17th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Eon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I present the report of the Income Tax on Current Income Committee.
Ordered to be printed.
asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for Information, upon notice -
– The Minister for Information has supplied the following answers . -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Leader of the Senate, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
Mortgage Bank Department
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will the Minister submit to the Senate at an early date a statement setting out the operations up to date of the Mortgage Bank Department of the Commonwealth Bank recently established by an act of this Parliament?
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
The following is a summary of the business transacted by the Mortgage Bank Department of the Commonwealth Bank from the commencement of operations on the 27th September, 1943. to 10th February. 1944:-
asked the Minister representing the Minister in charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research -
– The Minister in charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has supplied the following answers-: -
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
Is it a fact that the cases against tramway and bus strikers in Sydney, set down for hearing on the 2nd February, have been postponed until the 14th March; if so, why?
– The AttorneyGeneral nas supplied the following answer : -
Proceedings against certain members of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Tramway and Motor Omnibus Employees Association, set down for hearing on the 2nd February, were, in the interests of industrial peace, adjourned on that day to the 14th March on an application made at the special request of His Honour Judge Drake-Brockman, who had the industrial matters in dispute then before him.
Debate resumed from the 16th February (vide page 222), on motion by Senator Fraser -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– At the conclusion of my remarks last night, I pointed out that the bill does not conform in its financial provisions with the recommendations of the joint parliamentary committee appointed to investigate social services. Certain financial proposals contained in the bill were not recommended by the committee. In its report, the committee emphasized that an obligation rested upon those who would benefit from the scheme to contribute directly to such benefits.
– Was not the Minister for Trade and Customs a. member of that committee ?
– He was a member only until the time that the first interim report was submitted. His place was then taken by Senator Arnold, who also has been a most valuable member of the committee.
– Did not the present Minister for Trade and Customs agree with that view when the first report was submitted?
– The point to which I have referred was made by the committee in its second report, after Senator Keane had ceased to be a member. Many of the witnesses who were examined before the committee expressed the view that persons who would be entitled to benefits under the scheme should contribute towards such benefits, either by means of special contributions or by a tax earmarked for that purpose. They stressed the effect of such a provision on the morale of the people, and held that it would encourage and maintain in the people a proper spirit of independence. Some members of the committee believed that a large proportion of those who, in the future would receive benefits from the fund in respect of sickness, unemployment or old age would prefer to have contributed to such benefits rather than receive them as a free gift. I realize, however, that the Government has the right to give effect to its own policy as to the means by which social legislation shall be financed. Nevertheless, I do object to the report of the Social Security Committee being used to bolster up the ‘case for the Government. What the Government does in this connexion is its own responsibility; it should not attempt to associate the committee with a policy which that body did not advocate’. Obviously, the Government has decided to finance its social legislation out of general revenue. In this connexion, I draw attention to the speech delivered on the 11th February, 1943, by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley). Under the heading, “National Welfare Fund”, the Treasurer said -
The Government proposes to establish a National Welfare Fund through which provision will be made to finance the full scheme. Commencing from the 1st July next, it is proposed to pay to this fund out of general revenue an annual sum of £30,000,000 or a sum equal to one-fourth of the total collections each year from Income Tax on individuals, whichever is the lower.
It will be seen that, even at that early stage, the Government proposed to establish the fund out of general revenue. The recommendation of the committee was that a special fund should be established as the result of the imposition of a special graduated tax on incomes, and that the money so provided should be used for certain specified purposes only. I repeat that the recommendation of the committee as to the means by which the scheme should be financed was in principle entirely different from the policy which has been followed by the Government.
– The honorable senator did not always hold that view.
– If the Minister for Social Services (Senator Eraser) will look up my speech on the National Welfare Fund Bill he will see that it was similar to my speech to-day. When the Government of New Zealand decided to introduce social service legislation, the first thing that it did was to consolidate all the then existing legislation of that nature, and to provide that future legislation on similar subjects should be incorporated in the consolidated act. The Commonwealth Government would do well to follow the example of our sister dominion in this connexion. It would also do well to provide that a special graduated tax be imposed in order to establish the fund from which benefits shall be paid. If that were done, the people who paid the tax would know that the money was being earmarked for a special purpose. The consolidation of all social services legislation in one act would not only be of benefit to the people of this country, but it would also prove valuable to future governments. Moreover, it would, I believe, prevent any interference with the fund in any future depression. Had such legislation been on the statute-book during the last depression, it is likely that there would have been in existence a fund with sufficient money to its credit to have made unnecessary a.ny reduction of social benefits at that time.
Senator ARNOLD (New South Wales) [3.20 1 . - I esteem it an honour to be a supporter of the Government which has introduced this measure. I believe that up to date this Parliament has not measured up to its full responsibility in this sphere of social reform. In order to place this legislation in its true perspective, we might retrace the history of unemployment benefits. When the economic order entered the stage with which we are now familiar, unemployment was revealed as one of its worst faults. In Europe the first section of the community to attempt to remedy this evil was the trade unions, and their first action was to provide relief to their unemployed members. As early as 1790, similar bodies established funds for that purpose.
– And such benefits were provided on a contributory basis.
– That is true. However, that was in 1790, and I hardly think that honorable senators opposite will suggest that what was good enough in 1790 is good enough to meet the conditions existing in 1944. After the trade unions accepted the responsibility of making some provision for the relief of unemployed persons, the community generally realized that this was not really the responsibility of such bodies. Consequently, municipalities and provincial and national governments commenced to subsidize funds to provide unemployment relief, and this system continued for many year3. In Great Britain, in 1911, the national government instituted a form of unemployment insurance on a contributory basis. That scheme met with some degree of success until periods of depression proved too great a strain on the funds. That has been the common experience with contributory schemes. Almost without exception they have failed to stand the strain during periods of large-scale unemployment. The next development was recognition of the fact that unemployment relief was the responsibility, not only of the trade unions, but also of the employers, and this principle was accepted by the British Government approximately 30 years ago. During the last few years in the United States of America, where thought on this matter has been somewhat in advance of that elsewhere, it has been realized that the responsibility is primarily that of the employer, and not of the trade unions or governments. This view is stated in legislation enacted in the State of “Wisconsin in 1934. That act is entitled “ The Wisconsin Unemployment Reserves and Compensation Act “ and its purposes are set out as follows: - First, the stimulation of more regular employment as far as possible; and, secondly, the payment of unemployed benefits to compensate those workers who become unemployed through industry^ failure or inability to provide steady work. The Government of Wisconsin took the view that the provision against unemployment rested solely upon the employers, and that legislation charges employers with the responsibility to provide steady employment, or to meet more closely the full social cost of regular operation of industry. I regard that legislation as very wise. I shall not review it in detail, except to mention that it provides for a pay-roll tax at the rate of 2 per cent, in order to build up reserves. We in Australia have not yet reached that stage of progress. We have not yet placed the whole responsibility for unemployment relief upon employers. However, we have declared that it is the nation’s responsibility to care for the welfare of all sections of the people, and I am very proud to be a supporter of the Government which has introduced this legislation. However, I should have liked the Government to go further in this measure. The National Government should accept full responsibility for seeing that every one of our citizens is provided with work. The only cure for unemployment is employment, and it is the test of the National Government’s responsibility to see that every citizen is provided with work. When a citizen suffers disability through temporary unemployment, very often arising from transitions from one job to another, and to large-scale seasonal occupations, the Government has a responsibility of making some payment to him. The very fact that the basis of our basic wage is the amount required weekly to enable a man with a wife and two children to maintain a minimum standard of life presupposes that every citizen has & right to continuous employment. Therefore, when any citizen cannot obtain continuous employment, it is the responsibility of the Government to provide relief to him when he is unemployed. I should have liked the Government to link with this measure its intention to provide works programmes in order to prepare for periods when unemployment is likely to be rife. I have no doubt, however, that the Government will, in due course, make such provision. The Government should, in relation to a measure of this kind, envisage programmes of public works as a safeguard against large-scale unemployment. That will not only give those people employment, but will also stop a gradual decline into increased unemployment. The last depression began in a small way but was accelerated by the fear that gripped the people and induced employers to retrench their employees. This in turn destroyed confidence, and so we fell into a. very serious depression. I feel sure that if that fear is nipped in its early stages by a wise public works programme, providing work immediately for men as they become unemployed, any depression that may tend to show itself will be stopped in the early stages. In that way, the Government will have accomplished two tasks. It will have prevented a major depression, and at the same time cared for its citizens.
The criticism that honorable senators opposite have directed to the bill has been largely in relation to the method of financing the scheme. Several contributory systems have been designed and put into effect in various countries. I have the honour of being a member of the Social Security Committee, and in that capacity have had the opportunity of studying the various measures to which I have referred. The committee unanimously decided, after examining the different methods of contribution, that these should all be discarded, and that the only system that was sound or equitable was based on a graduated form of taxation: The committee therefore decided to recommend the method to the Government as the most suitable to adopt.
– Was not that to he a special tax?
– No. I heard Senator Cooper, who is a colleague of mine on the committee, pointing out this afternoon hia objections to the scheme for providing the money, as embodied in the bill, and showing how, in his view, it did not measure up to the committee’s recommendation. I have great respect and admiration for the honorable senator and feel that he speaks sincerely from conviction, but I remind him that the committee in its deliberations gave most earnest thought to what it was doing, and no doubt was left in my mind as to what its recommendation -meant. The committee asked the Government to include all social legislation in one consolidated measure, and I still believe that that would be a good thing to do.
– That is the intention of the Government.
– As the Minister assures me that that is the intention of the Government, I have no doubt that the Government will decide that what the committee recommended is the best course to follow. The task of consolidating the whole of our social legislation into one measure is enormous. I knowthat the departmental officers have been working on it for some time and I am prepared to wait patiently until the Government has an opportunity to prepare not only the new bills, but also to consolidate the legislation. The committee accepted the principle of a graduated tax. I was asked by Senator Wilson whether that was not to be a special tax. I refer the honorable senator to the seventh recommendation in clause 28 of the committee’s third report, in Which these words are used : “ Continuation in the post-war period of the principle of a graduated tax on incomes.” There is no mention there of a special tax. The only graduated tax that can be cited is the present ordinary graduated tax on income. The recommendation reads -
Continuation in the post-war period of the principle of a graduated tax on incomes as a means of financing unemployment benefits and to maintain a minimum standard of subsistence for disemployed persons, or those suffering from want of the necessities of life.
T am sure that if Senator Cooper, who now objects to the principle of the proposed tax, is satisfied that the Government is going to consolidate the whole of ite social legislation in one measure, he will agree with me that the best way to finance the scheme is by means of a graduated form of tax. I have no hesitation in saying that had the honorable senator heard the Minister for Social Services (Senator Eraser) give me the assurance that it was the intention of the Government to consolidate all its social legislation, he would support the present graduated system of income tax as the means of -financing this measure.
Another system was introduced in Australia during the regime of the Lyons Government in the form of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act which provided for contributions by three parties. The committee examined that measure. It was felt that it would bo a good thing to have contributions by people who participated, if it were possible and wise, and that if people were able to contribute and to receive the payment as a right, there might be something in the scheme. We went into the question thoroughly, but we found that no system of three-party contributions was of value in any period of long unemployment. The act was based on an actuarial calculation that the person concerned had to make contributions for 52 weeks in order to get about 26 weeks’ benefit, at the end of which time he became a charge on the State. Therefore, at the end of the period of payment of the benefit from unemployment insurance, the problem was still unsolved as the man was still unemployed and had no protection. We decided that even if we had had the three-party contribution system in operation in 1931-32, it would not have solved the problem. It would have meant that only those people who had paid their contributions for a sufficient length of time, would have received a very small benefit. The scheme provided for a contribution of 9d. a week by the employee, the employer, and the Government respectively, in return for which a benefit of 15s. a week would be paid, for a limited period only. At the end of the period the beneficiary would become a charge upon the State. We held the view that that was not an adequate solution of the problem. We felt that we had to find something better. There were certain other features of the scheme which we did not like. Fm instance certain classes of people such as self-employed persons were not provided for. However, it was the principle with which Ave were concerned mostly, namely, how were we to care for our unemployed people during periods of distress, and we recommended to the Government that it should provide for a public works programme on a long range basis to tide us over a period of depression. “We recommended also that there should be a minimum living standard below which no individual should be permitted to fall. “We urged upon the Government the desirability of inaugurating a scheme under which unemployed persons would receive benefits as a. right. In regard to the financing of the scheme, we expressed the opinion that the only equitable system was a graduated tax upon incomes. In New Zealand everybody pays a flat rate of ls. in the £1. That means that a taxpayer in receipt of £20 a week pays £1, and has £19 left, whereas the less fortunate individual who receives only £5 a week pays 5s., which he can ill afford and has only £4 15s. a week left. In our view that is an unfair system. I agree with Senator Cooper that when our social service legislation is consolidated it should be possible for a taxpayer to know what amount of tax he is paying for social services, and what amount is being contributed to ordinary revenue.
I am pleased indeed that the Government has introduced this measure, following upon the recommendations to which I have referred. I am sure that the bill will commend itself to all who give it serious study, and I congratulate the Minister for Health and Social Service’s on its introduction.
– I join with honorable senators who have supported the general principle of this measure, and the objects which it sets out to achieve. Indeed, for a long time I have been a very strong advocate of a national insurance scheme covering health, sickness, and unemployment, as well as old-age and invalidity. I was a strong supporter of the national insurance legislation which was passed by this Parliament in 1938. That scheme was based upon a contributory system, and I have no hesitation in saying that it was a disaster not only to the party which was responsible for the introduction of the measure, but also for the people of this country, that the scheme was not put into operation. Had that legislation been implemented we should have had by this time some experience of the operation of very important social services, the merits or demerits of which we could have assessed. However, for reasons of which I am not aware, the Act was pigeonholed and we have now had placed before us a measure covering some of the services which were embodied in the legislation to which I have referred. In addition, this measure makes provision for unemployment insurance. I have very little objection to the general terms of the bill, but there are certain amendments which I should like to see incorporated and which I hope the Government will regard favorably. In the first place, I think that the money paid by friendly societies should not be regarded as income in the calculation of benefits. But there is one thing above all others which I think a bill like this should provide for - it should ensure security to the beneficiary. We regard it as a measure providing for social security, and in my view the emphasis should be placed upon the word “ security “. As has been pointed out in the course of this debate, we have had on our statute-book for many years social service measures which are financed in precisely the same way as it is proposed that this scheme should be financed. I refer of course to our invalid and old-age pensions legislation, which has been in operation since 1909. That legislation does give a certain degree of security to aged and invalid people, but owing to the method of finance upon which it is based, during the last depression when the recipients of these pensions were just as much in need of adequate sustenance as they were in times of prosperity, the Government of the day was forced to reduce payments. That course became necessary in view of the financial difficulties with which this country was faced. I have no doubt that the then Government had no wish to take that action. Its supporters had said . on many occasions that they would not reduce the standard of social service in this country, and I believe that they were sincere in those statements. It was the force of circumstances which compelled the Scullin Government to reduce invalid and old-age pensions and, with all due respect, I suggest that exactly the same thing may happen to the benefits provided for in this legislation. As Senator A., J. McLachlan said, although we are nominally - I use the word with some justification - building up a fund for future use, actually, that fund could be dipped into by any Treasurer of the Commonwealth at any time, should the financial conditions of this country become so stringent that there was a lack of funds to carry on the ordinary services of this country.
– Such a fund could be dipped into for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions.
– Quite so; but there is no security in that, as was mentioned during the debate in this chamber on the National Welfare Fund Bill. That is the system by which the present measure is to be financed.
I listened with interest to Senator Tangney, who has the honour of being the first woman senator to be elected to this chamber. She undoubtedly puts forward a woman’s point of view, particularly on social problems, and her views can be useful in the Senate on occasions ; but she is showing signs of falling early into the error of adopting canards and catch-cries as being sound in principle. During her speech on this bill, she made a statement which has been repeated on many occasions, and particularly in recent years. When speaking about our ability to provide money to finance this bill, she said, “If we can provide money for war, surely we can provide money for peace “.
– What is wrong with that?
– In my view it is one of the most unsound statements made in this debate.
– I disagree with the honorable senator.
– The natural inference to be drawn from Senator Tangney’s remark is that actual money can .be provided to pay for our war-time commitments, but everybody in this chamber, and I hope the people of
Australia generally, realize that only a very small percentage of the money required for the purposes of the present war is provided free of interest. The only money raised for financing the war which does not leave a load of debt for posterity is that raised by taxation. To suggest that in war-time we must be limited by the taxation resources of this country to conduct war is stupid. Therefore, we can, outside the normal financial channels used in peace-time, place on posterity the final payment of the cost of the war that we are now waging. Whether we raise the money by means of loans from the public or loans from the Commonwealth Bank, this country is irrevocably committed to a certain debt. I do not think that any honorable senator would suggest that loans raised from the public will be repaid whilst those obtained from the Commonwealth Bank will be repudiated. If we accept that position, there is only one way in which the loans can be repaid, and that is through taxation.
– Can the honorable senator tell us one loan that was ever repaid by means of money obtained from taxation ?
– Every loan raised has a tab to it, and, apart from the payment of interest, payments are made into a sinking fund by means of which the loan is automatically redeemed within 50 years. Does the honorable senator suggest that the present Government would repudiate the law relating to the payments to a sinking fund? I do not believe that. Therefore, a more damaging and misleading statement could not be made by anybody in this country than to say that because we can provide money for war we can also obtain finance for all purposes during peace. In my opinion the Government is entitled to use the form of finance contemplated under this bill for some projects even in peace-time. I refer to undertakings that will be profitable and useful, such as public works that will provide a return and help in the liquidation of the debt incurred; but to say that we can use that form of finance for an annual commitment such as the present bill involves would be to indulge in loose and sloppy thinking.
– That is only the honorable senator’s opinion.
– The honorable senator from Western Australia is at liberty to express his own views, and I should like to hear him at any time, particularly if he can show the people that there is a way of liquidating the public debt other than by taxation. Money can be made available at all times through the channels I have mentioned, but the great bugbear confronting all governments in war-time is to maintain the value of money. During the first twelve months of this Government’s occupancy of the treasury bench it did a poor job in that direction. The war had been carried on for two years by the previous Government, and the depreciation of the currency, at the end of that period, compared more than favorably with that of other countries engaged with us in the war; but after twelve months of Labour administration the depreciation was greater than that of three of the Dominions with whom Australia had previously compared with favorably. That is the contribution of the present Government to this problem.
I now offer a few comments on the remarks of the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron), who is notable in this chamber for his theories on the wage system and for his economic ideas generally. On a number of occasions he has made completely inaccurate statements in respect of the wage system of this country. I have replied to him previously, and have produced the figures from the Commonwealth Year-Book, which I accept as accurate, in support of my contention. In his enthusiasm and his desire to criticize the wage system he has shouted from the house-tops that the work of Labour governments that have been in power in the Commonwealth and State spheres has been so futile and unavailing that the workers are actually worse off now than they were in 1907. I know that he does not mislead the workers. I leave it to them to judge the matter for themselves. I shall give the facts as set out in the Commonwealth Year-Book, and shall take the “ C “ series, which is the most comprehensive series relating to effective wages. The Minister for Aircraft Production referred to the “.Harvester” award which was made in 1907. I cannot get the index figure for that year in the “ C “ series, but the figure for the “ A “ series is available, and it would appear that 970 units would be a fair estimate under the “ C “ series for 1907. I make it clear that that index figure for 1907 is only an estimate based on the information that is available. The index figure for 1911 is available, namely 1000. In 1914, when Australia was suffering from the worst drought in its history, the effective wage fell to 948 units. During the war which began in that year it continued to fluctuate below 1000. In 1920 the index figure was 841. I shall not give the figure for each year ; there was a gradual rise until 1925, when it stood at 1125. By 1930 it had risen to 1198, which was the highest until the year 1940 when it was 1190. Later figures are not yet available.
– Will .the honorable senator give the figures for the depression years?
– I have given the figure for 1930, which was a depression year. At that time persons in receipt of the basic wage had the most effective wage ever paid in this country. It is true that at that time large numbers of people were out of work and did not enjoy the high value of the wages then paid. In 1935 the index figure was 1169, and in 1940, after a year of war, it stood at 1190. The Minister for Aircraft Production has frequently made in this chamber the statement which he repeated yesterday. Although I have no doubt that he has gone even further when speaking on the Yarra bank, I am not concerned with what he says there. But a Minister of the Crown should know the facts when he cites figures in this chamber; he should not deliberately attempt to mislead the people, or their representatives in this chamber. Yesterday, the Minister, in another of his peculiar outbursts, indulged in a tirade against thrift. I had not previously thought that any public man could indicate such a peculiar attitude of mind, but the Minister for Aircraft Production has many peculiarities; we have noticed them before. I do not know how he had the temerity to say that the present war was due to the thrift of the people in Allied and Axis countries. The people of Great Britain will not agree with him, because, had the j been prepared to build up their defences in a time of peace to the degree that they well could have done, they would not have been subjected to the bombardment, suffering and loss which they have experienced in re ,-ent years. It would be even more ridiculous to suggest that the thrift of the people of Australia in any way contributed to the outbreak of war. I remind the Minister for Aircraft Production that lack of war preparations left Australia practically defenceless when war broke out. Indeed, at that time this country was entirely dependent on the means of defence provided by the people of Great Britain.
– I hope that the honorable senator will connect his remarks with the bill.
– I shall do so, Mr. President. The bill deals with unemployment and sickness benefits. My belief is that the people who are to enjoy those benefits should exercise thrift - a trait to which the Minister for Aircraft Production has referred - and, I believe that they should do so by contributing towards the benefits which they will receive in their time of need. I print out that thrift is not peculiar to capitalist countries. Indeed, no people are more keen on exercising thrift than = are the citizens of Russia. The government of that country not only pays interest on its war bonds but it also makes such bonds free of heritage tax. That is to say, the estate of a person holding such bonds is not subject to the heritage tax, although that tax is imposed on incomes from savings bank deposits and from other property. It would appear that the Minister for Aircraft Production is unique in his tirade against thrift. In my view, one of the most essential features of any system of social service is security. I do not believe that security will be given to the people of Australia by the financial methods proposed by the Government in connexion with this legislation. I listened with interest to the speech of Senator Arnold who, as a member of the Social Security Committee, has no doubt made a study of various social service schemes. The honorable senator pointed out that even a contributory system, similar to that which is in operation in Great Britain, may not meet unusual conditions. That is admitted; but I do not think that the beneficiaries of the British scheme had to forgo their’ benefits. I understand that the Treasury was able to maintain the benefits out of contributions made by employers and em- ployees
– Plus contributions from Consolidated Revenue
– I admit that at one period increased contributions had to be made, and it may be that there was a slight reduction of benefits. Of that I cannot be certain, because I cannot get reliable information on the subject. But to suggest that the scheme was a failure because the Treasury had to come in with assistance is to misconstrue the facts.
– That was only a temporary arrangement.
– The British scheme has established huge reserves which are expected to be sufficient for the post-war period. The British contributory scheme is based on a flat rate of contribution. At present, males aged 21 to 65, in class 1, pay ls. lOd. a week, and the employer pays a similar amount, making a total contribution of 3s. 3d. In addition, the Government makes a contribution. I have not been able to obtain precise figures on this aspect, but I understand that the combined contributions of the employers and employees cover approximately 50 per cent, of the total estimated cost of benefits. Therefore, in some years the Government must contribute to the scheme on almost an equal basis. As Senator Arnold mentioned, this scheme has been in operation in Great Britain for very many years. It had its growing pains, and it survived one of the worst depressions that Great Britain has ever experienced. When the Government of Great Britain sought to improve that system with the object of increasing benefits it did not entertain any idea of departing from proven principles. Neither did Sir William Beveridge, who was appointed to investigate this matter, suggest a change from the contributory principle. On the contrary, he proposed an increase of contributions, still maintaining the flat-rate principle for employees and employers. He proposed that an adult male should pay 4s. 3d. a week and an employer 3s. 3d., making the total -weekly contribution 7s. 6d. Under the present British scheme, a male aged 21 to 65 receives 20s. a week, and a female, who pays only ls. 6d. a week instead of ls. 10d., receives 18s. a week. Tinder the Beveridge scheme, in return for the combined contribution of 7s. 6d. a week from employee and employer, an adult single male will receive 24s. a week, a married man and his wife 40s. a week, a single man aged 18 to 20 20s. a week, males aged 17 to 18 15s. a week, and children of persons receiving benefit Ss. a week. In spite of the increased contributions, the extra burden which will be placed on the Government as a contributor will be £86,000,000, whilst it is estimated that in 1945 the total cost of the scheme will be approximately £650,000,000.
– Where will that money lie obtained?
– Fifty per cent, of the cost will be met by contributions, and the other 50 per cent, from general revenue. Yet this scheme does not meet with the approval of alleged progressive people in this country who, however, have not had any actual experience in matters of this kind, but simply oppose such schemes on sentimental or political ground. Usually, it is for political reasons that they brush aside proven schemes. They suggest that in their innocence and inexperience they are capable of devising a sounder scheme. The British schemes have had the approval not only of Labour governments which had held office in the past in that country, but also of all sections of the present national government of Great Britain. Conservative, liberal and labour alike support in principle the Beveridge plan. However, owing to the exigencies of the war that plan cannot be implemented immediately. The proposal is to put it into operation at the earliest favorable moment.
We in Australia also have the opportunity to learn from New Zealand’s experience with social legislation. Labour governments held office in that country years before the outbreak of this war, and they experimented with various schemes. At first, they came forward with all kinds of wild ideas and “ hifalutin “ proposals for financing their various schemes. Unfortunately, their experience with such schemes reduced New Zealand to such a state that before the war all imported commodities had to be rationed in that country. However, it can be said to the credit of Labour governments in New Zealand that they were prepared to learn from their own experience, and that of other countries in this matter. Senator Arnold approved a scheme adopted in the State of Wisconsin, in the United States of America, but he did not have anything to say as to the schemes which are operating in that country generally. In any case, the New Zealand Government, prepared to learn from its experiences, had no sentimental, or political, qualms in adopting the contributory principle. Originally it sought to finance its social service scheme by a flat rate registration tax of £1 for every adult male in the country, and of 5s. for every male aged sixteen to twenty years and all females. It also imposed a tax in relation to incomes of ls. in the £1. It did not run away from its responsibility. It did not say that it could make deficits good by payments from Consolidated Revenue. Later, it raised that contribution on income from ls. to 2s. 6d. in the £1; and, to-day, every person in New Zealand, earning over £1 a week, contributes a flat rate of 2s. 6d. in the £1 in order to finance the country’s social security service. Even this provision was insufficient last year to meet the full cost of the scheme, because, whilst contributions totalled £12,000,000 the total cost was approximately £16,000,000. I understand that the Treasury was obliged to make good that deficit of £4,000,000. The point I emphasize is that this Government, apparently, is blindly prepared to repeat the mistakes made in other countries. It is not prepared to learn from the failures or experiences of others. That is my chief objection to the scheme proposed in this bill. I am not surprised that the Government has introduced this measure. In drafting its proposals it paid no regard whatever to the recommendations of the Social Security Committee, because long ago it had made up its mind as to the kind of system it would introduce, and the method by which it’ would finance it. E admire Ministers for their frankness, and am not disagreeing with them on that ground. All I am pointing out is the insecurity that this method, of finance gives to the scheme. I know that Labour Ministries, particularly if they have not been in office for some time, are quite irresponsible on the question of finance. We have had that experience many times. We had it early in the life of the present Government, when the cost of living went up from 10 to 25 per cent. - a true indication of the financial policy of the Government. However, it now says that it can give this scheme security from general revenue, and it introduced national welfare legislation which provided that a certain proportion of the income of individuals should be placed in a fund to finance this scheme. The legislation provided that -
There shall be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is hereby appropriated accordingly, for the purpose of the National Welfare Fund in each financial year commencing with the financial year commencing on the 1st July, 1943, the sum of £30,000,000, or a anm equal to one quarter of the amount received in that year from income tax from persons other than companies, whichever is the less.
That means that while the present rate of taxation continues, and the national income remains as high as it is now, it will be able to get £30,000,000 to provide these particular benefits, but it is worth while to examine the budgetary position of Australia to ascertain what is possible or probable in the future. Before honorable senators commit themselves to a system’ of finance such as this, they should ascertain the possibilities or probabilities of the future.
– The Labour party is committed to it already.
– I am not, nor do I intend to be. I have no hesitation in saying that. Other honorable senators can speak for themselves. To return to the budgetary position, in the financial year 1938-39, the total expenditure of the
Commonwealth Government for the services of the Commonwealth was £94,000,000. Of this, £9,000,000 was devoted to defence, £16,000,000 to social services, including invalid and old-age pensions, £15,000,000 to payments to the States and £8,000,000 to repatriation. Deducting those items, the actual expenditure for the ordinary services of the Commonwealth in 1938-39 was £46,000,000. The estimated Commonwealth expenditure for 1943-44 is £277,000,000. Instead of £9,000,000 for defence, we are now hypothecating £140,000,000. As against £16,000,000 for social services, the estimate is now £34,500,000. The payments to the States have increased owing to uniform taxation to £41,000,000 and the payment for repatriation is about the same as in 1938-39, or a little more. Taking it, however, still at £8,000,000, the amount remaining for the ordinary services of the Commonwealth is £56,000,000 as against £46,000,000 in 1938-39- an increase of £10,000,000 between 1938 and 1944.
To obtain some idea of what possibilities the future holds for us, we must try to make an estimate of the probable postwar budget, accepting £94,000,000 as the pre-war figure. I suggest that instead of £16,000,000 for social services, we shall have a social service commitment of at least £45,000,000 and probably well over £50,000,000. I am not prepared to hazard a guess at what our repatriation commitments are going to be in that period, but it is reasonable to assume that they will be at least half as much again as in pre-war years, and we shall be very fortunate if they are not doubled. The pre-war expenditure on defence was £9,000,000. Your guess, Mr. Deputy President, may be as good as mine as to what the future defence commitments of this country will be, but, in spite of Senator Cameron’s argument against thrift, my own opinion is that it will be many years before they fall below £50,000,000 a year. I can envisage a tapering off which will mean that very many budgets providing up to £100,000,000 for defence, rather than £50,000,000 will be presented. But I will take the figure at £50,000,000 in order to be conservative. There is also the important item of interest, because certain honorable senators opposite have not yet convinced their own Government of the soundness of their theories, and the Government continues to do what other governments have done, by raising loans and paying interest on them. We have not jet finished the war, but the Commonwealth commitment for interest has already risen from £12,500,000 to £33,000,000 a year. As my leader said, we have not yet funded over £400,000,000 worth of bank credit, which, when it is funded, will bear a very much higher rate of interest than the rate at present being paid. I think we can put the interest figure, therefore, at £50,000,000 a year. I am trying to be modest in my calculations, as I do not want to exaggerate. The position is bad enough without any exaggeration. I do not think that the estimate of £50,000,000 a year for interest is open to any serious criticism, except perhaps that it is an underestimate. This means that, compared with the £37,500,000 which was our commitment in 1938 for these services, we shall have the staggering total of £145,000,000. Adding that figure to the £62,000,000, which includes £8,000,000 for repatriation, on a conservative estimate we have a total of £207,000,000 of inescapable expenditure. I trust that no honorable senator would suggest that we in this country should adopt that very dangerous and completely insupportable system of meeting revenue commitments from central bank credit or loans. We are doing that, of course, in time of war, but it is a practice which cannot continue. I am sure that not one Minister of this Government would support the continuance of such a practice. I trust that they have a better sense of their responsibility to the people of Australia than to suggest that as a normal practice in peace-time we should meet our revenue commitments either from loans or from central bank credit. That means, of course, that terrifically high taxes will continue when the war is over. We recognize that. We are all aware that after the war taxes will be very much heavier than they were in pre-war years. In the year 1938-39, £13,500,000 was raised by direct taxation. lit is estimated that, during the current year, the revenue from taxation will amount to £174,000,000 - an increase of £160,500,000 over the 1938-39 figure. If my conservative estimate of expenditure approaches accuracy, it means that £113,000,000 of that extra £160,500,000 will have to be raised in post-war years. That postulates, of course, that the national income in the post-war period will be maintained at ite present level. I hope sincerely that the national income of this country can be maintained after the war, but I have the gravest doubt about it. The Government must recognize that although in time of war a great majority of the taxpayers are prepared to pay penal rates of taxation, if they have to continue paying anything like those rates when the war is over their incomes will fall.
– Is .the honorable senator speaking for himself?
– I am speaking for a large number of people in this country. Signs are not absent that the very thing which I fear is happening now. It is no use the Government or the people of this country imagining that the taxpayers will earn high incomes if 6hey are to be called upon to pay 18s. 6d. in the £1 income tax as they are now. It is futile to think that one section of the people can be bled all the time, or that income-earners will show the same drive and initiative if their returns are to be drastically reduced in this way.
Another matter which seems to have escaped the notice of the Government is the impossible position into which it is putting property-owners at present. I speak with some personal knowledge of this matter. The Government knows that property-owners at present are not able to keep up the maintenance of their holdings, yet they are not being permitted to put one penny into reserve to meet inescapable expenditure after the war. Properties are deteriorating rapidly, and in the post-war period the owners will not have sufficient money to restore them to an adequate standard of repair and to full capacity for production. If supporters of this Government believe that they can maintain existing rates of taxes after the war, they will be disillusioned. The only possible hope for the reconstruction and regeneration of this country is a spur to industry, initiative, and individual enterprise, although no doubt the strangling of private enterprise may appeal to some honorable senators opposite as a means of enabling them to say, “ Private enterprise has not fulfilled its function ; ‘ therefore we must bring in state ownership “.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Courtice). - The honorable senator is straying some distance from the bill.
– Not a very great distance, because this system of finance will bring about the very things which I am mentioning, and then, however sincere the Government may be, beneficiaries under this legislation will suffer. I have no hesitation in saying that whilst I support the basic principles contained in this bill, I am opposed wholeheartedly and unequivocally to the method by which it is to be financed. It is in the interests, first, of the beneficiaries, and, secondly, of the people of this country generally, that the scheme should be on a contributory basis.
So far my remarks upon this measure have been directed to its financial aspect. Other honorable senators have spoken of its effect upon the morale of the people. I do not believe that any one appreciates getting something for nothing, and I do not agree with Senator Arnold that this measure is in any way related to a system under which an individual will know precisely what he is contributing towards social service benefits. Under this system a taxpayer cannot determine how much he is contributing to these funds, or if he is making any contribution at all. I have a suspicion that many of them will contribute nothing at all. Let the Government dissect its taxation proposals and say precisely what the Treasurer will have to pay for the contemplated social benefits, not in the aggregate, but for each benefit, and what every body in the community will have to contribute towards the cost. That is essential. Whether the scheme be a contributory one, or whether the cost will come out of general revenue, it should be made clear that when a person pays taxes a certain proportion of the money will behypothecated for social services
Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) [4.42 1. - Despite the Opposition’s objection tothe bill I commend the Government for having introduced it. I agree with the principles of the measure, although with regard to some of its details improvements are possible. Prior to the introduction of the measure the various schemes to which honorable senators opposite have referred were thoroughly examined, but because this proposal has been submitted by an Australian Government, honorable senators opposite seem to regard it as inferior to the measures adopted in other countries. The British and New Zealand schemes have been examined by the Social Security Committee and the Minister for Health and Social Services (Senator Fraser), and the present measure is regarded as an improvement on the systems operating in those countries. I. do not approve of the payment of only £1 a week in respect of persons between the ages of eighteen and 21 years, when in all other cases the payment is to be £1 5s. a week. Persons between the ages of eighteen and 21 years find living quite as costly as older persons do. Their costs for medicine and doctors’ services are no less heavy, and at their time of life, when they are virile and .active, they develop good appetites and need to be well, fed. I hope that it will be found possible ar, a future date to increase the payment, te that section. Generally speaking, however, I welcome the bill and regard it as long overdue. The principal objection raised to the measure by members of the Opposition is that the proposed system of finance is wrong. I have never witnessed a more perfect somersault than that which has been executed by honorable senators opposite with regard to the method of financing the social services contemplated under this bill. Only a few months ago the National Welfare Fund Bill and a taxation measure were passed to provide finance for the social benefits to be granted under the present measure. I shall not say that members of the Opposition wholeheartedly supported those bills in the course of their speeches in the Senate, but they cast their votes in favour of them. They offered no objections so long as the £30,000,000 required for social security purposes was raised, but now they object to the benefits under the present bill being paid for out of the National Welfare Fund. They ask the Government to finance this measure partly on a contributory basis in addition to the taxation to which the people are already committed with respect to the National Welfare Fund. That is the kind of reasoning we hear from opponents of the Labour party. They toll us that we should adopt the New Zealand scheme, which, they say, is a sound one, because everybody irrespective of his earnings contributes to its cost. The contribution to the New Zealand fund is based on a flat rate of 2s. 6d. in the £1. The poor invalid pensioner, who was probably an invalid at birth, has to pay 2s. 6d. towards the cost of the scheme. If his income were £1 a week he would have only 17s. 6d. a week on which to live, but a deduction of 2s. 6d. a week from the income of a wealthy man would mean nothing to him. The scheme contemplated under this bill is based on the contention that those who can best afford to contribute to the cost of the scheme should do so, and that those who are unable to pay are equally entitled to the benefits of financial relief in the event of sickness or unemployment. I desire to know whether people who are unable to make any contribution to the cost of the New Zealand and British schemes are excluded from the benefits. Every person in Australia who is not a juvenile will be entitled to the benefits of the present measure, regardless of sex or ability to make a contribution to the cost.
Senator Wilson, judged by his speeches in this chamber, is the greatest pessimist I have heard in this Parliament! He spoke at length on what this scheme would cost if unemployment were experienced such as that which occurred in the depression years. He went back to 1929, and said that on the basis of unemployment at that time the scheme would cost £14.000,000 annually for unemployment relief alone. He contended that if unemployment occurred to the degree experienced in 1933, the cost of granting the relief in that regard would be £66,000,000. We hope to go for wards, not backwards. We hope to find employment for the people so that they may enjoy some of the comforts of life instead of having to accept the discomforts and hardships which they suffered in 1933. Honorable senators opposite have blamed the Government of the day for all the troubles of that time, but I remind them that there were then in this chamber 29 senators who were members of the United Australia party and the Country party and only seven Labour senators. As the strength of the parties in this chamber had not varied greatly for a number of years, the existence of such a state of affairs- does not reflect credit on non-Labour governments which had allowed this country to drift into a state of stagnation.
– The honorable senator himself was here at that time.
– The honorable senator who has interjected has grown old; and, unfortunately, some men as they grow old do not seem capable of advancing with the times, but retain the ideas which they held in their youth - ideas which may not meet the country’s needs to-day. Their ideas have remained static; they have not adapted their thoughts to changed conditions, and consequently they are endeavouring to bring about a state of chaos.
Senator Leckie and Senator Wilson claimed that the proposals of the Government for financing this scheme were unsound. The latter said that the measure provided only for a dole to be paid to soldiers after the war. Senator Wilson, like myself, is a soldier behind the lines; the only difference between us is that our attire is of different colours. I do not visualize soldiers being paid a dole after the war ; I visualize an Australia in the process of much greater development, and soldiers being employed at good wages. The Government and its supporters are looking ahead to something brighter than large numbers of soldiers scrambling for the few jobs that are available. If Senator Wilson cannot look ahead to something brighter than he has indicated, I can understand why the electors decided that his term in this chamber should end next June. In what better way could the scheme be financed than by the imposition of taxes? Had it been suggested that the scheme should be financed by the issue of credit, we should again have heard the cry of “fiduciary issue “ that we heard some years ago when it was proposed to provide £18,000,000 to meet the needs of starving people in this country. I claim that there is no sounder way to finance this scheme than by financing it out of money raised by taxation. Honorable senators opposite claim that the proposal of the Government is unsound because it does not provide for contributions by beneficiaries, but I submit that taxation involves contributions by the persons who will benefit. The Government’s scheme of contributory payments provides that contributions shall be made by those who can afford to make them, whilst those who cannot afford to pay will not be called upon to do so.
Senator Leckie ‘referred to doctor’s certificates, but he did not show in what way the bill could be improved in that connexion. It is- within the power of the Minister in charge of ‘the bill to add a clause to meet the point raised by the honorable senator, and it may be that action along those lines is already contemplated. I should like to see in the bill a clause of the nature indicated by Senator Leckie. ‘ As the bill stands, a person must have a doctor’s certificate before he can claim benefits in respect of sickness. The benefits receivable by him are not to commence until 7 days after his sickness begins. Should a person be unemployed for 14 days because of sickness he will, as the bill now stands, receive benefits amounting to 25s., out of which he will have to pay 10s. 6d. for a doctor’s certificate, leaving him with only 14s. 6d. for the fortnight that he has been unemployed. I hope that the Minister will consider the point that has been raised, and will take action to meet the situation.
Senator McBride first congratulated the Government on introducing the bill, and then he blamed the Government for doing so. He followed with a vicious attack against Senator Tangney. He quoted her statement that if we can provide money for the prosecution of the war, we can raise money for reproductive works and social benefits. No truer statement was ever made than that made by Senator Tangney. What is the state of mind of a man who agrees that £700,000,000 a year can be provided for war purposes, and denies that £45,000,000 a year can be raised after the war for reproductive works and social services? Senator McBride said that the statement of Senator Tangney was most damaging, but his remark only shows the quality of his mind. The honorable senator then contended that the scheme will be too costly. If we are resolved to hold this country as a British community we must adopt methods different from those which we followed in the past. If we are foolish enough to think that we can hold this Commonwealth permanently with a population of 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 we shall find ourselves sadly mistaken. We can hold this country only by developing its resources to the fullest possible degree and by providing work and social security for all our citizens. Unless we do so we shall have no hope of increasing the population sufficiently to provide adequately for our defence. In view of the trend of world events to-day, one does not require very much foresight to realize that we cannot afford any longer to leave vast areas of Australia unoccupied. We must face this problem. If we can now provide £500,000,000 a year, and, unfortunately, we must in order to defend ourselves - and- who doubts .that, if necessary, we could provide that amount every year for the next twenty years - surely we oan raise £45,000,000 to provide social security for our citizens, and from £200,000,000 to £300,000,000 a year in order to develop this country. To-day we are raising huge sums of money, unfortunately, for war, for the destruction of lives and property. Surely, when the war is over, we shall be able to provide lesser sums for the security and welfare of our people. Therefore, I can only describe as stupid the arguments advanced by honorable senators opposite, who say that we are heading for disaster if we imagine that after the war we shall be able to provide millions of pounds to develop this country and to give work to our soldiers when they return to civil life. They say that the object of this measure is simply to give a dole to our soldiers when they return. God forbid that any government in this country should be incapable of ensuring that we shall not repeat the conditions which existed in Australia in 1929.
.- I intend to vote for the second reading of the bill. No person with any humane instincts wants to see a repetition of the distress during the depression period 1931-33. To reduce such distress to a minimum is the reason for introducing this bill. “With that object no one can disagree. It is the method by which provision is to be made to meet the expenditure running into millions of pounds that Opposition senators do not see eye to eye with the Government’s proposals to finance the scheme. There may be a boomerang effect which will destroy the objective which the Government has set out to achieve. In the committee stage the clauses relevant to the initial and subsequent expenditure will be discussed, no doubt, at length.
In defining income, the bill makes no reference to a soldier’s pension other than special and Service pensions. Men in the latter categories are deemed to be unemployable, like old-age and invalid pensioners, and legislation is already in existence to meet their case. It has always been the policy to consider a soldier’s pension as sacrosanct. It is not taxable, nor can it be garnisheed yet in this bill the pension given for a war disability is regarded as income within the meaning of the bill, and is taken into account in assessing the amount the exsoldier can draw from the unemployment fund, should he become unemployed.
As the bill stands at present, a soldier receiving a pension of, say, £1 6s. a week, has to forfeit 6s. of the unemployment benefits. This brings him into line with the non-Soldier pensioner, also with an income of £1 a week. This is the statutory amount of income permitted before being eligible for unemployment benefit of £1 5s. a week. I do not bring into the argument the £1 a week allowable to a member of a friendly society. I am assuming that neither are members of a friendly society, for whom another £1 a week is allowed. The former’s only income is his pension at £1 6s. a week whilst the latter’s income is £1 a week. The soldier has to forfeit 6s. a week to meet the requirements of the bill. Surely this is not intended. I hope that some provision is made to ensure that the whole or the greater portion of the pension is not taken into consideration when calculating the amount which the pensioner should receive out of the unemployment fund. There may be some academic, or- hypothetical, reasons brought forth, but I repeat that the soldier pensioner deserves some degree of preferential treatment.
.- I have only a few remarks to make on the measure at this stage. I believe in the principle of social security. However, I do not agree with the method by which the Government proposes, under this measure, to apply that principle. I regret exceedingly that the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act, which was passed in 1938, was not implemented, because under that measure .benefits were to be provided not as a dole but as a right, whereas under this measure benefits are to be provided not as a right but as a dole. Any scheme of social security to ‘be worthwhile should be based on the contributory principle.
Many clauses of the bill will :be closely considered in the committee stage. The Government is acting unwisely in establishing a new department to administer this legislation. It should have accepted the recommendation of the Social Security Committee on this point. I cannot understand why an applicant, whose application for benefit under this measure is rejected, will not have the right of appeal. That right is provided in our repatriation legislation. Under this measure, however, the Commissioner will have the last word. Too much power is being vested in the Commissioner. I also object to the provision of one year’s residence in Australia as a qualification for benefit. I shall not be surprised if Australia becomes a sanctuary for unemployables from other countries, who will come here knowing th at after one year’s residence they can qualify for these benefits. People who come to Australia for health reasons may be able to escape the health authorities and land here. Then if their health fails, they will be able to fall back on these benefits. The provision is entirely wrong. There should be a period of at least five or ten years before they are entitled to these benefits. We may easily have people coming from Italy, or some other country, and claiming the benefits immediately. No person who is not a naturalized British subject should be entitled to them, and in any case the claimant should make some contribution. Another clause provides that , a man on strike shall not be entitled to unemployment benefits, ‘but what about the people who are put out of employment because somebody else strikes?
– They are covered by the terms of the bill.
– Then a few key persons can go out on strike, and put the rest in a position to enjoy these benefits. That will mulct the country in a very large sum of money.
– If the employer goes on strike he puts all his employees out of work.
– The honorable senator holds the employer responsible for everything. He should remember that he is now in the Senate and not on the Yarra bank. An extraordinary position arises in regard to unemployable people. If a man is unemployed he is entitled to £1 5s. a- week and his wife to £1 a week. If he has three children who are working, they may pay to the father and mother who are unemployed £1 10s. a week each for board. That man is unable to earn £1 a week, but a total sum of £8 comes into that house every week, without the wages of those children. If that sort of thing obtains, the bill will create a large unemployed class. It will be the means of creating unemployment rather than giving people an interest in employment. Then there is the position of the man who is ill. He gets his £1 5s. a week, and he can employ a man to do his work, which is not taken into account. He cannot Employ his brother, but he can employ a stranger. His brother cannot work for him, and his wife cannot work for him. If she does work she loses the £1 a week, which is an anomaly.
– There is nothing in the bill to prevent his brother working for him.
– A brother cannot do for him the necessary casual work,, such as milking cow, *to earn the £1 weekly. That is another matter requiring attention.
The aborigines are also included, but a standard of intelligence is to be applied to them. What standard is required?’ Is it education, or the work they are capable of doing? It seems fairly wide simply to provide that intelligence shall be taken into consideration. It throws the whole matter into the hands of the Commissioner to say whether this or that individual is entitled to the benefits.
I cannot support a bill of this kind which is not contributory. If it were made contributory I would support it, because I believe that such a scheme is necessary in regard to both unemployment and sickness. Another objection is that the bill will practically destroy the work of every friendly society in this country. They will go by the board, because people will not pay into a friendly society when they can obtain these benefits without payment. The general principles as laid down in the bill are sound as regards benefits for unemployment and sickness, if they are properly applied, but many amendments are necessary to make the bill satisfactory.
, - I should not have spoken but for the remarks of honorable senators concerning the effect of the bill on friendly societies. This is a bill which the people of the Commonwealth have been looking forward to for many years, and we ought to be proud of it. I have been secretary of a. friendly society in Western Australia for 29 years, and claim to know something about such bodies. The bill will benefit them. To obtain the benefits under this bill persons have to go to a doctor for a certificate of sickness or inability, but in a friendly society they pay the same amount of money or less each quarter, and that covers their wives and children. If they become sick two or three times a year they can go to the doctor, and it costs them nothing. Therefore they will benefit by this scheme. I dealt with this subject as far back as July, 1943, when Mr. Holloway was Minister for Social Services. J passed on to him representations
I had received from a friendly society, and the following was hia reply: -
The unemployment benefit scheme which covers unemployment due to .sickness as well as unemployment due to loss of employment, ensures that’ recipients will receive some permanent income all the year. This should help rather than injure the friendly societies, as it is proposed to permit members of the friendly societies to receive the full amount of the sickness benefit as well as the usual amount of sick pay payable by the friendly societies. This guaranteed income to the members should help the societies to retain their membership.
That was signed by Mr. Holloway as Minister for Social Services. Do honorable senators want anything fairer?
Senator McBride attempted to criticize Senator Tangney for saying that if money could be provided for war purposes it could be provided in time of peace. 1 endorse every word that Senator Tangney said. There will not be so much unemployment after the war as honorable senators opposite imagine or hope. An immense volume of work will have to be undertaken, including forestry, water conservation, prevention of soil erosion, provision of a uniform railway gauge, shipbuilding and housing. Many hundreds of thousands of houses will have to be built in the Commonwealth. That work alone will take ten or fifteen years, and employ thousands of workers. The honorable senator also accused the Government of not doing anything during two years of office. The Government has done a great deal of good work since it came into power, including legislation for widows’ and soldiers’ pensions and repatriation. The party opposite was in office for many years, and made no attempt to provide these services. I congratulate the Goverment on bringing this bill forward. It is necessary and is one of the finest bills ever introduced in our Parliament. When I say that, I know that I am making a big claim, but it is justified. Senator Wilson complains continually about the absence of preference to returned soldiers. The only preference which they got after the last war was given to those in good positions, and all that the poor ordinary working men got was pick and shovel work. I know that that was so in Western Australia, because I was a member of the Government in that State, and helped to get work for them. There will be plenty of work for returned men after this war. We guarantee that.
– What does the Government intend to do with al] this money?
– The most unfortunate characteristic of Governments supported by honorable senators opposite has been their inability to get money at the right time. What of the fiduciary issue of £18,000,000 that was proposed during the depression, but was blocked by the anti-Labour forces in this chamber ? I agree with Senator Tangney that if we can provide millions of pounds in war-time to destroy human life then we can provide similar sums in time of peace to keep body and soul together. I support the bill.
.- I should not have risen to speak on this measure had it not been for the reference by Senator Aylett to certain legislation passed by this Parliament just prior to the last elections. The honorable senator said that no division was taken on that bill.
– Honorable senators opposite had the numbers to defeat the measure.
– Senator McBride moved an amendment, which was narrowly defeated, stipulating that all social service proposals should be submitted to Parliament before “being inaugurated under that act. I should like to put Senator Aylett right in regard to this matter. The honorable senator claimed that when the measure to which he referred was under discussion Parliament was told by the Government that another bill was being brought forward to ensure that the increased taxes which were to be collected would be refunded to the people by means of social services. That is quite wrong. There was no suggestion of a link with measures of this kind. What was stated, if my memory serves me correctly, was that one-third of income tax revenue collected would be put into a trust fund to meet social services such as invalid and old-age pensions, maternity allowances, and benefits of that kind. It was never suggested that the first piece of legislation was a forerunner of measures of this kind, or that the higher taxes were being imposed to raise revenue to enable schemes such as this to be introduced. If, as Senator Aylett suggested, this bill is designed to ensure that those individuals in the lower income group who are called upon to pay taxes at present, shall receive some benefit for their contributions, surely the inference Ls that the present rates of taxation upon lower incomes will remain for all time. If that is the basis upon which money is to be raised for the provision of social services, there is no hope whatever that members of the lower income groups who are called upon to pay substantial taxes - taxes which I thought were for the purposes of carrying on the war - will have their obligations reduced.
My own view is that this bill and the other two .measures with which it is associated have been brought down as a sort of ground bait - that is what we called it in my younger days when I was a fishing enthusiast.
– We called it berley.
– That seems to be a more apt name. What is happening is this : The Government, particularly through the medium of that great angler, the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), is out after a pretty big fish - the carrying of its referendum proposals - and in order to get the people of this country nibbling at the referendum hook, it is putting out berley in the form of these bills.
– Is the honorable senator shy about the referendum?
– I am very shy about it. I should not like any misunderstanding about that. I am very shy of anything that this Government proposes, and the further it goes, the worse I become. Having baited the referendum hook with a fat, juicy worm, the Government is now angling amongst the little fish, but the little fish are rather suspicious about the purpose of the referendum, particularly in view of recent utterances by the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) and others; and so the fishing expedition is not going too well.
– Order! I remind the honorable senator that there is no mention of a referendum in this measure.
– But the three measures are very closely allied to the Government’s referndum proposals. This bill is part of the berley that is being thrown amongst the little fish to attract them towards the referendum hook. In spite of the fact that the Government repeatedly has assured the people that under a Labour administration there will be no unemployment after the war, it has introduced this measure which embodies a scheme of unemployment and sickness benefits, in the hope that the people of this country will be attracted to the main bait which they are being asked to swallow.
I endorse heartily what has been said by previous speakers in regard to the need for unemployment and sickness benefits, but I contend that any such scheme should be on a contributory basis. I regret very much the circumstances which caused the national health and pensions legislation passed by this Parliament in 1938 to be abandoned.
– The then Government did not have the courage to go on with it.
– It was not a question of courage; the scheme was abandoned owing to international complications. I regret exceedingly that that legislation was not implemented, because it would have created a fund which would have been of great assistance to the Government in its war effort and enabled the payment of unemployment benefits in the future should the need arise. I hope that we shall not experience another depression in ‘this country, and I believe that many of the great undertakings mentioned by Senator Clothier will have to be embarked upon in the post-war years. These, together with the shortage of many commodities which will have to be made up, should ensure full employment for many years after the war. That is the time when we should have a contributory scheme of national insurance, so that it would not be necessary during a period of depression to place men on a dole. The rank and file of the people are not clamouring for social benefits to be provided on a noncontributory basis. A freedom loving people like Australians would prefer a contributory scheme to a measure such as this, which savours of the dole. The people generally have never asked for benefits for which they are not prepared to pay. The popularity of the friendly societies throughout the Commonwealth shows that Australians like to be associated with community efforts for the purpose of providing against a rainy day. I know of no country with a population of not more than 7,000,000 which has so large a percentage of its citizens enrolled as members of friendly societies or mutual life assurance societies as has Australia. The independence of the public is similarly shown in the huge amounts deposited by them in the savings banks. The number and value of accounts in those banks demonstrates conclusively that the people do not always look to the Government to provide for their social welfare. I realize that this measure is a political bait, in view of the forthcoming referendum campaign, but the Government has wrongly interpreted the psychology of the people in offering them a non-contributory scheme of social benefits.
The Government, apparently, has no sense of financial responsibility. The finances of this country are drifting along completely out of control. Much of the wealth that has come to us in recent years, and particularly in the last two years, is due to abnormal circumstances. We have a large, new consuming population in our midst, and that fact has largely solved economic problems which were a nightmare to the Government that was in power from 1914 to 1918. Senator McBride will recall the difficulties experienced with regard to dollar exchange when he was Acting Treasurer. Those troubles are comparatively insignificant to-day. Does the Government imagine that the millions of money being expended on our war-time activities to-day can be conjured up indefinitely? People are prepared to foot heavy taxation bills ungrudgingly to ensure victory for the Empire, but they will not be content to continue to pay extremely high taxes in peace-time.
After the last depression it was found that, when a state of national solvency appeared to be returning, one of the first duties of the Government was to reduce the burden of taxation, in order to give industry a chance to recover. It may be thought that I am advocating the cause of my friends when I say that a tax of 18s. 6d. in the £1 on certain incomes should not be allowed to continue after the war under any conditions. Such a tax amounts to a capital levy. Many persons who are paying it now are being compelled to dip into their capital. They do not object to that in war-time, but it would be foolhardy to retain such a high rate of tax in time of peace. If industry, whether primary or secondary, is to succeed, taxation rates must be fixed at a reasonable level. At present, however, the Government is throwing away the people’s money and is exhibiting little sense of financial responsibility.
– The honorable senator is a good schoolmaster.
– For a few years I was privileged to be a member of a Government which had the opportunity to receive advice from officials who are still acting as financial and economic advisers to the present Government. I know the kind of advice which the Government with which I was associated received on many occasions regarding financial and economic conditions in Australia. Either those men gave very bad advice to the Opposition or they are wrongly advising the present Government. The only other inference to be drawn is that the Government is taking no notice of the advice given to it. I fail to see how, as the result of this and other countries being plunged into war, with the waste which is inevitable in war-time, there can emerge that Eldorado of which honorable senators opposite speak. War increases a country’s national debt and adds to its economic and financial difficulties, yet honorable senators opposite seem to think that after the war present difficulties will disappear, and there will be full and plenty for all. I believe that after the war the nation, as well as every individual in it, will have to conserve its finances most carefully. For a number of years Australia had been blessed with good seasons and good prices. In addition, tie greatly increased internal consumption has minimized the Government’s difficulties. Instead of trying to fool the people and endeavouring to buy votes by introducing measures of this kind,the Government should show a sense of responsibility, and should introduce a measure to provide for relief against unemployment and sickness ‘by establishing an insurance fund on a contributory basis, thereby ensuring that money to provide benefits as a right, rather than as a charity, will always be available, instead of having the benefits liable to fluctuation according to the state of the treasury.
– Does the honorable senator say that the old-age pension is a charity, not a right?
SenatorFOLL. - Of course the old-age pension is a form of charity. No one begrudges it. There is nothing objectionable in the word “ charity “. I hope that we can all be charitable to our neighbours. I desire to be charitable to honorable senators opposite, but sometimes it is difficult. The Government has a majority in this Parliament, and now is its opportunity to introduce a proper scheme of national insurance on a contributory basis. Where the States already have their own. schemes in existence, it should be possible for the Commonwealth Government to make arrangements which would enable a truly national insurance fund, on the one basis, to operate throughout the Commonwealth. Such a scheme would be supported by honorable senators on all sides of the chamber, and would justify the confidence which the electors placed in the Government at the last elections. I ask the Government to stop throwing ground bait, or berley, in an attempt to receive support for its forthcoming referendum proposals. The Government should withdraw the present bill and introduce another embodying a proper contributory scheme of national insurance. I am confident that the people are willing to contribute to a scheme which will grant them protection against the risk of sickness or unemployment. Let the Government show a sense of responsibility for the finances of the nation instead of continuing its mad orgy of expenditure.
– I ask leave to make a personal explanation.
Leave not granted.
– The years of the depression, particularly 1930 and 1931, are still fresh in the minds of honorable senators, and I am sure that no one in this chamber, regardless of party affiliations, wishes to see a repetition of those grim days. I have vivid recollections of what took place in those years. One thing stands out most clearly in my mind; I shall never forget the day when in Castlereaghstreet, Sydney, I saw people from all walks of life lined up in an immense queue, with fear and panic written on their faces, grasping their New South Wales Savings Bank passbooks. They were waiting for the doors of the bank to open so that they could withdraw their money. They had the “ wind up “ because they had lost confidence in those who had been entrusted with their savings.The most soul-killing thing in those days was the spectacle of decent men and women, who were able and willing to work, but unable to get it. I know of nothing more dreadful than such a state of affairs. I still marvel at the patience and heroism of the people of this country at that time. That depression was not caused by any set of men in this country; it was world wide. Remembering the struggles of those days, I welcome any measure designed to relieve unemployment or provide for insurance against sickness. I probably should not have risen, had it. not been for the amazing statement of Senator Clothier that the passing of this bill would be of great assistance to the friendly societies in this country. I cannot see that this measure will have that effect; in New Zealand the passing of similar legislation has had the opposite effect. As the years pass, I think that the friendly societies will find it increasingly difficult to gain new members, with the result that they will gradually decline as an influence in the community. That is how I see it. I have been a financial member of a friendly society for the last 46 years. I have been fortunate, because I have rarely been obliged to draw medicine, or sickness, benefit. However, the fortunate ones make it possible for a society to help their less fortunate brothers. I am very disappointed that the Government has not seen fit under this measure to utilize the wonderful machinery of the friendly societies, which have branches established throughout the Commonwealth, and call upon thousands of members to do most valuable work, such as visitation of the sick and investigation of claims, in an honorary capacity. I cannot see why the existing friendly societies system could not be utilized in the administration of this legislation, particularly in respect of sickness and medicine benefits. In May last, the Consultative Committee of the Friendly Societies of Australia forwarded to the present Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) at his request, a very interesting and instructive memorandum from which I quote the following: -
The first reaction of friendly societies generally to any suggestion of the introduction on a national scale, of health benefits which they have alone provided on a voluntary and contributory basis, is one Of apprehension. This fear arises from the fact that, notwithstanding the value, such services may have been to those who elected to contribute for them the extension of such services, by governmental enactment, to the community generally, may either soon or late entirely destroy the friendly society movement. If sickness, death or hospital benefits, the provision of a medical service or the supply of medicine, become a Commonwealth Government function the general public from whom the friendly societies recruit new members will be unlikely to also adopt friendly society membership.
If, therefore, the more popular friendly society benefits be impressed in a government scheme, the fear of friendly societies is not only that some of their present-day members will discontinue contributing, but that the flow of new members will practically cease.
There is justification for this apprehension in the experience of the friendly societies in New Zealand since the Social Security Act became law there in 1938, as will be shown in a later statement herein.
If the value of friendly societies is measured only in terms of the collection of contributions, the payment of benefits, and the provision of medical attendance and medicine, it would have no adverse effect upon Australian national life if the friendly society system was replaced by another which extended the same benefits to a much larger section of the people. In such a case the friendly societies would be akin to any other enterprise which, becoming obsolete, is replaced by something more modern. But friendly societies are by no means out-moded
Whilst they continue to confer great financial benefit upon the’ community by distributing cash benefits in time of adversity, and by their contract system of doctor and medicine make a most valuable contribution to maintaining the health of their members and their dependants, they have an even wider claim for national recognition in that their system of government which is “by the members for the members “ is a great national asset. Although the friendly societies have never had the assistance of recognized economic advisers (apart from the registrars of friendly societies and actuaries in the various States ) they have, by the spare-time efforts of working men built up a particularly strong .and sound financial organization strikingly free of any record of failure. This has been achieved by constant deliberation of these same level-headed and sagacious wage-earning people in committees, in branch meetings, in the meetings of district and grand lodge and in annual conferences, decisions being made in a free democratic sense. As a result of this system, friendly societies have produced and made available in many important spheres of public life men and women who have rendered, and are still rendering national service of incalculable value. Australia has no like institution with a parallel record of community life which has contributed so materially to nation building.
It is also characteristic of the friendly societies that they are strictly non-political, each member being perfectly free to adhere to his own political creed. The friendly society movement is, therefore, eminently adapted for drawing together in common unity persons of diametrically opposite creeds and beliefs who work within the movement in commendable unity and co-operation.
This conference therefore asserts that the value to the Australian public of the benefits flowing from any social security plan will be seriously discounted if purchased by the complete or partial destruction or by any drastic curtailment of the friendly society movement.
Friendly societies, however, cannot oppose a reform in social legislation which seeks an extension of their benefits to all members of the community. It is impossible to persuade every individual to voluntarily make a cash contribution for future benefits relating to health and mortality. For that reason and because of the aged and unhealthy who cannot be admitted to a voluntary insurance, friendly societies have not been able to enrol all the wage-earning and all the salaried population, and if a government seeks to increase the number of beneficiaries either by a contributory or non-contributory scheme it would be nationally wrong for the friendly societies ‘ to offer opposition. But unless it is possible to find some way whore friendly societies will not be irreparably injured, the societies may be unnecessarily sacrificed on the altar of common weal, an act of immolation which apart from being a national educational and social disaster will impose unwarranted hardship upon the present-day membership, which by reason of making voluntary and independent provision for its need is least deserving of such treatment.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– I have endeavoured to describe to the Senate the trepidation with which the friendly societies view some aspects of this legislation, and what they think will be expected of them and their members. In their statement to the previous Minister (Mr. Holloway) they put forward the following : -
For over 100 years friendly societies have planned for an unbroken existence and continuity and extension of benefits resulting in financial arrangements which have converted liquid assets into fixed assets and made long term investments of accumulated funds which would render personal withdrawal adjustments impossible.
That is, if the worst came and they had to wind up. The present Minister (Senator Eraser) in the statement he read yesterday said there was no need to remind honorable senators of the tremendous volume of work which would be entailed on the staff administering this legislation. That, of course, is obvious. He added that the Department of Social Services had within the last two years undertaken a great deal of new work involving much organization and the employment of new and untrained staff. That again is obvious to us all, and will, no doubt, mean a tremendous increase of staff which will have to be trained to carry out the work. I suggest to the Minister that the friendly societies with their wonderful organization should be brought into this matter, because they could be of great assistance in the administration of the act.
– In certain parts.
– Yes, I do not say in respect of the whole of it. The friendly societies in the statement which I have quoted, and which is intensely interesting and extraordinarily well worded, point out how it can be done. They say -
This conference considers there will be extreme difficulty in providing a sickness benefit under any unemployment scheme unless some arrangement is entered into with the medical profession for the furnishing of “ incapacity to work “ certificates. But certification of sickness for the purpose of receiving a monetary benefit is, of itself, of no value in respect of health. The treatment of the ailment responsible for incapacity is the vital factor from a national health objective, and on the principle that the restoration of the patient to reinstate him as a working element in the community is more valuable to the country than paying him sick pay, the consultation for the purposes of diagnosing the patient’s condition and securing for him a certificate of inability to work should be followed by medical treatment. The Government’s proposals to introduce a sickness benefit without first arranging for a medical benefit, are therefore pregnant with extreme difficulty, and as the provision of a national medical service in the expressed opinion of the Minister is not capable of early and easy determination the Government may be well advised to allow the sickness benefit to remain with the friendly societies as previously suggested.
If, however, the Government decides to continue with its plan to pay a sickness benefit and still has no medical service, a concession made to friendly society members would help the societies to maintain their present sickness benefit parallel with the national scheme. It is that the Government accept the certificate submitted by a lodge patient to his friendly society for sick pay as sufficient evidence on which to pay from the social service fund. The idea could be developed to the extent that a friendly society be empowered to pay both the friendly society and the Government sick pay to its members and receive refunds in total at regular periods. Sir William Beveridge in his report, recommends that a friendly society member should not have to go to two sources for payment of benefits.
There is much to be said for that suggestion, and I ask the Minister to consider it. I welcome this measure, but like many others I am disappointed that it is not based on a direct contributory system. I refuse to believe that the average Australian wants something for nothing. If this were made a straightout contributory scheme, by which a man knew what he was paying each week to the fund for unemployment and sickness, he would be able to say, “ This is my right, I have directly contributed to it “. That would cut out the means test. No matter how tactful or diplomatic the investigators are, people resent the inquiries that have to be made under a means test. We all like freedom, and we all prefer to run our own show. We are not keen on interrogations or inquiries into our private affairs.
I am glad that this legislation has been brought down, because I can think of nothing worse in life than the fear of unemployment. I do not know how I would react if I were faced with it. One has only to conjure up what happened in 1930 and 1931, when men with wives and families were at their wits’ end, and had to submit to taking a paltry dole, the cast-off garments of the military, and all that sort of thing, which was degrading and humiliating. I hope that we shall never see those times again. My main objection to the bill is that it does not provide for a straightout contributory scheme; whereby any suggestion of a means test would be avoided.
– Honorable senators have expressed many and varied views as to the way in which the scheme should be financed, but I do not think there is any great difference of opinion ‘among them as to the desirability of helping all those people whom the legslation is intended to benefit. We all agree that some such legislation should be passed. A number of honorable senators opposite have in the course of this debate charged honorable senators on this side with insincerity, suggesting that we really do not want the poorer people to receive any benefits. That is a misrepresentation of our attitude towards all the social reform measures that have come before this Parliament. The legislation now on the statute-book for the benefit of the workers and of the less fortunate sections of the community has practically all originated with the party on this side, although I freely admit that honorable senators opposite and their predecessors supported it.
– What about old-age pensions, maternity allowances and many other benefits?
– What I have said is quite true, in spite of the continuous chatter which we have heard from the the honorable senator opposite and others. He knows that his condemnation and criticism of our attitude towards social legislation is quite unjustified. Practically all the industrial legislation of this country which every worker enjoys to-day originated not with the Labour party, but with our party. That is true of old-age pensions as well as many other benefits. In season and out of season so far as the finances of the coun- try would permit we have increased the number of these reforms. The party opposite has supported them also, so that we have been practically unanimous. J hope, therefore, that we shall not hear any more suggestions that we are out of sympathy with the industrial section of the community.
One point on which we do differ, and on which there is room for an honest difference of opinion, is the method of financing the scheme. That is practically the whole question, but if ever there was a time in the history of Australia when the wage-earners were in a position to put something aside as a reserve against times of diminished prosperity, it is now. Everybody to-day is at work, and many have surplus money. Each of us in his own domestic affairs would naturally take advantage of improved conditions in order to lay aside a reserve, and the same thing should apply to the community as a whole. What better provision could we make than to create a fund to help in cases of unemployment and sickness? For the last three-quarters of a century the outstanding example in the provision of provident funds has been set by the friendly societies. Their action throughout the years has been like a beacon to the people, encouraging them to provide for their wives and families without government assistance in any shape or form. Hundreds and thousands of people have banded together under friendly societies legislation, and have done a noble work. The finances of the societies have all been subject to government audit, and they have carried on with uniform success both in days of prosperity and in days of adversity. They want to be allowed to meet their obligations to their members. They provide sickness and medical benefits for the contributor and his dependants. It is time that we took stock of our position and realized the necessity to give the people of this country some incentive to be thrifty. The Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) made the amazing statement that thrift was the cause of all wars. Apparently that is the opinion of a responsible member of this Government. That is a most astonishing statement, and one to which I am sure no other honorable senator will subscribe. It appears to me that when the Minister for Aircraft Production rises to make a speech in this chamber, he does not know what he is going to say, and when he sits down he has no idea what he has said. Looking back on the days of the financial depression in this country, more than a decade ago, one honorable senator expressed the opinion that we should not do again as we did on that occasion and bring a financial authority from overseas to advise us. The honorable senator referred, of course, to Sir Otto Niemeyer, a worldrenowned authority on finance. Not only did he visit this country, but also he visited many other countries to advise them upon their economic problems. And why did he come to this country? He came here at the invitation of the then Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), to advise the Commonwealth Government as to the best means of regaining Australia’s financial stability. Sir Otto Niemeyer made a thorough investigation of the financial affairs of this country, and placed before a meeting of the Premiers a formula by which the finances of this country could be placed on a sound basis. That formula became known as the Premiers plan. I give to the Scullin Administion every credit for having invited Sir Otto Niemeyer to visit Australia. “We can look back now with a sense of pride upon the fact that, by following closely the principles laid down by Sir Otto Niemeyer, this country was the first to emerge successfully from a state of financial stagnation. Therefore, instead of condemning this man, we should be grateful to him for the great service which he rendered to this and other countries in which his advice was followed.
It has been said on many occasions in this chamber by honorable senators opposite that as we are able to provide hundreds of millions of pounds for the prosecution of the war, we should be able to provide equally large sums in time of peace. To me that shows a remarkable outlook upon finance. If honorable senators opposite were running their own businesses on these lines they would very soon be bankrupt. In an endeavour to convince them of the fallacy of ‘that reasoning, I shall place the matter upon a family basis. In normal times, the bread-winner of a family so organizes his financial affairs that he is able to pay his way out of his current income. However, should he, his wife, or any other member of his family become seriously ill, what does he do? He finds that he has to spend not only his earnings, but also sums of money which he is obliged to borrow from the bank, from his friends, or from any one else who will lend him money. So long as that illness persists, he has to continue to borrow money and to exhaust all his resources. But when the invalid recovers he does not, and cannot, go on spending money at the same rate. Obviously, he must recognize the debts that he has incurred, and endeavour to pay them off. Do honorable senators opposite think that there has been built up during the war an inexhaustible pool of financial resources which was not in existence before the war and that we can go on spending these vast sums of money indefinitely ? During the present crisis money must be provided to save this country from disaster. The wealth of this country and, indeed, of any ‘ country, is only what it can produce, and when sound principles of finance are ignored financial disaster becomes inevitable. Every other country that has adopted new-fangled methods of finance has gone down sooner or later. The suggestion which one hears only too frequently that if money can be raised in time of war it can be provided also in time of peace is a pernicious doctrine, and those who propound it are doing a disservice to their country in time of national crisis. We are incurring debts now which must be paid when the war is over. Whichever way we look at the problem, these loans, together with the interest upon them, must be repaid if we are to regard ourselves as honorable people. It is no use expecting money to be found in the same way as we have all seen a conjurer produce a rabbit from a hat merely at the wave of the magic wand. We. cannot ignore the basic principle that the wealth of a country is represented by its business turnover. The attitude adopted by honorable senators opposite in regard to this matter reminds me of the story of a boy who went to sea and promised his mother that he would say his prayers every night. He did not keep his promise, but he recorded in his diary that he had said his prayers every night. When a shipmate remonstrated with him and told him that he was being untruthful, he said, “ Yes, I know ; I do not say my prayers every night, but my diary will read very well at home “. Similarly, the stories that are being told by honorable senators opposite about the large sums of money that can be spent after the war will have some popular appeal, but they are unsound in principle. In regard to legislation such as this, we must adhere to the solid foundations upon which the friendly societies have built their huge organizations. We must convince the people of this country of the necessity to make provision for future years. We can make our future independent and self-reliant only if we encourage them in the belief that, as responsible citizens of this country, an obligation rests upon them to provide for themselves. The principle of the bill is objectionable to me because those who are to receive benefit under it are told, in effect, that the finances of the country are so buoyant that the benefits can be guaranteed permanently. Many people have been able to make provision for their social security by means of efficient organizations such as friendly societies and life insurance associations. No country has a better record than Australia with regard to life insurance, including industrial insurance. The friendly societies are well organized bodies. Their articles of association, and the whole basis of their financial structure have to be approved by actuaries. Many members of the community, apart from the working classes, have joined friendly societies. I am glad that I have never found it necessary to draw on the funds of such a society, but for many years I paid my subscriptions to a society of that kind, and I have thus helped others less fortunate than I have been. One of the effects of this measure must be to destroy the friendly societies of this country. Their membership to-day is on the decline because legislative provision has been made in respect of employers’ liability for accidents to employees in the course of their work. During times of depres sion members of friendly societies are glad to take advantage of the benefits of the funds to which they have contributed, but in times of prosperity many of them do not draw on the sick funds when absent from their employment for short periods. The societies have not received the consideration which they deserve. Because of their wide experience and their close association with the people they could have given valuable assistance to the Government, had their services been requisitioned.
Amendments will be submitted when the bill reaches the committee stage. My chief objection to the measure is that we are calling on the taxpayers to contribute to the cost of the scheme at a time when we need the greater part of our financial resources for the successful prosecution of the war. Our first care should be to ensure that the financial credit of the Commonwealth is maintained. Considerable strides have been made with regard to social welfare work in the last few years, but we must consider to what degree we should be justified in calling upon the general taxpayers to pay for a scheme designed to benefit, in the main, only one section of the community. Would it not be better to encourage the people who need the contemplated social service to establish a fund for themselves ?
.– The introduction of this measure marks another milestone along the road of social progress. Honorable senators who were members of this Parliament during the regime of the Scullin Government will recall the serious conditions of primary and secondary industries at that time when there was an army of 500,000 unemployed. Some of the older members of. the Senate have not forgotten that even worse conditions prevailed, much earlier than 1929-30. Senator Herbert Hays is not correct in his contention that members of the Opposition at that time were the main sponsors of the industrial and social reforms that have been witnessed in Australia. My childhood was spent in Prahran, near Melbourne, and I remember a depression when no dole was paid to the unemployed and no insurance scheme operated. People were supplied with soup three times a day. In 1929-30
I was a member of the House of Representatives, and the Senate was asked to agree to a measure providing for a fiduciary note issue of £18,000,000- Great Britain to-day has a fiduciary note issue of £1,000,000,000 - for the purpose of providing £1,000,000 a month for twelve months to give relief work to city employees and £500,000 a month for men on the land. Some of the honorable senators present in this chamber know the result of that proposal. The Premiers plan was then in the air, but the Senate was the chief obstacle in preventing the provision of that money. Senator Tangney was amply justified in saying that if money can be provided at the present time for the prosecution of the war, it should be made available for post-war reconstruction. In the light of the experience from 1929 to 1931 I believe that the people of Australia will make available the money necessary for social services such as those contemplated by the Government. Whatever ministry may be in office, it will be compelled to provide these services. No shadow hangs more darkly over the home of the average citizen than that of unemployment. The Queensland scheme has met with some success. While people are in work there can be no objection to a contributory scheme, but I fail to see that exception can be taken to the provision of £30,000,000 a year for the establishment of a fund which may not be drawn upon to a large extent for some years. It is desirable to build up a reserve to enable unemployment relief to be given in the event of a depression or a long period of unemployment. Senator Leckie’s computation that a 1 per cent, increase of unemployment would mean that the fund would be called upon to pay an extra sum annually running into millions of pounds, is to some degree misleading. The object of the present Government, or any other ministry, will be to provide money for public works, with a view to reducing unemployment. I agree that the workers of Australia do not desire relief payments, but want the opportunity to work under good industrial conditions and to give to their families as good, or even better chances, than they themselves have enjoyed. It is misleading to compare the present scheme with that operating in New Zealand. Our scheme is to be financed by means of the collection of £30,000,000 annually, and I admit that a great deal of that sum is being used at the present time for purposes other than the provision of social services. That point was made clear when the National Welfare Fund Bill was before the Senate. Senator A. J. McLachlan has stated that there is no guarantee that future Treasurers will not raid that fund.
– On the Minister’s own admission, the present Government has already raided it.
– Whatever has been done had the express concurrence of this chamber. We do not need £30,000,000 a year immediately. In the meantime, we are carrying out necessary reforms with regard to wages, pensions, and increased maternity allowance and other benefits, of which I think every honorable senator approves. The greatest fear a man can have is that the day may come when he will be without a job. It is said that high wages are paid to the munitions workers and that therefore they should make provision to-day for the time when they may be out of employment, but 87 per cent, of the people have not at any time received wages sufficient to enable them to make provision for the time when their health may fail or for periods of unemployment.
– The savings bank deposits do not justify that argument.
– In recent years the savings banks have done well with respect to deposits. I want to see some of the money put into other forms of saving. We hear a lot of glib talk from those who advocate a contributory system of insurance, but I remind honorable senators that the majority of the workers of Australia are employed only when work is available for them. It is true that during the last three years every person capable of working has had a job. That is because we have not sufficient man-power to carry out all the undertakings that are necessary in war-time. But at no time in the history of this country have the workers of Australia as a whole been able to save any considerable portion of their earnings.
– The savings banks deposits do not bear out that statement.
– A man in receipt of £7 a week pays at least 30s. a week rental for his house, and even in Australia, where the increase of the cost of living is lower than in any other part of the British Empire, living costs have increased by 24 per cent, since the war began. Food and clothing also have to be purchased out of that £7 a week, and, in addition, many household requisites are necessary from time to time. Many of these are not covered by the basic wage regimen. Recently, a concreter, who is employed by a Melbourne contractor, told me that after his tax had been deducted from his wages he had £4 19s. a week left. That man has six children. What hope has he of saving anything out of his wages?
– Does he not get child endowment for his children ?
– I cannot hear the honorable senator. The Government’s proposals for the financing of this scheme have been criticized, but I maintain that they are sound. I think that we are all agreed that the greatest shadow overhanging the workers of any country is the fear that at any time the breadwinner will be out of work. The money to be credited to the fund will .be used only when the necessity to use it arises, so that State governments will not have to impose useless unemployment taxes, or employ men on non-productive work as was done in Victoria during the last depression. The first objective of any government should be to see that the people whom it governs are usefully employed, because so long as men are working they will at least be able to provide their families with bread and butter. That is about all that this bill sets out to do.
Reference has been made to the effect of this legislation on friendly societies which have a total membership of about 600,000 throughout Australia. For many years I have been a member of the Australian Natives Association, and I realize the valuable service that that and similar organizations have rendered to the community. I point out that the administration of this measure will be in the hands of men who will see that these organizations are dealt with fairly by regulation. It is probably true that the membership of the friendly societies will not increase, but I suggest that, in addition to speaking of the “new order” we should endeavour to put a little of it into operation while the struggle is on. Let us now lay the foundation for an effective system of insurance in the future.
Senators Arnold and Cooper- have rendered service as members of the Social Security Committee, and there is something in their contention that the social legislation of the Commonwealth should be administered by one department. This legislation will be administered by the same department as is now in control of the social legislation already on the statute-book. The passing of this bill will not mean the creation of a new department or the appointment of a large number of officers. The scheme of national insurance in operation in New Zealand involves an annual expenditure of about £17,000,4)00, the administrative costs being about £524,000 per annum. The social services of the Commonwealth now cost £39,000,000, and the administrative costs are about £350,000 per annum.
– A nice bed-time story !
– I have given official figures which Senator McBride is at liberty to peruse.
Honorable senators interjecting,
– Order 1 I ask honorable senators to hear the Minister for Trade and Customs in silence. There have been too many interjections while he has been speaking. I realize that a debate cannot be continued without some interjections, and during my twelve years as a member of the Senate no President has attempted to stop interjections entirely. However, in common fairness, I ask honorable senators to refrain from constant interjections while the Minister is speaking.
- Senator Wilson said that, in his opinion,’ the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill which was formerly before this Parliament was a better measure than the one now under consideration. I remind him that that bill did not cover, unemployment. It passed through this Parliament when the parties now in Opposition had a majority in both Houses, yet it was not put into operation. Senator Wilson also said that this bill merely provides for a granting of a dole, and Senator Foll said that it was in the nature of a bait to the people to vote for the Government’s proposals at the forthcoming referendum. Senator Brand continues to refer to the failure of the Government to introduce a bill to grant preference to returned soldiers. The honorable senator knows that when a bill to provide^ for the repatriation of Australian soldiers was before the Senate he took the honour and kudos for an amendment which was embodied in the bill, but which has been quite inoperative. In due time the Government will introduce legislation to provide for preference to returned soldiers on sound lines. The amendment moved by Senator Brand was introduced merely to bring him into the limelight, but the honorable senator knew that it was not a workable proposal. Senator Leckie said that the penalties provided for in clause 49 would not be enforceable, but I draw his attention to clause 50 which’ reads: “An offence against this act shall not be prosecuted without the written consent of the Minister “. I remind Senator Leckie that when a bill to provide for child endowment was introduced by the Government of which he was a member, it contained an identical clause to that which has been mentioned. If it was proper to include such a provision in that measure, it should be right to include it in this bill.
– The provision should be taken out of both measures.
– On that occasion the honorable senator did not look before he leaped, as he usually does. The intrusion of a number of side issues into the discussion of this bill has not been in the interests of the debate. This bill deals with unemployment and sickness benefits, and does not purport to deal with preference to returned soldiers.
For some extraordinary reason Senator McBride referred to the undefended state of Australia when war broke out. I remind him that for 27 years the party to which he belongs governed this coun try. From time to time reference has been made to the action of the Scullin Government in discontinuing compulsory military training and removing the Royal Military College from Duntroon. Those actions were taken after consultation with the military authorities; but if successive governments which were in office from 1931 to 1938 thought that the Scullin Government had acted wrongly, why did they not take steps to restore things? Senator Gibson is afraid that a big new department will be created to administer this legislation, but I assure him that his fears are groundless. Senator Sampson suggested that the friendly societies should administer the bill in a general way. The honorable senator knows that this bill will operate in many places throughout the Commonwealth where friendly societies do not now exist. Senator Herbert Hays claimed that practically all the legislation providing for social reforms had been introduced by governments consisting of non-Labour members. I thought that the honorable senator was about to claim that non-Labour parties had been responsible for the organization of trade unions in this country. I remind him that all the; social reforms that have been instituted in this country have been wrung from the government of the day by representatives of Labour.
In my opinion, this is a most important bill because its enactment will relieve a lot of anxiety on the part of the workers and their families regarding unemployment. At the moment that fear is not uppermost in their thoughts, because there Is plenty of work for all; but there is no guarantee that the demand for labour will continue to be as keen as it now is. I believe that honorable senators generally do not want to return to the days of the dole; they prefer that the nation should make provision for those who, through no fault of their own, are thrown on the industrial scrapheap. But the bill will not encourage loafers. When the war ends approximately 1,000,000 men will be demobilized - 800,000 from the fighting services, and the remainder from war industries. The task of absorbing them into industry will be tremendous. This measure will provide for them and their families at least so far as to ensure that they will not have to go to a soup kitchen for a meal, or be forced to accept the dole. Notwithstanding the objections that have been raised to it, the bill is a credit to the non-party Social. Security Committee whose recommendations have largely guided the Government. The committee has done a magnificent job. This legislation is long overdue, but I regard it as a milestone in the history of Australia’s social progress. Senator A. JMclachlan claims that the fund to be set up will not be safe from interference by an impecunious Treasurer, but I remind him that a contributory insurance scheme would be open to the same objection. The government of the day can do strange things; I have seen them done by a government of which the honorable senator was a member. This measure provides a small instalment of the “ new order “ about which so much is being said. It will give a considerable measure of security to the people of this country, and I commend it to the Senate.
– As one who has for many years advocated a general health and unemployment insurance scheme on a nation-wide basis, I am very disappointed that the Government has seen fit to bring in merely this limited measure. However, I suppose that the Government regards this bill as only a part of its general health and unemployment insurance policy. I should be much happier had it introduced a comprehensive contributory scheme, as should have been done as far back as 1911. Had that course then been followed, we should not to-day be reminded about heart-rending scenes at soup kitchens and the miseries which all of us witnessed during the bad depression years from 1929-32. Until we adopt a comprehensive national health and unemployment insurance scheme, we shall still run the risk of witnessing a repetition of those conditions. The chief virtue of a contributory scheme is that all recipients of benefits would, receive such benefits in times of adversity as a right, and would not have to submit themselves to a means test. T was under the impression that trades hall interests would be the last to sup port anything in the nature of a means test, ‘because, during the period when the so-called white card system operated in respect of the payment of invalid and oldage pensions, those interests were loudest in their condemnation of what they described as Gestapo methods employed by officers in applying the means test to applicants under that legislation. Therefore, I am astonished to find provision for a means test in social legislation introduced by this Government. I should also like to see any scheme of national health and unemployment insurance based on the contributory principle, because no such scheme can be considered complete unless it provides for medical benefits in the strictest sense of the term. It is useless merely to provide free pharmaceutical prescriptions without an organized and up-to-date medical service. Any scheme in which such a service is not provided will be only a pale reflection of real national health insurance. Until such a scheme is introduced in Australia, we shall retard the inflow of migrants from the Old Country. All of us agree that if the war has taught us nothing else it has taught us that Australia must encourage migration and that we should look to our own kith and kin as the main source of migrants. Until we have a comprehensive national health insurance scheme we shall not induce the people of the Old Country to surrender their vested interests in their own health insurance schemes by coming to Australia. For that reason alone, it is incumbent upon the Government, in the near future, to implement a comprehensive national health insurance scheme. So long as we delay, difficulties will accumulate which will retard our hope of achieving that goal.
A number of honorable senators have discussed the Beveridge report. Much doubt seems to exist as to the measure of support which that plan has evoked in the Old Country, these doubts arising from the decision of the British Government to postpone implementation of the scheme. These doubts can also be attributed to two other causes. The more important cause is that the people in the Old Country have a very real understanding of what this war means; and they are determined that nothing shall impede their efforts to win the war. That is their first consideration. The second cause is that the national health insurance scheme which has been in operation in Great Britain since 1912, continues to supply a great service to the people, and will continue to do so even should the Beveridge plan be not implemented. Senator Armstrong and I had the privilege when we visited Great Britain last year of inspecting many war factories. What we saw there speaks louder than words concerning the perfect organization designed to ensure maintenance of the health of war workers. Any worker at those plants could obtain immediate attention for even toothache or an aching corn. If he happened to be suffering from a lack of healthgiving sun-rays immediate treatment to make good that lack was available. Expert treatment for every conceivable disability to which a worker is exposed is available at those plants, with the result that very little time is lost by the employee. A staff of doctors was employed at each of the bigger plants, and these were assisted by two or three certificated nurses. These staffs very often included a chiropractor, a dentist, and oculist; and the treatment rooms at each plant were fitted with the latest medical and surgical aids. Owing to the conditions under which the employees work, they find it necessary at all times to be within convenient distance of air raid shelters, which are provided at each plant. However, under the British system of health insurance, services of the kind which I have mentioned were made available to each plant, and) in some cases the management supplied, these services independently of the national scheme. Those are two reasons why we have not heard as much about the Beveridge plan in this country as one might expect. However, they do not detract from the impression which I gained when I was in the Old Country that the British Government will implement that plan at the earliest favorable period.
Much has been said in this debate concerning the effect which the scheme proposed in the bill is likely to have upon friendly societies. That aspect was discussed when the National Health and
Pensions Insurance Bill was passed by the Lyons Government. I cannot see how the friendly societies can escape a reduction of membership when the scheme is put into operation, because it was the general opinion that the Lyons Government’s scheme would seriously affect the friendly societies. Therefore, those societies are likely to be even more seriously hit through the operation of this scheme, which is non-contributory. The friendly societies have branches throughout the Commonwealth, and when the Lyons Government enacted its national health and pensions insurance scheme, it wisely decided to recruit their help in implementing that scheme. I see no reason why this Government cannot adopt a similar course in this instance, because any co-operation on the part of the friendly societies will promote the greater success of the scheme. Otherwise, I am afraid, as honorable senators on this side have pointed out, that the scheme will have the effect of reducing the membership of those societies. I suggest that the Government can avoid a major pitfall in this matter by enlisting their co-operation, particularly with respect to the sickness benefits.
With those qualifications I approve the bill. I should prefer a more comprehensive measure along the lines of the recommendations made by the Social Security Committee. That committee was on sound ground when it recommended one general measure of social legislation applicable to all sections of the community. At the same time, however, I do not approve of that committee’s suggestion of a graduated tax in order to finance the scheme, because, like many others, I firmly believe that the people of Australia, like their kith and kin in the Old Country, are quite prepared to contribute a small amount weekly towards their future well-being and the well-being of their children.
– in reply - I thank honorable senators for the favorable reception given to this measure. Without exception, they have stated frankly that they approve at least of the principle of the bill. The main difference arising between Government supporters and honorable senators opposite concerns the method of financing the scheme. Whereas the bill provides a non-contributory scheme, honorable senators opposite have argued in favour of a scheme on a contributory basis. I hope that this measure is but the forerunner of further important legislation in this sphere. The Government has positive plans for the economic welfare and health of the community. It intends to ensure constant employment for all citizens by developing the resources of this country to the fullest possible degree. This measure is designed to put a safety net under the working population to protect those who encounter the Hazards of our economic and social life. Even under the best conditions there will be loss of income through sickness and transitional unemployment. The Government’s scheme will ensure a very substantial measure of security in such cases.
I do not intend to reply to each honorable senator who has addressed himself to the measure, but wish to direct attention to some points. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) criticized the method of financing the scheme from the National Welfare Fund. He knows perfectly well that that fund was established, among other things, for that purpose. There has ‘been some criticism also of the Social Security Committee, which made certain recommendations. I referred to the committee’s unanimous decision, but honorable senators opposite have denied during this debate that it was unanimous. I shall deal with that question before I resume my seat.
Reference has been made to New Zealand. It is true that in that country there is a flat tax of 2s. 6d. in the £1 on all income, and the Leader of the Opposition asked that a scheme similar to that of New Zealand he introduced here. Several honorable senators have addressed themselves to that scheme. Senator Leckie claimed that had it been adopted here it would have saved the friendly societies from “slaughter”. Practical experience has shown that any scheme in this, or any other country under which the workers had to contribute has had quite the contrary effect.
Immediately they have to apply part of their wages to a contributory scheme, in addition to the subscriptions they are already paying to a friendly society, they get into financial difficulties. That is the reason why there was a reduction of membership of friendly societies in New Zealand. A worker there earning £5 a week has to pay a tax of ls. for national welfare and ls. 6d. for national security. Do honorable senators opposite think that in those circumstances he would continue to pay his dues to a friendly society when he was already provided for under a national scheme? In this country by means of the National Welfare Fund he has contributed by means of taxation his share of the £30,000,000 which has been placed in the trust fund. By indirect means, therefore, he pays into the fund an amount equivalent to that which he would have paid on a contributory basis. Practically every wage-earner in this country has to pay income tax, because the Government taxes the lower ranges of income, down to a minimum of £104 a year. As Senator Cooper says, we ought to avoid taxing the lower paid incomes. Senator McBride had a good deal to say about Australia’s financial position, but I tell him frankly that statements made by him in this chamber from time to time would not improve our credit overseas. If he wants to learn the opinion held by other people of the financial position of Australia, and of the steps which the Government has taken to promote its economic security, I recommend him to read a recent leading article in the London Times.
The friendly societies will npt suffer under our scheme as they did in New Zealand. In view of its experience of the good work that friendly societies have done both here and in other countries, the Government has agreed to exempt from the income of a beneficiary the £1 a week received from a friendly society, thus assisting to retain membership. It is true, as stated during this debate, that some friendly societies pay more than the amount mentioned in the bill. I can assure honorable senators that the Government wishes to retain the friendly societies, and that is why we are following the lines of the New Zealand act in not assessing £1 a week from that source as income.
Senator McBride quoted figures during his speech, but I must correct one or two mistakes that he made in his computation of the national income. I refer to the budgetary position for 1943-44. The estimated return from income tax is £192,000,000, from customs and excise £64,000,000, and from other taxes £50,000,000, a total of £306,000,000. Deducting £33,000,000 for grants to the States leaves £273,000,000 for Commonwealth purposes. I ask Senator McBride to compare those figures with those of the year 1931-32 which he quoted.
The Government has no desire that the payment under this measure should be a dole. Its purpose is to help those who fall sick and those who are out of employment during the transition period. They will be made secure, on the lines suggested by Senator Sampson.
I was astounded by a statement made by two honorable senators in regard to the residential qualification. I agree that this country needs additional population, and I have always supported such a policy, but if we are to populate Australia we must accept others besides those of British stock.
– Whoever suggested otherwise ?
– It was suggested by members of the Opposition that the residential qualification for an alien should be five or six years. The bill provides for twelve months’ residence. To extend the period to five or six years is not the way to encourage immigration. I take it that those who come here will become Australian citizens and pay their share of taxation, whether they are British or aliens. If we allow them to settle here, we are responsible for seeing that they do not starve or fall into chronic ill health. It was stated by Senator Wilson that the Labour party was responsible for the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act passed by the Lyons Government not being implemented.
– Every Labour member opposed it very bitterly.
– Of course he did, just as every honorable senator opposite is opposing this bill to-night, because it is- not on a contributory basis. The Labour party opposed the national insurance scheme of the Lyons Government because it did not provide for unemployment payments. Senator Wilson’s statement is quite inaccurate, because the then Government had a majority in both Houses, and could pass its legislation in any form it chose.
It has been said that no date has been fixed for the proclamation of this legislation. That is true, and .the reasons are set out in my second-reading speech.
– Does the Government intend to take as long to give effect to this legislation as it has in respect of preference to returned soldiers?
– The honorable senator and his colleague, Senator McBride, sat for many years on this side, and to my knowledge never advocated any amendment of the Australian Soldier’s Repatriation Act to give preference to returned soldiers.
– That is not correct, but it is near enough for the Minister.
– That act was not amended.
– That remark shows the Minister’s ignorance. He is quite wrong.
– Despite its inequalities, I repeat that the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act was not amended for years. This measurewill be proclaimed. It is not, as Senator Foll suggested, a bait to secure the passage of the referendum proposals. It is part of the Government policy, which was enunciated before the people returned us to power. We are giving effect to that policy in gradual steps, and two important bills have already been brought before the Senate. This is one, and the other has already reached its second-reading stage.
It was suggested by Senator A. JMcLachlan that the Government should allow the friendly societies and other voluntary bodies to handle this scheme, instead of setting up government machinery to do so. We know the difficult task that lies ahead of us. That is why no time has been fixed for the proclamation of the act. The department will need additional man-power and womanpower to administer the act. Senator Wilson said that this was a way to catch the lower paid income earners without givingthem anything in return. That is not correct. I am privileged to have this opportunity by giving effect to a part of the Government’s policy to help the lower paid workers.
Senator A. J. McLachlan spoke in favour of friendly societies, and I pay my tribute to them for the way in which they have endeavoured to co-operate with us. We shall as far as we can seek their assistance, which I am sure they will give very freely. The friendly societies themselves have not the machinery to handle the large numbers involved in a national scheme; their membership is relatively small, and they are not represented in every town in Australia, and such representation is essential in a national scheme. In a great many cases the executive work of the societies is carried out by voluntary workers during week-ends and outside normal working hours. Friendly societies would not wish to link a means test with the payment of friendly society sick pay to their members. Representatives of the friendly societies have already been informed that the Government is prepared to co-operate with them in the matter of certification of sickness benefit and the disbursement of sick pay.
Whatever can be said about friendly societies, I repeat that had this scheme been placed on a contributory basis there would have been a greater chance of their losing some of their members than under the scheme proposed in the bill. Senator Allan MacDonald said that he was very disappointed with the bill. In fact, the whole of the opposition offered to the measure in this chamber arises from the fact that the Government has adopted the method of financing the scheme recommended by the Social Security Committee. On the 17th March, 1943, speaking on the National Welfare Fund Bill, Senator Cooper said -
I prefer that that common pool should be established on a contributory basis. The Social Security Committee, of which I am a member, recommended that a common pool be established by contributions from a graduated tax on all incomes excepting the lowest. I agreed with the recommendations of the committee.
That is what I said in my second-reading speech.
– It is. The purpose of the National Welfare Fund Bill was to set up a trust fund of £30,000,000, and the honorable senator agreed with that proposal. He said further -
This is the method of raising finance which the Government has adopted in this bill and with which I am also in agreement.
The honorable senator also said -
IndeedI regret that the Government has not acted upon the committee’s reports in several important respects. The committee in its interim report, dated the 24th September, 1941, recommends the passing of a comprehensive social security measure to be administered by the Department of Social Services, and that that measure should embrace all existing social services as well as those to be provided from time to time. . . .
That is what we are doing - from time to time. In the same debate Senator Arnold said -
It is a principle which I consider represents a definite step forward and which was amply justified by the evidence placed before the committee. Therefore, I am sorry to hear a fellow-member of the committee renouncing the recommendation and advocating the establishment of a social security scheme on a contributory basis.
Senator Cooper had already agreed to the creation of a common pool.
– The Minister is twisting words to suit his own purpose.
– I am not twisting words. I have quoted the remarks of the honorable senator as they appear in Hansard. In its report presented to Parliament on the 25th March, 1942, the Social Security Committee stated -
We therefore recommend -
Early consolidation of Commonwealth social legislation in a social security act.
Continuation in the post-war period of the principle of a graduated tax on incomes as a means of financing unemployment benefits and to maintain a minimum standard of subsistence for disemployed persons or those suffering from want of the necessities of life.
Those are the recommendations to which Senator Cooper agreed.
– But the Government is providing this money out of general revenue.
– We are providing it out, of the National Welfare Fund, the setting up of which was agreed to by the honorable senator. What Senator Cooper says now is that the Government has not given effect to all of the recommendations of the committee.
– Not the financial recommendations anyway.
SenatorFRASER- The financial proposals have been agreed upon.
– No. The Government is providing this money from general revenue.
– The honorable senator said that he desired a consolidated act. The Government has not lost sight of that aspect of the matter. Obviously all these things cannot be done at once. We are endeavouring to give effect in part to the recommendations of the Social Security Committee.
– If that is all that the Minister has to say about it, it is a very poor contribution, indeed.
– We have the recommendtaions of the committee before us, and in time we shall proceed with a consolidated social security bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
. -I realize that it is impossible for the Government to specify the exact date upon which this legislation will be brought into operation, but the approximate date should be recorded. We should be told, for instance, whether it will be just prior to or just after the referendum has been held.
– So far as I know at present it does not seem likely that this measure will be proclaimed until about January of next year.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (Definitions) -
In this act. unless the contrary intention appears - “ income “, in relation to any person, means any personal earnings, moneys. valuable consideration or profits earned, derived or received by that person for his own use or benefit by any means from any source whatsoever whether within or out of Australia, and includes any periodical payment by way of gift or allowance from any person, but does not include -
any payment under the Maternity Allowance Act 1912-1943;
any payment under the Child Endowment Act 1941-1942: or
in relation to a person qualified to receive sickness benefit, any payment made in respect of the incapacity in respect of which that person is so qualified;
– I should like the Minister to give his interpretation of the definition of income in this clause. Say, for instance, a gardener had an odd job for two days each week, and was paid £1 for those two days, would he be ineligible for benefits under this legislation ? If so, does not the Minister agree that in these circumstances the employee would be inclined not to work at all, but rather to draw 25s. a week under this scheme.
– If the gardener were receiving £1 as a weekly wage, then he would be regarded as being employed, but if he were only temporarily employed, he would be classified as an intermittent worker.
– I move-
That, after paragraph (b) in the definition’ of “ income “, the following new paragraph be inserted: - “(c) in relation to a person qualified to receive unemployment benefit, or sickness benefit, any payment not exceeding £1 5s. per week made under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920-1943 in respect of a pension other than a special penson; or.”
The effect of the amendment is to ensure that a soldier’s pension of 25s. a week shall not be regarded as income in determining his eligibility to receive benefits under this measure. Pensions are paid to wounded or sick soldiers as compensation; for the disabilities that they have suffered in the service of their country. The pension is a compensation.
It is not paid in a lump sum, but in fortnightly instalments. It is not income in the sense of earned income. It is something that a grateful country pays to itssons who have suffered disabilities in their endeavour to make their homeland safe. To say that a soldier who has lost an eye fighting for his country should be disentitled to the unemployment benefit merely because he is in receipt of a pension is a very ungrateful attitude onthe part of the Government. The meaning of “income” in this clause is -
Any personal earnings, moneys, valuable consideration or profits earned, derived or received by that person for his own use or benefit by any means from any source whatsoever . . .
So far the clause virtually says that “ income “ includes everything that a person receives, but does not include -
Why has the Government seen fit to exempt a payment under the Maternity Allowance Act? The reason obviously is that it considers that a woman in receipt of the maternity allowance is entitled to be compensated for having done her duty to this country, and consequently the Government has said, “ What we previously defined as income shall not be income so far as the payment of the maternity allowance is concerned “. I commend the Government for having included that provision. The maternity allowance is not income in the ordinary sense of the term. The clause also states that “income” does not include -
That is done for the simple reason that that money is paid as compensation to women for having produced children for this country. “Income” does not include -
Again, the clause provides that what was previously defined as income shall not be income in so far as it refers to payment in respect of incapacity. The Government, having recognized the principle that when money is paid as compensation that shall not be regarded as income, why deny the same right to the soldier who has been wounded in battle and who has received lower pay than a man who has stayed at home? The soldier has offered his all, yet his pension is to be taken into account in ascertaining his income within the meaning of this clause. That is poor thanks tothe men to whom this country owes much. It has been generally accepted, as is recognized in many acts, that a soldier’s pension shall not be taxed ; but under this measure the Government is virtually taxing it. It says to the soldier, “ If you ever loose an eye or limb, and become unemployed, a deduction will be made from your pension because you are getting compensation for the eye or the limb that you have lost “. The man. who has stayed at home, has been in receipt of good wages, and has carried out the wishes of the Government and the Opposition by investing a large proportion of his wages in war bonds, with the result that he has an income from his savings, is entitled to receive up to £1 a week before his pension is reduced; but the soldier who is paid 8s. 6d. a day, and has had no opportunity to build up any capital, is not entitled to the full benefit of this measure. This is only another example of the present Government’s mean and despicable attitude towards the men who are fighting the battles in this war. A man who has lost an eye suffers a very severe handicap when competing with his fellow men for jobs.
This bill presupposes that there will be unemployment, and that there will be competition for every job offering. The man who has been injured and has only one eye, one leg, or one arm suffers a big handicap compared with the man who stayed at home and has no injuries. A wounded soldier has not an equal opportunity with a civilian to earn a wage. When it comes to re-employment the man with a physical disability is likely to be one of the last to be employed. It is sad that that should be so, but I am afraid that it is the case. Therefore, it is ungenerous of the present Government, when knowing that position, to deduct from that man’s income the benefits of this bill when he is unemployed or sick, because he is receiving compensation for the loss of an eye or a limb. I shall make a comparison of certain categories of wounded and sick soldiers who have returned to Australia and have no income from investments, and I shall compare their position with that of a civilian who has remained in Australia and has done his duty during the war by making investments with his savings, as the Government has asked him to do, and is consequently in receipt of an income from those investments of £1 a week. The soldier who has lost one eye receives a pension of £1 5s. a week, and also an allowance of 9s. a week. If he becomes unemployed he will not get the full £1 5s. a week, but there will be a deduction of 14s. a week, with the result that he will receive only lis. a week as unemployment benefit, leaving him a total of £1 16s. a week.
– The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– Even at the risk of a gibe from the Leader of the Senate (Senator Keane), that I support the amendment in order to obtain kudos from returned soldiers, I urge the Government to accept it. Every consideration should be shown to those who suffer war disabilities. The maximum income that a soldier pensioner, who can work, is entitled to receive is £2 1 0s. a week. Under the amendment it is not asked that the whole of that sum should be kept intact, but that up to 50 per cent, of it should be safeguarded. The pension of £1 5s. a week, plus £1 5s. a week from the unemployment benefit scheme, would give the soldier an income of £2 10s. a week. The non-soldier .pensioner would get £1 plus £1 5s. a week. The difference would be 5s. a week. Surely the old soldier of the last war, or the young soldier of this war, is entitled to some favorable consideration in respect of his war disabilities. I urge the Government to accept the amendment.
– I have before me a table which, if my amendment be carried, compares a soldier who has a war disability and has been unable to save any money, or make any investments, with a civilian who has remained at home and out of his income has been able to set aside investments which will secure the exemption of £1 a week provided for in this legislation. A soldier who has lost an. eye would, if my amendment- were agreed to, receive £2 10s. a week. A civilian with an income of £1 14s. a week, which is the equivalent of the pension of a soldier who has lost an eye, would get an unemployment benefit of lis., or a total of £2 5s. a week. A soldier who has lost one leg gets a pension of £1 17s. 6d. a week and an allowance of 9s. a week. Under my proposal he would be entitled to a benefit of 3s. 6d. Under the bill as it now stands, he would not get. any benefit at all. His total income under my proposal would be £2 10s. a week. A civilian with a private income of £2 6s. 6d: a week would not benefit under this bill at all. A soldier with a disability entitling him to a 50 per cent, pension, or £1 5s. a week, would get a pension of that amount and under my proposal an unemployment benefit of £1 5s. - a total income of £2 10s. a week. A civilian with an income of £1 5s. would receive a benefit of £1, or a total income of £2 5s. a week. A soldier with a disability of 20 per cent, and a civilian with an income of 10s. a week would each be in receipt of a total income of £1 15s. a week. What I ask the Government to do is merely to recognize that the soldier who has given an eye or a limb in the service of his country is entitled to something better than to be treated merely as a person in receipt of an income of that amount from property. It is unfair that a soldier with a disability should he penalized by disentitlement under the provisions of this bill. If the Government is sincere in its desire to assist soldiers, it will agree to the amendment. If a soldier has a private income, he, like a civilian, will still be entitled to it up to £1 a week. A soldier who has a private income would receive the amounts which I have mentioned, plus £1 a week, if his private income be that amount or more; but, as I pointed out before, the chances of a soldier with a private’s rank having a private income are remote, especially in the case of young men. I submit ‘ my proposal with confidence, believing that if the Government stands for helping the soldier, it will accept the amendment. If, however, tie Government is against tie soldier, it will penalize lim 1 because he has been a soldier and’ has been wounded, or suffers some disability as tie result of his service. That is the position to-day with the bill as it stands. On many occasions the Leader of the Senate (Senator Keane) and the Minister for Social Services (Senator Fraser) have referred to the debt of gratitude that this country owes to its “ soldiers, and I trust that they will carry their party with them and ensure that the soldier will get fair treatment under this bill. That is not the position now. If the Government continues to regard a pension of a soldier as income, I ask why it does not treat the maternity allowance, child endowment, and payments in respect of incapacity through sickness in the same way. This differentiation cannot be justified. In order to be consistent, the Government must accept the amendment. The Opposition does not ask for anything of an extravagant nature. We could have asked that the whole of a service pension be exempted, but we realize that there must be some limit, and that we must not encourage a state of affairs wherein men will be encouraged by large payments to remain unemployed. I urge the Government to accept the amendment.
– I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. I recall the attitude of previous Governments towards soldiers’ pensions, particularly an amendment of the Income Tax Assessment Act to exclude a soldier’s pension for the purpose of assessing his income. Senator Wilson’s amendment does not go so far as that. Acceptance of the amendment would be some recognition by a grateful country of the services rendered by men. who offered their all.
.- The Minister in charge of the bill seems strangely reluctant to say whether or not he is willing to accept the amendment. I remind him that the general principles contained in this bill have been accepted by the passing of the second reading. I assume that the Minister is not wedded to the bill in its present form, but is willing to improve it, if possible. If the Minister would indicate that he does not propose to adopt a “ stand and deliver ‘ ‘ attitude, and is willing to accept the amendment, there would be no need for me, or any other honorable senator, to discuss the amendment further. If, however, he feels that the responsibility of accepting the amendment is too great for him to take at this stage - and I admit that the proposal has been placed before him rather suddenly - he could move that progress be reported so that he could consult with his colleagues. I hope that I am not doing him an injustice when I say that I regard him as a reasonable man who is willing to improve the bill in any way which will give greater relief to the people affected by it, so long as that will not be too big a charge on the revenue. I realize that he, as well as his colleague the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), must watch the effect of any amendment on the revenue.
Commonwealth Bank: Mortgage Bank Department - Preference to Returned soldiers- tasmanian transport Services.
Motion (by Senator Keane) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- During the debate on the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Bill, the Leader of the Senate (Senator Keane) made a remark which I regard as a very unkind gibe at me. He said that in helping to secure the passage of an amendment to the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act in order to guarantee preference to returned, soldiers in all government activities, I was merely seeking kudos. I prefer to think that the Minister is a little overwrought with black-marketing and rationing, and that he did not mean offence. He must know very well that in sponsoring that amendment I was not seeking kudos in any shape or form. However, as he has made such a remark, it is only proper that I should explain, as all ex-soldiers who are members of this Parliament are aware, that whilst the Commonwealth Public Service Act provides for preference to returned soldiers in the Public Service, no statutory provision exists guaranteeing preference to soldiers in governmental activities outside the Public Service. I and my colleagues were also prompted to take that action because government contracts being issued at that time stipulated that preference of employment must be given to unionists. In view of that fact we thought it necessary to reaffirm the principles of preference to returned soldiers. We obtained legal opinion on the matter, and were advised that such a guarantee could best be provided in the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act.
– No attempt had previously been made to insert such a provision in that legislation.
– That is beside the point. Our sole object was to express the guarantee in statutory form. I know that our action caused the Government great perturbation, and that as the result of it the Prime Minister (M,r. Curtin) hurriedly brought down a measure to amend section 83 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act. That amendment was drafted within 36 hours, and embraced all sorts of people in addition to returned soldiers. However, when the Government foresaw that that measure would be defeated because the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) expressed his opposition to it, the Prime Minister withdrew it, and, eventually, the amendment to the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, which I initiated in this chamber, was passed. I emphasize that within a week, or a fortnight, of that date the Government communicated with the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia and asked it to prepare a repatriation measure. That request was made to the league nearly twelve months ago, and after each State branch prepared a draft measure, the federal executive of the league submitted a final draft in printed form. That draft was forwarded to the Government some months ago, and I should like to know what has happened to it.
– Does not the fact that the league prepared a bill bear out the contention of honorable senators on this side that the amendment sponsored by the honorable senator was useless?
– No, because provision along the lines of my amendment is included in the draft bill prepared by the league. I emphasize that many returned soldiers from this war suspect that the Government is side-stepping the issue of preference to returned soldiers in favour of the principle of preference to unionists. Therefore, I urge the Government to remove that suspicion by dealing with the draft bill submitted by the league.
– Are not the soldiers unionists ?
– I do not deny that many of them are unionists.
– This morning the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay), upon notice, asked me the following question as the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation : -
The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following answers: -
On the motion for the adjournment on Thursday last, Senator Aylett referred to difficulties being experienced in regard to transport to and from Tasmania and the mainland. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Drakeford) has advised me that the ‘following information has been furnished to him : -
The Tasmanian steamer service will not be withdrawn until Monday, the 21st February. Normally, the steamer carries 1,600 passengers per week and air services 800 passengers per week - a total of 2,400 passengers both ways each week.
Increased air services will be in operation to and from Tasmania as from Monday next and will provide for six trips daily to and from Tasmania. This will mean that 1,764 passengers will be able to be transported both ways each week in addition to the island services provided by the Stinson aircraft.
In addition, the Royal Australian Air Force is providing a special service for men returning on leave. The Army, Navy and Air Force have found it necessary to curtail leave to Tasmania during the period the steamer is off the run as the aircraft are not available to meet all the demands of the services in this respect. However, exception is made in compassionate cases.
Service personnel have always received priority in the same order as they receive rail priority and before civilians travelling for other than special reasons. It is not correct to say that service personnel are excluded so that provision is made for holiday makers.
The operating air line company reports that, as a result of statements appearing in the Tasmanian press, which, it is claimed, have exaggerated the position, the traffic from Tasmania has been affected, and I have been informed that on Tuesday morning last, a passenger plane left Hobart with five empty seats, the passengers evidently cancelling their bookings because of the fear that they would be unable to return.
Unless the full seating capacity of the plane from Tasmania is availed of the proposed increase in services as from Monday next could not be justified and would of necessity have to be curtailed.
Honorable senators can be assured that no preference whatever is given to holiday travellers to or from Tasmania who must wait for non-preference seats. The reasonable civilian requirements of Tasmania will be met as far as the limited facilities permit.
.- in reply - Senator Brand has complained about a comment I made earlier in the evening that he was seeking kudos when he sponsored an amendment of the Australian Soldiers’Repatriation Act to provide for preference to returned soldiers. If my remarks gave the honorable senator offence, I withdraw them unreservedly. I shall have inquiries made regarding the bill drafted by theReturned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia which, he alleges, is in the hands of the Government. I think that the honorable senator has already been told by the responsible Ministerthat abill providing for preference to returned soldiers will be brought down by the Government. Every honorable senator will agree that a fair deal must be given to every returned soldier. I have commented that when the Australian Soldiers’Repatriation Bill was before this chamber, Senator Brand moved an amendment regarding preference which was later accepted. The majority of honorable senators on this side violently apposed the amendment because they were then of opinion, and still remain of the opinion, that that amendment is unworkable, because it provides that preference must be given to a returned soldier provided that he is a suitable man. It is the old story over again. Private enterprise did not honour its promise to the returned soldiers after the last war. The Government’s desire is to give to returned soldiers preference that is really worth-while. This matter does not involve solely preference of employment by the Commonwealth Government. Had I known that the honorable senator intended to raise this matter this evening, I would have produced much information regarding action taken in Great Britain in this matter. The British Government has already passed legislation providing that all soldiers, upon demobilization, shall be given the job they held prior to enlistment.
– That is also the law here.
– And it is honoured more in the breach than in the observance. That was supposed to be the law after the last war. However, as Senator Wilson remarked earlier this evening, one has no doubt to whom a job would be given should a physically fit man and a mangled returned soldier apply for it. That is unfortunately the fault of human nature that we have not yet been able to alter. However, I assure the honorable senator that it is not my desire to give offence to any one, as I think he realizes.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, Ac. -
No. 5 of 1944 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No.8 of 1944 - Commonwealth Telephone Officers’ Association.
Lands Acquisition Act and National Security (Supplementary) Regulations -
Land acquired for Commonwealth purposes -
Pyrmont, New South Wales.
National Security Act -
National Security (Industrial Property)
Regulations - Orders - Inventions and designs (334).
Senate adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 17 February 1944, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1944/19440217_senate_17_177/>.