20th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral make a statement, if not now, then at some early appropriate time, regarding the effect of the High Court’s judgment on the capital issues regulations made under the Defence Preparations Act? Does the Attorney-General regard that judgment as strengthening the powers which the Governor-General in Council may exercise under that act?-
– I have had an opportunity to look through the reasons for the High Court judgment only very quickly, and consequently, it would not be fair for me to make, at this stage, a statement such as the Leader of the Opposition has suggested. I shall consider the honorable senator’s request. In reply to the second part of the question, I think that it is quite clear from the judgment that the power of the GovernorGeneral in Council to make certain regulations under the Defence Preparations Act was upheld by the court.
– In view of the fact that the Australian Loan Council is the body responsible for the raising of loans within the Commonwealth, will the Attorney-General state which section of the Constitution, if any, empowers the Government to direct a State in the expenditure of loan moneys allotted to it? Is it a fact that the Government has instructed the New South Wales Government that houses, the construction of which is financed from loan moneys, shall be built only in localities where food processing, coal-mining and steel industries are situated? Does the Constitution contain any provision for the issue by the Commonwealth of such a direction to a State.?
– I always hesitate to’ express a legal opinion in answer to a question. I do not know whether or not the statements that have been made by the honorable senator are true. The Australian Loan Council forms an opinion as to the amount of money that can be raised on the loan market, and then allocates that amount between the States either hy agreement or in accordance with the formula that is contained in the Financial Agreement. The honorable senator has left out of account, in. relation to recent happenings in the Australian Loan Council, the fact that that body sought to obtain far more money than could be raised on the loan market. The only way in which the States’ requirements of loan money for capital works could be met was by the Commonwealth providing the money. Of course, when the Commonwealth provides money it always has a say on how that money shall be expended.
– In view of the many conflicting statements that have been made about the Commonwealth’s new hospital scheme, will the Minister representing the Minister for Health make a statement to the Senate in order to clarify the position, so that honorable senators shall be fully informed on the Government’s proposals?
– Quite recently the Minister for Health made a detailed statement about the Commonwealth’s new hospital scheme. However, I shall direct my colleague’s attention to the honorable senator’s question and ask him to furnish a reply direct.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer by reminding him that, within the last two months, a very welcome announcement was made by the Government to the effect that, on the initiative, of the Prime Minister, early consideration would be given to the restoration of taxing powers to the States. They have been deprived of such power since 1942.’ It was stated that a conference of Commonwealth and State Treasury officials would be held to consider the matter. Will the Minister inform me whether such a conference has yet been held? Is lie able to inform the. Senate of any progress that has been made in this matter?
– Discussions have been held, but I doubt whether my colleague, the Treasurer, would be prepared to make a statement on the matter- at this stage, and whether the State Premiers would desire a statement to be made, because of the complexities involved. I shall convey the honorable senator’s request to the Treasurer.
asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– I now furnish the honorable senator with the following information : -
– In reply to a question that was asked by Senator Courtice on the 11th September, the Minister for Trade and Customs stated that the Government had decided to increase the Australian content of tobacco used in the manufacture of cigarettes from 3 per cent, to 6 per cent., and of pipe tobacco from 5 per cent, to 10 per cent. The Minister also stated that the tobacco-growers would not have the slightest difficulty in disposing of all their useable leaf. Is it a fact that, following that announcement, a deputation from the tobacco leaf marketing board waited on the Minister? Did this deputation state that the indusfry still considered the percentages to be too low and ask that they be further reviewed? If so, has this request been considered and can it be assumed that the Minister’s reply to Senator Courtice represents the decision of the Government which, in effect, rejects the submission of the industry? If the matter is still under consideration, can the Minister state when a decision is likely to be reached? The tobacco industry in north Queensland is gravely concerned regarding its economic existence.
– It is true that at or about the time of the announcement of the. decision of the Government to double the proportion of Australian leaf in manufactured tobacco and cigarettes the deputation to which the honorable senator has referred did wait on me. It also waited on the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. The deputation was informed that the Government was eager to encourage expansion of the tobacco industry so that it would cover an area of about 16,000 acres, the greater part of which would be in north Queensland, but that we felt obliged to ensure that the increased production would find a remunerative market. I understand that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has arranged for a committee of three experts to visit Queensland with the object of preparing a better assessing, appraising and marketing formula. I am confident that satisfactory results will be achieved by this committee. There is an arrangement for the organized appraising and selling of tobacco in Victoria and I understand that in both Victoria and “Western Australia the whole of the last tobacco crop offered for sale was, in fact, sold. It is the desire of the Government that that happy result should be achieved in Queensland. The committee to which I have referred will discuss the situation with growers- and manufacturers, and there is no doubt that all useable Aus,tralian leaf will find a very ready market.
– On the 5th June, Senator Pearson asked the following question : -
I desire to ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General a question concerning mail services in outlying countrydistricts of South Australia,, the residents of. which-, fear that these services may be curtailed in the near future. Can the Minister state whether any move is being made or is likely to be made to reduce these serviceswhich, even, now are infrequent?. Will he urge the Postmaster-General to give very serious consideration to the desirability of retaining’ these services which mean so much to people’ in outlying areas?
The Postmaster-General has now supplied the following information: -
The general policy regarding road mail services is that the scope and frequency of running shall be based on the needs of the residents- served, having regard to the possibility of providing the service at. reasonable cost. There has ‘been no basic alteration, in that policy but reviews from time to time have shown that some services are being operated at frequencies which cannot, bejustified when viewed in the light of the relatively heavy expenditure involved and the small volume ‘ of mail carried. There arealso, instances where the circumstances have so changed since the inception, of the service that the original frequency is no longer justified. It has become necessary, therefore, to unsure that the factors mentioned are checked when the services are being reviewed and tenders for contracts for a fresh period from the 1st July, 1952, were called at alternative frequencies so that in the event of the existing, frequency being substantially out of line with the usefulness of the service the matter might he considered in the light of the alternative offers received. In view of the varying local factors no hard and fast rule has been laid down rn the matter, but it is required that the reasonable needs- of the residents concerned sholl be given due consideration in all cases. Mail service- reductions of an arbitrary or general nature are not in contemplation nott the inclusion, of alternative, frequencies iN the tender call is not necessarily indicative nf an intention to revise the running frequency in any particular case. Tin1 importance- oi mail’ services to- people* in outlying areas is fully appreciated and the honorable senator may bp assured that all assorts are fully and sympathetically considered when review of any of them becomes necessary. There are approximately 400 road mail services operating throughout South Australia and there are only a few instances in which contracts renewed on the 1st July, 1952, will operate, with; lesser frequency than, formerly.
– “Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy make available a naval vessel to survey Cygnet Harbour where the responsible authority has undertaken the. construction of a new wharf?.’
– I shall place the honorable senator’s request before the Minister for the Navy.
– Can the Minister representing the Postmaster-General inform me of the date on which the. Commonwealth, shares- in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited were finally disposed of, to whom they were sold, their market value a>t the time of sale, and the average price which the Government received for them ?’
– I regret that it is not possible for me; to keep, within my mind details such as those requested by the honorable senator. I do not know the date on- which the shares were sold, but I do know that they were sold through brokers to a great number of buyers. Arrangements were made for them to he offered simultaneously in. all capital cities of the Commonwealth. My recollection is that those who desired to purchase shares were obliged to lodge applications with the Commonwealth Bank in. each capital city. Because’ the applications received outnumbered the shares available), the shares were sold in small parcels rather than in large parcels. I must coilfess that I do not remember the. price, at which they were; sold, although I clearly remember that subsequent sales and purchases of the shares on. the open market established conclusively that the Government had been well advised upon, the arrangements to sell them and that it- had asked a fair price for them.
– Would it be possible for the Minister representing the Minister for the Army to arrange for Major-General Cassels, who recently arrived in Australia from Korea, to address honorable senators and to acquaint them, as far as security regulations permit, with up-to-date information regarding the hostilities in Korea, particularly concerning the physical condition, morale, provisioning and so on of the Australian forces in that area?
– The honorable senator’s suggestion is indeed a good one. Having had the opportunity to meet Major-General Cassells, I am sure that other honorable senators would be as interested to meet him as I was. I shall speak to my colleague, the Minister for the Army, about this matter, although I have an impression that the general left Canberra to-day.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Army has furnished the following replies : -
– On the 11th Sep:tember, Senator Aylett asked me a question concerning the cost of the subsidy paid to the owners of Taroona for the financial years 1949-50, 1950-51, and 1951-52 respectively. The following answer is now supplied : -
Subsidy paid during year, 1949-50, nil; subsidy paid during year 1950-51, £42,000; subsidy paid during year” 1951-52, £115,341.
On the same day, Senator Brown asked whether the Government receives any service for the subsidy paid in respect of Taroona. I now inform him that a benefit received from the payment of the subsidy is that all mails tendered by the PostmasterGeneral or his officers are received and carried free of charge in Taroona.
– Will the Minister supply the names of the ships that were taken from the Tasmanian service during the 1939-45 war for other services that were made more necessary by the exigencies of war? Will he also state whether any of those ships were lost, how many were returned to their original service after the war, and what their refitting cost the Commonwealth Government?
– I shall be pleased to obtain a report from my officers and provide the honorable senator with the information that he has requested.
– As the Australian Government subsidizes the price of butter, will the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture investigate the allegation that adulterated butter is being sold in Victoria, and, should the allegation prove to be well founded, will he take whatever action is appropriate?
– I shall refer the matter to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and ask him to call for a report upon it.
– I gather from the latest report of the Auditor-General that there has been some difference of opinion between that gentleman and Mr. Speaker of the House of Representatives. 1 assume that you, Mr. President, are involved in this dispute as you have joint responsibility with Mr. Speaker for the administration of Parliament House. As the matter lias not yet been finalized, I should like to know whether you will be gracious enough at some early date to give a considered statement to the Senate of your views.
– The answer is “ Yes “. I may add that the AuditorGeneral has always had, and still has, full access to the accounts that are within my own jurisdiction.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say what quantity of cornsacks was carried over from the 1951-52 harvest by the importing authority, the Australian Wheat Board? Are adequate supplies of cornsacks likely to be available for the approaching cereal harvest, and what will be their price? If there was a carryover of cornsacks from last season, does the Australian Wheat Board intend to charge an average price to farmers for their requirements this season?
– I am informed that there are adequate supplies of cornsacks in Australia. The officer responsible for this job has made sure that requirements will be met. I shall refer the other two questions that the honorable senator has asked to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
– Can the Minister representing the Prime Minister say whether the Government is taking the strongest possible action to secure the inclusion of the United Kingdom in the security pact between the United States of America, New Zealand and Australia ?
– I am not in a position to throw any light on that matter, hut I shall ascertain the position and acquaint the honorable senator of it.
– Will the Minister for Repatriation inform the Senate of the policy, if any, that is being applied in relation to the re-establishment of ex-servicemen of- the Korean war who have been, or are to be, discharged from the Australian forces? Will these men receive the same benefits, including preference in employment, as were granted to ex-servicemen of World War II.?
– In regard to repatriation benefits, including reconstruction training and the like, the conditions that apply to ex-servicemen from the Korean and Malayan wars are the same as are those that apply to ex-servicemen of World War IT. In regard to preference in employment, the honorable senator presumably refers to the re-establishment of ex-servicemen of the forces in Korea and Malaya, and particularly to their re-employment in the positions which they occupied before they enlisted for service?
– That is so.
– The Reestablishment and Employment Act needs slight amendment in that respect. I understand that the Attorney-General is drafting an appropriate amendment under which the conditions that apply to ex-servicemen from World War II. will be extended to ex-servicemen from the Korean and Malayan campaigns.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs observed the footnote inserted in the annual report of the Auditor-General, which was tabled in this chamber yesterday? The footnote reads -
The Auditor-General’s report was printed and published for the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia by John Sands Pty. Ltd., 41 Druitt Street, Sydney.
Is it a fact that this departure from the ordinary procedure was due to the congestion that exists at the Government Printing Office at Canberra? Will the Minister invite the Government to follow this rather commendable practice in future in respect of urgently required documents by sub-letting the printing and thus giving private firms in the States an opportunity to do the work?
– I understand that the departure from normal practice was authorized on account of the heavy congestion that exists at the Government Printing Office. I am glad that the honorable senator regards it as a wise move. I shall convey his sentiments to the Treasurer, who is responsible for the printing of Commonwealth documents.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Army has furnished the following replies. - 1. (a) It is a fact that a number of men who served in World War I. are now serving in the Permanent Military Forces. (6) It is not a fact that their terra of employment will not expire until 1054. When a soldier of the Permanent Military Forces reaches the age for compulsory discharge, prescribed as f>5 years by Australian Military Regulations, he must normally be discharged under those regulations. Attainment of that age has the effect of terminating any cm-rent engagement or re-engagement, (o) Soldiers of the Permanent Military Forces have been informed that if they have already reached the age of 55 years they will normally be discharged not later than the 31st October, 1952; otherwise they will normally bo discharged on reaching that age.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Army has furnished the following replies : -
– I have received from Senator Ashley an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely-
Theeffects on the Australian economy, in particular the effects on inflation and unemployment, caused by the constantly rising prices ofcoal.
– I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Friday, the 19th September, at 10 a.m.
– Is the motion supported?
Four honorable senators having risen in support of the motion.
– The greatly increased prices of coal, by stimulating inflation and unemployment, are having an adverse effect on the Australian economy. Because of the importance of the coal-mining industry to the national economy, the Joint Coal Board was established by the Commonwealth in association with the. New South Wales Government. The appointment of this authority, which is a body independent of political direction; and control, was amply justified by the effect of the selling prices of coal upon the productive capacity of Australian industry. One of the major purposes for which it was established was to assist the coal industry, financially and otherwise, to attain greater production. One of its first tasks was to establish a. price fixation policy in relation to coal. The complexity of this problem will be appreciated from the fact that, different prices had applied to coal produced by 135 coal mines in. New South Wales.. It was necessary for the board to establish a price fixation system that would encourage production and provide a fair and reasonable, return for the coal-owners. Due to the multiplicity of costing methods that were employed in the industry, this was a formidable task. During the period of World War II. the prices of coal were pegged at the levels that, prevailed early in 1943. At that time there were different prices for coal produced at various mines, and in some instances for different sizes of coal produced at a particular mine.Furthermore, there was a variation of price, according to the customer, for coal of the same size and quality produced by a mine. The. problem of price fixation in the coal industry had been intensified by the economic and commercial conditions that existed in thethirties. The price fixation policy of the Joint Coal Board, as outlined in its annual report for 1949-50, involves briefly - .
The gradual rationalization of the coal price structure by the elimination of-
No honorable senator can deny that the objectives that I have quoted represent a fair, just and positive policy. Evidently the Menzies Government was Hot satisfied with the method of price fixation adopted by the Joint Coal Board, which was based on the general practice of providing a net profit, after taxation and other charges had been met, of 71/2 per cent, and as a minimum, in any case, a profit of1s. a ton. Because of the pressure from the coal-owners who were financial supporters of the Government during the general election campaigns of 1949 and 1951, within twelve months of taking office the Government appointed a committee to investigate the coal crisis and the policy of the Joint Coal Board. Its instructions were to consider whether the prices fixed by the board provided sufficient profit for the coal-owners and in what manner the method of price fixation should be changed so as to provide sufficient incentive for the owners to increase production by mechanization.
At the 1949 and 1951 general elections, the coal-owners supported the parties led by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). Being hard-headed businessmen they expected to receive a dividend by way of an increased price for coal in return for their support. They wanted the board to adopt a formula for the fixing of prices that would guarantee bigger profits. The coal-owners were not afraid to ask the Government for what they wanted. They requested the appointment of a committee to investigate the price of coal and to fix a formula on which the price of coal should be based. The Coal Industry Act provides for -
The regulation of prices for the sale, purchase or re-sale of coal, the values at which coal is recorded in the accounts of any business, and of profits in the coal industry.
The coal-owners approached the board on the revision of prices but were not satisfied with its decision. They then went to the Government. They made it a political matter. They asked the Prime Minister to direct the Joint Coal Board to set up an outside committee for the purpose of examining the matter despite the fact that the board was quite capable of doing the job itself with its competent permanent staff. The Government should have sent the coal-owners about their business, but it could not do that. It knew that there had to be a political pay-off for the support that it had received during the election campaigns. Section IS (2.) of the Coal Industry Act provides -
The Prime Minister may, in agreement with the Premier of the State,- issue directions to the Board on matters of policy and it is to be the duty of the Board to observe and carry out any directions so given.
The Chairman of the J Joint Coal Board saw the light. He agreed to set up a committee consisting of a chairman and two other members. The Government had its own nominee on the committee - an industrial accountant and consultant who had done a considerable amount of work for it.
– -For what government had he done work?
– For the Menzies Government.
– “Was not hia work as a member of that committee the only work that he did for our Government? He did all his other governmental work for the Labour Government.
– The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) will have plenty of opportunity to reply to me. I ask him to be patient. The second member of the committee was another accountant who did work for the coal-owners. The coal employers were his bosses. The third member of the committee, Mr. Nolan, was Chief Accountant of the Joint Coal Board. The. committee subsequently furnished a majority report and a minority report. Naturally, the representative of the Government and the representative of the coal-owners agreed. Mr. Nolan dissented. I request that these reports be made available to the Parliament so that the elected representatives of the people may have an opportunity to become acquainted with the information and the recommendations that are contained in those secret documents. In accordance with the committee’s recommendation the price of coal was fixed at a figure that would allow the coal-owners a net profit of 6s. a ton after allowance had been made for taxation, amortization, payment to suspense account, and other charges incidental to the production of coal. That generous treatment will be received by all mineowners, irrespective of the quality of the coal they produce, and whether the mines are worked efficiently or not. Mr. Nolan, who refused to be a party to this iniquitous deal, brought in a minority report. It is significant that since the recommendations in the majority report were adopted, resulting in an increase of the price of coal to consumers, Mr. Nolan has resigned his position as chief accountant to the Joint Coal Board.
The Menzies Government seems to be very partial to English contractors in the development of open-cut mining. George Wimpey and Company and Parkinson and Company Limited have received very favoured treatment from the Government. It is said that their arrival in Australia, and their entry into the open-cut mining is related to a visit to England by the present Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) shortly before the general election of 1949. Sir
Lindsay Parkinson flew to Australia early in 1950 to negotiate with the Australian Government. His company was appointed consultant to the Joint Coal Board,, and subsequently it entered into a management agreement for the Western Main open-cut and underground mine. Of the open-cut mines that operate in the Western District and adjacent areas, Parkinson and Company Limited produces coal, which costs 52s. a ton at the screens, which is the highest price in the area. It is 5s. 7d. a ton dearer than the coal produced by George Wimpey and Company at Ben Bullen. I do not wish to be misunderstood. The full price of the coal is not 52s.; to that, another 24s. a ton must he added to cover such items as screening costs, depreciation, amortization of capital items, interest on capital invested, excise, selling and administration expenses, attendance allowance, Joint Coal Board suspense account to recover past losses, and freight margins. George Wimpey and Company, which operates the Ben Bullen mine, has been allowed two increases of the contract price, apart from ordinary cost-of-living allowances. I should like the Minister for National Development, when he is replying, to explain why this English company has been given preferential treatment, when Australian firms with the necessary equipment and resources, are prepared to produce coal at a price much less than that paid to the English contractors.
Some time ago, the Menzies’ Government announced that it intended to dispose of the plant and machinery that belonged to the Joint Coal Board. Usually, before an announcement of that kind is made, the Government flies a kite in the form of an anonymous announcement in the press to the effect that a “ Government spokesman “ says this or that. These tactics are similar to those practised by the Army in time of war when, before an attack is delivered, the enemy is subjected to a softening-up process. The same procedure has been followed on every occasion that the Government has proposed to wreck or sell a government instrumentality. The Minister at the table, who is described as the Minister for National Development, will go down in history as the Minister for national destruction. The machinery owned by the Joint Coal Board proved to be a very profitable investment for the board and for the people of Australia. The report of the board for the year 1949-50 disclosed that receipts from the hiring of the machinery in that year amounted to £273,076. It is significant that, notwithstanding the declaration by the Government that the plant would be sold, and the fact that, because of higher prices the mine-owners should be well able to afford to mechanize their mines, the only substantial sale to take place has been the disposal of two draglines, which were sold to George Wimpey and Company for a little over £500,000. The drag-lines cost £30,000 each to erect, and the present day price for the two lines, assembled and ready to operate, is over £750,000. Why was this equipment sacrificed to the English contractors? The understanding was that if the coal-owners were guaranteed their profit of 6s. a ton they would proceed with the mechanization of their mines, particularly those on the South Maitland and Greta seams, which produce gas coal. In these mines, because of the lack of mechanical equipment, the output is only 3 tons per man per day, although the Government has admitted that the weekly shortage of gas coal amounts to 20,000 tons. It is not the fault of the miners, who are usually blamed for low coal production. At Wongawilli and Nebo, which are mechanized mines on the south coast of New South Wales, the output is 12 tons a man a day. At Bulli the production rate is 15 tons a day, and at Wallerawang, in the western district, an output of 16 tons a day has been achieved. The mechanized system of open-cut mining instituted by Labour governments has helped to improve coal production. The records about which the Menzies Government constantly boasts have been produced as a result of Labour government policy. Some months ago this Government used extravagant terms about coal production and stated that in two years’ time 5,000,000 tons of coal a year would be produced from open-cut mines. I understand that that figure has been revised and that, in fact, production will be slightly more than 2,000,000 tons a year.’ £ ako understand that there has been a further reduction of open-cut mining in the western district. Since there is a surplus of only 2,000,000 -tons of coal at present, the Government should give practical application to the doctrine of free competition, which its supporters continually preach, and allow coal production to be pursued to the fullest degree in the hope that the price of coal may be reduced. If the price can be lowered, I suggest that the reduction will play a great part in halting inflation and will do more to stabilize the economy than the hit-and-miss economic polley of the Government.
In 1949, coal could be delivered free on wharf Melbourne for £3 9s. a ton, whereas to-day it costs £7 12s. a ton, or an increase of £4 3s. a ton. When the Chifley Government was in office in 1949 the price of coal at the Greta-Maitland seam was £1 4s. a ton; to-day it is £3 13s. a ton, or an increase of £2 9s. a ton. ‘The price of coal at Newcastle in 1949 was £1 4s. a ton; to-day it is £2 19s. 9d., or an increase of £1 15s. 9d. Southern district coal cost £1 13s. a ton in 1949; to-day it costs £3 ls. a ton, or an increase of £1 8s. Western district coal cost 19s. 6d. a ton in 1949 ; to-day it costs £3 a ton, or an increase of £2 0s. 6d. a ton.
Although this Government lias talked a .great deal about stemming inflation, I suggest that it has actually increased the degree of inflation by deliberate action. It has more than doubled the price of coal in a little less than three years. It has been guilty of political interference with the administration of the Joint Coal Board. I charge the Government with corrupting the Joint Coal Board in order to obtain an increase of the price of coal for colliery proprietors. The people of Australia are to-day paying dearly, for that interference.
Before concluding my remarks, I wish to deal with the aftermath of the beneficial intervention by the Government on behalf of the colliery owners. The Government has decided to give “the chairman of the Joint Coal Board a trip abroad. In order to make everything appear above board, it has invited Mr. Warren, of. the Northern Colliery Pro- praetors Association, and a representative of the miners’ federation to accompany the chairman.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time nas expired.
– In the light of the series of Statements made by Senator Ashley, it is not remarkable that when he was a Minister -of a government responsible for coal production in Australia the -country could not obtain coal. If the honorable’ senator then showed as little appreciation of the problems of the coal industry as he has evinced during his speech this afternoon, in the course of which he made wild and wholly inaccurate accusations, it is not at all extraordinary that this Government was obliged to grapple with tremendous problems in the coal industry when it came to office in 1949. The honorable senator made his criticisms under three heads: First, price-fixing arrangements; secondly, -contracts with English companies1; and, thirdly, sales of plant and equipment. A great deal of the remainder of his remarks can be eliminated from consideration because they represented nothing so much as a cheap jibe at the coal mission which is to go overseas. The honorable senator claimed, in effect, that the mission is a “ put-up job “ on the part of the Government. When he made that statement ‘he disseminated the kind of Communist propaganda which may be read each week in Common Cause. The Government hopes that the mission which is going overseas will further cement the goodwill which has grown up between coal-owners and coal-miners since this Government came to office and which is the foundation upon which increased coal production is based. The ‘ honorable senator has accused the Government of making some ‘kind of “ pay-off “ to colliery owners. Let us examine the facts. He himself has said that when he was the responsible Minister price-fixing arrangements in the coal industry ware in such an incredible mess tha.it no one could understand them. And that is the truth. When we w«re elected the mm** owners ca,me to’ us and said that something must be done. ‘ We agreed with them. At the Government’s request, the Joint Coal Board appointed a committee which was beyond reproach. It consisted of a member of the Joint Coal Board’s staff, a practising accountant of undoubted integrity who had frequently been employed by the Labour Government, and a representative of the colliery proprietors. That committee made certain recommendations which the Joint Coal Board would not accept. The price-fixing arrangements are not the result of the work of that committee. They are the result of a decision of the Joint Coal Board, made without reference to, or influence by the Australian Government. That analysis of the coal price situation shows how completely inaccurate Senator Ashley’s remarks were. He was inaccurate not only in his statements about the price of coal, but also in every other argument that he advanced. He imputed some sinister purpose to the Government’s action in bringing contractors to Australia from overseas ; yet that was exactly what he did when he was a Minister in the Chifley Government. He was the first to bring overseas coal contractors to this country. Nobody with any common sense could cavil at that decision because we did not have in this country the fund of knowledge and experience that was necessary for this technical work. Senator Ashley brought the Davis Contracting Company to Australia. When we came to power, we acted efficiently and not inefficiently; we acted energetically and not slothfully. We brought more contractors here because we had to *get coal and we were not prepared to sit back and do nothing. We also encouraged local contractors.
We have heard ad nauseam the Opposition’s story about the sale of equipment. Let us look at the facts in a commonsense way. The Government has left no stone unturned in implementing its coal production programme. We have aided the Joint Coal Board in every direction in which it has sought help. When the board said that plant was required, we provided the money to purchase that plant. At present, we have £9,000,000 invested in plant on the coal-fields. In my opinion no government authority could adequately care for and maintain £9,000,000 worth of plant. That is particularly true of an authority which is only three or four years old and which has the greatest difficulty, as indeed have all such authorities, in getting experienced technical staff. This country is sadly lacking in engineers and technical men, and valuable plant such as this must be properly cared for if heavy losses are to be avoided. The Government’s task is to buy plant, sell it, and ensure that it is put into operation under certain terms and conditions. We believe that the plant should be directly under the control of the owners, and that maintenance and repair work should be the obligation of the owners.
Senator Ashley has referred to the cost of coal in Australia. It is true that the cost of coal has increased. Our task was to get coal; we have got coal and that is more than the Labour Government was able to do during its long term of office. That Administration only played around with the problem and made not the slightest progress.. We took over the job and we have delivered the goods. As I have said, it is quite true that the price of coal has increased. I shall cite some comparative figures. Unfortunately, they are twelve months old, but the same relative position applies to-day. A year ago, the price of Australian coal, f.o.b. Newcastle, was 61s. 8d. a ton. It is not very much more than that to-day. If my memory serves me correctly, at a conference that I attended about a fortnight ago, we- were speaking of coal, ex Newcastle, at 73s. a ton. However, when the figures that I have before me were prepared it was 61s. 8d. a ton. English coal, ex London, was 152s. 7d. a ton. New Zealand coal was 138s. 3d. a ton, South African coal 88s. lid. a ton, and American coal 137s. 4d. a ton. One of the greatest problems of the coal-mining industry was the Labour Government’s inability to face up to the fact that no industry can be successful unless it is prosperous. One of the main reasons for the great advance that the coal-mining industry has made in the last couple of years is that, for the first time for many years, it is on a sound foundation. The owners are prepared to invest in plant and equipment. They have plans in hand for the installation of approximately £6,000,000 worth of additional plant, to modernize the coal mines. The prosperity of the coal-mining industry is also the main reason why men are returning to the coal mines. The Labour Government was unable to induce men to work in the coal mines because, throughout the industry, it was a case of dog eat dog and owners against men. There lias been a complete change in the last two years.
When we came into office this country was starved for coal. To-day there is 1,183,700 tons of coal with consumers, 549,000 tons at grass, and 178,600 tons in channels between production and consumption. Therefore, as we sit in this chamber to-day, instead of factories closing because of the shortage of coal, there are stocks of coal amounting to no less than 1,911,300 tons. I am prepared to stand up to a lot of criticism for having been able to put Australia into that position. The Labour Government could not get men to work in the coal-mining industry. In those days employees in the industry numbered only 24,462; to-day, 26,867 men are employed in coal mining. During the last twelve months, the number of employees in the coalmining industry in New South Wales has increased by 1,573. When Labour was in office it was confronted by a long series of industrial disputes on the coal-fields. Mines were idle for long periods and coal-miners could not earn reasonable wages. That was because the Labour Government lacked the courage to stand up to the Communists who led the miners’ federation. Labour was prepared to indulge in any measure of appeasement in order to avoid forcing an issue. In those days, 14 per cent, of the productive capacity of the coal mines was lost through industrial disputes. In the three years that we have been in office, losses due to industrial disputes have been brought down to 8 per cent., 10 per cent, and 8 per cent., respectively.
– Labour was in office during the war.
– I shall quote the post-war figures. In 19418, losses due to industrial disputes totalled 13.7 per cent, of productive capacity. In 1949 that figure rose to 21.2 -per cent. During the Labour regime, the coal mining industry was completely dominated by the Communists. It was a fertile breeding ground for communism. One of this Government’s greatest triumphs has been its success in restoring a clean, healthy, and sensible outlook in the coal-mining industry in New South Wales. Men are returning to the industry. The Communists in the miners’ federation are on the defensive. They are fighting with their backs to the wall, but they are finding it increasingly difficult to rally support for the stoppages which they try to arrange. There is every possibility that the Communist officials of the miners’ federation will be thrown out of office at the next election of officers of that organization. When Labour was in office the industry was down at heel, dispirited and in a perilous state. It was the Cinderella among the basic industries. To-day, it is being conducted profitably; the miners are returning to their industry as a skilled trade; the owners are making substantial outlays of capital expenditure; and in every way the industry is healthier and better than it was during the Labour administration. When Labour was in office there was intermittent work, not only in the coal-mining industry, but also in other industries, because power houses and steel works could not obtain sufficient coal to enable them to meet the demands made upon them. Gas rationing was the order of the day. To-day, the steel industries of New South Wales are obtaining all their coal requirements and all of them have large stocks of coal. For the first time, if not in a decade, at least for a very lengthy period, the people have gone through the winter without gas rationing in any capital city in the Commonwealth. Anybody who thinks that all of this has happened by accident must have a much more fertile imagination than has Senator Ashley.
I pay tribute to .the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), whom I succeeded in the portfolio of National Development. I have built upon the foundations which he laid down, and accordingly the Minister deserves a great deal of the credit for what has been achieved. If we had had our way, we would have done even more than we have done. But for the activities of the Communist leaders of the miners’ federation there would now be in operation a new code of wages in the coalmining industry. “With representatives of the coal-miners and the coal-owner3 we sat for hours round a conference table. We said to the representatives of the miners, “ The most pressing immediate needs of the coal industry are a stowage scheme to preserve the Greta coal seam and the mechanical extraction of pillars “. We told them that we would proceed with our stowage scheme and we asked them to discuss it with representatives of the coal-owners and to draw up a new code of wages so that when the scheme for the mechanical extraction of pillars was brought into operation the miners would obtain a reasonable share of the added profit that would flow from it. They replied, “ We shall do so if the Commonwealth will give an undertaking that the extraction of pillars will he a permanent arrangement “. The Government took the unprecedented step of sending a letter to the Joint Coal Board to present to the miners’ federation stating that it agreed to make the necessary arrangements which would be of a permanent nature. I was prepared to give such an undertaking only on the receipt of a definite promise by the officials of the federation that they, in turn, Wouk confer with the mine-owners. In so trusting them I acted wrongly, because they repudiated their agreement to do so. The coal-miners have never been told these facts. The simple and plain truth is that it did not suit the Communist leaders of the federation to have a healthier, happier, and more contented coal-mining industry.
Let me cite the production figures for the industry. Production in 1946 totalled 13,900,000 ‘tons; in 1947 and 1948, it amounted to 14,800,000 tons; and in 1949, to 14,100,000 tons. During those years Australia was governed by a Labour administration. Let us compare those figures with the production achieved in the years during which the present Government has been in office. Production in 1950 amounted to 16,500,000 ton3, and in 1951 to 17,600,000 tons. The estimated production for 1952 is 19,400,000 tons.
– Will the Minister state the number of miners employed in the industry during those years.
– The numbers employed in the industry is, of course, the core of the problem. Coal is produced, not by governments, but by coalminers and owners. But it is the task of the Government to establish the climate in which miners are prepared to return to the industry and owners are prepared to invest additional capital in it. Because we have- successfully established such a climate, and because we have been prepared to back our opinions in regard to the open-cut mining programme, we have attained production figures greatly in excess of those attained in any previous year in the history of Australia. Since this Government has been in office each successive year has been a record year in coal production. Those records “will continue. We have established the climate which has enabled miners and owners to get away from the disturbing atmosphere of the past. They have a confidence in this Government which they did not possess in respect of previous governments. Let honorable senators make no mistake about that matter. They will do their best to destroy the existing situation, but it will take them a long time to do so.
Let us consider what this Government has done and is doing for the coal industry. It has given the highest priority to the requirements of the industry. Under the terms of a directive issued by the Government the industry has first call on the men, the money and the materials that are needed to rehabilitate it. The Government has financed the purchase of the plant to which Senator Ashley has referred, and it has established an organization the like of which has never been known in the history of coalmining in Australia. It has undertaken a drilling, geological and geophysical survey with the object of discovering coal of suitable quality and in suitable quantities for mining by open-cut methods. One of the achievements of the Government that I have jotted down in my notes as an achievement of which the Government is justly proud, happens to be one of the matters for which Senator
Ashley, in n footling sort of way, criticized the Government. We have brought to Australia overseas contractors who have an expert knowledge of the operation of the mammoth draglines which we are now using for open-cut mining, and this equipment is now being used extensively. In order to take up the slack in the production programme we have subsidized the importation of coal from India and Africa and we have made arrangements for the transport of coal from the Callide field in Queensland to the other States. As the result of the efforts of the Government, for the first time for many years the people of Victoria and South Australia are able to obtain sufficient quantities of coal to meet their requirements. We have assisted the Joint Coal Board to make intensely interesting stowage’ experiments on the Maitland coal seam. I have no reservations about payi rig a reasonable price for coal thus ensuring to the coal-owners a reasonable return on their capital investment. If the plans t;ha.t I have made had been accepted, the miners would have been able to take their share of the prosperity of the industry. However, that will come after the miners lui. ve “ turfed “ out of office the Communists who now control their organization.
I may be politically unwise when I say that I cannot take seriously the sort of criticism that Senator Ashley has levelled at the Government. If the honorable senator gains political kudos from the wild and unrealistic statements that he has made to-day, I am a very bad judge of the wisdom of the people. His assertions can only be described, if I may use an unparliamentary term, as wild and woolly. Nine tenths of them were completely inaccurate. The demand for coal was greatly increased during the inflationary period, as indeed was the demand for many commodities, from merchandise in the warehouses to goods in the shop windows and even to housing.
We bought the necessary open cut mining equipment on the basis of an open cut yield of 5,000,000, tons per uri num. Production from open cut mining has already reached 3,000,000, ton per annum, which is between 500,000 to 7f>0,000 tons a year in excess of immediate requirements. Excess production from that source is, however, a wise fault. The production of steaming coal, coking coal and coal for general purposes is sufficient to meet requirements. Already a total of 2,000,000, tons of coal is stocked at various centres in New South Wales. We have invited the Governments of South Australia and Victoria to take from New .South Wales as much coal as they need. The more coal they take, the better we shall be pleased.
– Is shipping available to transport it?
– There is no difficulty in transporting the coal from New South Wales to Victoria and South Australia. Transport difficulties may arise from day to day but by and large there is no difficulty in making suitable arrangements.
– What is the position in Western Australia?
– Although Western Australia has its own coal deposits, New South Wales would be happy to sell to that State as much coal as it requires. Therein lies a tragedy as far as New South Wales is concerned. If there had been in New South Wales an efficient Government to tackle the problem as it should have been tackled there would not have occurred the tragedy of New South Wales losing the valuable markets of Victoria and South Australia to the extent that has occurred. The Opposition has had the impudence to criticize this Government because it has delivered the goods.
The one remaining problem in the coal industry relates to gas coal, but it i? premature to speak about that aspect. Big deposits of coal in the northern districts of New South Wales have been opened up and if the tests that are being applied to samples of coal from those areas reveal that they contain gas-making qualities, no problem in relation to the coal-mining industry will remain other than for the Government to win hack the export markets that Australia enjoyed in years gone by.
– I support the motion. Undoubtedly the increased prices of coal have accentuated inflation and unemployment in this country. As Senator Ashley has outlined the reasons why the prices of coal having risen, I shall direct my attention to other aspects of the matter. I consider that any motion that relates to such important matters as unemployment i’.nd inflation should receive the fullest consideration by honorable senators. The industries of this country are dependent almost entirely upon thermal power. Therefore the coal-mining industry is vital. to our economy. From the remarks of some honorable senators, one could be pardoned for believing that the whole of Australia’s coal-mining industry is centred in New South Wales. I point out that while New South Wales is the principal coal-producing State, this industry is also carried on in Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland, and there are sraa.ll deposits of coal in South Australia ;ind Tasmania. However, as our largest deposits of coal are in New South Wales, our heavy industries also are centred in that State. As the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric undertaking will not be completed within a considerable period, the coal-mining industry will continue to be the principal source of 1 1’e! for industry for many years to come.
The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) has claimed that flic coal-mining industry is prosperous. I do not for a moment doubt that statement because, as Senator Ashley has already mentioned, the Joint Coal Board pays 6’s. a ton net profit to the coalowners. This is one of the factors that has contributed to the present inflationary position in Australia. The Minister made no mention of the quantity of coal that has been imported from India and Africa since 1949. The fact that large quantities of coal have been imported into this country prompts me to direct the attention of honorable senators to the huge undeveloped coal-fields of Queensland. As those deposits are within reasonable distances of the coast, I contend that coal could have been transported from Queensland to Victoria and South Australia at a cost less than the cost of importing coal from other countries. Within 30 miles of Brisbane is the West Moreton coal-mining field, which has been worked for the last 80 or 90 years. Good steaming coal and gas producing coal has been won from that field. Although the quality of the West Moreton coal is not as good as the quality of the best coal that is produced in New South Wales, it is suitable for general industrial purposes. Despite the lengthy period during which the West Moreton coal-field has been worked, it is still only partially developed. I have never heard of coal mined at West Moreton being transported to Victoria and South Australia.
The Burrum coal-field, which is situated about 170 miles north of Brisbane, is also awaiting development, because the cost of developing great coal-fields to-day is beyond the . financial capacity of the State government and private enterprise. Commonwealth assistance must be provided for this purpose. A new power house has been constructed at Burrum to reticulate electric power to rural areas within 300 miles of that centre.
The Callide coal-field is situated about 80 miles inland from the port of Gladstone, and is approximately 330 miles north of Brisbane. Although this opencut mine is capable of producing from 40 per cent, to 50 per cent, of Australia’s requirements of coal, little has been done in the provision of transport facilities. At the small mining centre of Baralaba, near Rockhampton, a new electric power house has recently been constructed.
– What has this to do with the motion ?
– It is directly relevant to the motion because the Commonwealth has subsidized the importation of coal from India and Africa. The taxpayers of Queensland have contributed to the general revenues of the Commonwealth, from which that subsidy has. been paid.
– It has been stopped now.
– I contend that the subsidy that has been paid in relation to large quantities of coal imported during the last two years has contributed very largely to inflation of our currency.
During this financial year the Government intends to expend about £ 200,000,000 on defence. In the light of the knowledge that the Government possesses, that expenditure will probably be justified. In the interests of defence, the coalfields that I have mentioned, particularly the open-cut mines of Queensland, should be developed as soon as possible. The amount that was voted for defence during the last financial year was not wholly expended. The unexpended portion could have been applied with advantage to the development of our practically untouched coal-fields. It would be an easy matter to provide a collier shuttle service between Queensland ports and South Australia and Victoria, in order to maintain a constant supply of coal from Queensland to those States.
– I was amazed at the poor case that was presented by Senator Ashley, who was Minister for Shipping and Fuel in the former Labour Government. He indulged in personalities and criticized people outside this chamber. The honorable senator referred to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) as the “ Minister for Destruction”. That was a contemptible statement. If the Minister has been responsible for the destruction of some of the socialistic practices that were encouraged during the regime of the former Labour Government, he has done a good job for the taxpayers of this country. The argument between Senator Ashley and the Minister for National Development may be described as a conflict in which a “ pink “ socialist attacks a heavy weight who decided to encourage the efficient people of private enterprise to produce coal.
What are the facts? In 1.949, 14,100,000 tons of coal were produced in Australia. That was the last year in which the government of which Senator Ashley was a member was in office. This year, 19,400,000 tons of coal have been produced, an increase of 35 per cent. It has been suggested that that increase took place because more people were employed in the industry. When the present Government came to office there were 23,000 men employed in the industry. There are now 26,000. In other words, the number of employees has ‘increased by only 15 per cent, while production has increased by 35 per cent. So the Government’s policy of encouraging private enterprise to get on with the job by giving it a reasonable price to produce coal has paid handsome dividends to this country. During the four years before this Government came to office the increase in the production of coal in this country was less than 500,000 tons. Senator Benn made a political speech with the object of tickling the ears of Queenslanders. He should ask himself what the Labour Government did to develop the industry in Queensland during the eight years that it was in office. The present Government has given the Government of Queensland £90,000 in order to build a road from Gladstone to Callide. It has increased the port facilities of Gladstone with the result that 20,000 tons of Callide coal a month are now shipped from that port to Victoria. The Victorian Government has agreed to take 200,000 tons of coal a year from Queensland for three years. In addition, trial shipments have been sent to Japan and other countries. If honorable senators compare what the present Government has done for the coal industry in Queensland with what the Labour Government did for that industry they will find that they have no reason to criticize the present Administration.
It is true that the Government permitted the importation of coal for Victoria and South Australia. Those States had had many blackouts and their industries had been shut down on many occasions through lack of coal. It appeared that it would take a long time for local mines to produce sufficient coal to satisfy Australia’s demands. This country was very short of gas coal and an order for it was placed with the Indian and South African Governments. Because of the shortage of coal it had been necessary to import steel and other materials from overseas at a price many times more than it would have cost to produce them, in this country. Callide coal has limited uses. It can be burnt in power houses successfully but it is not a gas coal. I believe that there are very few deposits of gas coal in this country other than in New South Wales. If Senator
Ashley had used his eloquence to persuade some of his “ pink “ friends not to deny the country the opportunity to extract coal from pillars there would have been no shortage of that commodity and it would never have been imported from South Africa or India. The present policy of the Government is to import only gas coal of which we are still in short supply. I hope that the time is not far distant when the Department of National Development will be able to overcome that problem. Certainly, costs lui ve gone up. Wages in the coal industry hu ve increased by 50 per cent, since 1949. Shipping freights have increased from 30s. a ton to 50s. a ton.
I say from my knowledge and study of the cost position in the shipping, coal and other industries with which I have been associated for two years, that the tactics of the Communists have clone more to force up costs than has any other factor. What support did the Government receive from Senator Ashley in its attempts to rid this industry of that menace? He even opposed the Government’s proposal to alter the Constitution so that we could rip out of the industry some of these people who were causing trouble. Now the honorable senator complains that prices have gone up. When I first examined the position in lbc coal industry I was quite convinced that the sooner we abandoned a policy of socialism and gave some incentive to private enterprise the sooner we would achieve adequate coal production. In the short space of three years production has increased beyond our expectations. Does Senator Ashley want the coal-owners to conduct their businesses in the same way as he conducted the Commonwealth shipping line? During the three years before the Government came to office the previous Government lost over £7,000,000 in operating its 20 or 30 ships on the Australian coast.
– That occurred during the war years. The Minister should be honest.
– I will be honest if Senator Ashley will be intelligent and listen to what I am saying. The Treasury figures show that the loss for the three years ended June, 1949, was over £6,000,000. The loss in 1949 was over £2,000,000. The Commonwealth shipping line charged the same rates as private enterprise which was making a profit and paying the Government about 10s. in the £1 in taxation.
– Who was the Minister when these losses occurred?
– Senator Ashley was the admiral of the fleet. Now he has criticized private enterprise. If Senator Ashley had been prepared to support Mr. Warren, the coal-owner, instead of some of his Communist friends, his government would have achieved better results. Where did the policy of appeasement lead the Labour Government? The late Prime Minister had to do something drastic. He had to use the Army to produce coal.
What do statistics reveal concerning wastage through industrial stoppages? In the year 1949, 16 per cent, of man hours was lost by these stoppages. In 1951, after this Government came to office, the loss was 7 per cent. That fact reveals that the Government’s policy has been correct. The motion before the Senate has been designed as a political stunt to try to please some of Senator Ashley’s friends who may be interested in his candidature at the next Senate election. He has brought his standards very low in criticizing men who were appointed, not by the Menzies Government, but by the Joint Coal Board, to fix a price for coal.
– At the direction of the Menzies Government.
– At the direction of the Minister. Senator Ashley, himself, when Minister, gave directions to certain people.
– The committee was appointed at the Menzies Government’s direction.
– The Menzies Government will accept the responsibility for the appointment of this committee; and it will take the credit for the increased production. I remember discussing this matter with the Joint Coal Board. I remember saying that a price must be fixed for coal which would provide an incentive to the people who had put their money into the industry to produce coal for us. I do 11Ot criticize the representative of the board on the committee for delivering a minority report but I suppose that one must pay some regard to the majority report. I know well all the men who were on that committee. One was an accountant for a coal company and he knew all the facts. Another member had given advice to this Government and to previous governments. We were pleased to have his advice on this occasion. The committee was asked to prepare a formula for the fixation of coal prices which would give the coal-owners an incentive to produce. I take pleasure in thinking that the Government had the business acumen to approach the matter on those lines instead of the type of acumen that Senator Ashley displayed when in charge of the Commonwealth shipping line. I invite honorable senators to examine the share market and see at what rates the shares of coalmining companies have been quoted during the last three years. There is no important industry which suffered more than the coal-owners suffered at the hands of the. Labour Government during the years in which the extremists were holding up production. If these people are making huge profits the Treasurer is getting a pretty good rake-off. They are entitled to make a profit to encourage shareholders to invest their funds in their companies: The Opposition’s argument has not convinced me. I hope it has not convinced the Senate. The sooner we appreciate the fact that the Minister for National Development has wiped the floor with the “ pink “ socialist, Senator Ashley, the better.
– I have listened carefully to the statements that have been made this afternoon by Senator Ashley, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) and the Minister- for Shipping and Transport (Senator Mcleay). The two Ministers have emphasized the trouble that occurred under the Labour regime during the war and in the post-war period. I think it will be found that the whole of the trouble that occurred during those periods was aggravated by the opposition of the employers to the employees in this industry. The Minister for National
Development admitted that arrangements had been made for the coal-owners to be granted some of the conditions that they demanded of the Labour Government during the war. The Minister for Shipping and Transport said that a committee had been appointed at the behest of the Government. I do not know who the members of the committee were but, apparently, it was suggested that they should co-operate with the coal-owners. Three members were appointed to the committee, and, according to the Minister for Shipping and Transport, two of them brought in a majority report, whilst the other submitted a minority report. The Minister for Shipping and Transport said that some notice should be taken of the majority report, but the Minister for National Development said that, although a report had been submitted by the committee, the Joint Coal Board did not act on its recommendation.
At various times,- both the Minister for Shipping and Transport and the Minister for National Development have blamed the Communists for holding up production on the coal-fields, but now each of them has admitted that the real trouble was due to the non-co-operation of the coal-owners. They claim that the cooperation of the owners has now been obtained. Let us see what that co-operation amounts to. We have been informed that an agreement has been reached about the maximum price to bc charged for coal. There is nothing wrong in theory about fixing a maximum price so long as that price is reasonable. However, we have been informed that a price has been fixed that will ensure to all coal-mine owners an absolute profit of 6s. on every ton of coal produced. If that is so, it is an extraordinary arrangement, when we remember that conditions in the mines vary so much that, while from one mine coal may be produced at 30s. a ton, it cost, perhaps, £2 a ton to produce coal from another mine. I have heard it said that the committee at first recommended that the mine-owners should be guaranteed a return of 25 per cent.” on the capital invested in the mines ; it was to apply not only to the subscribed capital, but also to the money that had been welched from the public, and put into reserves. Whether that is so I do not ‘ know, but I should like to see the report of the committee and to hear what the Government has to say on the matter.
At any rate, it would seem that the owners will now co-operate with the Joint Coal Board. The Minister for National Development told us that the owners were entitled to a profit, and we know that the coal-mine shares have gone up almost out of sight. During and after the war, the Labour Government would not allow any firms, whether coal-mining companies or otherwise, to make greater profits than they were making before the war. While that restriction remained in force there was constant industrial trouble in the coal-mining industry. It seems obvious that the owners deliberately incited the miners to cause industrial disturbances because they were unwilling to produce coal for the profit allowed to them. The Minister for National Development has told us that, whereas in 1949 stoppages in the mines resulted in a loss of 14 per cent, of total working hours, the loss now averages only 7 per cent. Now that the Government has presented the owners with the opportunity to make a profit of 6s. on every ton of coal there does not seem to be the same antagonism between the owners and the miners! Previously, the owners preferred to leave the coal underground rather than sell it at a reasonable price.
We have often heard Ministers of the Crown declare in this Senate that the most effective way to bring down prices would be to increase production. Well, if that be so, the argument should aPPly to coal; but we find that, at the present time, when there is nearly 2,000,000 tons of coal at grass, the price is higher than ever before. It costs nearly £7 a ton to land coal in South Australia. It is true that the Commonwealth has helped South Australia by subsidizing the importation of coal from overseas, but the fact that coal has been imported no doubt accounts in some measure for the fact that a surplus of coal is now lying at grass in New South Wales. Altogether, about 1,000,000 tons of coal has been imported, and nearly 2,000,000 tons is lying at grass, but the price is nearly three times as much now as it was in 1949.
The Minister for National Development told us that we were now getting all the coal we needed. Even the steel works cannot take any more, but we are still importing steel. According to the last official report on the subject, the steel works are producing to only SO per cent, of their capacity, but still they cannot take any more coal. The reason is th.it coal is too dear.
– No; the reason is that the steel works have no more room to hold coal.
– Well, why are they not using the coal they have in order to produce steel to their full capacity? We know that the coal is being held at some distance, and it may be that, transport difficulties prevent full supplies from being taken to the works. Perhaps the Minister overlooked that point. He certainly used every other political argument he could think of against the Labour party. Of course, the real reason why the steel works are not producing to capacity is that the price of coal is too high to enable steel to be produced at the profit that the companies want. It would seem that the more coal that is produced the higher goes the price, and the Government is allowing the companies a greater margin of profit than they ever enjoyed before. It is easy enough to get high production provided you are prepared to pay enough for it. The Minister foi Shipping and Transport told us that this Government was getting rid of the effects of socialist administration. Actually, it is allowing the coal-mining companies to rob the public in order to make exorbitant profits for themselves. The Labour Government encouraged the mechanization of the coal mines and this policy is only now producing results. That is why the estimated production of coal for the current year is 19,000,000 tons, the highest in our history. Unfortunately for the people, whereas a Labour govern.ment would have ensured that the coal was available at a reasonable price the present Government has allowed the price to go up to unheard of heights.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
Senator CORMACK (“Victoria) “fi-28]. - Senator O’Flaherty’s logic may be illustrated by this example : Children do not like the cold ; water is cold ; therefore, children do not like water. His remarks about coal had just nothing whatever to do with the motion submitted by Senator Ashley. I can well understand why he kept away from the terms of the. motion because the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), in the course of his reply, administered such a thrashing to Senator Ashley that there was no inducement to any one else to take up Senator Ashley’s arguments. Many factors are involved in the price of coal, 1,lit a main factor is easy to find. Between 1949 and 1951, freight charges on the New South “Wales railways increased by 210 per cent., and that increase is reflected in the present price of coal. Tn addition, there have been continuous shipping delays, a matter about which the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) has complained in the Senate. Each time that a ship is held up it is necessary for demurrage charges, wages for idle crews, and attendance money for wharf labourers to be paid, all of which are added to the cost of coal.
This Government has obtained coal not only from Australian mines but also from other parts of the world, with the result that secondary production has increased. When the Government came to office in 1949, Victoria and South Australia were almost paralysed industrially because of their inability to obtain coal from New South Wales. It is perhaps unfortunate for New South Wales that those two States were driven to undertake enormous expansion programmes in an effort to make themselves independent of supplies of black coal from New South Wales. It is a great tragedy for New South Wales that Victoria, in the not too distant future, may become almost independent of New South Wales coal supplies. Victoria has been obliged to double its production of brown coal from its own resources and is expending millions of pounds on the production of gas from brown coal. It was unable to obtain coal from New South Wales when Senator Ashley was a Minister of the Crown. Since that time, Victoria has converted 82 coal-burning locomotives to oil burning. In addition, 26 diesel-electric locomotives for the haulage of goods are being put into operation in an attempt to break the strangle-hold of the New South Wales collieries. It is to the credit of this Government, and the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) particularly, that coal production in New South Wales has increased so much that it has been possible to guarantee that South Australia, at least, will be able to obtain coal in the future. It is true that coal is being imported from other countries, but let us examine the reasons why Victoria has been obliged to import it. During the regime of the Chifley Government the Victorian Government offered to take over the Oaklands coal-field, which is approximately 50 miles from the Victorian border, and which was not then being used, but the proposal was rejected by the then Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr. The Victorian Government then approached the Queensland Government in an attempt to obtain coal from the Callide field. When the Victorian Government ultimately persuaded the Queensland Government to permit it to employ contractors to extract coal from the Callide field, the Queensland Government would not allow the coal to be taken away after it had been extracted.
– The Queensland Government would not permit the Victorian Government to take the coal away. Shipment of the coal was delayed because the Queensland Government claimed that it was needed in Queensland. It was not until a mysterious gentleman, whose name has been canvassed as a Queensland candidate at the next Senate election, came on to the scene that the bottle-neck was resolved and permission was given for the coal to be transported to Victoria. It would, perhaps, be interesting to learn the story behind the removal of that bottle-neck.
Although it is true that production of coal in New South Wales has increased, the plain fact is that there is coal at grass at the present time because the New South Wales railways cannot transport it to Sydney. If honorable senators turn to the last report of the Joint Coal Board they will se* that the boa. “ has requested the New
South Wales Government, which is a party to the Joint Coal Board, to make transport available for coal. As Senator Ashley should know, the Joint Coal Board requested the Government to increase the facilities at the Balmain coal wharf so that 1,000,000 tons of coal a year from the western coal-fields could be handled at that wharf. The New South Wales Maritime Services Board, which is controlled by a figurehead in the’ person of an ex-Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr, undertook to repair the wharf. The Joint Coal Board proceeded to extract coal from the western fields for transport to the Balmain wharf, but the New South Wales railways authorities stated that insufficient track space was available to transport more than 700,000 tons of coal annually. The New South Wales Government then stated that at some time in the future a wharf would be built at Botany Bay to handle such coal. It is not possible to load coal at Hexham to-day because the port of Newcastle is silted up, and the authorities are attempting to dredge it. The silt from the Hunter River Valley is being sucked up and dumped out to sea. The plain fact of the position is that the Joint Coal Board and the Australian Government have obtained as much coal as they have been able to obtain from New South Wales. I suggest the last bottle-neck can be removed only by a change of government in that State.
New South Wales can regain some of its coal markets in South Australia and Victoria only by producing sufficient coal to supply those markets. Because those States must continue to import gas coal, they must go outside the borders of New South Wales, and even beyond the shores of Australia, to obtain it. It is evident from the figures cited this afternoon by the Minister for National Development that the Australian coal price structure is based on competition with other coalproducing countries of the world. The New South Wales coal-fields were built up, in the first instance, on an export trade which has been destroyed by the New South Wales industry itself. The Commonwealth provided £9,000,000 worth of equipment with which to mechanize and re-equip the mines in that State. Last year it provided the Joint
Coal Board with £250,000 for the provision of amenities for coal-miners. As the Minister for National Development has said, and as Senator Ashley and the Australian Labour party will not admit, the efforts of the Australian Government have created a contented labour force on the New South Wales coal-fields. It is the object of the Government to ensure that that contentment is maintained, a task which is not rendered any easier by’ fulminating and ranting such as Senator Ashley indulged in this afternoon. After listening to the honorable senator’s remarks, I made an investigation to determine whether in fact his arguments came from Common Cause. If any honorable senator is interested in those arguments he will find them set out in the edition of that newspaper of the 13th instant. The honorable senator’s arguments are pure Communist propaganda. It is to the credit of this Government that coal production has been increased, with a corresponding decrease of power black-outs and restrictions in Australia.
Motion (by Senator Spicer) put -
That the question be now put.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Friday, the 19th September, at 10 a.m.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 5.50 to 8 p.m.
Bill presented by Senator Cooper, and read a first time.
Motion (by SenatorO’Sullivan) put -
That so much of the StandingOrders be suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through its remaining stages without delay.
– There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Before I deal with the main provisions of the bill I should like to inform honorable senators that the Government, before it framed the budget, established a sub-committee of Cabinet to consider adjustments that should be made in the pensions and allowances payable under the Repatriation Act. The subcommittee, which consisted entirely of ex-servicemen, considered representations from ex-servicemen’s organizations throughout the Commonwealth. It met frequently and gave a great deal of thought to the matters submitted to it. Its report to Cabinet was accepted and formed the basis of the provisions for war and service pensions increases included in the budget and in this bill. These increases should be viewed in relation to the increases that were granted in 1951 to which I shall briefly refer. The rates of pensions or allowance which I shall quote in the course of my speech are the weekly rates. Having regard to the character of the 1951 budget, the Government decided that it would be appropriate to increase the pensions and allowances of pensioners who are dependent mainly upon such payments, for example, those who are blind, totally and permanently incapacitated or suffering from amputation of two limbs, certain classes of members who are suffering from tuberculosis, widows with children, widows over 50 years of age and widows who are permanently unemployable. The members in the stated classes receive special rate pension or the equivalent by special payments, and the increase was £1 15s., from £7 to £8 l5s. Widows in the classes mentioned receive a domestic allowance in addition to pension and the domestic allowance was increased by £1 2s., that is, from 10s. to £1 12s. a week. The widow pension is £3 10s. a week. There are various categories of widows. The Government had to establish various categories of widows because some have dependents, some are older than others, and some are unable to work or are unemployable. Widows over 50 years of age receive the ordinary pension of £3 10s. a week, plus a domestic allowance of £1 12s., which will give them a total income of £5 2s. a week. Widows with dependent children under the age of sixteen years receive a similar rate of pension and allowance as also do widows who are unemployable because of sickness, even though under 50 years of age. I shall deal later with the allowances paid in respect of dependent children.
Increases were granted to service pensioners who are also dependent upon their pensions. The rate for a member was increased by 10s. a week, for the wife of a member by 6s. a week, and for the first child by 2s. 6d. a week.
In the present budget the increases in pensions and allowances have been made to other classes of war pensioners. The general rate pension, or the pension commonly known amongst ex-servicemen and women as the base rate pension, is computed on the basis of percentage of incapacity. The pensions paid vary from 10 per cent, to 100 per cent, of the maximum rate. The 100 per cent, rate pension is to be increased from £3 10s. to £4 a week; the rate for the wife of a recipient of a 100 per cent, pension is to be increased from £1 10s. 6d. to £1 15s. 6d. ; and that for each child from lis. 6d. to 13s. 9d. a week. “Wives and children of members in receipt of the special rate pension or its equivalent will also receive the benefit of increased payments. There are 172,000 members in receipt of the base rate pension. The average pension paid to persons in that group is 35 per cent, of the maximum rate. It is interesting to note that of the 172,000 recipients of base rate pensions 95,000 receive a pension rate which is less than 25 per cent, of the maximum rate. Pensioners in receipt of the 100 per cent, pension rate are also entitled to free medical attention, and hospitalization in respect of all sicknesses and injuries whether or not they are war-caused. They have a complete health coverage except in respect of certain specified illnesses such as acute alcoholism, &c. They are entitled to free treatment in repatriation hospitals, a concession which is of considerable value to them.
It is proposed that the rates of pension for the children of deceased members shall be increased as follows: - For the first child, from £1 2s. to £1 6s. 6d. ; for other children, from 15s. 6d. to lgs. 6d. ; and for orphans, where the member’s wife is also dead, from £2 to £2 8s. a week. In addition to war pension, child endowment is paid in respect of children under the age of sixteen years. Some members who are in receipt of the special rate pension, or its equivalent, also receive attendant’s allowances of £1 10.5. a week, or, in certain cases, £3 a week. These allowances are to be increased to £1 15s. and £3 10s. respectively. An attendant’s allowance is payable in cases where the member is so ill that he is confined to bed or is in such a state of health that he needs the assistance of an attendant. This allowance is paid in .addition to the allowance payable to the wife of a married member and to any other allowance to which the member may be entitled. If a member is blind and suffers from total deafness he receives a double attendant’s allowance of £3 a week. It is proposed that the rate of such allowance be increased to £3 10s. a week.
I come now to the proposals relating to service pensions, which are the equivalent of the invalid or old-age pension. A service pension is paid to a member who has attained the age of 60 years instead of, as is the case with the age pension, at 65 years, or in place of the invalid pension to a member who is unable to work because of other than war-caused disabilities. The rate of service pension payable to a member is to be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, and to the wife of a service pensioner by 5s. a week. The total amount which service pensioners may receive from the Commonwealth by way of war pension and social services _ pension will also be increased. In the case of a married pensioner this ceiling will be raised from £4 to £4 7s. 6d. ; for a husband and wife, where both are service pensioners, from £7 to £8 a week; and for a service pensioner, whose spouse is not a service pensioner, from £5 17s. 6d. to £6 5s. a week.
The foregoing relates to items which are covered in the Repatriation Act, but to see them in their proper perspective they should be viewed with other budget items in the way of important increases of allowances and other payments under provisions apart from the act. For example, sustenance .paid while a member is in a repatriation hospital is always kept in accord with the general rates of pension for members, wives and children, and will therefore be increased to conform with the increases in the general rates of pension which I have described. Subsistence allowances in connexion with travelling for medical treatment or pension purposes will be increased from a maximum of 20s. a day to 25s. a day. In relation to attendances for treatment or for pension purposes for a period of less than one day, the allowance paid to members who lose wages will he increased from a maximum of 2s. 6d. an hour, or 20s. a day, to 3s. an hour, or 24s. a day. A member who enters hospital is immediately placed on a special rate of sustenance of £8 15s. a week if he is not getting any payment from his employer or from any other source, and his wife and child go on to the full 100 per cent. rate. Those rates are continued for as long as he is in hospital.
I shall now deal with hospitalization. Last year there were 4,500 in-patients of repatriation hospitals, and 90,000 members were treated at out-patient clinics. In addition, 102,000 members were treated by local medical officers throughout Australia. It is not necessary for a member who is entitled to receive treatment to go to an out-patient clinic or to a hospital. He can be treated by a local medical officer. There are 2,600 repatriation local medical officers in Australia. They have done a marvellous job in providing to ox-servicemen and ex-servicewomen quick and immediate treatment. In many instances this treatment has obviated the necessity for members to travel hundreds of miles to a repatriation hospital.
Trainees under the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme or the new Korea-Malaya training scheme attending technical schools or universities at present receive a training allowance of £4 10s. a week, plus up to £2 a week for dependants. The new rate will be £6, plus up to £2 for dependants. The Government has also liberalized the assistance for members who undertake part-time courses. The amount of assistance available up till now has been £60. For new students and some present students, assistance will be increased to £75. In certain cases where fees, as distinct from books and equipment, exceed £75, the total amount of the fees will be paid.
As fees have increased considerably, especially in relation to certain professions, it was found necessary, if the benefits to be provided to ex-Korean and ex-Malayan members were to be of the same value as benefits that were provided to ex-service men and women of World War II., to increase the amount of assistance. The Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme was introduced towards the end of World War II. to assist those ex-members of the forces who wished to undertake professional courses or trade training in order to rehabilitate themselves as quickly as possible. In all, 275,000 ex-members undertook this training. Of the 22,000 ex-members who are still undergoing training some are studying professional courses, and the remainder are trades trainees who have not yet become 100 per cent proficient. Up to date, the cost of the provision of this training has been approximately £150,000,000.
I have devoted much time to an examination of the soldiers’ children education scheme. The pensions of the children concerned were increased in 1950, and whilst the Government desired to increase the rates of education and training allowances, it has not been possible to do so until now. There has been a fair amount of inquiry about the scheme from time to time, and I think it appropriate that I should summarize briefly its scope and conditions, and the work generally. The children who are eligible are the children of deceased, blinded, or totally and permanently incapacitated members, and of certain classes of members who are suffering from tuberculosis. Assistance for books, material and fares is granted during their earlier years at school. On reaching the age of thirteen years they are paid an allowance, which is continued through their various stages of education or graduation at a university or while training with an employer. The allowance is paid at different rates, according to the stage of education or training and whether the beneficiary is living at home or away from home. For each stage there is also an allowed income, being the amount to which other income, such as pension and wages, may be supplemented by the education or training allowance, according to the needs of the student, apprentice, or trainee. In each State there is an honorary Soldiers Children Education Board, which is composed of education experts from the primary, secondary and technical branches of the State Education Department, representatives of non-State boys and girls secondary schools and representatives of organizations interested in the welfare of children. . This board undertakes general guidance and supervision in individual cases, and the success of the scheme has been undoubtedly due in a large measure to the continued interest that the boards have maintained during the period of about 30 years since the scheme was instituted.
The Goverment has agreed that in future, the education allowance shall commence at twelve years of age instead of thirteen years, and that the allowances and allowed incomes for children attening schools and universities shall be increased. The allowed incomes of trainees with employers will also be increased. I have had prepared a table showing the details of the increases. With the concurrence of the Senate, 1 shall incorporate it in Hansard. The table is as follows: -
Honorable senators will note that the table is fairly detailed, lt covers ten groups of children of various ages and at various stages of education or training, and it refers to about 60 different rates of money. Briefly the increases of allowances range from 2s. 6d. to 17s. 6d., and the increases in allowed incomes range from 10s. to 30s. a week. Hitherto the children of a member who was suffering from tuberculosis were eligible where the member had been for three years in receipt of maximum special rate pension. This will be modified to permit of education benefits being granted when the father is granted maximum special rate pension and the medical opinion is that he is likely to remain in that category for three years.
In many instances, the department provides an amount of £20 towards the funeral expenses of members and their dependants. The amount of the contributions will be increased to £25.
I pointed out at the commencement of my speech that, in this year’s budget, the Government has seen fit to provide for increases to various sections or classes of pensioners, but that some very deserving sections have not been granted a direct increase. Two of those classes received very substantial advances under last year’s budget. They were blinded, totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen, and members suffering from tuberculosis, who were receiving the special rate pension. The members of that group will benefit under this year’s budget to a degree, if they have a wife or children.
A member in the special rate group is at present receiving £8 35s. a week, and his wife receives £1 10s. 6d. a week. The allowance to the wife will be increased to £1 15s. 6d. a week. If the member has two children, aged twelve years and fourteen years, their increased war pension will be 13s. 9d. each, or a total of £1 7s. 6d. If they are attending school, an educational allowance of lis. 6d. a week will he payable for the younger child and 15s. for the elder child. Child endowment of 15s. a week will bring the total amount to £13 19s. 6d. a week. That will represent an increase of 15s. a week on the present rate of pension for such a family.
The Government has dealt very sympathetically with servicemen who are totally and permanently incapacitated. These men are unable to move about and enjoy the amenities of life which most of us are able to experience. In 1950 double amputees and paraplegics, that is people who have lost the power of their limbs below the waist, received a Hillman Minx car as a gift and were granted £120 a year in order to help them to keep it in order and pay running expenses. A number of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners receive a transport allowance of £10 a month. These people are normally confined to a wheelchair or can only move a short distance on crutches or sticks. In some other cases, a. recreational transport allowance of £5 a month is paid. In addition, all totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners are entitled to free hospitalization for the treatment of any condition whether caused by their service in the forces or not. They are also granted other benefits by the State government. No income tax or social services contribution is payable on their pensions. They are entitled to reductions of sales tax when they purchase certain articles such as motor cars and spare parts for motor cars.
The new base rate of pension will be £4 a week, but the pensioner in receipt of that amount will be permitted to receive an additional 7s. 6d. a week service pension. A pensioner and his wife may receive the full pension and service pension also, provided that their total of war pension and service pension income does not exceed £8 a week. There are 33,600 war widows in Australia of whom about 14.000 are the widows of servicemen of the 1914-18 war and 19,600 are the widows of servicemen who fought in the 1939-45’ war. The husbands of some war widows were killed in Korea and Malaya. The pension for a widow is £3 10s. a week. It is not subject to’ income tax nor to the application of a means test. That amount has not been increased. A war widow with three children aged ten, twelve and fourteen years,, receives £3 10s. a week in her own right and £1 12s. domestic allowance. In respect of the .first child she will receive £1 6s. 6d. war pension, in respect of the second, 18s. 6d. a week war pension and in respect of the third also 18s. 6d. The educational allowance for the two children aged 12 and 14 years will be £1 6s. 6d. She will also receive child endowment amounting to £1 5s. a week, making a total of £10 17s. a week, which is 16s. more than she would receive under the present rates of pension. The war widow is also entitled to certain other benefits. She and her children are entitled to medical benefits at the cost of the Repatriation Department. They can receive attention either from the department’s medical officers or from their own doctor. In certain circumstances the widow is entitled to hospitalization in Repatriation Department hospitals, hut as accommodation is limited priority must be given to exservicemen themselves.
Tu respect of children up to twelve years of age the Repatriation Department pays the cost of books, fares, materials and other expenses connected with their education. “When the child becomes twelve years old the mother receives an educational allowance which has been increased’ from 9s. to lis. 6d. In respect of a child fourteen years old the amount will be 15s. a week. If the child of a war widow is sent to a university all its fees are paid by the Repatriation Department. When children reach the age of sixteen years pensions cease to be payable, but if they go to a university they receive, if they live at home, 52s. 6d. a week. If they live away from home the allowance is 82s. 6d. a week. So the widow’s children are well cared for and these provisions apply also to the children of the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. Their expenses are paid until they complete their education. Up to date, children who have been assisted by the Repatriation Department have gained five Rhodes scholarships, so they have done extraordinarily well.
At present 550,000 individuals are ti rawing pensions and allowances from the Repatriation Department. The costs have gone up very considerably over the years. Since the inception of repatriation in 1918 the total cost of pensions alone has been £4.44,000,000. During the last three years pensions have cost £82,000,000. In 1939 they cost £7,750,000. During the financial year ended 30th July, 1949, they cost £.1.8,750,000. Last financial year they cost £33,250,000 and it has been estimated that in the current financial year they will cost £36,000,000. Those ‘ amounts do not include such costs as hospitalization and administration. In considering the examples that I have given, it should be kept in mind that all the payments are (Yeo of income tax and social services tax, find that there is no means test in respect of pensions and domestic allowance for widows.
There are some amendments to the bill which are not associated with the budget. I.’ hoy are to improve consistency as between various provisions of the acf, to make new provisions to give clear authority to the commission in respect of measures which is has necessarily had to undertake in its administration, and to improve the nature of the general machinery, lt will be remembered that the amending act of 1950 inserted a new table - table B - in the First Schedule, so that the rates of pension could he hosed on rank of the member, instead of on the rate of pay. The reason for this was to avoid unfair differentiation of rates of pension which were beginning to develop in consequence of the considerably increased rates of pay of members. The rates of pension for certain ranks in the 1914-18 war and the earlier years of the 1939-45 war were no more than, and in some cases less than, those payable for lower ranks where the members were discharged late in the 1939-45 war on relatively high rates of pay.
Practically all cases under the FirstSchedule have now been transferred to the new table B, and therefore the bill provides for omission of table A - the now out-of-date scale based on rate of pay. Consequent upon the amendment to the First Schedule, alterations to the Third Schedule and at other points are necessary, and in rewriting the First Schedule, and portion of the Third Schedule, the new rates of pension arising from the budget increases have been written in. Other amendments relate to the extension of pension and benefits to members of the forces of dominions other than Australia who were domiciled in Australia before enlistment. The original provision in respect of the 1914-18 wai relating to pension was based on domicile in Australia. The similar provisions in respect of the 1939-45 war, and Korean and Malayan operations, were based on, residence in Australia, but as the basis of domicile is more equitable that basis is stated at all the relevant places in the act.
The commission controls many hospitals and institutions, and as is the case with other similar medical institutions, postmortem examinations are made at repatriation hospitals, and the effect of the amendment in clause 16 of the bill is toavoid any possibility of a conflict with State laws regarding them. The conditions under which these examinations are now made and will, under the new provision, continue to be made, are asf follows : - (ft) No such examination is under taken if the deceased member has expressed a wish against it i and
In the proposed legislation care has been taken that nothing will be done to interfere with the right of State authorities to conduct such an examination or to hold a coronial inquiry should one be necessary.
A further amendment gives clear authority to the commission to makeadjustments as between various types of payments to the same person. The commission now is responsible for theadministration of war pensions under three different acts, ex gratia pensions under several other provisions, and about ten different types of allowances. In many cases, persons who have applied for, or are in receipt of, war pensions are also in receipt of one or other of the allowances mentioned, and the amount of the allowance is subject to adjustment according to the amount of war pension payable. The most common example arises from medical sustenance paid to a member while he is receiving medical treatment in a repatriation hospital, or at an out-patient clinic. A war pension, or an increase of war pension, may later be granted with arrears over the period during which sustenance was paid, and from the arrears of pension adjustment has to be made in respect of the sustenance, or part thereof, paid during the period.
The department is continually under the necessity of making adjustments in these inter-dependent types of payments, and the commission believes there should be specific authority for its action in safeguarding public funds, and also in making adjustments where, through other causes, overpayments occur and are recoverable. The only relevant provision is section 52, which states that, subject to the act, pension is inalienable, but that is in the form in which it was originally placed in the “War Pensions Act in 1914, when the administering authority was not troubled with varied and complicated types of payments. From its construction, it will be seen that the purpose of section 52 was to protect a pensioner in two ways - by preventing him from voluntarily assigning, mortgaging or charging his pension in any way, thus protecting him against his own weaknesses and against persons who might prey on them ; and secondly, against third parties, who might seek to attach the pension against the will pf the pensioner by way of legal process, e.g., by garnishee or bankruptcy proceedings. The amendment does not affect those principles which were aimed at ensuring that the pensioner shall receive the full benefit of payments made to him by the Commonwealth in respect of his war disabilities.
Debate (on motion by Senator Critchley) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill presented by Senator Spooner, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the hill be now read a second time.
Thi3 bill to amend the Social Services Consolidation Act provides for increases of age, invalid and widows’ pensions, and of the allowance payable to the wife of an invalid pensioner. It liberalizes the conditions under which these social services are granted, and eliminates certain restrictions which have hitherto been imposed. The bill also contains proposals for increases in rates of the short-term benefits which are designed to give protection in times of sickness and unemployment. In addition, it removes some anomalies and limitations which in the past have caused hardship and distress. Altogether, the proposals in the bill are further evidence of the Government’s desire to maintain its fine record in social services by ensuring a reasonable measure of income security to those in need, and to preserve a just and equitable balance between community resources and community needs.
Social services payments essentially involve a transfer of purchasing power from one group in the community to another; but the amount transferred is linked inextricably with the amount the whole population produces. It is the value of the goods and services that we all produce that determines finally how much of the national income can be allocated to social services. This simple fact is too often ignored. The more we produce, the more we can distribute. If we accept this, and join together in a national effort, whether as employees, as employers or as self-employed, in a drive for more and more production, then more of the wealth that belongs to each of us may be set aside for those who are too young or too old or too ill to support themselves. Only by a whole-hearted community effort to increase the flow of goods and services can we ensure fair living standards for everybody. Only thus can we abolish want. Let us remind ourselves of Beveridge’s words -
Freedom from want cannot be forced on a democracy or given to a democracy. It must be won by them.
This bill is clear proof of the Government’s progressive social policy, and of its aim to give adequate protection to those who are most in need.
The increase of age and invalid pen- sions will be 7s. 6d. a week, which will raise the maximum pension from £3 to £3 7s. 6d. The cost of this increase will be £8,400,000 a year. I remind honorable senators that all pensioners also receive free medical services and pharmaceutical benefits, as well as hospital benefits for themselves and their dependants. These additional benefits cost more than1s. 6d. a week for each pensioner, increasing the effective rate of pension to over £3 9s. a week. The allowance paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner will be increased from the present rate of 30s. to 35s. a week. Thus, a family with two children may receive £3 7s. 6d. pension, 35s. wife’s allowance, and11s. 6d. allowance for one child. In addition, there will be, of course, child endowment payments.
The means test will be liberalized by permitting all pensioners to have additional permissible income of 10s. a week for each dependent child, together with the present permissible income of 30s. per week before the rate of pension is affected. Thus an invalid pensioner, his wife, and two children may have a total income of £10 9s. a week, including pension and endowment payments.
Widows with one or more dependent children will also receive a weekly increase of 7s. 6d. to their pensions. This will mean that such a widow will receive a pension of £3 12s. 6d. a week. In addition, she will receive endowment and share in the liberalization of permissible income in respect of dependent children. She may, if she has one child, receive an income of £5 17s. 6d., of which £3 17s. 6d. will be received from the Commonwealth. Other classes of widows - that 13, a widow over 50 years of age with no dependent child, a widow in necessitous circumstances, and a woman whose husband is in prison and who is over 50 years of age or has a dependent child - will have their payments increased by 5s. making a pension of £2 15s. a week.
All these increases will benefit existing pensioners. In addition, many persons not now entitled to a pension will become entitled to one. The increases in pension rates necessitate changes in the ceiling limits which are imposed on the total amount which a pensioner may receive by way of war pension and age, invalid or widow’s pension. The new ceiling limits are set out in the following table : -
Unmarried person, £4 7s. 6d. - an increase of 7s. 6d.
Married couple, both civil pensioners, £8 - an increase of 15s.
Married couple, one spouse only civil pensioner, £6 5s. - an increase of 7s. 6d.
Married couple, husband pensioner and wife in receipt of wife’s allowance, £7 17s. 6d. - an increase of 12s. 6d.
Similar increases will be made in the ceiling limit for those drawing widows’ pensions. The ceiling limit for a class A widow is increased from £4 10s. to £4 17s. 6d. a week, whilst for other classes of widows the increase is from £3 15s. to £4.
Other liberalizations in pensions are embodied in this bill. This legislation provides for an amendment that has been eagerly sought by many. For the first time in the history of Commonwealth social services, a pension is to be made payable to a class of persons free of a means test. A pension of at least £3 a week free of a means test will be paid to all qualified persons in the Commonwealth, sixteen years of age or over, who are permanently blind and who are not in receipt of a war pension for the same disability. A pension of more than £3, up to the maximum rate of £3 7s. 6d. will, of course, be payable to those blind persons who satisfy the existing means test.
There are many features of the means test that are objectionable, both in themselves and in their effects. This amendment is the first definite step towards its abolition - a step which. I hope will be followed eventually by other measures. Many people throughout Australia ardently wish for the complete abolition of the means test on pensions. The total cost of such an abolition would amount to approximately £110,000,000 a year. The Government does not see how it can meet such a huge additional cost at present. “We have, however, set out on the road, and as the nation’s finances and resources permit, we shall, I trust, reach the goal of a complete scheme in which income security will be assured to all in times of deprivation and depleted earning capacity.
An unsatisfactory provision of our existing pensions legislation is that a person between the ages of sixteen and 21 years is denied an invalid pension if his parents adequately maintain him. As the act now stands, the rate of invalid pension for a person under 21 years of age is determined by the degree to which his parents maintain or are able to maintain him. Endowment is payable up to the age of sixteen years. Between the ages of sixteen and 21 years an invalid may at present be thrown entirely on the resources of his parents when, perhaps, the costs associated with his invalidity are greatest. When this Government took office, the standard of adequate maintenance that had been adopted was £3 a week for an adult. We increased this amount to £4 a week, and we granted rehabilitation rights to invalids who are debarred from pension entitlement by the adequate maintenance provisions. We are now abolishing this means test altogether. The circumstances of an invalid’s parents will not, in future, be taken into account. All honorable senators will agree that this is a humanitarian advance.
Other proposals associated with pensions are noteworthy, and I should like to draw honorable senators’ attention to various concessions that will make for greater fairness and justice. The present residence qualification in connexion with widows’ pensions is that an applicant for a widow’s pension must have resided in Australia continuously for’ the five years immediately preceding the lodging of her claim. This provision has often -caused hardship to widows, otherwise qualified, who had come here to settle permanently with their husbands and who found themselves bereft of their breadwinner and without resources. We now propose to reduce the residence qualification from five years to one year, if the woman became a widow after she and her husband had begun to reside permanently in Australia. Widows not covered by the new provision may be granted special benefit at the new rate of £2 15s. a week if they have a dependent child. The rate will be £2 10s. a week if they have no dependants.
A concession will also be given to class “ C “ widows. A class “ C “ widow is a widow who has no children and who, at her husband’s death, or within 26 weeks thereafter, finds herself in necessitous circumstances. The pension at present is payable only during the 26 weeks following the husband’s death. If, at her husband’s death, a widow is with child, this period will be extended until the birth of her child. She will then, of course, become eligible for an “A “ class widow’s pension.
The act now provides that for pension purposes a person shall be deemed to he a resident of Australia during occasional absences if such absences do not exceed one-tenth of the total period of residence and occasional absences. As f ar as age pensions are concerned, the residence qualification is that a person shall have resided in Australia continuously for not less than twenty years. Thus a person who had actually resided here continuously for eighteen years only and had been absent for two years can now qualify for a pension. On the other hand, a person with longer periods of residence, but with insufficient continuity of residence, may fail to qualify. The treatment of occasional absences has been a problem in social services legislation throughout the world, and no satisfactory solution seems to have been evolved anywhere. We propose to liberalize the present provision by a new scale whereby a person shall qualify for a pension if he ha3 lived here for eighteen years and has been absent for two years. For each year in addition to eighteen that he has lived in Australia he will be entitled to have a further six months’ absence treated as residence.
As the law now stands, a pension may not be paid to a person who takes np residence in a territory of the Commonwealth. Such a provision is considered unjust and unreasonable. In future, persons in receipt of pensions who move to a territory of the Commonwealth will continue to receive their pensions.
In accordance with the policy of the Government to encourage self-help against the risks of illness, the means test will be liberalized by excluding from income those payments made by organizations registered under the Hospital Benefits Act or its regulations, where such payments are made direct to a hospital, or where they are made by an organization to a person to reimburse him for hospital expenses which he has paid. It is unjust that a person should be penalized by receiving a reduced pension or benefit when, because of his own foresight and saving, he has tried to protect himself against the devastating costs of illness and accident. The existing provisions have had a detrimental effect on hospital finance, because people were reluctant to insure, knowing that their insurance would be treated as income for the purposes of the means test. This bill proposes to wipe out these unreasonable provisions.
Other proposals in the bill deal with the short-term benefits. It is proposed virtually to double the basic rates payable in respect of sickness and unemployment benefits. These rates have not been changed since the inception of the benefits in 1944, and their amendment is desirable if benefits are to keep pace with the needs they aim to meet. The rate of sickness and unemployment benefits for a single adult will be increased by 100 per cent., from fi 5s. a week to £2 10s. a week. A similar increase of 100 per cent, will bring the rate for a married person from £2 5s. a week to £4 10s. Similarly, rates for juveniles will be increased from £1 to £2 a week for the 18 to 21 years age group, and from 15s. to £1 10s. a week for those aged from sixteen to eighteen years. The additional benefit payable in respect of one dependent child will remain at 5s. a week.
For sickness benefit purposes, payments received from an approved friendly or similar society have always received favorable treatment, in that £1 a week is completely exempt from the operation of the means test. This amount will be doubled to £2. There are some 850 approved societies, and the extended exemption will be of considerable importance to those persons who endeavour, by their savings, to provide themselves with an income at times when, through illness or accident, they are unable to earn. The liberalization will be of considerable help to friendly and similar societies, many of which will also find their position improved by the complete exemption of hospital benefit society payments, to which I have already referred. The effect of these amendments is that a sickness beneficiary with a wife and child will be able to have an income of £8 a week. As in the case of pensions, hospital benefit societies’ payments will not bc regarded as income for the purposes of tho means test.
Other amendments proposed in the bill are concerned with community rehabilitation. This special service aims at restoring the disabled to a self-supporting, independent place in the community. Rehabilitation is no longer in the experimental stage. In the four years since the scheme began it has returned more than 4,300 persons to employment. The activities of the rehabilitation scheme are becoming well known throughout Australia. Every day, persons who have been given treatment or training in commerce and industry are proving that a physical handicap is not necessarily a handicap to employment.
Three important amendments affecting rehabilitation benefits are proposed. The living-away-from-home allowance payable to trainees will be increased. The amount payable to a married man without a. dependent child will be increased from £2 to £2 10s. a week for the first four weeks of training. Thereafter, the rate will be increased from the present £1 to £1 5s. a week. Where a married man has a child or children, the weekly rate will be increased from £2 to £2 10s. while he is undergoing training. Unmarried trainees will have their allowance increased from £1 to £1 5s. a week for the first four weeks. In addition, of course, all rehabilitation allowances will be adjusted in conformity with the increases applicable to the benefits - invalid pensions, sickness or unemployment benefits, as this case may be - which the beneficiaries would have been receiving, were they not undergoing rehabilitation. The act now limits the value of books, tools, &c, which the Commonwealth may supply, to £20. This will be increased to £30.
Finally, a person entitled to rehabilitation benefits is now required, on resuming employment, to pay for surgical aids and appliances such as artificial limbs, &c, supplied during rehabilitation, and retained by him. The good already achieved by rehabilitation can frequently be undermined if the individual begins work with the knowledge and worry that he must repay a debt incurred in fitting himself for employment. In future, surgical aids and appliances will be supplied free, without any liability for repayment at a later stage.We feel that this is a justifiable and necessary step.
The additional cost of all the proposals in this bill will be approximately £11,000,000 a year and will bring the total full year cost of benefits under the Social Services Consolidation Act to more than £142,000,000. When one contemplates this figure it is hard to realize that the. total pre-war expenditure on Commonwealth social services was only £16,400,000, and that total budget expenditure was only £94,400,000. Together with associated benefits, such as tuberculosis benefits and medical and pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners, the total annual cost will be little short of £150,000,000.
It is opportune to remind honorable senators of some of the more important improvements in the social services field that this Government has instituted since it took office a little more than two and a half years ago. The rates of benefit are set out hereunder -
Age and invalid pensions - Overall increase from £2 2s. 6d. to £3 7s.6d. a week.
Wives’ allowance - Overall increase from £1 4s. to £1 15s. a week.
Child’s allowances - Overall increase from 9s. to11s. 6d. a week.
Widows’ pensions -
Class A - Overall increase from £2 7s. 6d. to £3 12s. 6d. a week.
Class B - Overall increase from £1 17s. to £2 15s. a week.
Class C - Overall increase from £2 2s. 6d. to £2 15s. a week.
Class D - Overall increase from £1 17s. to £2 15s. a week.
Unemployment and sickness benefits -
Persons under 18 years - Overall increase from 15s. to 30s. a week.
Persons over 18 years but under 21 years - Overall increase from £1 to £2 a week.
Adults and married minors - Overall increase from £1 5s. to £2 10s. a week.
Additional benefit for spouse - Overall increase from £1 to £2 a week.
Child endowment - Endowment of 5s. a week provided for first child in every family (in addition to 10s. a week for each additional child under 16 years) - £13,000,000 extra expenditure involved by extension. The estimated total cost this year is nearly £54,000,000. In 1948-49 it was £24,300,000.
Training allowance - Overall increase from £1 to £1 5s. a week.
Living-away-from-home allowance -
Unmarried trainee (for first four weeks only) - Overall increase from 15s. to 25s. a week.
Married trainee without dependent child (for first four weeks only) - Overall increase from £1 10s. to £2 10s. a week.
Married trainee without dependent child (after first four weeks) - Overall increase from 15s. to 25s. a week.
Married trainee withdependent child (payable during training) - Overall increase from £1 10s. to £2 10s. a week.
The bill will also liberalize the means test. The property limit in respect of age and invalid pensioners is to be increased from £750 to £1,000, in respect of class A widows from £1,000 to £1,250, and classes B andD widows from £750 to £1,000. For all pensioners, the additional permissible income in respect of each dependent child will be increased to £26 a year. Invalid pensions will be payable to persons between sixteen and 21 years of age regardless of the financial circumstances of the parents. The permissible income for blind pensioners will be increased from £5 17s. 6d. a week to £10 a week. In addition, blind persons will be able to receive a pension of £3 a week, subject to the ceiling limits, regardless of their income and/or property, and additional pension up to the’ present maximum rate of £3 7s. 6da week will be payable subject to the existing means test. In respect of unemployment and sickness benefits the special exemption for incomes received from a friendly society during incapacity will be increased from £1 a week to £2 a week. The period for which rehabilitation treatment and training may be given will be extended from two years to three years, and wider powers will be given in respect of the payment of fares and living expenses. Artificial aids and appliances supplied during the rehabilitation will be free of all cost and no subsequent repayment will be necessary. The value of books, tools of trade &c, which may be supplied will he increased from £20 to £30.
From the 1st July, 1950, the commencement of the first financial year that this Government has been in office, to the end of the current financial year, expenditure on social services will total £416,771,000, an average of nearly £138,924,000 a year. During the preceding three years, the average was £80,731,000 a year or a total of £242,193,000. If we are to obtain a true picture of what is being done for pensioners and beneficiaries, to the full year cost of benefits under the Social Services Consolidation Act alone, which is estimated at £142,500,000, we must add free medical benefits for pensioners, which are estimated to cost £1,300.000 a year, and free pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners, which are estimated to cost £360,000. To see in clear perspective what has been done, and will be done for the whole community, we must take into account new benefits such as endowment for the first child, tuberculosis allowances, pharmaceutical benefits, work in connexion with the nutrition of children, and the proposed medical benefits scheme which alone is estimated to cost. £7,500,000 a year. Expenditure from the National Welfare Fund in 1952-53 is estimated at £164,179,000. This is more than nine times the whole budget expenditure on social services in 193S-39. Those facts and figures speak for themselves. They are clear testimony of the awareness of the Government of its responsibility, and tangible evidence of its determination to accept that responsibility. I commend the bill to the Senate.
– On behalf of the Opposition, I say at once that there is no objection to any of the principles underlying the various pension increases, ameliorations, concessions, and anomaly corrections for which this bill provides. However, that does not mean that the Opposition can give unqualified approval to the Government’s action in relation to this bill, or even to all the contents of the bill. We believe that we should take the Government to task about several matters. The first of those is the delay that has occurred in introducing this measure into the Senate. The bil! was “ gagged “ through the House of Representatives last week so that it could reach the Senate this week. However, although the bill could have been introduced into this chamber yesterday morning, it has not arrived until this late hour to-day. The significance of that lies in clause 29 which provides that the increased payments provided for in the measure shall be made as from the first pay period following the commencement of the legislation. The earliest pay day to which this provision could apply is to-morrow. I do not pretend that, from an administrative point of view, it would be practicable to pay the increased pensions to-morrow if the Senate were to approve of this measure to-night, or even if it had approved it yesterday, but at least, having regard to the plight of pensioners due to the continually rising cost of living, one might have expected to find some eagerness on the part of the Government to make the proposed increases effective as soon as possible. Had this bill been introduced into the Senate on Tuesday - and there was not the slightest difficulty in the way of the Government. in s< doing - the Opposition would have confiled its debate to the contributions of two or three honorable senators, and we should have been ready to pass the bill last night. Then, even if the increased payments could not be made to-morrow, at least the beneficiaries would have been able to collect the arrears of their increases on the following pay day. I have no doubt that pensioners would welcome most heartily the retrospective payment of an additional 15s. Unemployment and sickness beneficiaries too would be only too happy to receive an additional £2 10s. in the case of a single man, or an additional £4 10s. in the case of a married man. It is interesting to recall how yesterday was spent in this chamber. The Government introduced a sales tax measure designed to impose a tax burden of £8S,000,000 a year on the people of Australia. There was not the slightest urgency about that measure because its purpose was merely to validate sales tax rates which had been in operation since the 7th August. I say to the Government that it would be a very gracious gesture to the pensioners if, even at this late stage, it would combine with the Opposition to pass the bill to-night and enable it to be given effect immediately so that the increased rate of pensions could be paid from to-morrow. If the Minister is prepared to intimate while I am on my feet, or when I conclude my remarks, that the Government is prepared to co-operate with the Opposition to that end, I give him an assurance that I shall be the only speaker on behalf of the Opposition. I am sure that the co-operation of the one person outside this Parliament whose assent to the bill is necessary to enable it to be given immediate effect would, in a case of this kind, bc rapidly forthcoming.
– What a stunt !
– I should like the Minister, or Senator Wright, if he speaks on this measure, to explain why the Government, which is in a position immediately to extend a. benefit to 500,000 pensioners, who have had a particularly bad time in the period of inflation through which we are passing, should have deferred this measure in favour of another which imposes a colossal taxation burden on the people of Australia. If the Minister or Senator Wright will do so we shall very soon demonstrate who has been guilty of stunting in relation to this matter. I direct attention to the fact that the Government has already rejected an Opposition proposal that the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide that the increased rates of pension be made operative from the 1st July last, that the rates of pension be increased having regard to increases in the cost of living, and also to enable a really substantial liberalization of the means test to be effected. I do not propose to move a formal motion along those lines to-night, first, because the Government has already indicated its mind in the matter, and, secondly, because t do not propose to speak at length having regard to the proposal that I made to the Senate a few moments ago.
As to the adequacy of the proposed increases and the plight of the pensioners it is worth while stating that a survey made when I was associated with the Department of Social Services revealed that at least 80 per cent, of the persons in the pensions field had no income whatever apart from their pensions. They had to confine the whole of their living costs to the amount of pension available to them. Another 15 per cent, of the persons in the pension field had an income of 5s. a week or less apart from their pensions. That means that 95 per cent, of persons in the pensions field have an income of 5s. a week or less apart from, their pensions. In these comments 3 have covered 95 per cent, of the persons in the pensions field. Those who had an income of 5s. a week or more apart from their pension were in a very narrow group of 5 per cent, of the total pensions field. With these facts before us we can see that in this bill we are dealing with a very needy section of the community which depends upon a very low fixed income, and which when inflation is rampant and the cost of living is ‘ progressively and rapidly rising, i3 hit by every price increase. To the persons in that section of the community every price rise means that they are able to buy fewer and fewer of the things that they need - things that, I venture to say, are vital to their bare existence. What is the position of those in the pension field who own their own properties. Recently when I sought information about them from the Department of Social Services, the officers of that department told me that they were unable to supply it. However, they were good enough to inform me that a survey made in Victoria at the 30th June last revealed that of the recipients of age and invalid pensions in that State, 24.6 per cent, owned their own homes and, in the case of widows, 28 per cent, were home owners. So, if the Victorian proportion runs true throughout the vast field of pensioners which covers more than 500,000 persons, including age, invalid and widow pensioners, as I assume it does, approximately 25 per cent, of the pensioners own their own homes. I emphasize the point that the beneficiaries of the social services legislation are really a very needy class.
I have made the point, and I reiterate it, thatthe increased rates proposed in this measure are completely inadequate having regard to the great increases that have taken place in the cost of living. Itis proper that I should remind the Senate of the promises made to the people by the leaders of the Government parties in 1949 in relation to pensions.
– Not again !
– Yes, again. I can understand why the Minister should shudder when he is reminded of the promises made by this Government in 1949. Well might he shudder because the promise to improve the lot of thepensioners was only one of a whole series of promises which the Government not only made recklessly and carelessly, but has equally recklessly and carelessly broken. In almost every instance it has done the exact reverse of what it promised to do. I do not wonder that the Minister should exclaim “Not again!” I can understand his reluctance to be reminded of these things. Let me remind him that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in delivering the joint policy speech of the then Opposition parties in 1949 had this to say -
Meanwhile existing ratesof pension will of course be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
Does any honorable senator claim that the purchasing power of the pensions of the 500,000 pensioners in Australia has been increased? Every honorable senator knows that the purchasing power of the pension has consistently and progressively fallen throughout the period of office of this Government. No persons in the whole of Australia have been more severely hit by the constantly rising prices than have the pensioners. I have never believed that the various classes of pensions should bear a fixed relation to the basic wage. I readily concede that when talking about the cost of living one could not make a perfectly true comparison between the rate of pensions and the basic wage. However, it is interesting to make some comparison between the rates proposed in this bill and the basic wage because at least it can be said that the basic wage provides for the bare essentials of a married man with a family. I concede that there are other elements that come into the computation of the basic wage. As a matter of interest, let me remind the Senate that in 1948, when the basic wage was £5 16s., the age and invalid pension was £2 2s. 6d. The pension then represented 39 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1951, when the present Government lifted the pension rate to £3 a week, and the basic wage was £9 9s. a week, the percentage fell from 39 per cent, to 31 per cent. Now, bringing the matter right up to date, the increased pension rate of £3 7s. 6d. proposed in this bill represents only 29 per cent, of the basic wage of £11 7s. a week. The pension, which formerly represented 39 per cent, of the basic wage, has fallen in this year of grace and in this month to only 29 per cent, of that wage. Despite successive increases of the rate of pension granted by the Government which brought it from £2 2s. 6d. to £3 a week and the proposed additional 7s. 6d. a week provided in this bill, making the new rate £3 7s. 6d. a week, the position of the pensioners of Australia has grown progressively worse. The basic wage has increased in every quarter during the term of office of this Government. In 1950 successive quarterly wage increases of 4s., 2s., 3s., and 4s. respectively were made. In 1951 the quarterly increases were 7s., 7s., 13s., and lis. respectively. This year the basic wage has been increased by 10s. and 6s., and by the latest increase of lis. which is to take effect from the 1st September. In mere cost of living increases the basic wage has risen by £3 18s. a week since this Government assumed office. It is interesting to note that all the major increases - 13s., Ils., 10s., and 6s., and the latest increase of lis. - all took place in the later part of the term of office of the Government. In other words the Government, which solemnly promised the pensioners that it would restore the purchasing value of the pensions, must admit that it has failed completely and dismally even to make a semblance of redeeming its promise. On present indications the position will continue to worsen. It is likely that the pension rate will remain at £3 7s. 6d. a week for the ensuring 12 months and that the position of pensioners will deteriorate week by week and quarter by quarter as the cost of living continues to increase apace. The Opposition feels very strongly about this matter; otherwise it would be very happy about the increases proposed in this bill.
Another test may be applied from the cost of living angle. Let us consider the pension rate in relation to the “ C “ series index figures, which cover the average cost of living for the six capital cities, and which are purely a statistical calculation made by the Commonwealth Statistician. In June, 1948, when the pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week, the index figure was 1,393. By June, 1952, when the pension was £3 a week, the index figure had risen by 1,095 points to 2,488. This is the most recent month in respect of which the Government Statistician has supplied figures. I point out that 806 of the increased 1,095 points have accumulated since this Government has been in office. As anybody may work out, if the Government had had regard to -that increased cost of living alone, divorced from its application to basic wage figures, the amount that would be payable to-day would be £3 15s. 6d., not £3 7s. 6d a week. If we had before us the figures for July, August and the portion of September that has gone, I have no hesitation in saying that the appropriate amount that would be payable, had the pension rates kept pace with the cost of living, would be in excess of £4 a week.
– It would have been £4 5s. a week.
– I think that I have made out a sufficient case to justify a greater increase. The statistics that have been submitted by the Government Statistician show conclusively that the increases that are proposed in this measure are completely inadequate to do justice to the most needy section of the community. After all is said and done, it is of no use to tell the pensioners that this Government has lifted the pension from £2 2s. 6d. to £3 7s. 6d.an increase in cash of £1 5s. a week. We should approach this matter by considering whether the pension of £3 7s. 6d. a week that they are about to receive will provide them with as much food, clothing, shelter, and fuel as formerly. In relation to these real things, food, clothing, shelter and fuel - I disregard entertainment and tobacco altogether - it is unquestionable that the pensioner has lost all down the line. It is equally certain that he will lose further during the ensuing twelve months. Let us consider what the Government might have done. I have proved already that the pensioners are entitled to greater increases. The Government could have granted greater increases without any additional strain upon its finances by not remitting land tax payable by landholders the unimproved value of whose properties exceeded £S,750. Most of that revenue was derived from large landowners in the great capital cities. The Government would then have had another £6,000,00, or £7,000,000 to pay to the pensioners during this financial year which would have enabled it to add another 6s. or 7s. to the rates announced in the bill. The proposed increase would then have been almost commensurate with the increase that has taken place in the cost of living. But the Government, preferred to abolish the land tax in order to provide relief amounting to from £6,000.000 to £7,000.000 a year to very wealthy people and institutions, including theatre companies, insurance companies, breweries, and the big retail stores.
– I rise to order! ls there not power under the Standing Orders to prevent this arrant duplicity? The same speech was heard in this chamber months ago, to advocate urgently a reduction of land tax. Cannot such transparent duplicity be avoided?
– Mr. Acting Deputy President, as the words “ arrant duplicity “ are completely offensive to me, I ask that they be withdrawn.
– They are offensive to me, also.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Tate).- Order ! As the Leader of the Opposition considers the words “ arrant duplicity “ to be offensive, I ask Senator Wright to withdraw them.
– I shall content myself with the suggestion that mere simple duplicity is being indulged in. I withdraw the words “ arrant duplicity “.
– In these discussions nobody benefits when heat is imported into the situation. When that takes place reason generally flies out of the window.
The Government has made no substantial approach to amelioration of the means test, which, as the Minister admitted ‘“n bis second-reading speech is of great interest to the vast majority of people in the community. Again, there was an election promise by the Government in relation to the means test. The people were given to understand quite clearly that in this very year, 1952, a proposal for the abolition of the means test would he submitted to them for their approval.
– At an election.
– Let me read to the Senate what the Prime Minister said during the genpra.1 election campaign in 1949. The right honorable gentleman stated -
Austraia Still needs a contributory system of national insurance against sickness. widowhood, unemployment and old a~e. It i« only under such a sYstem that we en ma’-e nil benefits a matter of right, and get completely ri-1 nf the means test During the new Parliament we will further ‘ investigate this complicated problem with a view to presenting to you nt the election of 1052 a. scheme for your approval.
– When was the 1952 election ?
– I inform Senator Guy that this year is not yet concluded. There can, and should be, an election of senators during this year. The Government cannot escape from the use of the word “ election “ by the Prime Minister, when it is within its own power and competence to ensure that an election shall take place during this year. A Senate election must be held. The Government still has time in which to redeem that promise. Prom the Minister’s reference to amelioration of the means test, and the fact that there was no mention of it in the budget, the people of Australia realize that no plan in that connexion will be submitted to them during this year, as was promised. That promise was affirmed as recently as April, 1951, when the Prime Minister asked for authority to carry out the Government’s 1949 policy, which was to submit to the people of Australia at the election in 1952 a plan for the complete abolition of the means test.
– Surely the Leader of the Opposition does not believe that?
– That promise was affirmed by the Prime Minister in April, 1951, when he stated -
This is not the occasion for a new policy. What we ask for is a fair chance to carry 0111 our existing policy.
That was a proposal to submit to the people of Australia for their approval al the election in 3952, a plan for the complete abolition of the means test. Although the Government could redeem that promise, I have not the slightest doubt that it. will fall into the categOry of all the other promises. It will be dishonoured and broken.
– The right honorable gentleman definitely promised that an election would be held in 1952.
– The Government has made some _approach to the amelioration of the means test. There were, if I noted all of them, four instances, namely, that pensioners will be entitled to additional permissible income of 10s. h week for each dependent child ; a limited abolition of the means test in relation to permanently blinded persons; the abolition of the “ adequate maintenance “ clause in relation to invalid pensioners under 21 years of age; and that contributions from registered organizations under hospitals benefits legislation shall not be deemed to be income for the purposes of the social services measures. These things are all good, but they are exceedingly small concessions. There are many commendable features of the bill. As I indicated at the outset, not one matter of principle dealt with by the bill has not the approval of the Opposition.
The social services legislation has now grown into a matter of very great complexity. It is not easy to understand or to follow. The social services pamphlet that was printed in 1947 sought to explain, to the people interested, in relatively simple language, the benefits provided, and how they could be obtained. That publication is now grieviously outdated. I support very strongly the suggestion that was made in this chamber by a Government senator recently that the pamphlet should be reviewed. I also commend to the Minister the thought that it might be well to have another reprint of the Social Services Consolidation Act, to incorporate all the amendments up to date, including those provided by the bill that is before us. In order to keep abreast of the frequent changes of rates and conditions, one has to go from one act to the other.
I was very pleased that the Minister paid a tribute to the officers of the Department of Social Services. Having had some experience of their keenness to correct anomalies, after meeting all the practical difficulties in the field, I should like, on behalf of the Opposition, to add my tribute to the excellence of their work. It is a department with very fine traditions and very skilled officers. I venture to say that anybody who has not worked closely with those officers in relation to the administration of the social services legislation could have no conception of the enormous difficulties with which they are confronted from time to time. The whole field of human relationships comes under review by them, and I suppose there can be an infinite variation of those relationships. I should like the Minister to intimate his reaction to the proposal that I made earlier. If he desires the co-operation of the Opposition in the immediate passage of this measure, it will be immediately forthcoming.
– I consider that the Senate has been treated to an extraordinary speech by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), who was a Minister in the previous Labour Government. Although he has charged this Government with wasting time, only this afternoon much time of the Senate was occupied in debating an Opposition motion for an adjournment. I shall not deal fully with the remarkable statements that he made, As he had the grace to admit, it would be physically impossible to make these payments immediately to almost 500,000 people. He knows that at no time when he was a Minister were such payments ever made retrospective. If the Opposition is truly sincere it could consent to the passing of this bill to-night and the first payment will be made after the Royal assent has been given. As the Leader of the Opposition has frequently quoted from the policy speech of the Prime Minister, I now propose to do so. In 1949 the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said -
We desire, however, to adjust the anomalies I have referred to and to make such modifications in the means test as we find possible, pending a contributory scheme. This great human problem will have our urgent attention as a matter of priority.
I contend that the Government has made it a matter of policy. Already it has liberalized 40 of the anomalies and restrictions which existed under the social services legislation. That is a great achievement. It ha3 also made benefits available to many people who previously received no social services payments. That also is of very great assistance to those whom the Leader of the Opposition has referred to as needy people. In criticizing the Government for not adjusting pensions according to variations in the basic wage, the Leader of the Opposition did not mention that the late Mr. Chifley himself refused to adjust them in that way. He complained that the Government had increased pensions by only 25s. a week during its term of office but did not tell us that from the 3rd April, 1941, to the 17th February, 1944, pensions rose by only 3s. 6d. a week. In three years, the Labour Government increased pensions by only 3s. 6d. a week.
A comparison of the social services payments made by this Government with those that were made by the Labour Government will show how generous this Government has been. In three years this Government has paid £416,000,000 in social services benefits, an average of £139,000.000 a year. The Labour Government paid an average of £80,000,000 a. year. In addition, the States, out of funds provided by the Commonwealth, are expending about £40,000,000 on social services. As I mentioned, the Prime Minister promised that the means test would be modified.’ The Leader of the Opposition said that he commended the Government for raising the level of permissible income for blind pensioners from £5 17s. 6d. a week to £10 a week. For the first time in the history of social services the Government has granted blind pensioners £3 a week free of means test. This is one of the first steps in the total elimination of the means test. I am sure that every honorable senator in this chamber is convinced that the total abolition of the means test is most desirable. I believe that the greatest deterrent to thrift in the community is the means test. We all look forward to the day when it will be completely abolished, and when all people will receive a pension to the cost of which they have contributed.
Another proposal which illustrates the humane attitude .of this Government is that relating to the adequate maintenance of invalids between the ages of 16 and 21 years. This proposal will greatly assist people who have invalid children. Previously, persons who received over £12 a week were not entitled to any assistance. That provision has been eliminated. I believe that under the Labour Government the relevant amount was £9 a week. The present Government raised it to £12 a week and has now proposed that it shall be removed altogether. The Leader of the Opposition was not very impressed by the Government’s proposals for the increased exemptions from the means test in respect of property, but it will provide real assistance to the people whom, it is designed to help. Last year the
Director-General of Social Services was given discretionary power to determine whether the value of property owned by a pensioner should affect the amount of pension received. The DirectorGeneral will now be completely unfettered in this respect, and this will facilitate his assisting people who have to put their cases to him.
Another benefit amongst the many which have been proposed for pensioners is the reduction of the residential qualification for a widow’s pension from five years to one year when the husband dies after the widow has taken up residence in Australia. Existing legislation has been the cause of great financial difficulty to many immigrants to this country and I believe that this is a very wise provision. The proposal to extend until the birth of a child the pension which was previously payable for only 26 weeks is also wise. Many of us are faced constantly with instances in which women have lost their husbands and have only been entitled to assistance for 26- weeks. The Government’s proposal to continue the assistance until the birth of the child when the widow automatically comes into another category is very wise. The Government is. also to be commended for doubling the rates of unemployment and sickness benefit, and for proposing to increase from £1 to £2 a week the special exemption of friendly society payments for sickness benefit. I was surprised to hear Senator Tangney state recently that because a person had received payments from a hospital benefit society she was not entitled to receive unemployment relief.
– That was the position up to the introduction of this legislation.
– I believe that this matter was covered fully in the speech of the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner).. The Government has proposed measures to enable war widows to purchase their homes. It is interesting to note that the cost of homes provided under the war service homes scheme by all Government’s in the course of 30 years up to the 1st January, 1950, amounted to £53,000,000 whilst from the 1st January, 1950, to the 30th June, 1952, the Government financed the construction of £55,000,000 worth of war service homes. That is an achievement of which any government might be proud.
I have a particular interest in the subject .of rehabilitation. I believe that the increase of rehabilitation allowances and the extension of the period during which they may be paid will be of great benefit to invalids. Every item of surgical equipment required for rehabilitation or training will now be paid for by the Government. During the Labour Government’s term of office all such equipment had to be paid for by the person concerned. Some people may say that these are not spectacular concessions, but they are very real to the people who have had the misfortune to need them. I have spoken in this chamber on various occasions about payments to tuberculosis patients. The Australian Government is now reimbursing the States 63. 6 per cent, of the total amount that they spend on combating tuberculosis. The Government has increased to £9 a week the amount payable to a married man. The Labour Government paid exactly half that amount. 1 do not believe that the Leader of the Opposition was really sincere when he said many of the things that he said. He knows very well that during his term as Minister no social services payment was made retrospective. No bill was introduced which provided that payments should be made immediately. He is conscious of all the difficulties connected with this matter and I believe that it was only for want of constructive criticism that he spoke in the way that he did. I expected that he would have something to say about the medical scheme because, for many years, he was most interested in it. I thought he would have produced some figures to show what medical benefit pensioners received from his Government, and what they are receiving under the present Government. However, he did not do so, and I shall, therefore, supply the figures. In February, 1951, a medical service scheme, was instituted for pensioners. By June last, most of the doctors in Australia had enrolled under the scheme, and pensioners and their dependants, to the number of 501,400, were entitled to receive benefits. Last year, the cost to the Government was over £1,000,000. From the inception of the scheme to the 30th June last, 2,562,808 medical services had been given, either in the homes of patients or in the surgeries of the doctors. It is clear, therefore, that the doctors were co-operative.
– They would not do it for the Labour Government.
– Well, they did it for the present Government, which indicates that this Government has evolved a more satisfactory medical scheme than did the Labour Government. The honorable senator’s interjection really amounts to a condemnation of the government which she herself supported. Last July, the Government announced an extension of the scheme. It agreed to provide life-saving and diseasepreventing drugs free to a large number of persons. For the first month that the scheme was in operation, 1,599,823 prescriptions were made up at a cost of £357,632. Approximately 25,000,000 prescriptions are made up in Australia annually, and last year the Government made itself responsible for about 8,000,000 of them. The average cost was 20s. 8d. for each prescription, this being due to the high cost of the new anti-biotic drugs, which have proved of such real benefit to many sick persons.
The Menzies Government, has a fine record of social service. No one party has a monopoly of the desire to serve humanity, .and it is hypocritical for any one to suggest that it has. It is most unfair to try to make political capital out of the misfortunes of sick people. The responsibility for providing for the weak must always rest upon the strong, and if every able-bodied person in the country would produce to his greatest capacity, and if members of the Parliament would give a lead to the rest of the community, we should be able to provide out of current production social services to meet the requirements of all those who need them.
– My main criticism of this bill is directed against the delay in putting it into effect. I regret that it was not brought before us yesterday. I remind Senator Wedgwood that when the motion for the adjournment of the Senate was being discussed this afternoon, the Social Services Consolidation Bill bad not been received from the House of Representatives. The delay is regrettable, because the increased pension rates for which the bill provides will mean so much to the persons most concerned - the basic pensioners, who have nothing on which to live but their pensions.
I compliment the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) on the improvements which he has seen fit to introduce in this measure. Many of them are long overdue. I also thank the Minister for having accepted several suggestions that I made to him during his visit to Western Australia, and for having incorporated them in the bill. I refer particularly to the provision excluding pension payments when considering an applicant’s eligibility for unemployment benefits. The Minister was horrified to learn that no such provision was in operation, and he promised to have the anomaly corrected. The Minister was in Western Australia for the purpose of opening a rehabilitation centre. Senator Wedgwood referred to the rehabilitation work done by the Social Services Department, but she omitted to give credit to Senator McKenna for inaugurating the rehabilitation scheme which has proved so beneficial. Although all Western Australian senators were invited to attend the opening ceremony they were, apparently, so little interested that I was the only one who was present. Recently, an honorable senator asked why members of the Parliament from Western Australia were not invited to a function for the opening of a new airline, as I think they should have been. However, when we were invited to a function to mark the inauguration of an important social service, the invitation was ignored by roost of those who’ received it. The Labour Government, which inaugurated the rehabilitation scheme for pensioners, has been criticized because the various aids provided had eventually to be paid for by the recipients. However. I remind the critics that the Labour Government had great difficulty in getting the legislation passed at all. When I became a member of the Senate in 1941, there were only four social services, provisions - old-age and invalid pensions, widows’ pensions, maternity benefits, and child endowment. The child endowment scheme was introduced in the last days of the first Menzies Government, although twelve years before, a royal commission on which, was our late leader, John Curtin, had recommended the introduction of child endowment. It was finally introduced as a political expedient by an anti-Labour government with the support of the Labour party.
I was a member of the Social Security Committee, and we fought a great battle in the Senate before we were able to secure the introduction of widows’ pensions and sickness benefit. The present Government is taking credit for doubling those benefits. I congratulate the Minister for Social Services on having done so, but I remind honorable senators that even after the benefits have been doubled, their purchasing power will still be less than it was in 1944. When these schemes were first introduced, supporters of the present Government said that the unemployment benefit would encourage loafing, and that the payment of sickness benefit would encourage malingering. I then said that such statements were unworthy. I have yet to meet the decent Australian who would choose to support his wife and children on the unemployment dole when he could work for his living, or who would draw sickness benefit in preference to doing a fair day’s work so that he might keep his family in comparative comfort. How any one can be expected to maintain, himself and his family on a sickness benefit of a few shillings a week, with prices at their present level, is beyond me.
Senator Wedgwood said that between April, 1941, and February, 1944, the Labour Government had increased pensions by only 3s. 6d. a week. To begin with, I remind her that the Labour Government was not in office in April, 1941. It did not come into office until the end of 1941, and then it assumed office in circumstances which, I hp-1-“ doubt. she finds it convenient to forget. That Labour Government assumed office, not as the result of a popular vote, but because there was no leader available among the anti-Labour parties to undertake the task of govern.ment. The new Labour Government was faced with tremendous difficulties from the outset. It was without a majority in either House of the Parliament. That was a time of great national crisis, when the Japanese were at our very doorstep, but the Government was able to do those things with the full co-operation of the people. No government could have undertaken such a stupendous task and carried it to a successful conclusion without the concerted goodwill and support of the people. The Labour Government did that job between October, 3941, and February, 1944. Its main task was to keep Australia for Australians and as an integral .pant of the British Empire. Despite the tremendous burden of responsibility that it carried, the fact that it was able at the same time to give cognizance to the needs of people on pensions and to see that their pensions kept pace with the slightly rising cost of living was, in my opinion, a great achievement. Although pensions increased by only 3s. 6d. a week during that period of two and a half years, the comparative increase of the cost of living was equally small.
One of the most successful tasks of the government of the day, apart from its huge defence programme, was to keep the economy of the country stable and on an even keel. During that period, the increase of prices of commodities in the C series index was almost nonexistent. In April, 1941, the C series index figure was 1,008. By January, 1944, it had risen by only 116 to 1,124, whereas from 1950 until the present day it has increased by almost 100 per cent.
Senator Wedgwood has said that the Labour ‘Government refused to make increased pension payments retrospective. My reply is that if the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) had been followed in the Senate to-day there would be no need to make retrospective payments. This legislation could have been passed before midnight to-night and could have become law to-morrow T admit that the ‘Curtin Government refused to make such payments retrospective, but it must be remembered that at that time prices were stable. To-day, the economy is in a chaotic position. We do not know from one day to the next the quantity of goods that o.ur money will purchase. That is why, when speaking in the Senate recently, I stated that pensions should be related to the basic wage, which is adjusted every three months. Yearly adjustments of pensions are far too infrequent.
The Opposition is very grateful that the Government has seen fit to provide for the increased payments which this hill proposes. We are always grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. I think, however, that the people would prefer a good square meal. It is obvious that the Minister for Social Services has a good understanding of the needs of his department. Perhaps heaccepts freely the advice of his departmental officers, whom I have always found to be most humane. The Minister has done much, by means of this bill, to rectify some of the anomalies that have occurred with regard to social services, particularly during the last few years.
Honorable senators will agree with Senator Wedgwood that it is necessary for all members of the community to produce to their fullest capacity. That principle is often stated, and is perfectly true. However, we should be careful of those “who give .such advice. Recently, two very rich men, Mr. Myer .and Sir Charles Lloyd Jones, both of whom are large employers of labour, returned to this country after having spent five or six months holidaying - or perhaps luxuriating would he the better word - at Cannes or Capri, I understand in very good company. Immediately they returned to this country they stated that what Australia needs is to get the workers to. produce more. They expressed the opinion that every man must do a better day’s work than he has hitherto done. I cannot help wondering whether Mr. Myer and Sir Charles Lloyd Jones felt competent to give such .advice to Australians who had been working whilst they were cavorting overseas, or whether -their consciences did not prick them. We all know that every one must work and produce more, but this debate is concerned mainly with persons whose working days have passed. Although such people may have worked very hard in years gone by, they have nevertheless been unable to make sufficient provision for their old age. Honorable senators will remember that it iis not so very long since the basic wage was low. Relatively speaking, it. is not long since there was a big economic depression, during which men and women raised their large families and received very little support from the government. During the last two or three decades world opinion has considerably changed regarding responsibility for the care of the less fortunate members of the community. Since “World “War I., there has been a growing consciousness on the part of all sections of the community of the need to care for the aged and the invalid.
I am delighted that this bill proposes to remove altogether the means test affecting invalids between the ages of sixteen and 21 years. The Opposition has long hoped for such an abolition. Senator “Wedgwood has stated that the Australian Labour party operated the means test in such a way that if a family had an income of £9 a week or more an invalid member had to be maintained by the family. That is perfectly true, but the point is that the honorable senator was referring solely to money and not to money values. I suggest that the «’ Liberal” £12 of to-day is not equal to the “ Labour “ £9 of three years ago. In this connexion, I wish to tell the Senate of the difficulty that has been experienced in ameliorating the conditions affecting invalids between the ages of sixteen and 21 years. I remember contending in the Senate eight years ago that every invalid over 21 years of age should be regarded as a separate, responsible being. As an example, I cited the case of a wharf labourer of 72 years of age who was obliged to continue working in Fremantle because he had to support an invalid son aged 47 years. That is a perfectly true example of how the inval id pension operated in the years before Labour came to office. Regardless of the age of the parent or of the invalid, the family was obliged to accept responsibility for his maintenance. “We have gone far during the last eight or nine years, it is true, but I think that the Government could have been a little more generous on this occasion, especially when I remember how in the past years its. supporters repeatedly opposed the introduction of social services legislation and refused; to give even a little credit to the Labour Government- which originated so, much of that- legislation. However, the Government has Shown wisdom in building on foundations which were so well laid by Labour governments in past years.
Had Senator “Wedgwood not referred to medical and pharmaceutical benefits, I should not do so in this debate. Incidentally, very little reference is made to such benefits, in the bill now before the Senate. I have no doubt that that will be done at a later stage. The honorable senator referred to a vast number of medical and pharmaceutical benefits which have been given to the community particularly to pensioners, by this Government. I agree that that is so, but .1 point out that if it was necessary for approximately 1,000,000 prescriptions to be made out for pensioners during the last two or three years it was equally necessary for pensioners to receive such benefits in the years before 1950. The Labour Government introduced legislation to authorize the provision of medical and pharmaceutical relief, but that, legislation was sabotaged- and I use that word with its full force - by those members of the British Medical Association who would not co-operate with a Labour government from motives or reasons of political expedience. When those medical practitioners witnessed the defeat of the Labour Government, the formulary and all the plans that Labour had made for medical and pharmaceutical benefits suddenly acquired virtue merely because they bore the imprimatur of a Liberal government. I should like to know from the Minister for National Development the number of additional drugs that have been added to the formulary drawn up by the Labour Government, and in what respects the formulary and the scheme differ from those of the Labour Government.
I was present, as a member of a parliamentary standing committee, at many conferences with members of the British Medical Association and other bodies with regard to health services. I remember a certain Conference in 1943 a.t which all parties had agreed on Saturday afternoon upon a health plan. By Monday, the whole scheme had collapsed. Something had happened during the weekend, of the nature of which some members of the parliamentary standing committee were not aware, and on Monday negotiations were broken off after success seemed to be within our grasp. I congratulate the Government on having been able to breach that strong citadel in the community. Because of that breaching, it is now able to give relief to people who most need it. I repeat, however, that if it was necessary for 1,000,000 prescriptions to be written for pensioners during the last few years, either the health of pensioners has deteriorated considerably under a Liberal government, or the need for such provision always existed and was obstructed by a barrier erected by the British Medical Association.
During his speech, the Minister for National Development stated that the health services which are given to pensioners cost approximately ls. 6d. a week. That may or may not bc so. Some services rendered by doctors, chemists and hospital staffs cannot be reckoned in terms of money. If some of us worked for such persons for the rest of our lives we could never repay the debt that we owe to them. This matter of the provision of health services looks very good on paper, but I am afraid that when we go back into the workings of the scheme, as I have had cause to do during recent months, a different picture is presented. It is undeniable that aged people are not wanted in our public hospitals. Regardless of the fact that the Government says that they are entitled to certain medical services, it is most difficult to obtain such services. Recently an old lady with no relatives in this country became very ill. She had £90 in her possession hut was unable to obtain admission to a hospital or nursing home. Ultimately, she was admitted to a so-called rest home or convalescent home for the aged, at £7 7s. a week. When her money ran out she was no longer welcome there. She then became extremely ill. The matron of one home for the aged and I tried to get her into a( hospital. The matron said to me at the time, “ The trouble is, of course, that nobody wants her. If she gets better, where is she to go? We have no room for her at my place, unless somebody dies, and even if that happens there are people waiting for admission. Almost before we can change the sheets another patient is waiting to come in. We have neither the staff nor the facilities to deal with aged chronic cases “. I think that that is an important problem to which the Minister for Social Services and the Government could direct a great deal of attention. It is a very difficult problem,, but it must be tackled if our national health scheme is to be of real service to the community. I have already read to the Senate a newspaper report of how an age pensioner had drowned himself because he had been unable to gain admission to a home or a hospital. That incident can be multiplied many times throughout the community. In Melbourne only yesterday a social services worker said that few women who went into hospital for attention, particularly ante-natal care, wore adequately nourished. And that is in 1952 and not 1932! Never before in the history of Australia has there been so much money circulating in the community ; but money is useless unless it can buy goods and services, and unless it is so distributed that needy persons are able to buy at least the necessaries of life. What can the age pension buy to-day in terms of meat, butter, bread, shoes, clothing, and housing? So long as pensioners are permitted to live in sub-standard dwellings, inadequately clothed and fed, the whole of our social structure is in danger of collapse.
I congratulate the Minister for Social Services upon the concessions and pension increases that are provided for in this bill. I realize that his job is difficult. The job of any Minister for Social Services must be onerous; but it is a task that should bring great satisfaction because he is able to devote his efforts to bringing the greatest measure of happiness to the greatest number of people. After all, the main function of government is to improve the material welfare of the community. However, no Minister can carry out his task successfully without the aid of capable officials. Recently, I expressed my appreciation of the work of the Deputy Director-General of Social Services in “Western Australia. Again I have pleasure in commending that gentleman for the excellent service that he is rendering. I express my appreciation also of the work of the employees of the Department of Social Services, including the young lads on the counter and all the social services workers who visit needy people in their homes and treat them in a most sympathetic manner. The aim of social services workers is not to make the lessfortunate members of the community feel that they are paupers, but to make them realize that they are shareholders in this country who have done a good job in the past. Not al] .pensioners were improvident.
We are inclined to speak of abolishing the means test as if, by so doing, we should be able to improve the lot of everybody. I agree with Senator Wedgwood that the total abolition of the means test is most desirable in the long run, although I do not think that any of us will live to see it; but what exactly would it mean? Would the Government be able to put an additional 3d. a week into the pockets of pensioners? Australia is a young country. Our population is a little more :han 8,000,000 people. We have a vast land to develop and defend. Eight million people cannot provide social services on their present scale without a means test. What we have to do is to ensure that those individuals on the lower rungs of the ladder shall be able to enjoy an adequate standard of living, even if they are depending solely upon pensions or retiring allowances. The word pension has acquired a rather sinister ring. There is a tendency to regard all pensioners as paupers. If the proposed national superannuation scheme is to have any worth at all it will have to provide a reasonable living standard. The means test can be eased progressively. It is being eased by this measure as it has been eased by other bills that have preceded it; but I for one would not like to see the means test abolished entirely if itmeant that even one basic pensioner would receive le.8 than he is receiving now. I am afraid that that might be the result, of the abolition of the means test because it would release into the community greatly increased spending power, much of which would be in the hands of individuals who did not really need it. Again I congratulate the Minister upon what he has been able to do in this measure, but I regret that he has not been able to give pensioners a little more a little more quickly.
– I should not have risen to speak in this debate had it not been for an incident that occurred in this chamber last week. I assure honorable senators opposite that I am quite sincere in addressing myself to this measure. I support the claim by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) that the proposed pension increases should be made retrospective. Government supporters have claimed that no government ever made payments of this kind retrospective. Even if that were true, there could still be a first time; but already there has been a first time. Years ago, in the event of an application for a pension being successful, the pension became payable as from the date of the determination of the claim even though there had been a delay of weeks, and perhaps months, while the claim was being investigated. During Labour’s term of office, that provision was amended and now, even if an investigation takes six months, the pension becomes payable as from the date of application. I have risen, therefore, to correct the statement that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) made in this chamber last week in reply to representations that I had made. Perhaps there was some excuse for the Minister’s inaccuracy because he has not been in politics very long. Unfortunately, although he is in charge of the measure now before the Senate, he did not take the trouble to peruse previous legislation.
We on this side of the chamber are thankful for the small pension increases that, are provided for in this bill, but we have not lost sight of the fact that the Government has decided to make substantial income tax concessions which will be shared by wealthy people who earn £20,000, £50^000 or even £100,000 a year. I refer to the abolition of the W per cent, income tax levy. Had that levy been retained, and the proposed remissions’ distributed amongst the pensioners, those unfortunate members of the community would have received a worthwhile increase of their payments. In this country we believe in the principle “ live and let live “. I am not concerned about what a person pays in tax; but I am concerned about how much a person has left. Clearly, much greater assistance could have been given to pensioners without imposing any great hardship on other sections of the community had the 10 per cent, income tax levy remained. The Government is not nearly so concerned about the welfare of the pensioners as it is about the wishes of a group of much more fortunate individuals whose world is very different from that in which the pensioners live.
Senator “Wedgwood has been replied to very adequately by Senator Tangney. Nevertheless, I wish to refer briefly to one or two statements that she made. The honorable senator made much of the pension increases that have been granted by this Government, but apparently in spite of spiralling costs she expects the working man /still to provide a. reasonable standard of living for his family without any increase of child endowment. The Government has failed to make adequate provision for the upbringing of the children who will be the men and women of future generations. Surely if an allround increase of purchasing power is warranted, child endowment too should be increased.
This measure provides for a small increase of the sickness benefit, but under certain other legislation that has yet to be brought before the Parliament, the expenses of sick people are to be increased substantially. They will find that in order to obtain hospital and medical benefits they will have to contribute to an approved fund. If the Government really wants to assist sick people, let it do something tangible and not give with one hand only to take awny- with the other. How would honorable senators opposite like to live on the sickness benefit even with the increase provided for in this measure? In the light of soaring living costs, this is a miserable piece of legislation indeed. Even if the increases were double those proposed in this measure, they would still not bring the purchasing power of pensions and other benefits up to their 1942-43 level. As Senator Tangney has said, this Government is trying to take most of the credit for this country’s social services structure but the people of Australia will not forget what the Labour Government was able to do, even during the war years, to bring some measure of social security to deserving sections of the community. Bearing in mind Labour’s achievements in this field, how can honorable senators opposite take any real pride in this measure?
– Order ! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
– Before the debate was interrupted in accordance with the sessional order I was replying to statements made by Senator Wedgwood in which she endeavoured to compare increases of pension rates granted during the term of office of the present Government with those granted by the Labour Government. The value of pension increases cannot be estimated in terms of money. The test of their adequacy is the volume of goods that they will buy. That test must be applied particularly at this time when the cost of living is steeply increasing as the result of the policies applied by this Government. Having regard to present prices, if the Government had increased the pension rate three fold it would have been nearer the mark. I want to provemy sincerity in relation to this bill by terminating my speech at this early stage in the hope that the Government supporters will pass the bill and thus give to the pensioners the miserable increases of pension rates proposed in it as early as possible.
. –I rise to advert to an aspect of the consideration of this measure which I believe is of more than passing importance to the. Senate. I refer to. the presentation in the press of an entirely false statement relating to our procedure in connexion with the measure. On Tuesday morning of this week three Tasmanian daily newspapers reported under largeblack headlines that the Opposition would move for the payment of the pension increases proposed in this bill as from Thursday of this week. As the representatives of the people assembled in this chamber of the National Parliament, we should insist that the business of the Senate be impartially and fairly reported to the country, and that Opposition stunts of this kind should not be headlined in the press thereby distorting the true picture of events that take place in this Parliament. Until 9.30 o’clock: to-night, when the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) was making his second-reading speech, the Minister in charge of the bill had received no suggestion from the Opposition in this chamber that he should expedite the passage of the measure. This afternoon the time of the Senate was wasted in the discussion of a miserably f ramed motion that was initiated by Senator Ashley with the temerity and impudence of which only an uninformed person would be guilty. The forms of the Senate were deliberately used by the Opposition in that way in order to prevent the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) from presenting this bill to the Senate. This measure, which will be passed ‘by the Senate to-night, was so hurriedly presented to us that it was not listed on to-day’s notice-paper. But for the action of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) in proposing a motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders,- it would not have boon possible for the Government to initiate a debate on the bill to-night. If the proceedings of the Senate are to be properly presented to the country, those journals which were misled into being made the vehicle of propaganda for the stunt which the Opposition has perpetrated in this chamber to-night, must publish the facts and emphasize with appropriate prominence the most unfortunate distortion of the facts which appeared in their earlier issues.. With all the ingenuity that this mean, miserable manoeuvre displays, the Leader of the Opposition sought in a cunning fashion to get around the provisions of clause 29 of the bill. As the honorable senator well knows, this bill has already been passed by the House of Representatives, and any amendment made in it by the Senate would inevitably involve consideration and appropriate discussion by the House of Representatives, whereupon the bill would be returned to the Senate and subsequently presented to His Excellency the Governor-General for the Royal assent. Only after all those formalities had been complied with would the bill commence to operate. Cunning persons on the Opposition side of this chamber sought to take advantage of and to exploit the printed words of clause 29, which are as follows : -
The amendments affected by this Act, insofar as they relate to instalments of pensions and allowances and to the payment of benefits, shall apply -
in relation to an instalment of a pension or an allowance, as the case may be, falling due on the first pension pay day after the date of the commencement of this Act and all subsequent instalments; and
b ) in relation to a payment of a benefit made in respect of a period which commenced on or after the Monday last preceding the date of the commencement of this Act.
The cunning improviser who leads the Opposition in this chamber would, I suppose, have proposed an amendment to clause 29 designed to make the amendments effected by this bill that relate to instalments of pensions and allowances and the payments of benefits, apply from the day preceding the day upon which the provisions of the bill commence to operate. The only alternative would be that the measure, having been passed, at an hour approaching midnight a representative of the Government could go out to Government House and obtain the Royal assent before midnight in order to make to-morrow the pension day next after the commencement of the act. Does the Senate not consider that political contortions of this description deserve to be head-lined in the press so that the public of Australia may learn how earnest, how energetic and how genuine are Opposition senators in their attempt to take to themselves credit for increases in pensions which rightly belong to the Menzies Government?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate. .
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- This morning I asked a question about the Australian delegation to the Unesco conference which is to be held in Paris this year. I understand that the delegates who will represent education interests will consist of a representative of the Commonwealth Office of Education and possibly a director of one of the State Education Departments. In my opinion the delegation should include a member of the teaching profession. Those who will represent education interests will unundoubtedly deal with matters of theory. A member of the teaching profession should be appointed to deal with practical matters.I consider that the Government should make provision for a representative of the Australian Teachers Federation to be present at the conference. This would be of benefit to the Unesco conference, and the inclusion of a practising member of the federation would earn the approbation of that body. In the past this has not been done, but it is not too late for the Government to make amends on this occasion.
– I have risen only to refer to the matter that has been mentioned by Senator Cole. According to a communication that I have received to-day from the Tasmanian Teachers Federation, in the past an Australian teacher has been included in the Unesco delegation. On this occasion it is Tasmania’s turn to nominate a representative of the teaching profession. The Tasmanian Teachers Federation has nominated Mr. It. D. Stephens, who is the headmaster of the Newtown school. He is a returned soldier of World War I., and I am sure that he would prove to be a worthy representative of Tasmania. This afternoon I conveyed this information to the private secretary to the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who is administering this matter, but I had not received a reply from the Minister prior to this matter being raised in the Senate. In view of the claims to representation on the delegation by the Tasmanian Teachers Federation, and on the ground that it is Tasmania’s turn to nominate a representative of the teaching profession in that State, I urge the Government to give earnest consideration to the inclusion of Tasmania’s nominated representative in the delegation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Commonwealth Bank Act - Balance-sheets of the Commonwealth Bank and Commonwealth Savings Bank as at 30th June, 1952; together with Auditor-General’s reports thereon.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Postal purposes - Osborne, New South Wales.
Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Crown Lands Ordinance - Reasons for revocation of Manassie Aboriginal Reserve.
Public Service Arbitration Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator,&c. - 1952 -
No. 57 - Postal Telecommunication Technicians’ Association (Australia) and others.
No. 59-Australian Workers’ Union.
No.62 - Transport Workers’ Union of Australia and others.
Senate adjourned at 11.19 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 17 September 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1952/19520917_senate_20_219/>.