that in the large suburbs of Sydney, for example, there are still no adequate arrangements made in this regard. I received a letter recently from one of my constituents pointing out precisely this point. She said that although she wanted to put her children into pre-schools she noted that at the present time, according to her examination of the Sydney telephone directory, the ratio of preschools which are non-profit organisations to pre-schools which are presently run allegedly on a profit-making basis is 40 to 240.
This legislation appears to preclude specifically organisations which are allegedly run on a profit-making basis and emphasises that funds will be made available only to non-profit kindergartens run by church groups and organisations and individuals. In view of the realities of the situation which have been emphasised, namely, that at present the existing facilities are simply not adequate to meet the existing demand, much less the anticipated demand in future years, I think the legislation is unduly short-sighted in not at this stage encouraging appropriately qualified people to enter the preschool and child care area so that there will be adequate facilities to take those children whose parents wish them to be looked after. ‘ Turning specifically to the Bill I wish to make a number of short observations. It is proposed that the Children’s Commission should report directly to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). In my opinion, this will create a number of major problems as the Prime Minister’s Department to date has had little, if anything, to do with the areas of specific education and social welfare which are obviously the 2 major fields related to pre-school education. The situation therefore would be better handled if in the short term the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) were made responsible for the Commission. The Opposition is of the view, and will certainly carry it into effect when we return to the Treasury bench, that there should be established a Children’s Bureau which will provide a central source of input to a committee of Ministers who will retain responsibility for the administration of programs within their respective portfolios such as those of health, education and social welfare. The Children’s Bureau will not administer programs nor control funding of them. It will monitor community trends, assist in evaluating the effectiveness of on-going programs, conduct multidiscipline research, disseminate information to and from the community and provide advisory services to parents and community groups. In other words, the Children’s Bureau will act as a collector of information and a disseminator of trends and information to the Departments of State responsible for various aspects of social welfare matters. This is a most important consideration and one which I would ask the Government to give further thought to.
I do not support the need for the Prime Minister to take on this particular responsibility. As I see it, ultimately he will find himself having to arbitrate on a number of major interdepartmental disputes. A semi-autonomous commission with policy-making functions such as the ones suggested has to rely on Public Service departments to implement its policies and this will result in delays, confusion and procedures which will only encourage misunderstandings and conflicts between the policy-making departments and the Commission. I would prefer the Government to reject the recommendations of the Priorities Review Staff on administration and adopt those put forward by the expert working party of the Social Welfare Commission in this regard.
The important factor which we need to emphasise, however, is that social welfare programs at this level must emphasise the need for local participation at the grass roots level. For that reason, although a commission or a bureaudepending on which government one wishes to support- wishes to be in a position to co-ordinate the relevant information, the actual implementation of the ongoing programs must be essentially at the State and local government level. Unfortunately, the Priorities Review Staff in its report suggested that this was not a good idea because it said that the standards between various local government areas varied too much.
Notwithstanding that as being a very basic value judgment, I would see the role of a commission being to make sure that funds are available and that adequately qualified people are available to assist local government in this most important area. Ultimately, I want to see a situation in which every suburb in Australia- certainly every shopping centre in Australia- has adequate facilities so that children are able to be cared for on a full day basis or on a short time basis depending on the needs of the parents and their financial capacity.
-In the 1972 election which brought the Labor Party to office, there was a new emphasis in national policies, the merits and demerits of which have been debated ever since. That emphasis was towards the establishment of a government which was representative of the people and which took responsibility for the growth of the people and the welfare of its citizens. Indeed- contrary to the opinions of certain honourable members oppositethis Government has not led to a minority rule but rather to the broadening of the base on which decisions are made. The emphasis on personal growth has led to the involvement of a wide variety of people in this decision making. The autonomy of communities in deciding their own future has been, in fact, enhanced. The involvement of the Government in the community has led to a genuine change in how one goes about governing. This BUI is but one example of this approach.
The Australian Labor Party in its policies for that election set out sweeping changes in the spending of the people’s money, which was entrusted to it. More money has been turned towards education, social security and the promotion of healthy, whole individuals and better communities and community relations. We said that far more attention would be paid to children than the previous government had ever dreamed about since it was here that the future of
Australia lay, rather than in monopolies. Apart from our education commitments we saw the need for children to be considered in other aspects as well. This included both pre-school programs and, for older children, out of school programs.
On 19 February 1973-just 79 days after we had been elected- the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) announced the establishment of the Australian Pre-Schools Commission to investigate pre-schooling and child care centres throughout Australia. By November 1973 that Commission had reported its findings to the Parliament and has put forward its recommendations. There was, however, some criticism of the report to the effect that it had concentrated on the educational aspects of pre-school services and had neglected to deal with adequate provision for welfare or custodial-type day care. Thus, on 19 September 1974, the Minister assisting the Prime Minister, the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen), announced the Government’s wish to establish a children’s commission. At that time, the Government set up the interim commission to look again at the whole issue of child care. It was to have as one of its broad aims the establishment of the Government’s firm intention that by 1980 all children in Australia would have access to the services designed to take care of their educational, emotional, physical, social and recreational needs.
By the setting up of this committee the Government recognised that no rigid distinction should be made between the education of children and the caring of them. Not only was the range of services to be covered wide but also, written into its terms of reference, was the flexibility of approach needed towards the individuals for which it was to cater. The Special Minister of State on 19 September stated that one of the real strengths of the Government’s program was that it would break down the false dichotomy between child care and preschooling. The sad fact is that up till now preschooling originally intended by us as an important aid in removing or modifying inequalities of background, environment, family income and family nationality- had primarily benefited children whose mothers could afford to stay at home. Not only has this situation put children from less privileged environments at an even greater disadvantage but also it has created a harmful distinction between the mother who stays at home and the mother who works.
There are a number of themes with which the Labor Party has remained consistently concerned during its term of office and which must be faced continually by my electorate. I will return to some of these later. The priorities are continually being assessed in terms of need and not in terms of: ‘Will this Act bring us more votes at the next election?’. The interim commission was to take charge of the 1972 Child Care Act, passed in October 1972 by the Opposition when it was in government. It was to attempt to integrate its programs with the committee’s programs until such time as that Act became redundant.
I do not want to be too critical of my opponents on the other side of the House but it is sad that such an important area of social concern should have been so belatedly dealt with in such a blanket way and so close to an election, when the hearts and minds of Australia would be called to a new beginning. It was a pity that the Act was so paltry, even though it was a beginning. We have made improvements in the areas covered by the Act. Staff in assisted organisations who are now eligible for subsidies are paid 75 per cent of their award salaries whereas, under the Act, they were paid only 50 per cent. Other improvements include the raising of the per hour attendance rate for children with special needs under 3 yean of age from 25c to $ 1 and for those over 3 years, from 15c to 60c.
On 5 December last year the Minister announced the first list of grants. It seemed, even then, there was what one might call a ‘political’ element involved. Only 3 States- Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania- had consultative committees at that stage. One is again faced with the fact that apart from Western Australia- which indeed is an encouraging sign- the States which take advantage of the Australian Government’s initiative are the Labor States. When will this sort of party politics be suspended? There must be a chink in the wall of power grabbing and confrontation at some stage.
The Governments in the other States have continually held back. We need only to look at the Medibank scheme, education funding and grants to local governments generally to see this illustrated. The lack of funds for needed projects, the suffering and the inconvenience thus experienced by some people in need of Federal help is only a side issue- a topic of little or no concern to some of the State Governments in their grandiose apocalyptic battle and their versions of good and evil. The Minister also said that there seemed to be no immediate prospect of a similar committee to those set up in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania- and at that time being discussed in Victoria and New South
Wales- being established in Queensland. What more can I say?
Now at last we have reached the. stage of actually debating this Bill in Parliament. When passed it will establish the Children’s Commission on a firm base with continuing programs of assistance that will eventually have a profound influence on the development of Australia. In his second reading speech the Minister reiterated the policies of the Australian Government, its emphasis on the particular needs of the people, of working, single or sick parents of Aboriginal, migrant, handicapped and isolated children. It is not that nothing has been done for these groups in the past but that so little has been done that there is a great deal of catching up to be done. Let the Opposition not forget these groups in its bid for headlines about Government handling of larger issues. Let us not leave them behind in the economic leaps in respect of which they have previously been left behind or allow them to be the first to suffer or to suffer the worst when the economy slows down.
I would like to turn now to some of the issues with which this Bill is concerned. One basic function the Commission will perform will be the disbursing of money. The Interim Committee has already managed to allocate over $53m this year- I am happy to say to all 6 States. My own State of New South Wales has not been severely penalised by its tardiness for it will receive $22.41m. My electorate also has not missed out. A new pre-school is to be built in co-operation with Drummoyne Council at a cost of over $130,000. More than that, much has been spent at just two pre-school centres already existing in my electorate. I refer to a pre-school at Croydon and the infants home at Ashfield which have received respectively $48,000 and over $1 1 1,400 since Labor came of power.
The Government does not, however, wish to waste resources. The spending of money must be done in relation to a number of issues- the number and sort of resources already available in the community, the effect upon the child and the effect upon the parents and particularly the mother. Resources should not be seen only as money, buildings and equipment. It is continually said that our most basic resource is people- in education, in industry and even in politics. It should not be forgotten that it is also a basic resource in child care. Such a program as the family day care scheme is an outstanding recognition of this fact.
The Opposition complains about this Government being centralist. Let it not throw that charge at the family day care scheme. It is almost as individualist as one could get. We pay people an allowance for looking after children- sometimes up to 5 children- in the person’s own home. Equipment for the children can be supplied and social workers regularly check on the situation to see how the children are and whether their needs are being met. The more one thinks about it the more one wonders why someone has not yet levelled the charge at us that we are nationalising child minding. As speakers in this debate have been asked to shorten their speaking time I shall conclude my remarks by saying that this Bill should go some way towards recognising the aspirations of the community for its children and its future. I commend the Bill to the House.
-Having the opportunity to speak briefly on the Children’s Commission Bill 1975 I do so conscious that the program of the House requires some abridging of our remarks. I should like to make an observation or two regarding a proposal which must immediately attract the support and sympathy of all fair minded Australians, all those who are conscious in this society of ours today that there are groups of people, particularly among children, who are not being afforded the full opportunity to grow to adulthood having fully exploited their native talents. But I am also of course, as no doubt many other Australians are, a little mystified as to whether again the Government may overrun itself with an enthusiasm to initiate these programs, an enthusiasm which was evidenced on a previous occasion with its pre-school education program which called for the expenditure of $ 123m in a year, overlooking entirely, of course, that the facilities did not exist for the immediate implementation of that scheme.
In this Children’s Commission Bill we have a most comprehensive program and objectives to remove entirely, it would appear, all the vicissitudes that assail the young in Australia. I cannot help but observe in passing that it reminds me a little of those parents, typifying most parents really, who make every sacrifice and every effort to have their young grow up as ladies and gentlemen only to find all too often that they grow up like themselves. It suggests that we cannot necessarily achieve the objective simply by introducing a law. We have again, as in many other pieces of legislation, blithely skipped by the fundamental question as to our changing social pattern and our changing social fabric. The single income family, which has become increasingly beset with difficulties, economic and social, has again been put aside as a problem which perhaps can resolve itself. Many of these questions and proposals emanating from the Bill are attached directly to whether we continue to accept the one income family as the norm within Australia. These families are being forced into the area of the poverty stricken and we seem indifferent to the circumstances that bring this about. We are increasingly accepting a multiple income family as the pacesetter in our community. Whilst we justify this as a measure to offset the impact of inflation, it may well be argued in some cases whether the multiple income family is indeed not contributing to inflation.
The honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) here a few nights ago made an observation which I think acted as a tribute to his perception. He said that the expectations of our society possibly are considerably higher than properly may be the case, that this is subjecting our economy and our society to great stresses because we have been aiming too high, aiming beyond our entitlement, seeking more than in actual fact we can pay for, more than we have a moral entitlement to. Here in this Bill we attempt to establish a Utopia which will accommodate all people regardless of their degree of individual responsibility. Unquestionably many of these facilities are urgently required to meet the needs of those people who have no opportunity to implement alternative measures. But it also creates a wonderful opportunity for people to put aside completely their prime responsibility as parents and, in this case, particularly as mothers.
No one would suggest, particularly in this International Women’s Year, that we should deny in any shape or form the right of a woman to fulfil herself in whichever venue or through whichever avenue she might so desire. But I think it could be described as axiomatic that one cannot have one’s cake and eat it too. We tend here to denigrate the status of motherhood and the status of the family. I do not invite argument as to what the status of the family actually may be in this context. Of course I have an opinion of my own. But this Bill seems to suggest that one can please one’s self whether one has neither or whether one has both because the State unquestionably will pick up the tab. If that is what the population wants at the price of $885m over 10 years it is their prerogative to indicate clearly through the elected government that that should be the case. It depends very heavily on skilled and expert knowledge in the social welfare area. Some of these activities may become increasingly questionable if we transfer the critical responsibilities of the family to the State. It will have the incidental effect of taking up the great surplus which will result from the overkill in education in which modern society has engaged, and certainly will relieve a great deal of the worries and responsibilities of social graduates.
The Bill is fairly lucid. It accepts the latch key children as an essential part of modern society. Again it may be argued whether we have to ‘accept a situation in which more and more of these children will be left to their own devices without moral guidance. Sub-clause 3 (g) simply calls for the promoting of the physical or mental development of children. It seems to overlook entirely the question of moral guidance. After all, any scheme, no matter how laudably motivated, that ignores the moral issues can meet with only limited success, if any success at all. Sub-clause 3 (d) reads as follows:
I am heartened to find in that sub-clause the suggestion that some of the brain damaged children in my electorate who are receiving assistance, instruction and direction under the scheme for the achievement of human potential which has currently defied the best offices and intentions of the Government, will be relieved of some of their most pressing problems. In that respect the Bill seems to be all-embracing.
There seems to be a great predilection on the part of the Government or of those who drafted this Bill at all times to relate the facilities to the matter of relieving parents who are engaged in employment, as if this is the only group which can properly claim the sympathy and the service of the Government. Again this denigrates the traditional family institution.
– The mother who stays at home.
– As the honourable member for Darling Downs says, the mother who stays at home must now bear the brunt of the financial and social hardships because her deprived children suffer discrimination among their peers in their schools and in their social activities. It is quite clear that, as a complement to this Commission in endeavouring to relieve the problems of our young, the Government and society as a whole must initiate an investigation and give the most serious thought to whether we have changed our social structure so much that the single income family now becomes an anachronism and whether we must make all those necessary adjustments to establish a new norm by which people may reasonably set their standards.
– I rise to support this measure enthusiastically. In doing so I want to draw particular attention to the problems that have emerged in Western Australia in relation to the implementation of the Australian Government’s program in the field of early childhood services. It will be necessary for me to go into some detail in regard to the State Government’s attitude to this measure, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I hope that you will grant me that indulgence. Last week the Western Australian Government pushed through the State Parliament an amendment to the Pre-School Education Act. Whereas the superficial purpose of that amendment was ‘to expand and improve the provision of educational services to young children in Western Australia’, in order to find the real reason for that amendment one has to go back to an extravagant election promise made by the then Leader of the Opposition, Sir Charles Court, prior to the 1974 State election. In the Liberal Party’s manifesto under the heading of ‘Primary Schools’ there was this passage:
In primary schools we will -
Amongst other things - lower the admission age to the year in which the child turns five.
Upon becoming the Government, that promise put the new State Government in a very difficult position: Was this year to be the first year of primary school education as it is for 5-year-olds in other States, or was it to be a year- perhaps the last year- of pre-school education? On the one hand it was not a full time course and it was not compulsory, but on the other hand the centres which were to be built to house these classes of 5- year-olds were to be physically associated with primary schools and were to be run by the Education Department.
The first six of these hybrids, which the State Government decided to call pre-primary centres, were planned and financed by a special State Government grant in 1974. The Western Aus.tralian Government then proceeded to apply for capital assistance from the Australian Government, via the body which in September last year became the Interim Committee for the Children’s Commission, to expand its program for pre-primary centres. In order to get some idea of where the State Government saw these centres fitting into the educational system, one has only to refer to an amendment to the Education Act passed in December last year by the State Government which extended the definition of a government school so that it would include any pre-primary centre. From that we can see quite clearly that the State Government saw those preprimary centres as being part of the primary sector of education. However, later in December last year the State Minister for Education announced that $871,000 had been made available by the Interim Committee for the Children’s Commission to provide another 1 1 of these preprimary centres.
The State Minister should not have been surprised when in March of this year he was subject to a certain amount of criticism. He was accused of dealing in an underhand manner in relation to his pre-school and primary school policies. It was also alleged by certain people who criticised him that he was reducing the funds available for other pre-school and child care services. Why he was suprised by this criticism is difficult to imagine becuase I am sure that to the casual observer it would have been clear that the State Government was trying to honour a clumsy election promise to lower the age of primary school admission, and to do this it was using Australian Government funds which in every other State were being used for the legitimate purpose of expanding pre-school and child care services. Indeed, it was intended that these funds should be provided for that purpose in Western Australia as well
To the extent that a large program of construction of pre-primary centres would limit the possibility for the expenditure on other child care services, the criticism of the Western Australian Minister for Educaton was quite valid. Indeed, those people who criticised him for underhand dealings were soon to have their worst fears realised because the amendments to which I referred at the beginning of my speech provided the capacity for the Western Australian Government to continue, or at least to attempt to continue, to gain and obtain funds from the Federal Government under false pretences. Very simply, the amendments provided for a reconstituted Pre-School Board of Western Australia and empowered it to provide both educational and child care faculties for children who were over 2 years of age and who had not yet turned five. This allowed the Board legitimately to obtain funds from the Children’s Commission for the provision of early childhood services for children under 5, which has been the stated aim of the Special Minister of State. Funds for both capital and recurrent expenditure would have been available
But the amendments went on to empower the Western Australia Minister for Education to direct that any facility so provided, ostensibly for children under 5, could be handed over to the Education Department. The only reason such a facility would be handed over to the Education Department would be to provide a pre-primary centre for children of 5 years of age for the year before they attend primary school proper, that is, in the year in which they turn six. This is a most blatant attempt to fudge the system and to muddy the waters in order that the Western Australian Government can obtain money for one purpose, and then effectively confiscate the facilities provided in order to salvage a confused preelection promise that it made last year.
I should say that the reason this situation has come about is that even though the Australian Government, through the Interim Committee for a Children’s Commission did fund the preprimary centres last year the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen), on a recent visit to Western Australia, indicated quite clearly that in future the Children’s Commission would not fund the pre-primary program of the Western Australian Government. I believe that this is a quite proper action on the part of the Minister for the following reasons: Firstly, in all other States the accommodation of 5-year olds is a matter for the primary education sector and is subject, in relation to Federal assistance, to grants from the Schools Commission. Secondly, if the Australian Government commits itself to funding a preprimary program it will leave itself very little opportunity for expanding child care and other services which it intends to provide throughout the country. I am not interested to condemn out of hand the pre-primary program of the Western Australian Government. But I think that the realisation has to be arrived at by the State Government that the program must be funded in the proper way. If the centres are, as the State Government clearly admits, part of the primary school sector, they ought to be funded as part of that sector. The State Government should not try to fudge the issue by trying to gain capital assistance from the Interim Committee and then confiscate those facilities for uses other than those for which the initial grants were made.
It is true that the people of Western Australia are in great need of all the other sorts of services which it is intended will be provided by the Children’s Commission. I refer to the second reading speech of the Special Minister of State in which he indicated that some of the other services which would be provided would include full day care, family day care, pre-school education of course, emergency care, occasional care, before and after school and vacation care, play groups and other child care activities in accordance with demand. I think that in saying this we all have to recognise that the needs of the Australian people, including the Western Australian people, are extremely great. The statistics that are uncovered and reported in the report of the Social Welfare Commission for 1972-73 are worth considering. They reveal that 365 000 children under the age of 6 years were the children of working mothers. The report went on to state that 437 000 people who were responsible for the care of children between 4 years of age and 1 1 years of age made no arrangements for the care of those children after school hours. I do not think that we can ignore the needs which clearly exist for the provision of the sorts of services which this Government certainly wants to provide. So in relation to that I ask the Minister to look very carefully at the arrangements that the Western Australian State Government is trying to bring about which would allow it to swindle Western Australians and provide only for this hybrid pre-primary program instead of sharing in the rest of the opportunities which are available under this excellent program.
-The Children’s Commission Bill 1975 establishes a new commission with a ne,w title. No honourable member would object to what ought to be the aims of the Children’s Commission as given to us in terms of its title. But in a few words, the work of this Commission will be judged on the balance that it achieves in relation to the care of all children. After all, 2 points are made in the second reading speech of the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen). The first one is that this Bill is intended to care for over 160 000 children but that ultimately- this is the second point- according to the principles of the Commission, all children in Australia within a certain age group are to be cared for by the year 1980. It is in relation to those 2 matters that one has to judge the balance that will occur in the care of children as determined by the Children’s Commission. I am concerned that that balance be preserved and that artificial measures of need, artificial measures of poverty or artificial measures of care are not put upon the children who are, after all, still the children of their parents.
I detect that under this Bill there is to be attempted an unnecessary bureaucratisation of the care of children in Australia. After all, if the $75m which is proposed to be spent under this measure becomes a substitute for money that would otherwise be spent on family assistance available to parents of children in the home, are we to say that that represents a net improvement in respect of the care of children? When people write rules- especially when a central government writes rules- with respect to children it ought to be remembered that those children are still their parents’ children and belong to nobody else. At this stage I will introduce one or two economic facts that ought to be borne in mind. One accepts the expenditure of the $75m set aside under this Bill. But at the same time one must bear in mind that the family assistance available to parents of children to spend in their homes for a family has declined from 1.7 per cent of the gross domestic product to .4 per cent of the gross domestic product. I sense in this Bill a substitution of this $75m, or an attempted substitution, for money that should be spent in other ways. After all, family assistance programs in Australia which have hitherto been carried out have abided by the principle of freedom of choice. They were available to parents to spend money on their children as they sought and as they desired. Therefore, it is in that sense that it is the whole balance of the program that ultimately will determine its validity, its respect and its support in the Australian community.
The progress of a people- naturally, I refer to the progress of the Australian people- is very intimately connected with the progress of Australian families and the progress of the children in those families. It has been said often enough- it can be said again- that a nation’s progress ultimately depends upon 3 things. They are a nation’s will, a nation’s applied resources and a nation’s people. This Commission proposes to deal with this nation’s people. I would be less than frank if I were not to say that I am concerned at some of the definitions of services for children which are involved in this BUI, and if I were to deny that I was concerned at the way in which community services for children are to be determined. It is the balance of the program that ultimately will determine its legitimacy.
The BUI itself has developed from 3 reports. It could be said that it has developed from 3 commission reports, the Interim Committee, and so on. We are aware of the battles that have occurred. In a sense, the BUI has been worried out from those reports. But so far I have not heard the Government say, as a government needs to say, what its philosophy is concerning Australian families and what is its philosophy concerning the role of mothers in the Australian families. The whole matter cannot be considered without considering the role of mothers, no matter to what extent the Federal Government Advisory Committee on the International Women’s Year would seek to ignore that proposition. But of course, it has its own problems. But whether mothers work or look after children in their homes, it is the mothers who are satisfied with their roles, whether they work or not, who have the best adjusted children.
– Order! It being 10.30 p.m. in accordance with the order of the House of 1 1 July 1974, 1 propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
-As a member of the Federal Parliamentary Christian Fellowship I should like to pay my tribute to a very great Christian martyr who died in Vienna on 7 May at the age of 83 years. I refer, of course, to the late Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, whose address in this building a few months ago to members of the Christian Fellowship will be fresh in the minds of all who heard him. A priest of the most profound conviction and of extraordinary moral and physical courage, he was gaoled for a total of 23 years and was tortured most cruelly and barbarously in turn first by German Nazis and later by Russian Communists. He was a doughty and uncompromising fighter for the faith that he held and for what he believed to be right, and he will undoubtedly rank in history with the great martyrs of aU time.
His ‘crime’, so-called, was that he resisted Nazis and Communist oppression and tyranny and was prepared to pay if necessary for that resistance with his life. He was not only a man of tremendous moral and spiritual strength but also a man of outstanding ability. This is reflected in the fact that he rose from parish priest to bishop and then to Primate of Hungary all in the space of a few years. He was, from all accounts, much loved and revered by all who knew him as priest, bishop and primate in his native land. Despite his long, drawn out suffering and agony, following trumped up charges of conspiracy against the State, this great Christian was able to say when he was finally forced to leave his own country:
I do not hate anyone. I have no enemies and want only to live in peace with the world. I do not hate the Russians. We want only to get rid of communism because it is wrong and denies God.
– I think that every member of this House and indeed every Australian and American citizen would now be thankful that the Vietnam War, after 30 years of death and destruction, has finally ended. But there is little point in being thankful if we fail to learn the important lessons from the unfolding of that tragic historical process which took place in Vietnam and which is still unfolding in other areas of South East Asia. So it is rather sad but not surprising to find that the Opposition is still more intent on making political capital out of the outcome in Vietnam, including the plight of refugees and in quibbling at the margin about the interpretation of certain relatively unimportant documents, than in making an intelligent and objective assessment of the lessons to be learned.
When the Pentagon papers were published in the ‘New York Times’ in 1 971 many Australians became rightly suspicious of the basis of our involvement in the Vietnam war. Many of us wondered how and why we were pressured into such an active participation in that war by the United States of America. Now, following 3 revealing articles in the ‘National Times’ by Mr Evan Whitton, we know much more about the real truth of our involvement. Mr Whitton has come up with at least 4 major points which are extremely damaging and embarrassing to the Opposition. These 4 points remove the last vestige of credibility of the Opposition’s Vietnam policy whilst it was in government.
The first point is that the Australian Parliament and the Australian public were grossly deceived by Sir Robert Menzies in that elements of Australian fighting forces were actively engaged in the Vietnam war as early as 1962, 3 years before the 1st Battalion was officially committed in 1965. Secondly, Australia herself put pressure on the United States of America to become more heavily involved in the Vietnam war, and not vice versa as we were led to believe. Thirdly, Australian and United States diplomats discussed where a battalion of Australian troops would fight before even asking the South Vietnamese Government if it wanted more help. Lastly, to satisfy legalities, the United States concocted a scheme to get South Vietnam to invite Australia openly to enter the war, even though South Vietnam was most reluctant to have more foreign soldiers on its soil.
Whitton ‘s analysis shows how deceitful the Menzies Government was and how monumentally inept was the advice given to the Government of the day. Indeed the Government was only told what it wanted to be told. It had a policy and it asked for information to sustain that policy. Even the New Zealanders who apparently had no better intelligence than Australians made a much better evaluation of the real situation and expressed grave doubts about the American policy in Vietnam. Appalling as this may be, it is even more appalling that the Opposition still thinks in the Menzies’ era terms. That the Opposition has not learnt anything at all about Vietnam the last 10’years is well illustrated in the speeches made in this House last month. The speech of the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) particularly illustrated the paranoia and crooked thinking of the Opposition’s stand. He said, as reported in Hansard on 8 April, that ‘there is no reason to say that the reasons for fighting that war were wrong’. He echoed all the other sanctimonious reasons for intervening in Vietnam, namely, ‘to give its people the prospect of a better future ‘.
We now know the awful truth. We now know how hollow those reasons were.
According to the authoritative, well documented articles in the ‘National Times’, our action was for our own selfish ends and to satisfy Sir Robert Menzies ‘ paranoid fears of red, or yellow, hordes invading us from the north, because Sir Robert’s simplistic solution for the whole problem was to interpose the American military machine between Australia and Communist China. The honourable member for Bradfield and other Opposition members apparently have still not grasped the main point about the Vietnam base struggle; that is, that it was a civil war. Any schoolboy could tell the honourable member and indeed all Opposition members that, when 2 parts of a country or 2 fractions within a country are fighting one another, that is civil war. The fact that one side is pro-communist and that the other side is anti-communist has nothing to do with the definition. The Americans have called it a civil war- and they should know- but most members opposite, especially the honourable member for Bradfield, the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Sullivan), refuse to see this; they are still thinking in the simplistic and unreal terms of the Menzies’ era. Even this week, Mr Clark Clifford, who was a Secretary for Defence for President Johnson, said in ‘Time’ magazine of 12 May: ‘The fall of Saigon means a civil war has ended’. He also admitted, if the Opposition is interested that: ‘It is the best result so far as the people of South Vietnam are concerned ‘.
I believe that the Opposition has become so strongly entwined in the web of its own mythology over such a long period that it now appears quite incapable of facing reality and making an intelligent and objective analysis of the events which have taken place in South-East Asia north of Australia. What has happened in Vietnam in the past 2 months is similar to what happened in China during the civil war in 1 948-49. Beleaguered cities fell, armies fled and surrendered, and a corrupt rump of a government fled the land with all t le gold if could get its hands on. South Vietnam ell simply because the government of the South was as corrupt as that of Nationalist China and its armies and people had lost the will to fight. Th j whole rotten structure came down in the same way as it did in China, because South Vietnam lacked leaders and a government which understood the needs of the people. No doubt mindful of America’s great failure in China, Hubert Humphrey, President Johnson’s VicePresident, said last week concerning the outcome in Vietnam: ‘No outside force can save a country that lacks will or political leadership. ‘ That statement appeared in the ‘Time’ magazine of 12 May 1975.
History has shown that there have always been wars, and a large number of these wars have been civil wars. One important point needs to be remembered about civil wars. They are internal affairs- family affairs, if you like- and because of this they are fought with a ferocity and intensity far surpassing those of conventional wars between nation states. So it is not surprising that the wounds of such wars take a long time to heal. This was the case in the United States itself in the last century, and in Russia, China, Spain and many other countries this century. It will also be the case in Vietnam. Let us face the reality. Civil wars are family affairs; they are no concern of outsiders. If one intervenes in a family quarrel one usually incurs the enmity of both sides either for what one has done or for what one has failed to do for one or the other party to the quarrel.
History shows that outsiders do intervene from time to time in civil wars to suit their own selfish ends. This was the case with the allied intervention in the Russian civil war in 1919. It was also, as we know, the case in the Indo-China war. Honourable members may ask what happened as a result of foreign intervention in these 2 similar cases. The foreign intervening powers were forced to withdraw after a time because of warweariness and pressure of public opinion at home. This happened in the case of both the Russian and the Vietnam civil wars.
All Australians should be concerned with what happens now in war torn and devastated Vietnam, but let us not with ideological bigotry jump to hasty conclusions and assume and assert without any evidence that millions will be murdered. We as a government are deeply concerned with the Vietnamese people. We will seize every opportunity to help those who have remained in Vietnam, and we will do our share to help those who have fled. There is deep concern and there is now plenty of opportunity to help the Vietnamese people in a positive way- not in a negative way by becoming involved in their war.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in a recent speech claimed opportunity and concern as the hallmarks of Liberalism. If this applies to Australians. then surely it must apply to the Vietnamese people too. The Leader of the Opposition and the so-called Liberals should be honest and consistent if they are not to fall into the use of the double standard of which the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues accuse the Government so often.
History has shown that we have come to live on friendly terms and have profitable commercial relations with communist states, namely, Russia and China. Why can we not do this with the new communist states of Asia? We, like the Americans, were involved in a great mistake in Vietnam. However, let us face reality and draw the right conclusions from our Vietnam experience. The right conclusion is not, as the war lords of the Opposition would have us believe, that we should prepare for another Vietnam style war in South-East Asia. Let us bury our xenophobic and simplistic notions and respect our northern neighbours.
– I have no doubt that the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) believes what, he has said and has spoken sincerely, but nevertheless T chink his views are ill-conceived and in a s .ise dangerous to Australia. He said that we hav; been defeated in Vietnam. So we have. But when “t u are defeated the most dangerous thing yen .n do is to run away. Whether we like itot, ve cannot run away from the consequence.; c that defeat. It is better for us to face up to M?m now. The honourable member said that wc r v lived ourselves in Vietnam for our own sel *-h interests. It is not a crime for an Australian £ >: eminent to think selfishly of the interests of Au i alia.
Although we have been defeat -:o or our side has been defeated in Vietnam, it r…y be that the intervention has been to the ;d vantage of Australia and perhaps only to the advantage of Australia. Let me put something to the honourable member and let him think about it very carefully. At the time of that intervention Indonesia, the country which is to our north, was trembling between the communist and the anticommunist causes. The anti-communist cause is now firmly established in Indonesia. I venture to think that if there had been no intervention in Vietnam the opposite would have been the case and Australia would be now confronting not far across the water- indeed insofar as New Guinea is concerned a country almost with a contiguous land border- a communist threat from a country of 150 million people. This is something which is of vital interest to the security of Australia
Is the honourable member for Fraser now to say that the Australian Government is acting unwisely when it looks at the security of the Australian people? Let him draw from the present defeat at least this lesson: We have to look to Australia’s defences now in a new light. We have to be more self-reliant. Unless we can do this the very survival of the Australian people is at risk. He likes to talk in scornful tones of the possibilities of communists from the north coming down to Australia. It would be foolish to use such scornful tones because the thrust is there. The things that we said might happen are happening. The communist threat is now very much nearer to us than it was. When he watches on television what has been happening on the streets of Saigon or some other town in South Vietnam he might think perhaps that those scenes could be enacted in Pitt Street or Collins Street, or in the main street of any of the Australian capitals.
Britain is no longer in the position to intervene with conventional forces to defend the security of Australia. Even if she had the will she no longer has the power. The United States of America still has the power, but what about the voices that are being raised from the Government encouraging isolationism in the United States? That is what honourable members opposite are doing. The propositions that are corning from the Government are treason to Australian because they are inciting our American friends to abandon us if we face the kind of situation which Vietnam has faced and against which we have no protection in our own power of defence at the moment. Our defence forces are a joke- a very bad joke, a joke which none of us likes to contemplate. There is virtually no power in them now. What are we to say of a government which incites the Americans to retreat into isolationism and withdraw the shield? What are we to think of a government which denigrates past policy which, whatever else it may have done, has at least ensured that for the present Indonesia is anti-communist and not pro-communist. If the present Government had had its way in the past, I feel certain that we would now have a communist Indonesia on our borders. That creates speculation which it is very uncomfortable to contemplate.
The present Government has a long history of betraying Australia to the communists. I remember very clearly when it was considered in this House to be a matter of grave offence to say to any member of the Australian Labor Party that he was an ally of the communists. I have been removed from this chamber because I refused to withdraw the statement that there was communist infiltration into the Labor Party. I do not believe that Government supporters would consider this offensive now, because it stands complete and proved that there is communist infiltration into the Labor Party and it is shown by the Labor Party’s policy. Without telling the electorate it has taken us into the communist orbit.
If the Government has its way we are going to find ourselves victims of the communists because we have failed to stand up to them and have alienated the only people who could protect us from them. I believe that whatever be the responsibilities of an Australian Government, its first responsibility is the security of the Australian people. This Government has been betrayed that security by permitting the defence forces to be eroded and by the insults it has given to our allies 6n the very point of intervention to protect an innocent country from communist aggression because it was communist aggression. Civil war, call it what you like, but there was an established country of South Vietnam and there was communist aggression against it. Members of the Government, led by the present Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer (Dr J. F. Cairns) sponsored the he that there was no communist aggression. The Government sponsored the lie and persuaded the Australian people that the North Vietnamese were the victims, not the aggressors. Now the opposite has been dreadfully proved. It has been proved that the North Vietnamese are the aggressors- the successful aggressors, yes; we have been defeated. It was they who put the troops into South Vietnam when there were no troops in North Vietnam from the South.
-Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
-Every time I hear the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) speaking on this theme I think of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy of the United States of America. As honourable members know, McCarthyism swept the United States and ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of pubhe servants dedicated to their task in the United States. Senator McCarthy died hated, despised, friendless and an alcoholic. I know that, despite the shortcomings of the honourable member for Mackellar, that would not happen to him. But the speech that he has just made is so ill-timed because we read in the media today that the world is becoming more friendly, that United States’ warships are at present in Leningrad harbour and, similarly, units of the Soviet navy are visiting American ports.
We also learn from the media that, in the very near future, there is to be a joint space mission by the United States and the Soviet cosmonauts linking up in space. These sorts of things are the things that people of my own political beliefs love and promote- the world becoming one family. It so ill becomes the honourable member for Mackellar to come out with this old communist bogy that has plagued the world for so long, bringing hatreds between one section of the community and another, causing countries to spend billions of dollars on arms when half the world ‘s population is going to bed of a night hungry. I think it ill becomes the honourable member for Mackellar to get on to a theme of that sort at this time in the twentieth century when I can see the people of the world, despite the differences in political ideology, becoming one family. I have endeavoured during my 1 5 years in this Parliament to promote such a cause.
I hope that the honourable member will heed what I say because when he leaves the communist bogy alone he makes great contributions to the debates in this Parliament. We know that he is getting old and grey but he still tries to be the greatest flame thrower that the Liberal Party has on the Opposition benches. He is trying to live up to this reputation. I think he should concentrate during the remainder of his political career, which we know will not be very long, on following a theme to try to bring about a greater understanding between the nations of the world because in so doing he would go out of politics much more respected than he would be by trying to kick the communist bucket around this Parliament as he has been trying to do for so many years.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.56 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is set out in the following table: (l)
It has been a matter for individual universities to establish actual criteria within that definition.
The maximum interest rate charged is 8.5 per cent. The general practice is for no interest to be charged on loans, provided that repayment is finalised within prescribed period.
asked the Minister for Tourism and Recreation, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
Department of Tourism and Recreation: Inter-departmental Committees (Question No. 311)
asked the Minister for Tourism and Recreation, upon notice:
Will he provide a list of the inter-departmental committees, which have been established since 2 December 1 972, of which officers of his Department are members.
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
I refer the right honourable member to the Prime Minister’s answer to Question No. 964 on the 1973 notice paper (Hansard, 27 September 1973, page 1714) in which he drew attention to the impracticalities of attempting to list all the consultations in which departments are engaged with other departments. My Department keeps me properly informed of all important developments- this is a satisfactory procedure for the purpose of my Ministry.
asked the Minister for Minerals and Energy, upon notice:
-The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Tourism and Recreation, upon notice:
-The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice:
-The answers to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Labor and Immigration, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
As the honourable member will be aware, in 1974 and again in 1975 the Australian Government made submissions to the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission supporting the re-introduction of quarterly cost of living adjustments.
In the light of the 1974 decision and developments in the industrial relations and economic situation since that time, in the 1975 National Wage Case the Australian Government submitted that the Commission adopt a system of wage indexation based on the following four principles.
Where at the date of adjustment, the award rate of an employee was not more than the figure for the seasonally adjusted average weekly earnings per employed male unit most recently published by the Australian Government Statistician-
Where, at the date of adjustment, the award rate for any employee was more than the figure for the seasonally adjusted average weekly earnings per employed male unit most recently published by the Australian Government Statistician-
This system of wage indexation would continue for 2 years and then be subject to review.
It is clear from the reading of the four principles I have just outlined that the Government is not supporting wage indexation unconditionally. The Government s support for indexation is dependent, in part, on the receipt of acceptable undertakings from the union side, as embodied in undertakings by the ACTU, to comply with the principles of wage fixation laid down by the Australian Government.
However, if the ACTU was not prepared to accept the conditions set out in paragraphs 1 to 4 above the Government would support a decision of the Commission to approve wage indexation in principle, but to introduce it on an award-by-award basis upon the receipt of suitable undertakings from individual unions.
During the course of the proceedings the ACTU responded to the Australian Government submission and gave certain assurances. The Australian Government commented on the ACTU response and gave what it regarded as a proper interpretation of those assurances. The ACTU subsequently responded to that interpretation. I would imagine that the substance of this dialogue is being considered by the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in reaching a decision on the claim for the introduction of wage indexation.
B I MARK: Market Forecasting Scheme (Question No. 1502)
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The office of the Interim Committee for the Children’s Commission has provided the following information in answer to the honourable member’s question:
Precise or comprehensive information on funds made available by the States from their own resources is not readily available. In some States there is no separate accounting for the pre-schools operated by the Education Departments. In other States pre-school funds are not always readily identifiable in the Budget papers.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 May 1975, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1975/19750513_reps_29_hor94/>.