21st Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. A.M. McMullin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– The Tasmanian black currant industry was saved last year by the action of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture in finding markets for black currants. Has the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture received a report on the visit to Australia of Mr. Armstrong, a representative of Carter and Companyof England, who is in Tasmania in connexion with the berry fruits industry?
– I have not had an opportunity of examining the report to which the honorable senator has referred, but I have an appointment to meet Mr. Armstrong in Melbourne next Tuesday, and I shall discuss with him future plans for the berry fruits industry, which is important to Tasmania. After that meeting and an examination of the matter, I shall make a report to the Senate.
Certain questions having been asked and honorable senators having been requested to place them on the notice-paper,
– Order ! I suggest that questions such as those that have been asked by honorable senators should be placed upon the notice-paper in the first place, so that Ministers will have an opportunity to obtain the information that is sought. If that practice is adopted, duplicating in the asking and answering of questions will be avoided.
– Has the attention of the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture been drawn to reports that in 1951 the Government consented to the export of twelve merino sheep to the United States of America for the University of California? Is it now intended to repeat that generosity with a gift of sixteen or more merinos to the United Kingdom and South
Africa? What is the purpose of the export, and does it not mean, in fact, a breach of the 25-years-old ban on the export of merino sheep that was imposed in 1929 by the Scullin Labour Government? If the exports are intended for scientific experiments, what is the nature of the experiments? What are the circumstances in which applications were made for the supply of the sheep, and have the authorities importing them stated precisely what they intend to do as a result of any experimentation? Has the Minister been assured that, not only the sheep exported, but also their progeny, will not be made available to commercial interests? Has the Ministerseen a statement by the Professor of Animal Husbandry at the University of California that university authorities have the right to sell or lend the progeny of the merinos imported by them in 1951? What action will be taken to ensure that the progeny of the sheep now to he exported will not be sold or lent to commercial interests overseas? What action will be taken to protect the Australian wool industry against further breaches of the ban? Is it possible that a strain of merino similar to the high quality Australian breed could be established abroad through artificial insemination with semen taken from merino sheep in Australia ?
– Licences for the export of merino sheep to South Africa, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America have been granted on the understanding that the sheep are to be used for scientific and not commercial purposes, and that the benefits of the scientific study and investigation will be passed back to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. I am not in a position to give technical details in answer to the points raised by the honorable senator, but I shall examine his question and make a statement to the Senate at its next meeting. I am informed that requests for the export licences were made by the governments of the various countries concerned, and that assurances have been given by those governments that the sheep will be used for scientific and not commercial purposes.
– In view of the extreme shortage of galvanized iron and the inability of Australian manufacturers under existing conditions to improve their output, can the Minister for National Development in any way expedite the completion of the two new rolling mills in course of erection at Port Kembla? Is it expected that when these two mills are in operation, adequate supplies of galvanized iron will be available to meet the whole of Australia’s requirements?
– I am afraid I cannot give an assurance that I can expedite the completion of the rolling mills at Port Kembla. I saw an official of Lysaght’s a few days ago, and he told me that it was expected that the mills would be ready a little after the middle of next year, and that when they were completed, sufficient galvanized iron would bc produced not only for Australia’s requirements, but for export in appreciable quantities. The company is exporting some galvanized iron at present in order to establish and hold markets against the time when substantial exports can bc made. The situation is not as simple as it might appear to bc. There are conflicting demands on the company for black sheet iron for industrial purposes and for corrugated galvanized iron, and the company is endeavouring to maintain a balance in production and to do its best for the users of those products. This presents quite a problem when the overall production falls short of the demand. I am now discussing with the company the extent to which exports will be permitted. The company was given permission to export a certain quantity and, as a result, it entered into contractual commitments. But the demand for black sheet has gone up to a greater degree than was expected when that permission was given. It is rather difficult to withdraw permission to export that has been given to an Australian company if, as a result of the permission, the company .has entered into contractual obligations. I am examining the position and I shall come to a conclusion within the next day or so. The main point I want to make is that what ever shortage there may be at present is only a passing phase. The shortage will be overcome within the next four or five or six or seven months.
– Is the Minister for Shipping aware that two industrial disputes at Newcastle threaten to disrupt coal shipments from that port and are likely to cause coal shortages in all States, including Tasmania? Can the Minister inform the Senate of the present position
– Control of waterfront labour is in the hands of the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service. 1 have .noted with regret that ships have been held up at Newcastle. I keep in constant touch with the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service to see what can be done to prevent hold-ups and disputes on the waterfront. The Senate can rest assured that everything possible is being done to solve the disputes at Newcastle, which are causing serious inconvenience to consumers of coal and steel throughout Australia.
asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The Minister has furnished the following replies to the honorable senator’s questions: -
– Can the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration inform the Senate of the nature of the instruction that is given to immigrants immediately prior to or after their entry into Australia? Does that instruction cover the laws of the particular States in relation to matters such as liquor, traffic, public health and hygiene? If such an instruction is given, what form does it take? Is it in writing and in the native language of the immigrant concerned ?
– I am aware that a good deal of information is given to immigrants in relation to such matters when they arrive, hut the precise form that such information takes I am unable to say of my own knowledge. If the honorable senator will place his question on the notice-paper, I shall obtain the information for him.
– I refer the Attorney-General to the address of His Excellency the Governor-General in the Senate in 1951, during which he stated that the Government would introduce a bill to strengthen the laws relating to the security of the Commonwealth by the introduction of official secrets provisions similar to those which the United Kingdom and certain dominions have found appropriate. Will the Attorney-General let me know what progress has been made with the drafting of this measure, and when the Senate may expect to receive it ?
– This matter has been under review, and I think that it may well be that the circumstances surrounding a certain royal commission that is being conducted at the present time, and the nature of its report when it is made, will be of assistance in enabling us to draft suitable legislation.
– In view of the interest which has been created by the announcement of the Government that a grant of £1,500,000 will be made available during this financial year on a fi for £1 basis, to churches and other charitable organizations which desire to build or enlarge homes for the aged, can the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services say when full details of this plan will be made known throughout Australia ?
– I am afraid that I cannot answer the honorable senator’s question in specific terms. I am aware that my colleague, the Minister for Social Services, has been busily engaged in working out the details of the plan. I am positive that he is pressing ahead with it as quickly as he can, and that the details will be announced as soon as he is able to do so. The matter is not being delayed or neglected; it is merely a question of tying up the details of the proposal before making its terms public.
– Has the Minister for National Development yet received from the Western Australian Government the terms of a resolution which was passed by both Houses of the Western Australian Parliament requesting financial aid for the development of the northwestern portion of the State? If so, will the Minister state the specific projects for which such aid was sought and, particularly, whether a request was made by the Western Australian Government for Commonwealth financial aid to dam the Ord River?
– As the honorable senator and other honorable senators may be aware, the procedure in these matters is for the Premier of the State concerned to write to the Prime Minister. That is the acknowledged method of communication between State governments and the Australian Government. I have no doubt that, when the Premier of Western Australia writes to him, the Prime Minister will refer his letter to me for advice. I have no knowledge of the Premier of Western Australia yet having written to the Prime Minister. I made some inquiries a week or so ago, and at that stage no letter had been received. That being the case, I cannot answer the honorable senator’s two subsequent questions. For that reason, I am unable to say whether certain projects have been mentioned, or whether any proposal concerning the Ord River has been made. If a letter should be received from the Premier of Western Australia, I would be very surprised if it did not include proposals in relation to the Ord River scheme, because of the outstanding possibilities of that scheme.
– According to a report in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald, school children at Casino, in New South Wales, have declared their daily free issue of white milk “black”. They have refused to drink it, unless it is flavoured. Can the Minister representing the Minister for Health indicate the policy of the Government in relation to this matter?
– I have read the newspaper report to which the honorable senator has referred. It appears that the addition of flavouring to milk supplied free to school children in the Lismore district has been discontinued because of the cost involved. I point out that the Commonwealth provides the money for the supply of milk free to school children, and the States arrange for its distribution. I consider that the question of whether or not flavouring should be added to the milk for school children is, in this instance, one for decision by the New South Wales Government. In any event, the difficulty could be overcome by the children themselves, if they want their milk to be flavoured.
– Will the Minister for Repatriation inform the Senate whether there exists a reciprocal arrangement with Great Britain, under which British ex-servicemen who are now living in Australia can be provided with repatriation benefits?
– No reciprocal arrangement has been made between the United Kingdom Government and the Australian Government whereby imperial ex-servicemen who have emigrated to Australia may receive benefits under our Repatriation Act. The Repatriation Department acts as agent for the British Ministry of Pensions. If an imperial exserviceman is entitled to receive repatriation benefits from the British Government, our department pays his pension, or provides him with hospital treatment, as the case may be, and is reimbursed by the British Ministry of Pensions. There is a reciprocal arrangement with the United Kingdom in relation to age and invalid pensions. The Repatriation Department only pays pensions to imperial ex-servicemen in respect of disabilities that have been accepted by the United Kingdom Ministry of Pensions as attributable to war service.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Minister in charge of the War Service Land Settlement Scheme by pointing out that, in reply to a question, I was informed that the total expense that had been incurred in connexion with the settlement of ex-servicemen on the Waterhouse estate in the north-eastern part of Tasmania was approximately £190,000. I understand, however, that that figure did not include the purchase price of the property, which was £54,999. As the purchase price was not included in the figure that was supplied to me - presumably because the Commonwealth had not paid the money - will the Minister now inform me of the total estimated cost of the project, including the cost of the land and incidental expense?
– I shall obtain that information for the honorable senator from the Minister for the Interior and for Works.
– I desire to preface a question which I ask of the Attorney-General by mentioning that from time to time moves have been made throughout Australia for the introduction of uniform divorce laws. One would think that it would be wise to make such a provision in our statutes, but if such action is to be taken it must be initiated by the Australian Government. I ask the Attorney-General whether any real progress has been made with respect to the introduction of uniform divorce laws in Australia?
– The Prime Minister indicated recently in answer to a question on this matter that some consideration had been given to a draft bill with which the honorable member for Balaclava in another place has been associated. At this stage I cannot say any more than that.
– Will the Minister representing the Treasurer inform the Senate whether the Treasurer has refused a request from the Western Australian Historical Society for exemption from income tax of all donations towards a fund to establish a memorial to commemorate the first Governor of Western Australia, Sir James Sterling? As the proposed memorial is to take the form of an historical museum to house important documents and other exhibits of importance in the establishment of the State, will the Treasurer reconsider his decision in view of the educational nature of the proposition?
– I am unaware whether the Treasurer has refused the request to which the honorable senator referred. As the Income Tax Assessment Act sets out the type of donation which qualifies as a deduction for income tax purposes, it could be ascertained from that legislation whether or not donations to this particular appeal came within that category. I presume, from the honorable senator’s question, that donations to this appeal do not qualify under the provision of the existing legislation and that a request has been made that the act be amended to enable dona tions to this appeal to qualify. Such a request opens up very wide considerations. It is not possible to amend an act merely to cover one set of circumstances. I understand that an act must be amended in such a way as to cover a category of circumstances. I shall consult the Treasurer in order to ascertain whether I can add to that reply.
– During the last general election campaign the Government stated that it intended to give relief to the gold-mining industry on terms which the Prime Minister indicated to the Minister for Mines in Western Australia and the Premier of that State. Will the Minister for National Development advise the Senate whether any progress has been made in relation to that proposal, and whether consideration has also been given to affording relief to the prospectors in that industry?
– Statements to that effect were made in the policy speech of the Prime Minister. I am aware that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have evolved proposals, and that the mining industry has made representations to the Government concerning the proposals. I am aware that discussions are proceeding and that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are doing their utmost to bring this matter to finality.
asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– I have received the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions: -
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– I have obtained the following information in reply to the honorable senator : - 1 and 2. The Australian Government’s contribution to the cost of the Western Australian comprehensive water supply scheme is governed by the provisions of the Western Australia Grant (Water Supply) Act,No. 52 of 1948. Briefly, the act provides for a Commonwealth contribution of up to one-half of the cost of the project subject to a maximum Commonwealth commitment of £2,150,000. The latter figure was accepted by the State Government as being the maximum amount of assistance it required to complete the project.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
Debate resumed from the 22nd September (vide page 435), on motion by Senator Spicer -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The measure before the Senate will extend to the Australian Antarctic Territory the law operative in the Australian Capital Territory, and I say at once that the Opposition very cordi ally supports the bill. Although I intend to be brief in addressing myself to the motion for the second .reading of the measure, I should not like it to be thought that I underestimate in any way either the historical or the practical importance of the subject-matter of the bill. Antarctica may assume entirely new significance, not only to this country but also to the rest of the world because of the proximity of the development of atomic power for industrial purposes. It may be that by -removing glaciers or by other means the use of that power will overcome difficulties which so far have denied access to the mineral resources of Antarctica. This legislation is almost identical with the legislation unanimously approved by the Parliament in relation to Heard Island and the McDonald Islands some time last year. On that occasion, the Opposition gave its full support to the measure. We recognize the necessity to have a well-defined body of law made applicable to Antarctica.
Our sector of Antarctica came officially under Australian control by a proclamation made by King George V. on the 7th February, 1933. Then the operation of section 122 of the Constitution led to the official acceptance of the territory on behalf of Australia. That section states -
The Parliament may make laws for the government of any territory …. .placed by the Queen under the authority of and accepted by the Commonwealth, or otherwise acquired by the Commonwealth ….
The Australian Antarctic Acceptance Bill was introduced into the Parliament in May, 1933, and I commend to honorable senators who may be interested in this subject the second reading speech on that measure made by the then AttorneyGeneral, Sir John Latham, who, with most characteristic thoroughness, reviewed the history of the discovery and exploration of Antarctica. One finds names mentioned there that are household words to-day; names including Sir Douglas Mawson, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Sir Edgeworth David, and Sir Hubert Wilkins. Attached to the second reading speech is a map indicating the vast area that comprises the Australian Antarctic Territory. Sir John also dealt with the development of whaling operations in the area. It becomes all the more important now that Australia should have a clearly defined body of law extending to Antarctica since the establishment of a base at Mawson. It is quite true that, despite the difficulties of the terrain and of the seas around Antarctica, there is from time io time considerable activity in that region, particularly during the whaling season.
This bill in effect makes the law of the Australian Capital Territory applicable to our part of Antarctica. Acts of this Parliament will not be applied to the Territory unless they are expressly so applied. To that there is one exception. Clause 6 (2) applies instanta certain sections of the Seat of Government Acceptance Act and the Seat of Government (Administration) Act. Laws thereafter may be made for the territory by ordinance. Pursuant to the terms of clause 8 (2) an ordinance cannot affect the operation of any act of the Parliament made expressly applicable to the Territory. There are ample safeguards in connexion with the making of ordinances. An ordinance must be tabled in the Parliament and either House may disallow an ordinance if it so desires. I regard the provisions in that respect as quite adequate. As I indicated at the outset of my remarks, the Opposition, not only has no objection to the measure, but accords to it its fullest support. ‘ It is important to realize that the. terms of the bill are such that, at one stroke of the pen, as it were, all of the great body of British common law is made applicable to the territory, with all the rights and safeguards that that entails. I believe that the making of law for this territory by Australia is a positive act that will safeguard our claim to sovereignty over it. The measure will be very helpful from that viewpoint, although I should not be prepared at any time to admit any doubt about Australia’s rights in Antarctica. Our sector covers a vast area, into which is wedged a little strip, Adelie Land, over which tlie French have sovereignty. Australia’s claim to the territory has never been seriously contested, but I am happy to see our assertion of sovereignty over it further buttressed in this way. Accord- ingly, the Opposition proposes to give the bill, not only its support, but as speedy a passage as circumstances will permit.
– I desire to support the measure and congratulate the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) on the remarks he has just made. Like him, I feel that we are dealing with a matter that is of tremendous importance to Australia. To-day is a day of great historic importance, because we are extending a certain system of law to a vast area. I understand that Antarctica extends from the 60th parallel of latitude to the South Pole, a distance equal to one-third of the distance between the equator and the pole. The Australian Antarctic Territory extends from a point immediately south of Madagascar to a point immediately south of the Fiji Islands. It is a land mass almost the size of Australia. Australia holds about one-third of the Antarctic continent. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, there is one strip, Adelie Land, which belongs to our good friends the French, but it is only a small strip. I have worked out that, in terms of Australia, it extends from south of Port Lincoln, in South Australia, to a point immediately south of Portland in Victoria. So honorable senators will see that only a very small strip of this vast area does not come within the purview of the Senate this morning.
Some honorable senators may say that we are considering only a mass of ice, but I think it would be well for us to consider this morning some aspects of this vast portion of a continent to which we are proposing to give a system of law. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that that system of law will go a long way to consolidate our on-the-spot activities down there. There is an old saying that possession is nine points of the law. Therefore, I feel that this system of law will help us to consolidate our possession of this territory. I want to raise a point which I hope the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) will answer when he replies to the debate. I should like to know whether Australia’s sovereignty over a part of Antarctica i3 recognized by the United States of America. I have done a little reading on this subject. In the course of my reading, I came across a passage in a book which stated that Australia’s possession of the territory had not been recognized by that great friendly republic. The book was written two or three years ago, and may not be up to date on the matter now.
I believe that South Australians have a particular interest in Antarctica, because, as the Leader of the Opposition said, the history of Antarctica is linked with the names of great South Australians such as Sir Douglas Mawson and Sir Hubert Wilkins. Graham Land, another part of Antarctica, is linked with the name of another South Australian, Mr. John Rymill, who led a British expedition there fifteen or so years ago. It is interesting to observe that men such as Sir Douglas Mawson and Captain J. K. Davis, who blazed the trail to the south nearly 50 years ago, are still alive. Sir Douglas Mawson made his first visit to Antarctica in 1908, and he went there again in 1911, 1913 and 1929. Therefore, it is fitting that the capital of this vast subcontinent should be named Mawson, in recognition of what he did there.
It is interesting also to contemplate the lines along which this legal system will develop. It envisages a system of regulations and ordinances. All the regulations mid ordinances made in respect of the territory will be tabled in. this House. I hope they will give ample scope for free enterprise. The men who blazed the trail - Mawson, Wilkins and others - were men with the pioneer spirit. I hope the regulations and ordinances will give maple scope for miners, fishermen and others to pioneer this sub-continent. I hope the Government will provide for a sound system of commercial law so that the legal “climate”, so to speak, of this great country will be such as to permit private enterprise to flourish. As I see it, the people who will go to this southland will be pioneers. I hope the regulations and ordinances that are made will be worthy of them.
I crave the indulgence of the Senate while I refer to the report of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which went south in the years 1911 to 1914. That report was issued in 1940, about 26 years afterwards. Part 12, which con tains a record of the mineral deposits in this vast land, is the magnificent work of Sir Douglas Mawson. The author refers to practically all the important minerals which we know exist in Australia at the present time. For instance, he says that gold, silver and mica are to be found there. It is interesting to note, also, his reference to the phosphatic deposits in penguin rookeries. The work gives a clear indication that, when we get below the coating of ice, we may find untold mineral wealth.
– We may even find uranium.
– That is so. This immensely valuable record, which was made nearly 40 years ago, is available to us.’ I have in my hand a catalogue which lists exactly 1,400 rocks and mineral? which have been found in Antarctica. I understand that specimens of them may be seen in Sydney. The importance of Antarctica has been made obvious by the very valuable scientific work that has been carried out there. I suggest that when the time comes to honour the great men who were concerned with the work of exploration, we should name places in Antarctica after them, so that there may be a permanent memorial to their work.
I wish, also, to say a word about habitation in the Antarctic. Honorable senators will understand that conditions favorable for development must be such that people will bc able to go down there and live there for lengthy periods. As far as I can make out, those who have gone there in the past have lived reasonably well, and with modern . heating systems, food preservation methods, transport, and so on, I think it would be possible for colonies to be established there. I refer honorable senators to an article that appeared in the Adelaide Mail of the 21st March, 1953, which concerns an interview with Mr. John Rymill, a very great South Australian, about the possibility of the development of Antarctica and of people being able to live there. Mr. Rymill said that there was great mineral wealth in the Antarctic, just waiting for development. The article reads as follows: -
Mr. Rymill, now a pastoralist at Penola, led an expedition to Grahamland, Antarctica, from 1934 to 1937. His party of sixteen undertook ground and aerial mapping work, geological exploration, and survey work. “When air transport is sufficiently developed, a fair-sized settlement could be made on the Antarctic continent,” he said. “ The climate is no worse than that of the American middle west. The enormous distance from Australia has been the problem so far in development of Antarctica.”
Actually, the distance is no greater than that between Melbourne and Perth. The article goes on -
Mr. Rymill likened Antarctica to Greenland, where there were big mining projects. “In Greenland, mining operations are carried on in the summer, and the winter period is used for maintenance of equipment,” he said. “A similar thing could happen in Antarctica. It’s by no means a man’s country alone. Women could live there in settlements.”
That is most encouraging. It is clear that it is possible for the area to be inhabited.
There is in existence in Melbourne a group known as the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions Club. The members of the club, about 80 in all, have had to qualify for membership by spending some time in Antarctica since 1-948. The ideals of the club are to foster interest in the Antarctic and to provide a nucleus of men with Antarctic experience who would be able to act in case of emergency. I suggest that the AttorneyGeneral (.Senator Spicer) might find it convenient to consult with those pioneers of Antarctica on matters of law. In the early days of the administration of the Northern Territory and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea the criticism was often heard that there was too much Canberra law and not enough territory law. As we are launching this new ven ture to provide laws for Antarctica, I think it would be wise to get in touch with people who have been to Antarctica, and not try to do too much from an office chair in Canberra. If the AttorneyGeneral does not already know of the existence of this club, I commend it to him. Its members are of pioneer stock and I think that they may be able to help us when regulations and ordinances which affect Antarctica come before the Parliament from time to time.
There is a great future for our south land. It may be that, in years to come, Australia will no longer be referred to by other countries as the “ antipodes “ or “ down under “. This continent may be in the centre of a vast new world, with our Asian neighbours to the north and a land of great potential to the south. Lines of communication with other countries of the world may pass directly over our Antarctic territory. I wish this legislation a speedy passage through the Parliament, and I hope that the ordinances that are passed subsequently will help in the development of this great territory.
– I join with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) and Senator Laught in welcoming the introduction of this bill, and in approving the principles of our approach to Antarctica and the motives that have actuated Australian’ governments, from time to time, to assert sovereign claim to a part of this new land which is sometimes referred to as the seventh continent. As there is virtual unanimity on the principles and motives of the legislation, a long speech is not called for, but I suggest that speeches made on this occasion are at least informative and bring to the notice of honorable senators, who have not previously been concerned with this subject, information about developments in this newly discovered part of the world.
I think that the Leader of the Opposition raised an important point when ho referred to the positive action of the Government in establishing a permanent base at Mawson, and so supporting our claim to sovereignty over a part of Antarctica. As Senator Laught has said, this is air historic occasion, because we are applying .a code of laws to a new continent. On such an occasion, I think that we should all show keen interest in the debate. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, our sovereignty over that part of Antarctica in respect of which we claim sovereignty, has not been questioned, but we know that, in recent years, there have been quarrels among certain powers regarding other parts of the Antarctic continent. For instance, Chile, Argentina, and the United States of America have had differences over parts of that territory. A few years ago there was the possibility of a minor international incident, when it was suggested that warships might move into the area. It is to be expected that differences of opinion will arise in relation to a newly discovered continent, which is potentially valuable and useful from both economic and militarily strategic points of view. It was for that reason that we asserted sovereignty over our continental shelf, lt is necessary for us to take practical legal steps to establish our sovereignty. I have before me a book entitled The Antarctic Problem, which was written by E. W. Hunter Christie, in 1951. A chapter entitled “ Conclusion “ deals with the necessity for continuous administrative acts and association, for that purpose, because mere discovery has been held to be inadequate to establish a firm sovereignty. A part of the chapter reads -
The first point to be considered is the question of sovereignty as it is affected by International Law. The cynic may say that International Law, in so far as it exists at all, is limited to the practical application of the rule that possession, supported by the threat of force, is the beginning and the end of this branch of law. There is a grain of truth in this, but a sufficient number of cases of disputed sovereignty have occurred in the past to enable this doctrine to be enlarged upon and to make it true to say that there do exist precedents which may be applied to the situation in the Antarctic. In the case of the Legal Status of Mast Greenland, where Norway and Denmark disputed sovereignty over this region, the Permanent Court at The Hague held that Norway’s claim to have discovered the area was in itself insufficient to confer sovereignty upon her. East Greenland was awarded to Denmark, whose Government was able to prove acts of an administrative nature over a period of time, although these had not been supplemented by effective occupation or even by annual visits. The principle was also hi id down in this case that the establishment of settlements on the coastline of- a country, inaccessible’ by nature of the terrain or climatic conditions, but forming a single geographical unit, was sufficient to give a valid title to sovereignty over the interior. An analogous situation is to be found in Equatorial Africa: French sovereignty over large areas of the Sahara Desert is generally recognized, although it is enforced only by the occupation of military posts, situated at the different oases and frequently separated one from the other by some hundreds of miles of trackless desert.
Norway lost her claim in the East Greenland case because her initial discovery had not been followed up within a reasonable time by effective measures of administration. Argentine and Chilean authorities have cited this decision in an attempt to prove that Britain had lost any claim she might have had to this part of the Antarctic by allowing eighty years to elapse between the date of the initial discovery and the period when administrative measures commenced.
The chapter then went on to deal with other related matters. The point is, that unless we engage in continuous activity of an administrative nature - following the initial act of discovery - it would be possible, in an international conflict, for us to lose our interests in Antarctica. It would be scandalous if, in view of the tremendous privations that were endured by the early Australian expeditions, successive Australian Governments did not take administrative action. To the extent that we have done so, our title to the Australian Antarctic Territory has been buttressed. But we come now to the question of a permanent establishment on the Antarctic continent, and of applying to it a code of law so that it will, indisputably, belong to us. Only by this means could we resist a challenge to our sovereignty over the area.
Senator Laught, who has carried out a great deal of research in this subject, has informed us of many factors associated with Antarctica. He dealt primarily with its economic potentiality, and the necessity for adequate development, by the application of modern techniques. Those aspects were also dealt with by the Leader of the Opposition. But we must consider two other important aspects of the matter. The first, is the meteorological value of this part of the world. That is why Chile is particularly interested in the part of the Antarctic continent it claims, and which, it -says, is an extension of the mountain range that comes down from Chile. Chile believes . that research into the generation of winds in Antartica could go a long way towards solving Chile’s weather problems. The same may be true in relation to Australia, a vast continent which is subject to severe droughts and severe winds. Possibly, one of our major national problems arises from the fact that we are not well supplied with fresh water. It is important, therefore, that we should expand our knowledge in relation to the causes of weather phenomena, in order to increase primary production. It may well be that the meteorological investigations that are being carried out by bureaus established on Antarctica will assist us in that connexion.
We must also consider the strategic value of Antarctica, from a military point of view. In recent years, aircraft have been flown over the Arctic region - the great circle in the north. When we look at the map of the Antarctic continent, we see that air routes could probably be established over it to South America and South Africa. As I have been reminded by Senator Cooke, when the Ninth Division of the Australian Imperial Force was being brought back from the Middle East during World War II., in a time of exceptional hazard and peril, the convoy was diverted into uncharted regions of the Antarctic. Future convoys could be subject to air challenge from bases in Antarctica. In that event, our aircraft operating from bases on territory owned by us, could provide a protective screen. Therefore, Antarctica is of considerable military value to Australia. It also possesses important commercial aviation potentialities. In these days, no area of land can be discarded as strategically or economically valueless, particularly in view of the success that has been achieved in primary production in parts of the world that were formerly considered useless from an agricultural point of view. All these factors highlight the importance of the measure now before the chamber.
As Senator Laught pointed out,Antarctica contains an untapped source of wealth. However, I do not consider that those who, on their own initiative, go to Antarctica to investigate its possibilities and derive wealth, should have an unlimited opportunity to exploit that continent. Safeguards should be applied. We all know of instances in which mining companies have denuded mineral fields by gouging out huge pockets. We should ensure that mining activities in Antarctica shall be carried out methodically, so that development may proceed on orderly lines. The settlement of Antarctica should be designed on lines that will ensure that that continent will become a permanent economic unit of value to the world, and particularly to Australia. I have much pleasure in joining with the Leader of the Opposition and other honorable senators in supporting the motion.
.- This bill, the purpose of which is to extend the rule of law to that part of Antarctica which is governed by Australia, has already had its legal aspects and some other aspects discussed by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) and by other honorable senators. I do not propose to deal with the aspects of the bill on which they have spoken. A little while ago, in the course of the debate on the Repatriation Bill, a number of references were made, quite rightly, to the heroism of the men and women with whom that bill dealt. I consider that, in this debate, some reference should be made to the no-less heroic and dangerous work that has been done by our explorers with far less hope of reward than was entertained by the men and women who were mentioned in the debate on the Repatriation Bill. I should like to recall some of the episodes that made this bill necessary. Senator Laught gave a good illustration of the location of Australian possessions in the Antarctic. I would define the area a little more closely by saying that we have two very good sentinels, one in the west and one in the east, marking our entrance into Antarctica. Our western meridian passes close to Heard Island and goes down to the South Pole, whilst the eastern meridian passes alongside Macquarie Island, which I understand is part of Tas-, mania. Those two islands mark the positions of the meridians along which the area concerned in this bill extends for 1,800 miles down the two sides of an isosceles triangle which has its’ base along the 60th parallel. Heard Island and Macquarie Island are two outposts and meteorological observation stations of of which Senator Byrne spoke, and they are most useful.
I was very pleased to see a map of the South Polar regions being passed from hand to hand amongst Government senators, because even a. casual glance at , a map of the South Polar regions shows many bays, inlets and peaks bearing names which were household words in my youth, although many have been forgotten. There we may see the names of geographical features which are, in effect, heroic monuments to those people who gave their time to exploration, and some of whom gave their lives, particularly in the earlier days when they had far fewer scientific aids to navigation than are available now. Oatesland was named in memory of that gallant soldier who walked out to save his three remaining companions, Scott, Wilson and Bowers. There are such names as Shackleton Inlet, Cape Evans, Nimmies Glacier and Scott Point. I am particularly interested in this bill because I was about thirteen years of age when Scott and Shackleton were carrying out their explorations, and I can remember when Scott was lost because I was a cadet on a training ship in England on which both Bowers and Evans had been cadets some years before. When Bowers was lost with Scott’s expedition we had a ceremony on board that training ship, and a small plaque showing a relief bust of Lieutenant Bowers was placed over the quarter-deck bell. I also remember many incidents in connexion with Lieutenant Commander Evans, who afterwards became Evans of the Broke in the Dover Patrol in World War I. and was later known as Teddy Evans when he was in command of the Australian squadron in the Royal Navy. During World War II. he was in charge of civil defence in London. He is now Lord Mountevans. Petty .Officer Evans was lost in that same expedition. We should not confuse the two men.
Names may also be found on any big map of the South Polar regions commemorating such ships as Erebus and Terror of Captain Cook’s day. Captain Cook surveyed a small portion of the Antarctic continent. There was also Terra Nova, Nimbus Aurora and Morning, which went to the relief of Shackleton, who was in Discovery. All those names bring back vividly events of my youth, which I can never forget. At that, time I was taken to the Philharmonic Hall, in London, in order to see slides of Scott’s expedition which, I think, set out in 1912. Since then I have had the pleasure of knowing John King Davis and Sir Douglas Mawson. At one period I .volunteered to go away on a voyage of discovery but Lieutenant-Commander Little got the job as navigator. Other wise, I might have known more about these regions.
Looking again at the map of the Antarctic, we find at least one scientific result of this exploration. On modern maps the south magnetic pole is marked in a definite spot. It is exactly 1,050 miles from the south geographical pole. The knowledge that the magnetic south pole is in that spot has been of great use to surveyors and navigators ever since it was located by Shackleton. One knows when one has located the South Pole because the magnetic needle of one’s compass stands on its head. That may appear to be a simple matter, but it is a hazardous undertaking to carry the needle to the right spot. That discovery has been of great value to navigators all over the world because it has enabled us to work out lines of equal variation, and it shows the margin for error that we have to apply to the compass needle before we can steer our course.
The Antarctic continent is not a country of forests. It has no woods or trees, no rivers and no pastures. The only life that exists there is to be found in the few summer months when there are penguins, seals, sea leopards and whales. Bird life is only found there in summer when there are albatrosses, molyhawks, and little Mother Carey’s chickens. I have not been any further south than the 60th parallel of latitude, but conditions there are similar to those in the Antarctic, the difference being that life remains in the Antarctic only for two or three months during the summer period. Sections of the Antarctic continent have perpetual storms. There is a plateau rising to 10,000 feet and extending over wide areas. Temperatures fall as low as 90 degrees below zero and winds up to 130 or 140 miles an hour blow in that area, yet explorers were willing to risk their lives there. Many did not come back. I am thinking of those who lost their lives and those who returned. It would be quite wrong to fail to recognize in our discussion of this bill the exploits of those explorers. Senator Byrne and Senator Laught referred to the possibilities of great mineral wealth in the area because of the advances that have been made by contemporary science. As to rewards for discoveries in the Antarctic, the last pencilled entry in Captain Scott’s log book indicates the thought that was in the minds of the explorers. He wrote -
How much better has this been than lounging in too great comfort at home.
I cannot conclude my remarks in support of the bill with a better phrase.
– I am now able to say that I know all about the Antarctic. I have listened carefully to three learned honorable senators who want to apply the law to the Antarctic. It is wonderful, and rather extraordinary, that because we pass the bill that is before the Senate, the rule of law will be applied to the Antarctic continent. “We shall then have seven continents instead of six, and part of the Antarctic will have Australian laws that have been issued by the Parliament in Canberra. Those laws may be changed at any time by some ordinance or regulation issued by the GovernorGeneral in Council. This must be extraordinary news for all the people who live in the Antarctic, and particularly for the king penguins. There is a vast army of kings there representing the penguins, and other similar armies occupy the seas and the icefloes. The knowledge that this territory is to be administered from Canberra,’ and that the laws may be changed from time to time by ordinance and regulation, reminds me that that principle is applied to Australia as well as to the Antarctic. I have often raised my voice against the issue of regulations that become the law of the land.
Senator Laught stole some of my thunder when he referred to the minerals that might be found in the Antarctic. However, I have learned that it is barren country, icebound for many months in the year, and that tremendous storms sweep across it. Apparently this land can be approached for a period between October and February. No trees grow there and practically nothing that is essential to human habitation is to be found. Everything needed to establish habitation must be transported to the Antarctic during a short period of the year. The information that I have obtained this morning during this debate has been valuable, but I am concerned b limit the methods by which the Govern ment proposes to establish human habitation there. Honorable senators have been informed that the capital of the Australian Antarctic Territory is to be named Mawson. How are we to establish human habitation there when everything that is required is missing? Everything will have to be transported from Australia or somewhere else so that those who agree to live there can exploit the possible mineral and other resources.
I have discussed the prospects with some of the men who have been to the Antarctic, and I have been informed that one of the largest deposits of anthracite and bituminous coal in the world is to be found in the area where we propose to introduce British law. That would overcome the problem of fuel supplies and it would be a start, but food cannot be grown there because of the short summer season. Much of the territory is practically all ice, including a vast area of tableland country 10,000 feet above sea-level. I do not know how the Government proposes to maintain human beings there. Has the Government considered an extension of the scientific research, principally meteorological, that is in progress in that area? The Government might consider extending the scope of those investigations to discover whether there are big deposits of minerals. If we could establish that there are valuable alluvial deposits of gold under the glaciers,’ there would be a stampede to the Antarctic just as there were gold-rushes in North America and Russia. Some base for habitation could then be established in the territory.
Australia’s claim to a large section of the Antarctic was maintained for many years before its acquisition in 1933 when it was handed over, virtually by Royal charter, to Australia to administer. Private enterprise could not go to the Antarctic to exploit mineral and other resources without some prior knowledge of the possibilities. Nobody would be foolish enough to go to such an uninhabitable place as <a speculation. The Government must accept the responsibility for projects such as those that have been suggested by Senator Byrne in this debate. We m<ust not adopt a dog-in-the-manger attitude. We must establish some method of exploiting the territory for the benefit of Australia. We must explore the potential mineral deposits. Senator Laught recalled that Sir Douglas Mawson brought with him samples of the Antarctic terrain when he reported on his expedition to that territory. I have seen some of those samples myself because I have a hobby in that line. The specimens proved that minerals exist in the Antarctic, and the Government should sponsor scientific exploration to determine the extent of the deposits and to discover whether oil exists there. So far as I know, scientific research in the Antarctic area is being conducted only in a small way. The Government should consider its expansion.
I do not believe that the Antarctic is of much strategic value to Australia. We are thousands of miles distant from it, and the farther one goes from the Australian coast, the greater are the hazards. Therefore, I do not consider that the Antarctic has any strategic value for the defence of Australia unless the Government proposes to recruit the penguins. I know that Australia has control over the oil that is obtained from whales caught in the Antarctic and, to a lesser degree, over the oil that is obtained from seals. Many years ago there was a tremendous slaughter of bird-life there so that oil could be obtained from the birds. Those projects are now controlled, principally under international agreements with countries that exploit the whale industry. Every part of the whale is now utilized.
Sitting suspended from 18.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this measure because I believe it to be of very great importance to Australia. The level of debate has been extremely high. I have always been greatly interested in Antarctica, and to people whose knowledge of that region is limited, some of the historical information that has been given by honorable senators has been extremely valuable. We in South Australia, as Senator Laught, has pointed out, have had a close association with Antarctic exploration, and 1 endorse wholeheartedly the honorable senator’s remarks in this debate. The measure is, of course, couched in legal terms, and it refers chiefly to the 1933 act which has been found wanting in certain respects. Commonwealth administration of our Antarctic territory will be placed on a more satisfactory footing by this measure. The purposes of the bill are summed up in the following paragraph from the second-reading speech made by the Attorney-General : -
The short effect of the hill is to provide for the application within the Territory of laws from time to time in force in the Australian Capital Territory except Commonwealth acts. There is provision also for the making of ordinances in relation to the Territory.
Generally speaking, the bill will enable the administration of the Territory to function through existing officers and instrumentalities so that, for example, should it become necessary to register a death this could be done with the Registrar for the Australian Capital Territory in the ordinary manner.
I do not suggest that that is all there is to it. There is much more, but I should not wish to engage in legal technicalities even if I were capable of doing so. I propose to refer to certain matters concerning Antarctica that have always interested me and the possibility that I shall cover some of the ground over which other honorable senators have already travelled will not deter me from making my contribution to the debate. Few people are aware of the size of the land mass of the southern continent, or even of the comparatively small portion of it in which we are particularly interested. Australia’s interest in Antarctica has resulted mainly from the work of Australian explorers and adventurers who, imbued with the spirit of discovery, have made numerous expeditions to the great south land. We are all familiar with the names of explorers of many nationalities, including Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, who have visited the south polar regions. The work the great South Australian explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson, who, I am pleased to say is still living, should not be overlooked. Associated with him in his explorations was a very gallant gentleman called Cecil Madigan, a firstclass geologist, who added greatly to our knowledge of both central Australia and Antarctica.
– Do not forget Sir Edgeworth David.
– No. Although he is not a South Australian, he is a very great Australian. Then there was John Rymill, whose name was mentioned by Senator Laught, and who is now a highly respected pastoralist in the south-east of South Australia. America, too, played its part as did Great Britain. In the early days of Antarctic exploration, much valuable work was done on the scientific side by naval vessels. We have heard of the work in the early days of the two warships Terror and Erebus, after which was named Mount Erebus, an active volcano on the Antarctic mainland. Sir Hubert Wilkins and Admiral Byrd of America are names that are well to the fore in the records of Antarctic exploration. My early interest in Antarctic exploration was stimulated by a gentleman named Ponting, who accompanied the Scott expedition as official photographer. I remember reading a book by Ponting called, the Great While South, which was illustrated by numerous photographs. It made a great impression on me at the time and I have maintained my interests in Antarctic exploration ever since.
From the scientific point of view we know Antarctica to be a land of enormous potentialities. The continent itself is surmounted by a huge ice cap. The depth of the ice cap has not been ascertained, and it may be a long time before it is determined. It is estimated, however, that should the ice cap be melted, it would cause the oceans of the world to rise by several feet, thus inundating a great portion of the present land mass. Antarctica is almost completely surrounded by what is known as an ice barrier which is one of the most spectacular wonders of the world. It is about 200 feet high, and it is the origin of the icebergs that drift up from southern latitudes and are believed to have a profound influence on weather conditions at least in the southern hemisphere, if not throughout the world. So far, our work in Antarctica has been mainly meteorological. This Government and preceding governments are to be congratulated upon the establishment of meteorological bases- at Heard Island, Macquarie Island, and now at Mawson, which is actually on the Antarctic continent itself. Whether there is any foun dation for the theory that the intrusion of icebergs from the Antarctic ice barrier into more northern latitudes influences the weather remains for scientists to determine, but I believe that the collation of weather information from our Antarctic bases may be ultimately of enormous benefit to Australia. Already we are deriving substantial benefit from that information. Although our attention so far has been confined to the collection of meteorological material, we must not overlook the mineral potentialities of the region. It has been established quite definitely that there are large coal deposits in Antarctica. We do not know yet whether there is oil or other valuable minerals. That is matter for conjecture, and is something that can be investigated as time goes on. What we do know is that there is a valuable source of wealth in the seas surrounding the Antarctic continent. Australia’s particular interest is in a segment bounded roughly by a line running through Madagascar in the west, and a line running through Fiji in the east. A very small portion of that segment is the French dependency. The area under Australian control therefore is very large, although it is not a major portion of Antarctica as a whole.
The whaling industry is of great importance to us. The names of the various types of whales that are to be found in the seas to our south are known to most of us. They include the blue whale, the firmer, and the humpback. It has been firmly established that plankton, that tiny shrimp-like animal life, abounds in the Antarctic waters as it does nowhere else in the world. The potentialities of this marine life are largely unexplored. It is important that we should do our utmost to preserve the natural wild life in the Antarctic region. We have seen the decimation of natural wild life of many countries. For instance, serious inroads have been made into the number of whales all over the world, and for that reason alone we in Australia have a vital interest in our Antarctic dependency. I have always been interested in natural life, particularly the natural life of my own country. It is most regrettable that the destruction of animals and birds that are peculiar to Australia is so widespread. The natural life of Antarctica is just as unique as ours is. It has adapted itself to the freezing temperatures. Nowhere else is it to be found in the same profusion and it is essential that we should play our part among the nations of the world in preserving for posterity the wonders of the southern latitudes.
There is nothing controversial in this bill. “We all agree that everything possible should be done to ascertain the potentialities of the Antarctic region. We do not know what development may take place, but it is generally agreed that Antarctic may become of the greatest possible strategic importance to us. Therefore, it is our duty to support legislation that will establish our rights in this important region. I accord my wholehearted support to this bill, which I think will prove to be extremely valuable in future.
– in reply - I thank honorable senators for their reception of the bill- I think I express the view of all of us when I say we are grateful to those who have taken part in the debate for the information and instruction they have given us on a very interesting and important subject. Senator Laught asked whether I could tell him the extent to which Australian sovereignty of this Territory was recognized by the United States of America. I have been informed that Australia’s claim to the sovereignty of the Territory has been recognized directly by Prance, Norway and British Commonwealth countries. The claim lias not been challenged internationally, except to the extent that the United States of America has always maintained a position of reservation in relation to all claims made in respect of Antarctica. Claims have been advanced by seven countries, and the United States of America has taken the stand that it reserves its decision in relation to those claims. The other negativing factor, if I may so describe it, is the attitude of the Soviet Union. In 1950, the Soviet Union delivered notes to the seven claimant governments and the United States Government in which it indicated interest in the territory, apparently on the basis according to the notes, that Russian navigators had discovered the Antarctic. In those circumstances, the Soviet Union considered that it could not lightly be excluded from any deliberations that could affect its international status there. Apart from the attitude of reservation adopted by the United States of America and the notes from the Soviet Union to which I have referred, Australia’s claim to this Territory has not been challenged.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– In the Hansard report of the debate on the Australian Antarctic Acceptance Bill in 1933, a map showing the Australian portion of the area was incorporated, doubtless, with the permission of the House. I am wondering whether it would be possible to incorporate a similar map in the report of these proceedings, so that when the report is referred to in later years a reference map will be readily accessible. In the light of such a map, the debate could be more easily understood. So far, no map has been produced in the course of this ,debate.
.- Will the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) explain in a little more detail why the repeal of the Australian Antarctic Territory Acceptance Act 1933 will have no effect?
.- The 1933” act contained a provision for the acceptance by Australia of the Territory, which previously had been British territory, and a provision enabling the Governor-General to make ordinances for the government of the Territory. The first provision has exhausted its operation. Australia has accepted the Territory, and, therefore, that portion of the act has no further operation. As far as the laws applicable to the Territory are concerned, it is desired to bring them into line with the provision we have made already in respect of Heard Island and the McDonald Islands. We wanted to repeal the second portion of the act, and the first portion had exhausted its operation. For those reasons, it was decided that the best thing to do was to repeal the act. I want to make it clear that the repeal of the act will not affect the acceptance of the Territory by Australia and its continued administration by Australia since that time. That position is preserved by the provisions of the Acts Interpretation Act, which provide that the repeal of an act does not affect action taken and rights acquired while it is in operation.
– I express my appreciation of the very clear answer given by the AttorneyGeneral to the question I asked in the second-reading debate. I support the suggestion that has been made by Senator Byrne, but I ask the Attorney-General to consider whether a map of the whole of the territory within the Antarctic circle could be included in the report, so that anybody who read the report later would be able to see the relationship between Australian Antarctica and other places in the Antarctic circle. I point out that, as a nation, we shall soon be thinking in terms of communications across the Antarctic from Perth, Hobart and Adelaide.
Could the Attorney-General explain the procedure that should be adopted to get the United States of America to bring its great mind to bear on the recognition of Australia’s claim to the sovereignty of this territory? “Without exerting undue pressure, I believe, we should endeavour to persuade the United States of America to recognize our claim to this territory. Until we get a more definite recognition, we shall be unable to build our legal structure in the Territory with certainty or with reasonable security. To my mind, recognition is of fundamental importance. I should be pleased if the Attorney-General would tell us where we go from here in the international sphere on this matter.
– I hesitate to move for the incorporation of a map in the Hansard report, because I do not know enough about the effect that that might have on the production of Hansard. 1 understand that it might be difficult to incorporate a map in the report. However, I undertake to make further inquiries into the matter. If the incorporation of a map is a practical proposition, I shall take steps to see if a map can be incorporated in the report of the proceedings in another place. At the moment, I have not got a map of this part of the world. I do not know how uptodate our maps are, and I know nothing about the mechanical difficulties of reproducing a map in Hansard.
I have indicated that the United States of America has reserved its decision in relation, not only to our claim, but also to the claims of other nations. The American Government is interested in the claims made by certain nations in South America.. This is one of those things that we cannot rush. I think we are making a real contribution to our claim for recognition, not simply by passing this bill to provide for the laws that will operate in the Territory, but by doing things in the Territory. We have put people into the Territory, and their very presence there has made necessary the passage of legislation such as we are considering to-day. The significance of what we are doing now is not so much that we are considering a measure for the government of the Territory, but that the measure has become necessary because of what we are doing in relation to the Territory.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator COOPER read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill gives effect to the Government’s decision to liberalize both the income and the property means test for age, invalid and widows’ pensions. The modifications of the means test made by the bill will provide incentives to work and save. They will go a long way to fulfil the pledge of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to continue vigorously the work of modifying the means test. But progressive reforms of this kind can seldom be introduced as a whole. They must be introduced gradually. A scheme for the complete abolition of the means test in the life of one parliament is not practicable, except by substantially increased taxation or by resorting to large inflationary finance. For these reasons, the problem of the means test is being approached with caution. Changes are made only after the most careful study of the effects on the economy generally. Our approach is not theoretical; it is essentially practical. The pension to-day has a greater purchasing power than it had when Labour was last in office. The official figures tell the story.
When Labour left office in 1949, the C series retail price index number was 142S and the rate of pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week. To-day, the index number is 2324. Based on a ratio of these index numbers, a Dension of £3 9s. 2d. to-day would have the same purchasing value as a pension of £2 2s. 6d. had in the latter months of 1949. The pension is now £3 :i.0s. a week and is thus more than the equivalent of the £2 2s. 6d. paid when Labour was last in office.
The Menzies Government has a proud record of social services improvements and reforms. It has removed many anomalies and has progressively increased the value of pensions and the number of people enjoying them. Never before has the expenditure of the Commonwealth on all social services been as high a percentage of the national income as it is to-day. The figures are -
In Labour’s last budget year of 1949-50, Commonwealth expenditure on social services was 4.03 per cent, of the national income. In 1953-54, social services expenditure was 4.68 per cent., an increase of 16 per cent.
In the bill before the Senate, the permissible income for pensioners, that is, the income that may be received without reduction of pension, is being increased by 75 per cent., or from £2 to £3 10s. a week. This is the largest increase ever granted by any government. During the eight years in which it was in office, between 1941 and 1949, the Labour Government increased the permissible income by 17s. 6d. a week, or from 12s. 6d. to £1 10s. a week. The Menzies Government has increased the permissible income by £2 a week since it assumed office in December, 1949. The effect of the increase is that a single pensioner will be able to receive, by way of income and pension, a total of £7 a week, compared with £5 10s. at present. A married couple, both eligible for pensions, will be able to receive, by way of income and pensions, a total of £14 a week, instead of £11 as at present.
The increase in permissible income will be of particular benefit to persons receiving fixed incomes, such as superannuation. For example, a single pensioner whose age pension is now reduced to £2 a week because he receives superannuation of £3 10s. a week, will receive an increase of £1 10s. a week in pension, raising his total receipts from £5 10s. to £7 a week. Similarly, in the case of a married couple, where the husband is receiving superannuation of, say, £7 a week, each pension will be increased from £2 to £3 10s. a week, a total increase of £3 a week, bringing their total receipts up to £14 a week.
The increase will also bring many thousands of people into the pension field for the first time. For example, a person receiving superannuation or other income of £5 10s. a week, and therefore, disqualified for pension, will become entitled, subject to other qualifications, to an age pension of £1 10s. a week, bringing his total receipts up to £7 a week. A married couple receiving superannuation or other income of £11 a week between them, and therefore disqualified for pensions, will become entitled, subject to other qualifications, to pensions of £1 10s. a week each, bringing their total receipts up to £14 a week.
The bill also raises, from £1,250 to £1,750, the maximum property limit for age and invalid pensioners. The maximum property limit is the maximum amount of property a person may own and remain eligible to draw a pension.
Where a person owns a property between the amount of the complete property exemption, which will be referred to later, and this maximum, the rate of pension payable to him is reduced according to the net value of the property owned. The value of a pensioner’s home, furniture and personal effects is disregarded entirely. Certain other types of property are also disregarded, such as reversionary interests in estates and the surrender value of life insurance policies up to £750 for each person.
The complete property exemption is being raised from £150 to £200. This is the amount which a pensioner may have without any reduction of pension. The scale for progressive reduction of an age or invalid pension on account of the application of the property means test bas been considerably liberalized and simplified. The present scale for reduction is £1 a year for every complete £10 above £150 up to £450, and £2 a year for every £11 up to £1,250. The new scale will be a straight taper of £1 a year for every complete £10 of property above £200 up to the new limit of £1,750.
Every pensioner whose pension under the present law is reduced on account of property will, under this bill, receive an increase, first, as a result of the increase of £50 in the exemption and, secondly, in consequence of the liberalized scale of reduction. Where the amount of property, other than the pensioner’s home, furniture and personal effects, is between £150 and £209, the pension will be increased to the maximum rate. Where the amount of property, excluding the home, is between £210 and £.1,250, the pension will be increased by amounts ranging from £5 a year up to £69 a year. For example, a pensioner who owns property of exactly £1,250, apart from his home, may at present receive a pension of only £8 a year, but under the new scale the rate of his pension will be £77 a year.
A fundamental change relating to the means test made by the bill is the exclusion from the income test of income derived by a claimant or pensioner from any property owned by him or by his spouse. Hitherto, the income from property has been taken into account in applying the income test and the capital value of the property, except where it is the pensioner’s home, has also been taken into account in applying the property test. This concession, of course, does not mean that there will be no limit to the amount of income from property which a person may have and still qualify for a pension, because the capital value of the property, apart from the claimant’s home, will be taken into account in applying the property test. Consequently, where the total value of such property, other than the home, exceeds the new limit of £1,750 - or £3,500 in the- case of a married couple - a pension will not be payable.
The amendment will be of great assistance to claimants and pensioners who own houses but who, due to the operation of State tenancy laws, cannot obtain possession and, meanwhile, are receiving rent from tenants. Already the Director-General of Social Services has discretionary power to exclude the value of the property in such cases from the application of the property test. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) indicated in his budget speech that this discretionary power will be exercized freely in future in such circumstances. The result will be that claimants and pensioners who are taking all reasonable steps to obtain possession of their property for a home will not be penalized in any way under the means test.
This particular amendment, however, goes further and will mean that not only rents from houses but also income, such as dividends on shares, and interest received on bonds or on money in the bank, or investments, will be disregarded in applying the income test. This liberalization, combined with the increase of £1 10s. a week in the permissible income, the rise of £50 in the property exemption, and the liberalized property scale, will have the effect of giving substantial increases to many thousands of pensioners. Later in my speech, ‘ I shall give particulars of some of the actual cases in which these increases are being made.
Honorable senators will be pleased to hear that it will now be possible for a single pensioner to have an income of £3 10s. a week and receive the full pension of £3 10s., a total of £7 a week, whilst owning his home, furniture and personal effects, without limit as to value, other money or property up to £200, and life insurance polices with a surrender value up to £750. A married couple will be able to have an income of £7 a week between them and receive full pensions of £7 a week, a total of £14 a week, whilst owning their own home, furniture and personal effects, without limit as to value, and have other money or property up to £400 and life insurance policies with a surrender value up to £750 for each of them. It can, therefore, truly be said that, as a result of the liberalization now being made, eligibility for pension in many cases will no longer be on a needs basis. I point out that since this Government took office in December, 1949, it has raised the property limit by £1,000, that is from £750 to £1,750, whereas during the eight years of Labour rule, from 1941 to 1949, the property limit was raised by only £350, or from £400 to £750.
The liberalizations of the income and property means tests will apply also to widows* pensions. Permissible income will be raised from £2 to £3 10s. a week. This will enable a class A widow, that is, a widow who has one or more children under sixteen years, to receive the full widow’s pension of £3 15s. a week and have income or earnings of £3 10s. a week, plus 10s. a week for each dependent child under .sixteen years. Thus, a widow with two children under sixteen may have income or earnings up to £4 10s. a week and receive the full pension of £3 15s., a total of £8 5s. a week, or £9 a week including child endowment. In addition, she may own her home, furniture and personal effects, without limit as to value, and other property up to £1,750 in value, and she may also receive income from that property.
A Class B widow,, that is a widow over 50 years who has no children under sixteen, will be able to have earning or other income, apart from income derived from property, up to £3 10s. a week and receive the full class B pension of £2 17s. 6d. a week, a total of £6 7s. 6d. a week. In addition, she may own her home, furniture and personal effects, without limit as to value, and other property up to £200 in value, instead of £150 as at present. Where her property exceeds £200, the pension will be reduced by £1 a year for every complete £12 of property above £200 up to the new limit of £1,750. This is considerably more liberal than the present scale, which requires a reduction of £1 a year for every complete £10 above £150 up to £450, and £1 a year for every complete £7 above £450 up to £1,250.
As honorable senators are aware, the act specifies certain ceiling limits on the total’ amount which a person may receive by way of civil pension plus war pension. For convenience, I shall use the term “ civil pension “ to cover age, invalid and widows’ pensions. These ceiling limits were first introduced in 1948. The Government has decided to increase the ceiling limits. Set out hereunder are the present and the proposed new weekly ceiling limits for each class of pensioner : -
As I have said, the ceiling limits apply only to the total amount of Commonwealth payments, that is, civil pension plus war pension. The pensioners concerned may, of course, receive additional income from any other source, exclusive of income from property, in order to bring their total receipts, with pension, up to the appropriate limit of income plus pension.
Honorable senators will recall that, in 1951, the Menzies Government introduced the first free-of-means test pension under the Social Service Act. That was the pension of £3 a week for blind persons. An additional amount of 10s. a week has been payable, subject to the means test applying to blind persons. As was announced in the budget, the Government has decided that there shall not henceforth be applied a means test in relation to either the income or property of blind persons. The pensions payable to some 950 blind persons who are now receiving pensions of £3 a week, free of the means test, will be increased by 10s., to £3 10s. a week.-
Because of the expected very large increase in the pension list as a result of the liberalizations of the means test, efforts must be made to simplify the administrative work of the Department of Social Services and other departments which assist in the work of paying pensions. It has therefore been decided to make the fortnightly payments of pensions in even multiples of one shilling. This will enable the number of separate fortnightly rates of payment to be reduced by 75 per cent., that is, from about 554 to 140. Under the act, the amount of the fortnightly instalment is ascertained by dividing the anual rate by 26. The bill provides that, where the amount of a fortnightly instalment is not an even multiple of one shilling, payment of the nearest multiple of one shilling shall be made. Where the fortnightly amount is so many shillings and six, or more pence, payment will be made of -the next higher multiple of one shilling. This will greatly facilitate assessments and payments, and give much needed relief to postal officials making the many thousands of individual fortnightly pension payments. It will also bring the practice in regard to pension payments into line with the practice in relation to income tax.
Another amendment deletes from the short title of the act the word “Consolidation “. The Social Services Consolidation Act, which was passed in 1947, was largely a consolidation of previous acts relating to social services. No purpose would now be served by retaining the word “ Consolidation “ in the short title. In future the act will be known as the “ Social Services Act “.
A further amendment concerns the adjustment of double pension payments, which sometimes occur where persons receiving social services pensions are subsequently granted war pensions, or increases of war pensions, with retrospective effect. A typical case in which this happens is when an invalid pension ‘ is granted and, subsequently, the pensioner’s disability is accepted as due to war service and a war pension at the special rate is granted, dating back over the whole or a part of the period during which the invalid pension was paid. As the invalid pension payments would not have been made had the war pension been payable at the time, it is only right that the double payment should be adjusted. The amendment of the Social Services Act is complementary to an amendment of the Repatriation Act, under which the Repatriation Commission will be empowered to adjust the double payment by deductions from the war pension. The amendment of the Social Services Act provides that the Director-General shall certify the amount of pension or benefit that would not have been paid to the person concerned if the war pension, or the war pension at the increased rate, had been paid during the period for which the social services pension or benefit was paid.
Persons who became qualified to receive Australian age, invalid, or widows’ pensions under . the reciprocal agreement with the United Kingdom which came into operation in January last, will be eligible for increased pensions under the liberalized means test if they are receiving reduced pensions on account of income or property. This will apply, also, to persons who are receiving Australian pensions by virtue of the reciprocal agreement with New Zealand.
It is estimated that about 71,000 persons will come into the pension field for the first time as a result of the liberalizations contained in the bill. This figure includes 56,000 age pensioners, 9,000 invalid pensioners and 6,000 widow pensioners. This will, of course, materially reduce the number of persons who are at present debarred by the means test from receiving pensions.
The number of persons in Australia of pensionable age - ‘that is, men over 65 and women over 60 - is approximately 950,000. At least 10,000 of that number are ineligible for age pensions because of an insufficient period of residence, or because they are not British subjects. Of the remainder, 405,000 are receiving age pensions, and 535,000 are at present disqualified by the means test. By deducting 56,000, who are expected to qualify under the bill and allowing for a few thousand who would be receiving invalid pensions because they are not yet residentially qualified for age pensions, it will be seen that the number of persons of pensionable age in Australia ineligible for pensions by reason, of the means test will be reduced to about 475,000.
There are approximately 94,000 age, invalid and widow pensioners receiving reduced pensions under the means test. As I have already indicated, they will all receive increases, which, in many cases, will be - quite substantial. The following particulars have been compiled by the Director-General of Social Services after examining a little more than 50 per cent, of the actual cases which will be re-assessed in the Victorian office of the department : -
The above figures, which relate to Victoria only, do not include some 10,000 additional cases in Victoria, which aru in the course of re-assessment.
I think honorable senators will agree that these increases, together with the admission of some 71,000 new pensioners, provide a significant indication of the extent and value of the liberalizations of the means test provided in the bill.
The increased rates of pensions will be payable from, and including, the first fortnightly pension pay-day after the bill becomes law. There will be an immense amount of administrative work to be completed by then, because, in every case where less than the maximum rate of pension is being paid, a re-assessment of the rate of pension will have to be made. However, this work is already well advanced, and it is hoped that it will be possible to pay the increased rates to all pensioners entitled to them on the first pension pay-day after the amending act receives the Royal assent. Where, for any reason, that is not possible, the increased rates will be paid on the following pay-day. with retrospective effect. The cost of the liberalizations provided in the bill is £6,277,000 for a full year. The cost in the year 1954-55 will be £4,500,000. The estimated cost of providing social services benefits and national health benefits iu 1954-55 is £159,000,000 and £35,000,000 respectively. In 1949-50 the costs were £85,300,000 and £7,500,000 respectively. This bill is further evidence of the Government’s determination to extend and improve the Commonwealth’s social services. I invite honorable senators to co-operate with the Government by giving the measure a. speedy passage.
– The Opposition elec-t3 to proceed immediately with the second-reading debate, instead of seeking an adjournment. In doing that, the Opposition perhaps denies to itself the opportunity of considering the provisions of the measure as fully as it would like to do, but elects to take this course in view of the fact that the Senate will, this week, adjourn for a period, and it is desirable that the benefits provided by the bill shall reach the beneficiaries as soon as possible. We are not unmindful of the great practical difficulties that will be encountered by the Department of Social Services in putting into effect, in relation to hundreds of thousands of people, the payment of the new benefits. Coming to a consideration of the Minister’s speech, I am tempted to use the old saw, by saying that it was very much like the curate’s egg - good in parts ! The good parts are those which, quite obviously, have been drafted by a departmental hand. They set out with precision, clarity and objectivity the provisions of the measure. I compliment the draftsmen On those clauses. They are clear and complete. But there are other aspects of the Minister’s speech which are bad. They are the political trimmings with which the good parts have been surrounded. In them, the authorship is equally clear. One detects in them the ministerial hand - the political hand. We had the undignified spectacle of the Minister of a government of five years’ standing devoting a major portion of his speech to a criticism of the performance of the Government’s predecessors in office, five years ago. One cannot help thinking of the old French proverb which, translated, means that he who excuses himself, accuses himself. The speech of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) was an apologia in advance.
This bill contains no provisions for increases in the rates of pensions either to the aged, the invalid or the widows. The Minister embarked on a defence of his Government in that matter and made an attack on the previous Government. I cannot help but come to the conclusion that the Minister fully expects to be gagged and that he took the opportunity to reply in advance to the arguments that he expects from this side of the chamber. If the Senate is not to be given a full opportunity to debate this measure, the Government is merely driving one more nail into the coffin of the Senate and striking a blow at its prestige. I am quite sure that although the Minister for Repatriation would not have the ill-grace to gag himself, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) will have no such scruples. Yet the Minister for Repatriation must accept full responsibility for the actions of his colleague and I think it is fair to say that any curtailment of this debate that may be effected by his colleague must be effected with the full concurrence of the Minister for Repatriation. I regard the action of the Minister in anticipating criticism from this side of the chamber as a sign of a guilty mind. He desired to furnish, in advance, an answer to criticism, knowing that he would be denied an opportunity to reply. That is part of the pattern that honorable senators saw in recent important debates on the budget in this chamber when, not only the submissions of the Opposition, but, also, the submissions of Government senators were completely ignored by the Government. In short, all senators apart from Cabinet Ministers have been treated with contempt.
The main purpose of the bill is to liberalise the means test.With that general purpose, Opposition senators are in complete accord. Every step, no matter how small or how great, in that direction is one that we applaud. Our proposal for many years has been the gradual amelioration of the means test, with a view to its ultimate abolition. Very recently the Labour party put to the people a proposal to liberalize the means test to a far greater extent than is proposed in this bill and we gave an assurance that a Labour government would abolish the means test completely within three years. Apparently, that proposal was not acceptable to the people. But I ask the Senate to notice that it was coupled with a proposal for an increase in the rates of age, invalid and widows’ pensions. The Labour party appreciated the need to do justice by needy people. In other words, we made a human approach to this great social problem. We believed that those in the greatest difficulty should be attended to before or simultaneously with the easing of the means test. As I have announced before in this chamber, during my term as Minister for Social Services I had a a survey made which revealed that 80 per cent. of those who received a pension in Australia had no income at all apart from the pension. The pension was their one source of income with which they had to buy every necessary of life and, if they could, some little comfort. An additional 15 per cent. of pensioners received 5s. a week or less in addition to the pension. Consequently, 95 per cent. of pensioners at that time received 5s. or less in addition to the pension and, of that 95 per cent., 80 per cent. had no income apart from the pension.
– Does the honorable senator consider that those figures would still be valid?
– I cannot answer that question with certainty, but I have a firm conviction that that percentage has not varied very much. So, of nearly 500,000 pensioners, the vast majority is without additional income of any kind apart from the pension. I suggest that the great fault of this bill is that it makes no provision for that fact. It confers no benefit on those without income apart from the pension. Because of rising prices, it is now difficult enough for any person in the community to secure accommodation, food and clothing. Another increase has just taken place in the price of tea and meat, two commodities which pensioners must buy in order to preserve life. If honorable senators will consider the plight of the pensioner in trying to acquire even, his primary needs with a sum of £3 10s. a week they will begin to realize the bounds of this great social problem.
The Opposition’s main criticism of the measure before the chamber is that nothing has been done for those people. People who receive an income of up to £7 a week will benefit under this measure. There is a vast contrast between the approach of the Labour party and the approach of the present Government to the problem of the pensioners. The Labour Government did not take any steps to abolish the means test until it had examined the needs of those who had no income but the pension. The failure of this Government to take action of that nature is a severe indictment of the Government and one more instance of its failure to observe the human factor in the problems that confront it from time to time. “Whilst the Opposition approves of the substantial ameliorations that will be made in the means test under this measure, I point out to the Senate that in ameliorating the means test the Government only moves into a new field of pressure groups. Two tests are applicable to eligibility for age pension. The property barrier operates at £1,750. Under the new sliding scale of deductions, a person with £1,750 worth of property is eligible for a pension of £27 a year. Of cource the person who owns £1,751 worth of property is not eligible to receive any pension. That kind of anomaly is inseparable from the means test. As I have said, a new pressure group will come into existence consisting of those aged people who own more than £1,750 worth of property. The Government will have no rest from the activities of pressure groups in relation to the means test until the means test is completely abolished. Provided that they are not debarred by the amount of property that they own, the pension is payable to a married couple with an income of not more than £7 a week and to an individual who does not receive more than £3 10s. a week. The Government will now find that the group of individuals who have incomes of over £3 10s. a week will exercise pressure on the Government to lift that barrier higher. That pressure will continue until the means test is completely eliminated. A better approach to the problem might have been made by selecting an age group, such as those persons over 70 years of age, and making them all eligible to receive the pension. In those circumstances, less pressure would be brought to bear on the Government. Those persons who were approaching that age would feel that they were moving into the field of eligibility. They would be animated with hope because they would definitely be entitled to receive the pension on reaching the age of 70. Such a provision would cause less pressure and difficulty than the method that the Government has chosen.
During the course of his speech the Minister for Repatriation said- *
But progressive reforms of this kind can seldom be introduced as a whole.
He was talking about the amelioration of the means test. He continued -
They must bc introduced gradually. A scheme for the complete abolition of the means test in the life of one parliament is not practicable, except by substantially increased taxation or large inflationary finance.
I now invite honorable senators to listen to this passage which fell from the lips of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) at the time that he gained office in 1949. Speaking of social services and a review of the means test, the right honorable gentleman stated -
During the new Parliament, we will further investigate- this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1952 a scheme for your approval. Meanwhile, existing rates of pension will, of course, bc at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
The nation was told in 1949 that a plan to abolish the means test would be submitted in 1952. This year the right honorable gentleman stated -
Progressive steps of this kind can seldom be introduced as a whole. They must be introduced gradually. That cannot be done except by a substantial increase of taxation.
But the voice of 1949 also said that taxation could and would be reduced. The two things were put together then, but they were repudiated in the Minister’s second-reading speech to-day. Anybody who puts the two propositions of the Prime Minister side by side must see in them evidence of bad faith. They must see the same evidence in letters that were circulated by the former Minister for Social Services in the Menzies Government only last year, indicating that a plan for the abolition of the means test was available and ready on a basis that would be acceptable socially and economically. In other words, that plan would not impose any economic strain on the people. Where is that plan? How many voices has the Government? I invite the Minister for Repatriation to make some apology to the people or give an explanation.. Probably he will be gagged out of the debate so that he can avoid awkward questions. The Opposition is concerned that the people should be treated as this Government has treated them by completely disregarding the statements that were made by the Prime Minister a few years ago and by a responsible Minister only last year. Those statements have now been followed by the announcement in the Minister’s speech to-day that the means test cannot be abolished.
– Under the Australian Labour party’s scheme, about 85 per cent, of the pensioners would not gain by the abolition of the means test.
– At the most, very few would benefit. The amelioration of the means test would not do a great deal for those who are now in the pension field.
– Why worry about it then? .
– There are two problems. First, there is the social problem of the community. That should have the first claim on the consideration of the Government. It is very desirable to encourage thrift and saving in the community, and the means test strikes at thrift. The Government has concentrated upon one problem and disregarded the greater human problem. In my opinion, it should not have moved towards the amelioration of the means test without first doing something for those who have no other income, but are wholly dependent upon a pension. That is the Opposition’s criticisms of this measure.
The Minister has estimated that the amelioration of the means test, and other benefits that are provided under the bill, will cost £6,277,000 in a full year. It is difficult to make assessments on a property basis because exact information is not in the hands of the Department of Social Services. It knows nothing about the property of those who are in the pension age group but are now outside the pension field. The department does not know what the cost in that connexion will be. I have great respect for the assessments that are made by the department, however, and when the officers are obliged to guess, as they have been in this case, I am confident that the guess will be accurate. Therefore, I accept the figure that has been given to the Senate. If I am correct, the total cost of abolishing the means test, with the pension at the existing rate of £3 10s. a week, would be about £100,000,000 a year. Therefore, the step that the Government proposes to take towards the ultimate abolition of the means test is only a minor one. It does not go one-sixteenth part of the way because, at this rate, it would take more than sixteen years to abolish the means test completely. Those who are approaching the age group for pensions will find that that is a long time to wait. The prospect is different from that held out to the people of Australia in 1949 and expressly re-affirmed by the Minister for Social Services of the day last year. In plain honesty, the Government is called upon for a complete statement. For that reason, I hope that the Minister will be given an opportunity to reply, and that he will deal with that point. When all is said and done, this bill will give a little more to some of those who are in the pension field, but it does not give anything to most of them. It will provide a little for some new entrants into the pension field, but it will do nothing for almost 500,000 in the age pensioner group. One has simply to divide the figures that were given by the Minister, which indicate some benefit for 94,000 persons and that there will be 74,000 new people in the field, to discover that the average gain will be about 15s. weekly for each person. By and large, it is not a substantial provision.
The Opposition favours the excellent proposal to estimate fortnightly payments to the nearest shilling. That will mean a great easing of work and a saving of time for the department. The new scale of reductions in assessing the property test are also much more easy to calculate. That provision is to be made a little more liberal. Anything that can be done to ease the work of the Department of Social Services is worth while. One hears practically no criticism of it in the Parliament. It is one department that makes a human approach to its problems. It has social workers who go out among the people. It undertakes research work and studies the effects of its pensions upon the lives, outlook and psychology of the people. The department’s approach is a warm and human one. I cannot recall having heard any criticism that would qualify the strength of my comment.
I wish to put one other consideration before honorable senators. The financing of the complete abolition of the means test was contemplated by the Labour party within the life of one Parliament. I wish to make several points in that connexion. First, the Opposition was relying upon the automatic expansion of some economic factors upon which the Government also can rely. Secondly, the Labour party was relying upon some degree of restoration of the loan market and an imaginative approach to that restoration. In one stroke, if only onethird of the capital expenditure in the past three years could be lifted from revenue and put on the loan market, the means test could be completely abolished.
– Why abolish the means test? Why reduce the amount of money that is available to the person who genuinely needs the pension in favour of the person who does not need it?
– The Opposition’s suggestion is that the amount for the person who is in need should not be reduced. It should be increased.
– Where is the justification for providing for the person who does not need a pension at all?
– He is entitled to something for many reasons. A person who has been in receipt of a large income for many years has paid for a great number of pensions by way of taxation.
– The Opposition always claims that those persons are not taxed heavily enough.
– Even if the pension is paid to a person with a high rate of income, a greater proportion of the amount that is paid by way of a retiring allowance will be returned to the Government in taxes.
– The honorable senator would reduce the pool that is available for those who are in genuine need.
– I do not suggest that. I affirm the proposition that the man in genuine need must be considered before the means test is abolished. . The proposition is simple. Give to those who have nothing before you give to those who have something already.
– The Government is doing that.
SenatorMcKENNA. - Reverting to the financing of the Opposition’s proposal, I wish to submit two other points for consideration. Money that is involved in social services has the highest possible velocity. Most of it goes into circulation immediately for the necessary things of life. It stimulates trade activity in the community. It has a cumulative effect in producing profits and stimulating all branches of economic activity that are reflected in Commonwealth revenue. Disregarding the human element altogether, social services expenditure is not a dead loss to the Commonwealth Treasury. It stimulates returns to the Treasury. Another factor in the abolition of the means test must also be considered. A big staff is involved in interviewing, checking, testing and handling voluminous records that are needed in applying the income and property tests to persons in the pensions field. If the department were concerned only with two aspects - residence and age - it could reduce administrative costs enormously. That point must operate in favour of the abolition of themeans test.
I turn now to the political argument that was used by the Minister for Repatriation. He referred to the C series index. He selected the ruling figure for December, 1949, when the Chifley Labour
Government went out of office and the Menzies Government was elected, and then he took the latest known index figure. He said that the index number to-day was 2,324. He was not accurate in putting it that way. That was the figure at June, 1954, and it was announced only recently. The Government would consider that figure now if it were considering pension increases, but why did the Minister begin to make his assessment with the figure at December, 1949? Why did he not go back to the date upon which the pension rate was last fixed by the Chifley Labour Government, in 1948? Why did he not compare the figure at June, 1954, with the figure at June, 1948, before the Government of the day fixed the pension at £2 2s. 6d.? That, I submit to the Senate, is the proper comparison, and if honorable senators will make the comparison, they will find that the index number in June, 1948, was 1278, whereas in June last, as the Minister said, it was 2324. If those two figures are reconciled, on the basis that, in 1948, the pension was £2 2s. 6d., to-day it should be £3 17s. 3d. The arithmetic is right. I have checked that figure myself. The index figures I ha.ve cited are also correct. Any honorable senator who wants to check the 1278 figure will find it on page 380 of the Commonwealth Year, Booh for 1953 where the C series index results are recorded. So, on the Minister’s own arguments, and on a proper comparison of figures, the pension instead of being £3 10s. a week, would be £3 17s. 3d. a week if its purchasing power had been maintained. Clearly, it has not been maintained. Comparing December, 1949, with June, 1954, the Minister pointed out that the pension to-day should be £3 9s. 2d., whereas it is £3 10s. a week. In other words, his claim is that this Government has been so generous over that five-year period, that it has increased the pension by lOd. a week. That certainly is not a matter of glory to the Minister.
I do not think it is proper to make pension comparisons on the basis of the C series index or of the basic wage, but since such comparisons were made in the Minister’s speech, I am merely point- ing out the unfair basis of his argument, and suggesting to the Senate what the proper basis should be. Let us have a look at the basic wage comparison. In June, 1948, the basic wage was £5 14s. Immediately after that, the Chifley Government made the pension £2 2s. 6d. a week. In June, 1954, the basic wage was £11 16s. a week, and the pension was £3 10s. a week. But if the pension had been kept in line with the basic wage over that period, it would have been £4 8s. a week in June of this year. Bringing the comparison right up to date, whereas in September, 1948, the basic wage was £5 16s. and the pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week, in September, 1954, the basic wage is £11 16s. and the pension is £3 10s. a week, whereas, if relativity to the basic wage had been preserved, the pension would now be £4 6s. 6d. a week. In these circumstances, it is idle for the Minister to claim that the purchasing power of the pension has been increased. Apart from statistics, and apart from the comparisons of the kind I have made, every person in this community knows that the purchasing power of the pension has fallen. No one is more keenly aware of that than those unfortunate individuals who have to live on the pension. I shall not embellish my argument any further except to say that persons who have no income apart from the pension and who have to meet all the needs of the human body out. of that meagre payment, are in dire distress. I invite any honorable senator opposite to stand up and argue that £3 10s. a week is adequate. I venture to say that no Government supporter will undertake to support that proposition. So, let us forget all about figures and comparisons with the C series index and the basic wage. The plain common fact, known to everybody, is that £3 10s. a week is a most inadequate amount for a person to live on.
– It can equally be argued that £10 a week would be inadequate.
– That is a proposition which I think only the honorable senator would affirm. I should say that £10 a week would be about three times as good as £3 10s. a week.
– Nobody is ever satisfied, particularly opposition leaders.
– I am satisfied very often with the honorable senator’s interjections which give me a very good opportunity to reply, so I cannot even subscribe to that proposition.
Let me turn to the other political argument advanced by the Minister in relation to the percentage of the national income expended on social services. He said that, in 1939, 2.11 per cent, of the National income was spent on social services and that by 1949-50 the percentage had risen to 4.43. Of course, what he did not say and what makes the comparison completely improper, is that in the intervening period, under Labour, a whole new range of social services had been added. For instance, in 1938-39 there was no child endowment which is a very heavy charge on budgets. There were no pharmaceutical benefits, hospital benefits, tuberculosis allowances, funeral benefits, wives’ allowances, children’s allowances and many social services that I could name. All of those were introduced by Labour between the two years mentioned by the honorable senator. To make a proper comparison the Minister should not have taken the overall picture of social services benefits. He should have compared the percentage of the national income that was paid in age pensions in the two years. Such a comparison shows that whereas in 1938-39, the percentage of the national income spent on* age pensions was 2.2, the figure has now gone down to 2 per cent. The figures presented to the Senate by the Minister completely distorted the position. Clearly the value of social services payments declines if they are not increased to meet rises in the cost of living. There has been no increase of child endowment payable in respect of children other than the first since 1948. Therefore,, the value of the payment that was fixed in 1948 has now declined by half. It is true that endowment in respect of the first child of each family was introduced by this Government in 1950.
– And Labour objected.
– -We did not object. We tried to have the payment increased to 10s. a week. Let us see what the Government has done. It fixed the payment at 5s. a week in 1950 ; but since that date raging inflation has cut the purchasing-power of money in half. I am certain that the Government is well aware of this, and that whoever prepared the Senate Minister’s secondreading speech on this measure is particularly conscious of it. The secondreading speech in the House of Representatives contained the following paragraph which, significantly, is one of the few passages that have been dropped from the Senate speech : -
In no economic climate is social security less likely to thrive than in one in which there is instability of prices, more particularly when this instability takes the form of a decline of the purchasing power of money. With quickly rising prices the real value of benefits, is destroyed or diminished as soon as the rates are fixed.
Looking at what has happened between 1948 and now, what does the Minister say about child endowment? It has remained unaltered for six years. I invite any honorable senator opposite to tell us why the passage to which I have referred was dropped from the Minister’s speech. It points directly at the failure of the Government to do justice in relation to child endowment - again a very human element which affects the most vital unit in this community, the family unit. Everyone agrees that the family unit must be fostered because it is the unit on which nation-building takes place. Why should it suffer under this Government? Here again the Government has failed to make a human approach to its problems. I return to that theme time and time again when dealing with the Government’s activities. We of the Opposition do not wish to delay the passage of this measure, but we condemn the Government because of omissions from the bill, particularly its failure to meet the plight of the family man and of the needy sections of the community. I say to Senator Maher that the Government of which he is a supporter is making an invidious distinction between people who have nothing, and those who already have something. The Opposition’s attack is not upon the contents of this measure, but upon the matters to which it does not apply- Therefore I move -
That all words after “ bill “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “be withdrawn and redrafted to provide that the rates of ago and invalid pensions be a minimum of £4 a week; and to provide similarly for increases in the rates of child endowment, widows’ pensions, unemployment and sickness benefit, dependants’ allowances and other social services corresponding to the increase in prices so as to restore at least the former purchasing value of these payments “.
– Has the honorable senator worked out the cost of his proposal ?
– That would not be difficult to ascertain. If the honorable senator will work on the basis of £1,000,000 for every ls. of pension he will not be far wrong. The childendowment figure may be determined very readily, because the exact number of children in the endowment field is known. I undertake that somebody on this side of the chamber will give the honorable senator a reasonably accurate estimate before he concludes his speech. I commend the amendment to the Senate. I have already prepared the foundation for the amendment in my general remarks on this measure, and I need add nothing further at this stage.
– I feel that living in Sydney has not done my Tasmanian colleague, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), much good. I imagine that when he came to Canberra to oppose this bill, he thought he could make it the Gypsy Rose Lee of the social services legislation by divesting it of every shred of reputation for giving benefits to the people who come within the scope of the social services scheme. Those of us who listened to him to-day thought he was somewhat at sea. That was quite understandable because, having attacked the Government’s policy on social services, he had to suggest something to replace it, but he did not know which of Labour’s policies he should advocate as the replacement. So one can forgive him for floundering during his speech. I appreciate the fact that he agreed to speak immediately after the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) concluded bis second-reading speech. The Leader of the Opposition has a reputation for doing things like that, and I think we all appreciated his co-operation.
Because the Minister and the Leader of the Opposition spoke so recently, I do not propose to restate the benefits that will be conferred by the measure. The Leader of the Opposition began his speech by saying that he regretted that the Minister had referred to what took place five years ago, but later in his speech he told us about what took place in 1949. He was willing to do something that he did not want the Minister to do. There was a certain amount of inconsistency in his speech in that connexion. I suggest that possibly he does not like any reference to be made to Labour’s social services policy, because since this Government has been in office it has gained a reputation for developing the services legislation of this country to a very high degree. Let me remind the Senate that in 1951 this Government introduced a means test-free pension for blind people. In 1952. the unemployment benefit was doubled. In 1953, there was a gi-eat development of the rehabilitation centres. In that year, we negotiated a reciprocal pensions agreement with the United Kingdom. That was a major step in the development of social services in Australia. I remind the Senate the agreement was negotiated under the ministerial control of Mr. Townley, and that it did not entail a trip to .England for him. The agreement was signed by our Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and Sir Winston Churchill when our Prime Minister was in London on other business. Those are some of the milestones in the development of social services under this Government.
It is well to remember that, when talking about increases of social services benefits, we should consider them in the light of nationa.1 income and nations] expenditure. During the financial year 1953-54, the number of age pensioners increased by 22,742 to 374,491 and the number of invalid pensioners increased by 2,500 to over 70,000. There was a small increase in the number of widow pensioners, and at the end of that year the total was 410,440. The Leader of the Opposition talked about child endowment and said that we could find out the number of recipients. Let me tell him cbe position. In 1953-54, there were 1,246,986 families receiving the benefit of these payments. Child endowment for ‘ the first child was introduced by a Liberal government, but opposed and delayed by a Labour Opposition.
– That is not true.
– It is true. Honorable senators opposite cannot deny that for three months they opposed a payment that could have been made earlier if they had adopted a sensible attitude to the problem. At the 30th June of last year over 2,600,000 children were receiving child endowment.
I pay tribute to the Department of Social Services for its rehabilitation work. I am pleased that further development of this excellent work is proposed during the forthcoming year. According to a factual report by the department, appreciable immediate and future savings on pensions already granted will be made as a result of rehabilitation. Further savings will be effected by the reduction of the recovery time for sickness beneficiaries and a reduction of future grants of invalid pensions. In addition, a contribution to the national income will be made by people who have been rehabilitated. In these days of over-full employment, the more people we can put to work in Australia, the greater will be our production. I believe that the policy of the Government and the work of the department in this respect are worthy of praise by all honorable senators.
In supporting the bill, I must refer to the means test, because doubtless that subject will be referred to frequently by Labour senators. Let me, in all sincerity, offer a little advice to my opponents, because I think we need two strong parties in this country, not one party that has decayed and one that’ is strong. I advise honorable senators opposite that the people believe they have one-track minds. They talk about pentons all the time, with a pathos which they hope will win votes for them. At the last election those tactics failed miserably. So the Opposition should take my tip. I was telling a man the other day that I thought the Labour party had a one-track mind and was obsessed with pensions, but he said it had a doubletrack mind; it was obsessed with pensions and Petrovs. The Labour party promised at the last election, that, if returned, it would abolish the means test. The Prime Minister, in his policy speech, said that he would lift it gradually. This bill honours that election promise. After a long speech of criticism of the Government’s policy, the Leader of the Opposition - I am stuck for a word. I do not want to use too strong a word, so I shall say that the Leader of the Opposition moved an amendment designed to tear the bill to pieces. I say that he asked the Senate to adopt Labour’s policy. Am I right, or am I wrong? Or did he ask us to accept the policy of some party that is not in existence? When the Leader of the Opposition moves an amendment, surely the amendment should indicate the policy that his party would pursue if in power. But if anybody can show me anything in this amendment which suggests that the means test should be abolished, I shall be very surprised.
The Labour party lost the last election despite the fact that it attempted to bribe the people. Some members of the Labour party in this chamber still purport to favour the abolition of the means test, but when the acid test is applied, the Opposition says, in effect, that that policy will be put into the background until it is required to tickle the ears of the electors at the next election. I wonder if the federal executive of the Australian Labour party has met in Canberra this week and passed a resolution ordering the Parliamentary Labour party to reverse its attitude to the abolition of the means test, in the same way as it was ordered to change its attitude to the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. I hope that other honorable senators opposite who speak on this bill will cut out hypocrisy about the means test and tell us exactly where they stand. The people of Australia know where we stand. They know we believe that the means test should be lifted gradually. We believe that that would be better for the Australian economy than the abolition of the means test. We will not be party to any attempt to bribe the people.
The Leader of the Opposition made an extraordinary statement when he said that we ought to abolish the means test because by so doing we should be- rid of pressure groups. He thinks that, by merely alleviating the means test, we shall form another pressure group. That shows that the Liberal party and the Labour party are as different as chalk is from cheese. We will not be frightened by pressure groups. We shall withstand them. I trust that we shall never be guilty of acting only in accordance with political expediency, and I know that we shall never do so while Mr. Menzies is the Prime Minister. Apparently the argument of the Labour party is that the means test should be abolished because Labour is frightened of pressure from the people who own more than £1,750 worth of property. I hope we shall not hear too much more about the means test.
It is interesting to remember, when we are talking about the treatment that persons entitled to pensions receive from this Government and the treatment they received from the Labour party - a party which believes it is the greatest social services party in the world - that in 1949, under a Labour government, which had been in office for a few years then, 4.03 per cent, of the national income was spent on social services, compared with 4.68 per cent, last year. Last year, about £81,000,000 .was paid to age pensioners and invalid pensioners, and this year it is expected that the figure will be £91,500,000. Last year, £6,600,000 was expended on widows’ pensions, and it has been estimated that expenditure this year will be £7,300,000. So it goes on. I have worked out roughly that this year nearly £13,000,000 more will be spent on the main social service benefits than was spent last year. So we are devoting larger proportions of the national income to assist people whom we feel deserve national help. I shall not delay the Senate for much longer. I want to end on a personal note. I use the word “personal”, because I have never heard this matter discussed in the party room or at a party meeting. I hold sincere views on parliamentary responsibility in connexion with social services and pensions. Candidly, I do not believe in the social welfare state, a state that looks after every person from birth to death, regardless of his ability, his desire to work, or his initiative. I do not think it is good for a young nation that its people can go to the Government for handouts in any circumstances. I believe that those who cannot earn sufficient to live on should receive pensions. I do not oppose the payment of any of the pensions that are being paid now.
– Does the honorable senator think that a pension is a handout ?
– No, I do. not. As I have said, I do not oppose the payment of pensions, but I suggest that when we introduce social service legislation, particularly legislation of such OUt. standing importance as this, we must, at the same time, consider the moral welfare of the nation. Without wishing to preach, and speaking as one who has a fair interest in. community work, I regret the growing tendency of young people to refuse to take responsibility for their parents in the evening of their lives. I know that there are many young people who cannot look after their parents, but there seems to be an increasing tendency to push the responsibility on to the Government. The more we lower the sense of moral obligation of the nation, the greater harm we shall do. I suggest that that aspect should be considered when the widening of social services benefits is contemplated. I support the bill, and express amazement at the cheek of the amendment.
– The case for the Opposition has been very fully, clearly and, to all intelligent persons, convincingly stated by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). Nevertheless, I propose to deal with certain aspects of this legislation. The rate of pension in respect of age pensioners who rely entirely upon the pension is not being increased. They will receive no benefit at all from this bill. The point that I wish to make is that age pensioners are in much the same category as are wage-earners. Every increase of prices reduces the purchasing power of pensions, but the Government has made no attempt to protect pensioners from the effects of rising costs. The purchasing power of pensions has not been increased ; indeed, it has been reduced. The Government, in relation to pensioners, occupies much the same position as does the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in relation to wage-earners. The court fixes wages, and the monopolists who control the supplies of bread, meat and other essential commodities, fix the purchasing power of those wages. That is the fundamental cause of most of our economic troubles. The difference between wageearners and age pensioners is that the services of wage-earners are required by the community, so that they have some bargaining power, whereas age pensioners have no bargaining power at all. They must either submit to unauthorized reduction of the purchasing power of their pensions, or go without commodities they need. The Government has not attempted to alter that position in any way. It has been said that those who are most in need of help are not receiving it. Although this bill will give a good deal of relief to pensioners who have other income, it will give no relief at all to age pensioners who have only the pension. Although the Government fixes the rate of pension, people outside the Parliament fix its purchasing power, and that purchasing power has been reduced considerably and will continue to be reduced. I suggest ‘ that, if prices were to fall substantially, the Government would promptly set about reducing pensions. “When we advocate the abolition of the means test, we have in mind - or at least, 1 have - that there is no means test in relation to the maternity bonus. The wealthiest person in the community is entitled to receive it. There is no means test for child endowment or in respect of pensions paid to politicians, but there is a. means test for those who are not so fortunately placed. Senator Marriott said that he was opposed to the welfare state, and declared that it was the responsibility of young people to look after their aged parents. In effect, he said that young people tend to ignore their responsibilities or push them on to the Government. It is obvious that the honorable senator has no knowledge of our economic background ; otherwise he would know that the welfare state, as we call it, is being brought into existence because a virtue is being made of necessity. The relative and aggregate value of wages is being reduced all along the line. If there were no welfare state there would be a state of chaos. Those who are the recipients of pensions should be regarded as consumers by the Government and the owners of the means of production. The age pensioner has no reason to thank this Government for the pension that he receives. Throughout his working life he has been paid, not the value of his work in relation to the wealth it created, but the bare means of subsistence. Everything in excess of that, has been appropriated in the form of profits. We are living in an age of in creasing profits. The relative and aggregate purchasing power of wages is being consistently and systematically reduced. I say to Senator Marriott that the welfare state has to come into existence, not only in this country but also in other countries of the world. The difference between its establishment in Australia and in other countries is a difference of degree, not of kind. .
Let us consider child endowment. Taking an overall view, it is obvious that the Government is giving nothing to the parents of children. Before the introduction of child endowment, the minimum wage was fixed on the basis of the requirements of a man with a wife and three children. A single worker received the same rate of wages as a man with a wife and three children, so that the payment of child endowment is made mostly at the expense of single workers. The result has been a great saving to the employing section of the community. Actually, the payment of child endowment means a saving for employers and the Government. If honorable senators doubt that statement, I invite them to study the report of a royal commission inquiry into the cost of living in 1920 by the chairman, Mr. Piddington, as he then was. The commision came to the conclusion that the basic wage should be £5 16s. a week, but it was contended, at that time, that it was impossible to pay such a wage. He therefore said, in effect, “Well, pay child endowment and you need not pay the wage of £5 16s. a week “. Subsequently, the lattJudge Beeby succeeded in convincing tinPrime Minister of the time (Mr.
Menzies), who is now once more Prime Minister, that the payment of child endowment would be a profitable proposition from the point of view of employers. He pointed out that the total wages bill would be less. I suggest that that is why child endowment was introduced.
I come now to the abolition of the means test. The Leader of the Opposition demonstrated that, if the “Government abolished the means test and gave a pension to all eligible men and women, whether they had property or not, those who were brought into higher income groups would pay back the pension in the form of taxes, so that the payment of the pension would represent no cost to the Government and would involve only a matter of adjustment. I brought up a family myself, but there was no maternity bonus or child endowment in those days. Nevertheless, for many years, I have contributed my share towards the cost of those benefits. The abolition of the means test would impose no hardship on any one. It is incorrect to say that it would cost millions of pounds. If the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, for example, decided to raise the basic wage to £20 a week, and prices were increased proportionately, there would be no effective increase of the basic wage. If the statement that abolition of the means test would cost a great deal of money is considered in terms of the commodities that can be purchased with pensions, it will be found that that cost is a fictitious one. The important thing to consider is what the pensioners can purchase with the money they receive. In my opinion, the purchasing power of the basic wage to-day is no greater than it was in 1907, when it was fixed at £2 2s. a week.
The age pensioner who relies entirely on his pension will continue to have its value reduced to the extent that prices increase, and his living conditions will not improve. The Government has no justification for saying that it has improved the lot of pensioners. All that this Government has done has been to deny relief to a section of the community that needs it badly, and provide relief for another section of the community more favorably placed. The Government should be under no misapprehension about what is likely to happen. Unfortunately, the people as a whole do not understand the cause of the present state of affairs. I agree with the statement of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) that the raising of the limits of permissible income of pensioners will assist many people, but that in itself will not provide relief to those who are most in need. It is futile for supporters of the Government to say that to-day the majority of young people are not willing to assist their aged parents. I point out that the young people of to-day have to pay exorbitant prices for houses and other necessaries. They cannot afford to support their aged parents. Of course, I would be the first to admit that a proportion of the young people in the community deny to themselves all sorts of things in order to assist elderly people. But the fact remains that the aged people, having worked for the greater part of their lives for only subsistence wages, have a bona fide claim on the Government for support. There would not exist extremely wealthy sections, and extremely poor sections of the community, if the workers had received in wages the full value of the wealth that they have created. Workers who receive only subsistence wages are unable to put by for their old age. Therefore, the pensioners have nothing to be thankful for; they ‘have been robbed throughout their working lives. If I were not a member of the Senate, and found it necessary to apply for the age pension, I would consider, having worked hard all my life, that I was entitled to a pension. As the workers create value considerably in excess of the wages that they receive, the age pension is really only a distribution of a portion of the wealth they have created.
– I support the bill, which provides relief for the less fortunate members of the community. Many honorable senators opposite have wailed that the Government is not doing anything for the pensioners. A logical inference to be drawn from Senator Cameron’s speech was that the Opposition is engaging in a sham fight on behalf of the pensioners, in order to gain their votes, and the votes of their families, at future elections.
There is a big school of thought in this country - perhaps not very democratic - which favours the introduction of a system under which pensioners would be disfranchised.
– ‘Does the honorable senator favour that course?
– I did not say that. I said that there was a big school of thought in Australia which favoured the introduction of such a system. This side of the chamber does not subscribe to that opinion.
– It has not been expressed by the Opposition.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has invited the Government to search amongst the ashes of the past. T. shall do so. Age and invalid pensions have risen from £1 a week in 1938-39 to £3 10s a week.
– Has the purchasing power of pensions increased?
– I shall deal with that aspect of the matter in due course. In the same period, our expenditure on social services has risen from £30,000,000 a year to £218,000,000 a year. The expenditure on war pensions is now about £41,000,000 a year. Excluding war pensions, the expenditure on social services has increased seven-fold in that period. A portion of the money that is expended on the provision of social services in this country is provided hy investors in industry who, in 1938-1939, received dividends totalling £25,000,000. In 1953-1954 dividend distributions totalled £85,000,000, which is three and a half times the amount that was distributed in 193S-39. Expressed in another way, the income of investors has increased by only three and a half times since 1938-39, but the expenditure on social services has increased seven-fold. I think that I have rebutted completely the assertion that this Government has done nothing for the pensioners. :In 1938-39, invalid and age pensioners -received £16,000,000. In that year the shareholders of incorporated companies in Australia received dividends totalling :£25,000,000. In 1953-54, the age and invalid pensioners received £81,000,000 and widow pensioners a further £6,600,000. In that year the shareholders in this country received £85,000,000. These figures provide the Opposition with food for thought, because the increase of expenditure on pensions is proportionately greater than the increase of dividend distributions.
– Is that a good comparison ?
– I am glad to hear that interjection, but I would advise Senator Byrne to reserve his ammunition. I emphasize, that in the last financial year the pensioners received more than did the shareholders of all the incorporated companies in Australia, including General Motors-Holden’s Limited, about which we have heard so much, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, the tobacco companies and the breweries. In this financial year, it is expected that the expenditure on age and invalid pensions will be £91,500,000, which will be an increase of £10,200,000 compared with expenditure under that heading in the last financial year.
– That is only a half-truth.
– It is the truth. Widow pensioners will receive about £7,300,000 in this financial year - an increase of £724,000 compared with the last financial year. Expenditure on war pensions in this financial year is expected to be £2,700,000 more than in the last financial year. Excluding war pensions, the provision of social services in this financial year will involve an expenditure of £193,000,000, which will be £16,800,000 more than in the last financial year. All of the money necessary to provide pensions and benefits must come from production. It matters not whether a person earns his income by personal exertion or from investments. Money for pensions, child endowment, hospital benefits, medical benefits, and other social services is obtained by taxation. From the criticism that has been made of investments by honorable senators opposite, one would imagine that investment is an evil practice and should be done away with. T. point out that company taxation yielded £134,000,000 in 1953-54. It is expected that the yield in this financial year will be £159,000,000. Dividends are declared out of profits, only after tax has been paid. In 1939, company profits in this country totalled £84,000,000, compared with £415,000,000 - which is five times more - in 1953-54. Proportionately, therefore, the recipients of social services have received a 7 to 1 increase compared with an increase of company profits of 5 to 1.
– What price the field?
– If the honorable senator is referring to Sentry Duty, I think that the odds would be 16 to 1. During the last fifteen years salaries and wages have increased from £445,000,000 to £2,176,000,000, a ratio_ of five to one. But although the earnings of the companies have increased five-fold since the pre-war days, their dividends have only increased in the ratio of three and a half to one. Company tax is much higher now than it was in 1938-39. Dividends are taxed again when they come into the hands of the shareholders.
Companies have to reinvest enormous amounts of capital in their businesses, not only to offset depreciation, but in order to provide new plant and equipment. I know that some honorable senators opposite will reply that the companies have re-invested £174,000,000. That is quite true. That re-investment was made in order to provide necessary replacements. In 1938-39, Australian companies re-invested £37,000,000 in their businesses. In addition to re-investing this amount they have had to make very heavy calls for new capital in order to provide modem equipment. That is one of the reasons why the average output of our factories is now much greater than is used to be, and it is why there is a very strong, sustained demand for goods and services. I venture to say that operatives work no harder now than they did in pre-war days. Increased mechanical efficiency and good management have overcome the adverse effects of the 40-hour week. Some honorable senators may reply that there are fewer men working in industry now. Perhaps there are fewer men in individual industries. But, whilst the use of machinery has reduced the number of operatives in particular industries, it has brought into being a vast army of mechanics, engineers and operatives who are needed to make and tend these machines.
Machinery, maintenance and depreciation are big items in the cost structure. In 1938-39, Australian manufacturing industries were not well equipped. The war took its toll of industry. But the receipt of high prices for our primary products has aided our secondary industries. Much money has been invested to the benefit of secondary industries by men on the land. Another factor that has benefited Australia and enabled the Government to collect the money that is needed in order to pay pensions is the overseas balances which have been built up by the export of our primary products. Our overseas balances have made it possible for us to obtain outside currency for the purchase of the machinery that we need for production.
Returning to the subject of pensions and dividends, let us examine the effect of inflation on the relevant figures. Pensions have increased at a greater rate than dividends paid to shareholders in productive industry have increased. Only a prosperous and thriving economy can provide pensions and social services. Can any honorable senator tell me what economy in our national expenditure could be made in order to provide a greater amount for payment to age pensioners? I shall use some of the figures that the Leader of the Opposition cited in this debate. The honorable senator’s heart appeared to be bleeding for the age pensioners. He practically accused the Minister for Repatriation of doctoring the figures relating to them. The Leader of the Opposition said that in 1948, the age pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week. The C series index figure at that time was 1,278. In 1949, the C series index figure was 1428. Therefore, on the basis of his figures, the pension should have been £2 7s. 6d. a week, but it was £2 2s. 6d. a week. That shows how the honorable senator’s heart bled for the pensioners. Not only did the Labour Government do nothing for these people when it assumed office, but when it left office it still had done nothing for them. I shall have something to say about the humane approach of the Opposition to the pensioners later on. Let us analyze this humane approach, and discover how every Opposition senator stands condemned. The Leader of the Opposition said that he had found that 80 per cent, of pensioners were without any income apart from the pension, and that 15 per cent, received only 5s. a week in addition to the pension.
Let us ascertain how the Labour party dealt with the pensioners. I say that members of the Labour party were like a little Bo-Peep. Their hearts bled for the pensioners, so they said; but they steeled their hearts, and carried away the fat lambs’ tails and hung them on the trees but not for the pensioners to fry. The Labour party which was so full of milk of human kindness during its term of office, introduced a social services tax in order to provide a benefit for unfortunate people. It played upon the misfortunes of these people in order to get that measure through the Parliament. How did the Labour Government apply the moneys that it derived from that tax? The little fat lambs’ tails that were hung on the trees for the pensioners were taken by the Labour Government. I shall state later what the Labour Government did with them. The Labour Government imposed this tax for a special purpose. But did it expend the money for the purpose for which it was raised? It did not. That is why the Labour Government stands condemned. The Labour Government spent that money, not on social services, but in an attempt to balance its budget; yet it still had a deficit. The amount of £130,000,000 that it collected from a socialservices tax was spent on things other than social services. It is despicable conduct to impose a tax for a special purpose and spend the proceeds on something else. Subsequently, Labour senators told the people that the Labour Government had left £130,000,000 in social service moneys for the Menzies Government to spend. That was a despicable statement. The Labour Government did not leave a penny of social services money. It left I O TPs for £130,000,000 because it had spent the money. Poor old Dickens died far too soon. When I rake over these dead ashes I get a little hot under the collar. I cannot understand how Opposition senators can sit in their places complacently and smile at having taken £130,000,000 of the age pensioners’ money.
– What did the Menzies Government do with it?
– It did not receive it. It was spent before this Government came to office. The subject of this money keeps recurring in this Senate. It is a constant theme of the Leader of the Opposition. The Labour party admitted that it must use national credit to finance its social services proposals, and the Leader of the Opposition has placed the figure at £140,000,000 to £150,000,000.
– When did the Government make a recoup transfer to maintain the fund in credit?
– The only way that anybody can make a recoupment is by taxation. If money is spent once, it cannot be spent again. I O TPs are not currency. If the Opposition wanted to have £130,000,000 in the fund, as Senator McKenna has suggested, it would have to raise £130,000,000 by taxation. The Opposition was not game to tell the people that fact during the election campaign when it sought office. That is one of the- reasons why the people rejected the Labour party at the election. They had been caught before and they would not be caught twice. The Labour Government spent large sums of money in trying to nationalize industry in Australia, including the banks. In 1949, Australia was riddled with black markets.
– I rise to order. Is the honorable senator in order in speaking about the nationalization of banks and similar matters?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McCallum). - Order! I have not noticed any statements by Senator Mattner that could be ruled out of order, but I shall continue to listen to him carefully.
– No government can pay for social services out of national credit. Had the Chifley Labour
Government achieved its objective and nationalized the banks, no business in Australia could have made a profit ; therefore, there would have been no contributions from that source towards the payment of pensions. The bill is a good one. It will provide for many of the less fortunate people in the community. I support the bill and oppose the amendment.
– I support the amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). I recall some of the statements that were made in this chamber, yesterday with regard to the importance of the Senate, and the appeals that were made by honorable senators for the establishment of allparty committees from the Senate to consider matters of public interest. Such a committee existed for three or four years. It was the Joint Committee on Social Security, and it presented nine reports. All the recommendations that were contained in those reports are now on the statute-book, yet honorable senators who now support the Government and were then in opposition withdrew from that committee. They stopped it from functioning because a time arrived when the Liberal party and Australian Country party members on that committee found themselves advocating certain social reforms in the committee’s reports, but when the proposals were presented to the Parliament in the form of legislation, those members were in the ludicrous position of having to vote against them. I doubt whether most honorable senators have seen those nine reports, but I should like them to study them because they reveal that a complete examination was made of various social problems. Some of those problems are still with us, but for others we have found a solution or a partial solution.
Of the nine reports, only one was the subject of a dissentient minority report. That was the second interim report presented to the Parliament on the 6th March, 1942. The main recommendation of that report was the introduction of unemployment benefits. Only a meagre payment was proposed, although it was in real money in those days, but the only dissentient voice from this chamber was that of the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), who introduced the bill that is now before the Senate. The minority report was signed by Senator “W. J. Cooper as Deputy Chairman of the Social Security Committee and was supported by Mr. Rupert Ryan, M.H.R. The reasons that they gave were exactly the same as the excuses that have been advanced in opposition to social services legislation when it has been introduced into the Senate in the past. That excuse has always been that we cannot pay for the services or cannot afford them. The minority report stated that the proposal would confer benefits that were unreasonable in the existing circumstances - there was a war in progress - on persons who were unemployed for reasons not connected with the war. The suggested rates, in the opinion of the minority, would create anomalies. The rates that were proposed in the report of the committee were : Adult unemployed persons, 50s. a week ; the wife of an unemployed person, 25s. ; one child of unemployed parents, 5s.; single unemployed person of eighteen to 21 years, 17s. 6d. ; single unemployed person of sixteen to eighteen years, 15s. That, was twelve years ago. In terms of currency to-day, the benefits would be much greater. I mention this fact because, althouh the Minister for Repatriation was a very valued member of that committee and did good work, he was against that proposal.
Supporters of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party sabotaged that committee and put it out of existence when it had already done a great deal of research into various social problems. I should like to see the present Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) reconstitute the committee, because there is still much to be done to improve social services in Australia. Nothing but good could result from its deliberations. There would be no difference of opinion among honorable senators from both sides of the chamber if they were allowed the latitude in the discussion of social problems that members of the former committee enjoyed. It is interesting to recall that when that committee was first constituted, the only social services in Australia were the age and invalid pensions and maternity allowances. A great expansion of social services has taken place in the past fifteen years, the period that was mentioned in the Minister’s second-reading speech. He referred to the year 1938-39 and stated that expenditure upon social services in those days was 2.11 per cent, of national revenue. He did not say how limited social services were in those days. He did not refer either to the great increase in the number of persons in the older age group which is one of the serious problems with which this Parliament will eventually have to deal. At that time, 35 persons in every 1,000 of the community were age pensioners. The proportion has risen to 43 in every 1,000 to-day, or an increase of 23 per cent. That also has a bearing upon a comparison with the amount that was spent by the government of that day on social services. More money is expended in that direction to-day because more people have entered the pensions field, if it did nothing else a reconstituted social security committee should investigate the problem of the aged and associated matters. If the proportion of aged persons in the community continues to increase - and there is .no reason to expect that it .will not - the problem will be even more important to future governments than it is to-day.
Before I direct my remarks exclusively to the bill, I propose to reply to Senator Mattner. He said that the Labour Government paid about £100,000,000 into the National Welfare Fund from the proceeds of taxation. He implied that the Labour Government was dishonest in the way that that £100,000,000 was expended. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Labour Government left a credit of about £100,000,000 in the fund. That amount was increased to £188,-000,000. This Government and the previous Labour Government both invested the fund in Commonwealth interest-bearing securities. That is an ordinary process of business. The Labour Government invested £100,000,000 and this Government invested £88,000,000. This Government paid £67,000,000 into a fund for strategic stores and equipment over several years and spent only £17,000,000 on those stores and equipment. The balance of about £60,000,000 was spent in other ways. Therefore, I say to Senator Mattner and to his colleagues that the investment of government funds is not peculiar to Labour governments. The fact that we invested those, funds in government securities showed our faith in this country. We believed such an investment to be a good investment, which would return to the people of Australia sufficient to keep the National Welfare Fund buoyant and our social services operating. Some of the remarks made in this debate by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) will bear repetition because I am certain they have not penetrated the intellects of some of my friends opposite. The Minister said in his second-reading speech -
The pension to-day has greater purchasing power than it had when Labour was last iii office.
I am sure the Minister does not expect us to believe that. He could not possibly have meant it because he is a kindly and honest man. The Minister took the C series index as his yardstick in measuring the value of pensions, but we must remember that all those values are only relative. The value of any monetary payment depends upon the quantity of goods and services it will buy. According to thi; Minister’s own figures, based on the C series index, the pension to-day should be £3 9s. 2d. a week. As my leader pointed out, this would represent the magnificent increase of lOd. a week in five years, or 2d. a year. The Minister referred to the C series index figure for last June, but we all know what has happened since then Substantial price increases have taken place in many commodities which pensioners use. One such commodity is tea. Pensioners are not very interested in reductions of excise duty on brandy; but they are very much concerned about increases of the price of tea. The price of meat, too, has increased considerably, as has the cost of shoe repairs. Other basic elements in a pensioner’s diet are also much dearer than they were last June. On the basis of the figures that we have given, we consider that the pension in June last should have been £3 17s. 3d. a week. If we add to that 2s. 9d. a week to cover price increases that have occurred in the interim, the pension to-day should be at least £4 a week. I am certain that no honorable senator on either side of the chamber would care to try to live on £4 a week.
Bad as the budget is from the point of view of age and invalid pensioners, it is absolutely disastrous for widows, about whom little has been said in this debate. Senator Mattner would have us believe that widows are being assisted materially by this Government. The easing of the means test which will enable more widows to draw a pension is commendable, and I thank the Minister for that, but I do not thank him for the way in which widows generally are being “ treated. It has been alleged that I am always talking about the plight of widows. I do not deny that, nor do I propose to change my ways until justice is done to all widows, particularly those with dependent children. How can a widow with children be expected to live on £3 10s. a week, even with the help that is available to her from the child welfare authorities of her State ?
There is one section of the community for which no provision whatever is made in this budget. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), who is a bachelor, has not been very chivalrous towards the ladies in this budget. Although he has not shown very much inclination to reduce the number of spinsters, at least he should have done something to improve their lot. I am not referring to women who have careers and can look after themselves. But there are in the community many elderly spinsters between 50 and 60 years of age, who perhaps because they have been looking after aged parents, or have been engaged in domestic service over the years, have not had much opportunity to save. They are on the industrial scrap-heap. Just before I left Perth, I went to see’ a woman who will be 60 next year. She has been in domestic service all her life, and honorable senators know what domestic service was before the war. It was a Cinderella industry. Domestic servants had no hope of saving money out of the few shillings a week they were given in addition to their keep. This woman is now crippled with arthritis and rheumatism, and she finds employment most difficult to get. She is inclined to drop dishes and, of course, no employer is prepared to go on replacing crockery. It is much easier to get other help. She applied for the unemployment benefit, and got it last January, but after a cer- tain time, payment of this benefit ceased. She went to the employment office and was told that she had to give the names of at least six potential employers whom she had approached for employment in the previous week. This woman, as I have said, is crippled with arthritis and rheumatism. She can hardly walk, and obviously is not able to tramp around looking for a job. Advertising for a job can be expensive. The officials told her to apply for the invalid pension. She went to the appropriate department, but a doctor told her that she was not totally incapacitated but was fit for light work, such as ordinary routine jobs in a factory.
Is it realistic to expect a woman of 59 to learn new factory techniques even if she could get a job at her age? In any case, how could she be trusted with machine work in a factory when, because of her arthritis and rheumatism, she is unable to hold even a cup and saucer? Next year, of course, she will be eligible for the age pension, but in the meantime, presumably, she is to be allowed to starve. I took her case up with the authorities in Perth, and I should like to pay a tribute to officials of the Department of Social Services in that city. They are very good in cases of this kind. They said that they could not give her the invalid pension because that was not within their province, but if a suitable job could bc found for her, she would get it. This is a very sad case. The woman is back again on the unemployment benefit, and even that is little enough to live on at her age. Consideration should be given to placing spinsters between 55 and 60 years of age on the same basis as B class widows, that is, widows without children. Although I disagree with the segregation of widows into two categories, at least some provision is made for them. No great strain would be placed on the Government’s finances if elderly women without children were to be placed on the same basis as B class widows. We are talking in millions of pounds. The number of such spinsters is few, but a pension would be of great assistance to those who need it.
Senator Marriott had a great deal to say about various aspects of social services. He acclaimed this Government’s success in securing pension reciprocity between Great Britain a.nd Australa. It is quite true that that has been done, but negotiations had been going on for some years. In fact, they started when the Labour Government was in office. We were able to get the first part of the plan into operation by introducing a reciprocal agreement between Australia and New Zealand, and work on the agreement with Great Britain was well advanced when the change of government took place. However, I am glad that those negotiations have been completed, because the reciprocal agreement benefits quite a number of people, including Australians who go to the United Kingdom. I merely point out that these things cannot be accomplished in a day. Negotiations for social reforms are frequently carried on for- a considerable time at a government te government level. Senator Marriott also claimed that many young people today were not facing up to their responsibility to care for their parents. Unfortunately, that is true in many instances; but I remind the honorable senator that many young people starting off in married life, purchasing homes, furnishing them, and raising families are finding it very difficult to make ends meet. Sometimes, of course, the fault lies with the elderly people who do not fit in with the domestic life of the younger generation. I am afraid this problem is one which will exercise our minds more and more as the years go by. However, I should not like to condemn young people generally for their apparent neglect of their parents, because there is still a keen sense of filial duty in the world. If I were to take the dismal view of things that Senator Marriott takes, I do not know how I would get on. There is a lot of good in our young folk, many of whom are assisting their parents to the best of their ability. But they cannot do everything in these days of high prices and housing scarcity. That is why I am very pleased that the Government, has removed the property income bar. This will enable people whose houses are too big for them, to obtain smaller places without prejudicing their pension right. That is definitely a move in the right direction, and I commend the Minister for Social Services for it. The easing and the ultimate abolition of the means test is of course part of Labour’s platform.
– Why is it not mentioned in the amendment?
– The amendment does not seek to alter those portions of the bill that will ameliorate the means test. With those provisions we are in complete agreement. We believe, however, that is it necessary not only that the means test should be eased, but also that some relief should be given to people whose only income is the base rate pension. Something should be done to restore to the pension the purchasing power that it had when this Government came into office. The Prime Minister promised prior to the 1949 election that the purchasing power of our currency would be restored. I realize that the Government’s refusal to accede to Labour’s requests in relation to social services is not entirely due to hard heartedness. Most honorable senators opposite are concerned with the interests of the less fortunate members of the community, and I sympathize very much with them in their task of going among the people next week and attempting to justify this Government’s failure to do anything to assist pensioners except by the ameliorations of the means test proposed in this measure.
A number of people, some of whom are widows with dependent children, will be unable to take advantage of this easing of the means test, because they are unable to acc6t ‘employment. The principal job of a widow is to bring . up her children as decent citizens. The only part-time jobs open to these women are menial jobs, which generally have to be performed before or after school hours, when the women should bc at home to look after their children. J have advocated for some time, and I shall continue to advocate, that a domestic allowance bc paid to widows with children. There is a precedent for that in the Repatriation Act. I am not asking for much. We are spending millions of pounds - I do not, begrudge the money - to bring people here from other countries, but we balk at giving monetary relief to some of our own citizens, overworked widows with young children. I have a report of the Department of Social Services on juvenile delinquency in which it is stated that the greater proportion of juvenile delinquents in Australian capital cities come from overcrowded slum areas, and that the majority of those children come from homes where the mother has to go out to work and either leave her children in the care of neighbours or leave them to play on the street and, like Topsy, grow up as best they can. The payment of a domestic allowance to widows with dependent children would be a wise investment by any government. The budget envisages an expenditure of £r,000,000,000 a year. The cost of this proposal would be only a few thousand pounds a year, and the Government would reap a great reward. One of the best investments that the Government could make would be to give financial assistance to these deserving women and children and so help them along the road to a brighter and better future.
I am very pleased at some of the improvements of our social services structure that have been made during recent years by this Government and the previous Government. As I have said already, every social services reform instituted by this Government or by the previous Government was recommended to the Parliament by the Social Security Committee. The previous Government was working steadily towards the achievement of most of the reforms recommended by that committee when it was defeated at the general election of 1949. During this debate, I have not heard any honorable senator other than Senator Mattner mention what was done about social services during the Avar years. It is interesting to note that all the worthwhile reforms of our social services structure were affected at a time when this country was fighting for its very existence, when all available man-power and materials were being diverted to the war effort in order to achieve final victory. The Prime Minister of the day said that it would be a hollow victory if the peace were lost, and that something bad to be done to ensure that when our men returned from the war they would find in. this country a better social st mrt u re than when they left. During the war years, widows’ pensions were introduced by the Commonwealth.
It was stated this afternoon that child endowment was introduced by a Liberal government. That is true, but it is not true to say that Labour opposed it. In 1929, a royal commission was established to inquire into child endowment. Sometimes a royal commission does serve a useful purpose. Two of the members of the’ commission, the late John Curtin and Mrs. Muscio, presented a minority report in favour of child endowment, but the majority report of the commission stated that Australia, could not afford child endowment. Mr. Curtin and Mrs. Muscio, in their report to the Bruce-Page Government, stated that child endowment was not only desirable, but necessary. The government of the day acted on the majority report, and the report presented by Mr. Curtin and Mrs. Muscio - who was, I think, the president of the National Council of Women at that time - was pigeon-holed for twelve years. We know what a great boon child endowment would have been to the mothers of Australia during the depression.
I listened with interest yesterday to the reply to a question asked by Senator Robertson about trading in child endowment books. I was somewhat startled at the reply given by the Minister. The implication of his reply was that all is not so good on the economic front as people would have us believe. Some people have to pawn their child endowment books, so to speak, to buy their everyday needs. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark when that happens. The reply given by the Minister to Senator Robertson was that the books were used in this way to buy necessities, not luxuries. I should like to say, in defence of the mothers of this country, that at no time while I was teaching did I see any mother squander her child endowment money. 1 remember when the first child endowment payments were made. Children who had never had their own text-books and had always borrowed from other children, no longer had to borrow, because their mothers bought the books for them. Children who had never had sandshoes for games had their first pair of sandshoes, bought with child endowment money. I think 99 per cent, of the mothers of thi? country use their child endowment money wisely and well in the interests of their children.
– Labour held child endowment up for three months.
– I say to Senator Marriott that the Labour party stands for the extension of social services. I do not believe that everything should be given to everybody for nothing, because that would destroy initiative. I believe that in every society a citizen must shoulder his responsibilities if he wants to enjoy the full privileges and rights of citizenship. The inference to be drawn from the remarks of Senator Marriott is that a pension is more or less a handout by the Government. I do not regard an age pension or an invalid pension as a hand-out. I think it is the duty of all able-bodied citizens to help other citizens who are stricken by age or illness. I regard the provision of assistance to aged people and invalids as a national responsibility. Labour, when in power, took that view and endeavoured to improve the lot of the pensioners.
A great deal has been said about the proposal of the Government to raise the permissible income limit to £3 10s. a week, the same figure as the age pension. That is only turning the clock back. When the age Dension was introduced, the permissible income was equal to the pension. We departed from that principle for a number of years, but now we have come hack to the point from which we started. Tt is true that in the early days the age pension was only 10s. a week and the per.missible income was only 10s. a week, but the value of a pension can be assessed only in terms of what it can buy. The proposal to raise the permissible income limit is a step in the right direction. I am not one of those who believe that everything done by the Government is bad and that everything that emanates this side of the chamber is good. Where there are good points in a bill, I commend the Government for them. I commend the Government, for instance, on abolishing the means test for blind pensioners. But 1. ask honorable senators .opposite to remember that the road to improved social services was paved by a Labour government during the war years. That government, although it was busy with a 100 per cent, war effort, was responsible for more social services legislation during those years than any previous government. I remember what happened in the Parliament when Labour governments introduced various social services measures. I remember that men who are Ministers in this Government opposed the unemployment benefit on the ground that it would encourage idleness. They opposed the sickness benefit because they said it would encourage malingering. It is a wicked reflection on the working people of this country to say that any working man would prefer his wife and children to live on government handouts, grants or whatever we call them, rather than on what he can earn for them. The real purpose of social services benefits is not to give people an income for nothing, but to tide them over periods of misfortune. The two Liberal party members of the Social Security Committee opposed the unemployment benefit. A Labour government introduced hospital benefits. To-day we laugh at the 6s. a day that was paid to hospitals then, but it meant a great deal to the hospitals. It was more than they had been receiving from their patients. It removed the fear of large hospital bills from patients in public wards of public hospitals.
– It nearly ruined the hospitals.
– It did not. I do not know whether Senator Wedgwood has seen the reports on this subject. They are very interesting. I am sure she would not have made an interjection of that kind if she had studied them. The 6s. a day that was paid to hospitals in respect of each patient in a public ward was greater than the sum the hospitals had been able previously to obtain from patients. . As hospital costs increased, we increased the payment to 8s. a day. W? all know the rest of the story. The story of pharmaceutical benefits is much the same. They were instituted by a Labour government, in the face of strong opposition. The parties in the Senate were evenly balanced. But Senator Crawford had a fear of travelling overnight by train. He had visions of being murdered in one of the tunnels between here and Goulburn on a night train. We were very grateful to him for that queer streak in his makeup, because he used to leave Canberra by the Thursday afternoon train, instead of waiting for the night train.. We used to pad along until the Thursday afternoon train had left. Then we were able to get our legislation through. Every member of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party of that day voted against our social services legislation, but to-day the Government” parties say they are doing great things in the social services field and that Labour has done nothing. I am pleased that at long last they have seen the light. By making some efforts to improve the social security of the people of this country, they arc continuing to build on the foundations that were so well and truly laid during the regime of the Chifley Government, under the guidance of Senator McKenna, who was then the Minister for Social Services.
Senator WOOD (Queensland) [5.44J. - I congratulate the Government on the bill, because I think it deals with social services in a common-sense way. They would have been dealt with very differently if the last general election had gone the other way and the Labour party had tried to implement the policy that it enunciated then.
Debate interrupted under Sessional Order.
Sitting suspended from 5.Ji£ to 8 p.m.
.- T move -
I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later hour this day.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
.- Prior to the suspension of the sitting, 1 had complimented the Government on introducing this legislation which will mean so much to a great many people because of the increased benefits th,Lt it proposes. I think that the Government has adopted a common sense approach io the field of social services. I believe that the alleviation of the means test which this legislation will bring about will be welcomed by the 70,000 people who will receive pensions for the first time. J: seems to me that this is a worth while attempt to deal with a situation which most of us agree requires some alleviation. A great deal of talk has been heard about the complete abolition of the meanstest. and promises have been made thai that would be done. I suggest that, although it is easy to say that the means test will be abolished, it is necessary to approach the payment of pensions and social services generally in a common sense way. It must be appreciated that abolition of the means test and the payment of increased pensions would mean that the earners in the Commonwealth would have to provide the funds to make that possible. The government itself does not provide such money; it has to be collected from the people. Th<?ro i? a limit to the things which governments can do with the people’s money. The fact that the government may wish to be soft hearted or that it feels well disposed towards a certain section of the community, is beside the point. The government has to be practical and sensible. It must bear in mind that it i-= the people who have to provide the money for social services.
During the recent general election campaign, the Australian Labour party, under the leadership of Dr. Evatt, promised that if it were returned to office it would abolish the means test. I know that abolition of the means test is genuinely desired by a great many people, but what would its abolition really mean? I suggest that it would mean that, a great many people would receive pensions who did not really need them.
L believe that it would be better to pay a higher rate of pension to those who genuinely need a pension than to pay pensions to those who do not need them. I am of the opinion that the only effective way to abolish the means test would be to establish a national insurance fund. It is utterly ridiculous to expect the citizens to pay for its abolition by means of increased taxes. There ave limits to the sums which the people can provide for social services. I do not desire the abolition of the means test under present conditions, because I am unable to see how the country could afford to pay pensions to everybody of a certain age, whether they needed them or not. It might be posible to com[mence abolition of the means test in respect of persons of, say 75 years of age, and gradually reduce the effect of the means test year by year thereafter, but even to do’ that would probably necessitate increasing the present rate of tax, or establishing a national insurance system. If we look at this matter in a reasonable light, we must surely recognize that there are limits to what we can do for recipients of social services benefits.
I am very sorry that the plight of the pensioners has been made a political football at election time. To my way of thinking, that is one of the most disgraceful aspects of our public life. It is wrong of political parties to lead people up the garden path by telling them, “ If we get in we will give you such and such “. If the party that makes such a promise does not succeed in achieving office, a great deal of regret is caused by the unfulfilwent of the promise, and if it does succeed in being elected and fails to do what it said it would, the result is much the same.
We hear constant references from members of Parliament and others to the ratio between the age pension and the basic wage. In my opinion, that is a silly comparison. The age pension was never intended to be related to the basic wage, but was meant to supplement the savings of people and to help them in their old age. If the age pension is to be regarded in the same way as we regard the basic wage, what will happen to thrift? The nation needs a self-reliant and thrifty people. If we foster those characteristics in our people, the nation will be all the better for it.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has moved an amendment to the effect that the rate of pension should be increased by 10s. a week. I understand that, that would cost an additional £13,000,000 a year. It is easy to speak of such a sum, but it is not so easy to collect it. The Opposition must remember that a great proportion of the people are asking for tax reductions: When the Budget was presented, the Opposition complained that the average employee would not receive tax concessions as great as those he should receive. Honorable senators opposite cannot have it both ways. If the majority of the people want tax reductions, the Government cannot increase the cost of social services ad lib. Apparently, the people of the Commonwealth have faith in the commonsense basis on which the Government is dealing with the financial affairs of the nation. It is apparent that they approve of the policy of the Government. Honorable senators may have noticed that a gallup poll, the results of which were published to-day, has indicated almost a landslide movement in favour of the Liberal and Australian Country party form of government.
Pressure groups have developed in the field of social services. A Government of the right type adopts a broad national outlook and endeavours to do what is best for the greatest number of people. It does not allow itself to be influenced by pressure groups. The welfare state movement in this country, particularly in relation to pensions, is posing serious financial problems. The Government has to ask itself how much money it can take from those who work and pay taxes in order to provide pensions and other social services benefits. It has to strike a happy balance and adopt a common-sense outlook. Perhaps the whole problem of pensions needs reconsideration. It might be advisable to alter the age at which age pensions become payable. It is well known that nowadays the average expectation of life is longer than it was previously. That being so, people can work for a longer period, with a beneficial effect on the economic position. If the minimum age were fixed at 68 years in respect of males, those who are already receiving pensions would continue to do so and would not be affected. I have adopted the age of 68 for the purposes of illustration only, but it does seem to me that, as people are now able to work longer because they live longer, the minimum age fixed in previous years need no longer apply. In my opinion, many people would be happy to continue to work and earn a higher income than they would be able to earn if they were retired at 65 years of age, which is the age at which many thousands of people retire. They would probably welcome the opportunity to continue to work for an additional year or so and to become entitled to an age pension at a later date.
As an alternative, I suggest that if we are to retain the present minimum age, it might be possible to give people the option of continuing to work and becoming eligible for a pension later on, or of going on to the pension straight away. For instance, civil servants could be given the option of continuing to work in the Service after they have reached the present retiring age. If either of those alternatives were adopted the position would be improved materially. It should be possible to work out a system that would enable a higher rate of pension to be paid over a lesser number of years. I believe that the means test can be abolished only if we establish an insurance fund from which to provide pensions. Even then it would be almost impossible to attract, initially, a sufficient number of contributors to enable the immediate payment of pensions from the fund. It would be necessary to pay age pensions from an age older than the age at which they are now paid. The age of eligibility could be lowered progressively, and, ultimately, all age pensioners would be on the same basis. I believe that the three points that I have made are worthy of consideration. As I have said before, as people are now living longer, they should, provided they are maintained in good health, be able to work until a more advanced age than at present. It is obvious, from the number of positions vacant that are advertised in the daily press, that there is a tremendous shortage of labour in this country. Therefore, it would assist the economy of Australia if workers were allowed to remain longer in their jobs. By that means, there would be a smaller drain on pension funds, and the economic structure of this country would be strengthened. I heartily commend the sensible approach that this bill makes to social services.
– I support the amendment. Senator Wood almost apologized for certain deficiencies of the bill.
– I made no apology for the bill.
– The honorable senator suggested a scheme under which an adequate pension could be paid to an aged person who had no other means of subsistence. I believe that, if we are to provide social justice for the people of thi3- country, an entirely different approach must be made to pensions. I take this opportunity to compliment Senator Tangney on the excellent speech that she delivered this afternoon on social services, in which she pointed out deficiencies of this bill. I also join with her in complimenting the Government on certain improvement in the field’ of social services, for which the bill makes provision. I consider that the amelioration of the means test will correct certain harsh anomalies that have existed. In this respect, the Government has made a reasonable contribution to social services. However, as I have said on previous occasions in this chamber, it is a disgrace to the country that old people who have no income other than their pensions have to exist on such a small amount. I have spoken strongly about this matter at meetings of the Australian Labour party.
It has been estimated that from 68 per cent, to 75 per cent, of age pensioners have no incomes apart from the pension. It is idle for supporters of the Government to claim that they have given just treatment to the pensioners while they continue to ignore the distress of aged people who are most in need of assistance. Senator Wood has stated that any alteration of the pension system should ensure a better deal for pensioners in that category. The Government was unmindful of this factor when it introduced the bill.
It is thoroughly wrong for Government senators to state that, by increasing the amount of the age pension to £3 10s. a week, they treated our aged people fairly. 1 believe that they cheated them. Honorable senators opposite have stated, continually, that increases of the age pension have kept pace progressively with the increase of the cost of living. They have cited the C series index in support of that contention. I point out that that index is not a satisfactory indicator for this purpose, although many supporters of the Government seem to think that it is. On the other hand, some of the Ministers of the present Government have shown that they know full well that the C series index does not establish the amount necessary to enable a person to live even frugally.
– It refers to the minimum requirements of a family comprising a man, his wife, and two children.
– It is only a component of the basic wage. Indeed, it is scarcely a component; rather it is a list containing a number of items, in respect of which statistical information is furnished. The list does not include all of the items and commodities necessary for a family to maintain a minimum standard of living. The only time that the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration used that index was when it fixed the quarterly adjustments of the basic wage, but the court had regard, also, to other economic factors. It is deceptive for supporters of the Government to cite the C series index in attempting to support their contention that the Government has treated the pensioners fairly. The basic wage was determined in the light of the cost of a number of items, not all of which were included in the C series index. The basic wage provided a standard, which was altered from time to time. If the Government’s treatment of the pensioners is to be assessed fairly, regard must be had to the basic wage, not the C series index, which only provides statistical assistance to the court ; other economic factors, also, are taken into consideration. In 1948, the statistical index was 1,311, and the basic wage - from the, 21st October, 1948 - £5 16s. a week. The age pension was then 42s. 6d. a week, which was equivalent to 36.64 per cent, of the basic wage. The percentage of the pension to the basic wage fell progressively. In 1949, the index figure was 1466, and the basic wage £6 13s. At 42s. 6d., the age pension was then equivalent to only 31.95 per cent, of . the basic wage. In 1950, the index figure was 1491, and the basic wage £6 13s. a week. In that year, the age pension was equivalent to 32.03 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1952, the ratio of the pension to the basic wage dropped to 26.87 per cent. The index figure in that year was 2238, the basic wage was £11 7s. a week, and the pension was £3 a week. It was at that stage that the .rot set in. To-day, the basic wage, in “Western Australia, is £12 fis. 6d. a week. The age pension of £3 10s. a week, is equivalent to only 28 per cent, of the ‘basic wage. This is an instance in which the Government apparently feels justified in adjusting the economy by effecting a reduction of the standard of living of those who are least able to afford any reduction. Had the basic wage not been frozen, adjustments would have been effected to increase it - by 19s. lid.- to £13 6s. a week. Therefore, the percentage that the age pension bears to the actual cost of living is lower now than at any other time since 1948.
We must consider the human factors involved. When the age pension was £3 7s. 6d. a. week, and the basic wage £12 6s. 6d. a week, the Perth Daily News, in conjunction with the Junior Chamber of Commerce, conducted an independent inquiry in relation to pensioners’ living conditions. Many pensioners who were interviewed stated that they were trying to exist on a pension that provided an average of only about ls. 3-Jd. a meal. They said that they usually paid ls. 6d. for breakfast, consisting of tea and toast; ls. 6d. for lunch, consisting of a meat pie and tea ; and 3s. 6d. for a moderate threecourse evening meal at an ordinary restaurant. I do not think that any honorable senator would expect a pensioner to live on less food. On that basis, pensioner’s meals alone cost 6s. 6d. a day, for seven days a week. His expenditure of £2 5s. 6d. a week on meals did not provide for any variation of fare on Sundays. The average rental paid by a pensioner for a room was £1 2s. a week. I have personal knowledge of the living circumstances of an age pensioner, who is living in a shack behind a wine-bar. He had to provide his own furniture. His rental of El 15s. 6d. a week does not include the cost of electricity. The rental may have been less before the control of rents was lifted. He spends the remainder of his pension on meals, and has nothing available for clothes, transport, amusement, cigarettes, and other incidental expenditure. His situation is desperate. I consider that the Government has failed miserably in its attempt to give social jnsti.ce to the pensioners.
I come now to other percentage comparisons. The ratio to the basic wage of child endowment of 5s. a week in respect of the first child has dropped to 2 per cent. ; whilst that of endowment of 10s.’ in respect of the second child and subsequent children has dropped to 4 per cent, of the basic wage. The pension of a widow with a dependent child is only 30 per cent, of the basic wage - a ration only a little above that of the age pension. A widow over ‘50 years of age receives a pension of £2 17s. 6d. a week, which is only 23 per cent, of the basic wage. I refer to the frozen basic wage, not the real basic wage, which, on the court’s determination, is £1 a week more. How can the Government justify its treatment of the pensioners? The outcasts of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party - the pensioners ! The unemployment benefit is 20 per cent, of the frozen basic wage. Honorable senators opposite try to justify the Government’s refusal to increase social service benefits by claiming that the economy of this country could not stand additional benefits.
– Does the honorable senator wish to raise taxes?
– The Government has increased taxes. The greatest amount of taxation that was ever paid in this country amounted to 28 per cent, of the national income during the war. The Government is now extracting from the people 27 per cent, of the national income. The Government’s budget totals £1,000,000,000 yet, out of that amount, it is scraping enough to pay pensioners, who are living in sub-standard conditions, an amount which will not provide them with a decent living.
– They will be no worse off than they were under the Labour Government.
– That is what yon say. A bishop of the Church of England in Western Australia has said that pensioners are living in poverty. He ha.suggested that they should bo given accommodation in cellars in order that they will not have to sleep and shave on the esplanade. Junior members of the chamber of commerce had been collecting! old clothes for them.
– Crocodile tears.
– I am not crying. I am talking.
– You are not speaking the truth.
– These facts have been published in the press. Oan you challenge the figures that I gave in relation to the cost of meals and rent? Do not point; it is rude, my friend.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. . McMullin). - Order! Senator Cooke, you will address your remarks to me. You have a habit of getting into arguments with Senators across the chamber. They are at fault in interjecting, but if you address your remarks to me you will nol be in trouble with senators on the opposite side of the rib amber.
– I shall be pleased to address my remarks to you, Mr. President, because I shall bo speaking to a gentleman. The estimate of “revenue for the current financial year that has been furnished by the Treasurer amounts to £1,017,000,000. It has been estimated that the Government will spend £83,000,000 on age and invalid pensions. If the Government holds the country’s dignity in any esteem it will implement the Opposition’s proposals before the next budget. I agree that the alterations to the principal act that have been proposed by the Government are necessary. But I say to the Government, give the married pensioner 40 per cent, of the basic wage, which would make 80 per cent, for a married couple who were both pensioners, with a relative pension to single pensioners, at the same time fixing a minimum rate below which pensions will not be allowed to fall. In depression times, as a result of a fall in the basic wage, the pension could become a pittance that would be worse than the workhouse if it were related to the basic wage without a minimum rate being fixed. I ask the Government to give social justice to the people who most need it.
– I appreciate the manner in which this bill has been accepted by the Senate. I have listened with great interest to the discussions that have taken place. Even. Opposition senators have spoken in eulogistic terms of portions of the bill. Concerning other portions of the bill they are not in agreement with the Government. The amendment to the motion before the Senate proposes that the bill should be redrafted in order to provide minimum age and invalid pensions of £4 a week and to provide that other rates of pensions should be similarly increased. The Leader of the Opposition has suggested £4 a week as a minimum pension, but pension rates are invariably fixed as a maximum, not a minimum amount. The Leader of the Opposition has given the Senate very little opportunity of knowing exactly what he intends. It is not clear whether be wishesthe pension to be greater than £4 a week or whether he considers that it should be precisely that amount. If the Opposition’s proposal were extended to all other pensions and social service allowances it would cost the Government approximately £65,000,000 a year. That is a large amount of money to be involved in the kind of motion that the Opposition has put forward on this occasion.
The debate has chiefly concerned the value of the age and invalid pension, which is £3 10s. a week. Members of the Opposition have compared the pension with the basic wage. The basic wage is not a good yardstick with which to measure the pension, because the components of the basic wage have varied to some degree in recent years. TheC series index figure is a much better yardstick with which to measure what the age or invalid pension should be. The pension was £2 2s. 6d. in 1949. On the basis of the C series index figure, the pension now has a greater purchasing power than it had in 1949. It was suggested that the year 1948 should be taken as a basis of comparison. That was the year in which the last increase in the pension amounting to 5s., was made by the previous government. The pensions were not increased in the 1949 budget. If the previous government considered that age and invalid pensions should have been increased surely it would have increased them in 1949, and surely the late Mr. Chifley would have expressed his intention of increasing pensions in his policy speech prior to the general election of 1949. it can only be assumed that the Labour government at that time was quite satisfied that the age and invalid pensions were sufficient. In 1950, the Menzies Government increased pensions by 7s. 6d. a week. The amendment that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition has been carefully considered by the Government, but the Government does not accept it.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator McKenna’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed (vide page 648).
.- In addressing myself to the motion that I moved earlier in the Senate, I hope that this debate will be adjourned and then continued, and that honorable senators will have full opportunity to study the
Actual terms of the motion. It is a motion that has no flavour of party political significance at ‘all. It is concerned solely with the possibility of examing a formula. It is not concerned with trying to decide whether the formula is right or wrong, [t is concerned with the desirability of examining the formula by which money collected through petrol tax. customs and excise is distributed among the various States. I put the motion forward in support of my contention that it has no flavour of party significance. This formula was first introduced in 1923 when the present Lord Bruce was Prime Minister. When it was introduced, the enabling bill was acclaimed by members of all parties in the Parliament and it was passed without opposition. Ever since that time, the formula has been adopted by all Australian governments without alteration, irrespective of their political colour. Therefore, the formula is peculiarly one that honorable senators should be able to consider impartially. It is one that comes particularly within the province of this chamber, because it relates to the States and the rights of the States.
In .part, the motion proceeds from my own suspicion that the State of Victoria, from which I come, is being most unjustly treated by the operation of the formula as it stands. It proceeds in part also from my suspicion that the effects of this formula upon the road building programme of the whole of
Australia, and not only in Victoria, are not good effects, and that ‘both the injustice, and the effects on road building that I suspect, are liable to become worse and worse as time goes on, as the amount of money to be distributed becomes larger and larger and the discrepancy grows. That is the mainspring of the motion that I bring before the Senate. Before 1 adduce the evidence that led me to introduce the motion, I shall anticipate some general arguments against it and answer them in advance. I propose to put forward my replies now before I hear those arguments and, perhaps, in the hope that I shall not hear them.
The first type of general argument that I expect is that this is a parochial matter and that we in the Commonwealth Parliament should have a national outlook. It might be said that we should have regard only for the welfare of the nation and not be concerned with matters relating to particular States that might be called parochial. I do not believe that that argument will hold water. We are not only a Commonwealth. We are a Commonwealth of six States. That is the framework of the Constitution under which we live. Where there is a conflict between the national outlook and a State outlook, I believe that the national outlook should always prevail. Nevertheless, the States have rights and interests, not only as’ against the Commonwealth but as against the other States which are also entities in the Commonwealth. If there is any place where the rights and interests of the States should be protected and examined, this is the chamber where that should be done, and that is onereason why I have brought forward this motion.
The second general type of argument that I anticipate is that this formula has been in operation since 1923 and if it was good enough then, it should be good enough now. It might be said that in any ease, the State Premiers from time to time have accepted the formula, with the exception of the Premier of Victoria. That seems to be a peculiarly specious argument. It takes no cognizance whatever of changes that could be expected to have occurred, and have occurred, since 1923. It does not take into consideration changes that are likely to occur in view of the development that is to be seen around us to-day. The argument that the Premiers of the States have accepted the formula does not take into consideration well known human frailties in that those who are not affected by injustice are not conspicuously apt to leap to action against injustice. Those who, in one way or another, believe that they benefit from injustice are even less active to leap to action against injustice. The mere fact that this formula was introduced in 1923, and that the Premiers have accepted it, is no justification for saying that it should not be examined. That is not proof that no injustice has been done. One might as well argue that because the Australian Loan Council has operated since 1930 or thereabouts and has not up to now seen fit, through the National Works Council, to allot priorities for government works, and because the Premiers have accepted the situation since 1930, there is no need for any change and the matter should not be pressed. That is a proposition that I believe to be completely untenable, just as I believe that the general arguments my motion are untenable.
The’ third possible point of general objection is that the more populous and the more prosperous States ought to help to develop the less prosperous and more sparsely settled States in the national interest. I have no quarrel with that as a principle. I believe that just as all the revenues collected in a capital city of a. State should not be spent there but should be used to develop the State as a whole, so it is right to say that all the revenue collected in a particular State should not be spent there but should be expended to develop the nation as .a whole. I believe there is no tenable argument there from the point of view of the Municipal Association of Victoria, which is the official organization of municipal councils in that State. It may be that there is great room for argument as to how this principle is put into practice, and as to the point at which a particular State runs into injustice if it is called upon to help other States. As a. proposition to exemplify what I mean, if all the petrol tax. revenue collected in Victoria were expended on other States of the Commonwealth and none on Victoria itself, it would be in accordance with the principle of helping other States, but quite obviously it would be a grave injustice to Victoria. As I have said, if all the petrol tax collected in Victoria were spent in Victoria, it would not be in the national interest. But at some point between the two extremes, a proper allocation of Victorian revenue should be made to develop the Commonwealth as a whole, and there is room for argument as to where that particular point comes. I believe that we have passed the point of justice as it applies to my own State and have reached the point of injustice where we are being called upon to pay far more than we should.
It seems to me that the evidence that is available bea-rs out the last point that 1 have made. I should like to put before the Senate some of the detailed evidence. I ask the honorable senators to bear in mind that I am not putting forward any specific proposition for an alteration, of the formula. I am merely putting forward evidence to indicate that a situation has arisen where investigation ought to be m’ade so as to adduce facts, evidence and arguments, and to present them in a report so that we may come to a proper conclusion as tn whether my suspicions are correctThat is all that this evidence is intended to do. We in Victoria have been contributing recently £16 a head - that is £16 a motorist - in the form of petrol tax, and receiving back less than £5 a head. In Western Australia the contribution has been £15 a head and the return £21 a bead. Let me put it another way. Of the money that is distributed on a population basis, Victoria receives one-sixth; yet Victoria has one out of every three motor cars registered in Australia running over its roads and wearing them out! This means that more money is required for maintenance, with the result that less money is available for the development of Victorian roads.
– Victorian roads are much better than Queensland roads.
– I will come to that later, and give the reason for the difference. I repeat that we are receiving less than one-sixth of the money that is distributed on a population basis, although one out of every three motor ears registered in the Commonwealth runs on our roads. That means that we have contributed approximately one- third of the tax collected. The fact that we are contributing one-third, and getting back one-sixth surely indicates a situation which at least should be investigated. When we consider further that, of the money that is distributed on an area basis - that is, two-fifths of the 95 per cent, of the total distributed on the mainland - Victoria receives approximately one eighty-eighth, yet according to the Commonwealth Year Booh Victoria has a road mileage greater than almost any ether State, that too appears to indicate an injustice that should be investigated. Of concrete roads, New South “Wales has 583 miles, Victoria 352 miles, Queensland 90 miles, South Australia 395 miles, and “Western Australia 4 miles. Those figures are published in the Commonwealth Year Booh for 1953 at page 672. Of bituminous roads, New South “Wales lias 8,027 miles, Victoria 10,241 miles, Queensland 4,113 miles, South Australia 4.2S3 miles, and Western Australia 3,642 miles. Of macadam and other hard surface roads, New South Wales has 34,000 miles, Victoria 28,418 miles, Queensland 9,2S8 miles, South Australia 1.53,429 miles, and Western Australia 12,349. Of formed roads, unmetalled New .South Wales has 27,454 miles, Victoria 23,901 miles, Queensland 44,977 miles, South Australia 9,307 miles and Western Australia 28,334 miles. Those figures show that Victoria -has to keep in repair a mileage of roads greater than that of almost any other State. Yet, of the money distributed in the Commonwealth on an area basis, Victoria receives only one eighty-eighth.
– The other States have more miles to be macadamized.
– I daresay they Iia ve, but I submit that on an area basis, we have a case which again - and I only put it this high at the moment - for the investigation of an apparent injustice. In the course of ray speech, I have heard interjections to the effect that in spite of the difficulties to which I have referred, Victoria’s road system is better than that of any other State. I do not know whether that is true, but we certainly have a very good road system and the reason for that, I believe, is self-help. I am sure that figures can be found to prove my contention. For instance, in 1952-53, of the money spent on Victorian roads, £12,000,000 came from self-help and a little more than £2,000,000, or les? than 20 per cent., was subscribed, by the Commonwealth.
– What does the honorable senator mean by self-help?
– I include in that definition taxes in the form of motor registration fees and other State imposts on motorists. I also include municipal rates which are spent on road construction. In short, the term embraces all forms of taxation other than Commonwealth taxation which is spent on road construction. That is what I mean by self-help. I repeat that in the year to which I referred, Victoria provided about 80 per cent, of the money spent on roads. I think it will be found that this percentage is far greater than that of any other State. I have not a complete table of figures for the other States, but I know that Western Australia contributed 43 per cent, and the Commonwealth ,57 per cent, of expediture in that State. That is the pattern that has been followed over the years, and that is one reason why. in spite of the difficulties of which I have spoken, Victoria has a good road system. But if the present system is to continue, there can only be one result. The Victorian motorist and the Victorian ratepayer will be penalized, not to help to build more roads for the nation’s good, but to help some other State build its roads more cheaply than it would be able to do if there were equality of sacrifice in all States. That, in my opinion, is not a national outlook.
When I told the Senate that Victoria had one out of every three motor cars registered in the Commonwealth, I was reading from the Quarterly Summary of Australian Statistics published in Dec, 1953. At page 85 that volume gives not only the number of vehicles registered in each State, but also other information such as the revenue derived from drivers’ licences, motor cycle riders’ licences, and so on in each State of the Commonwealth. So I suggest that the exclusion from the formula under which taxes ave collected of recognition of self-help is another reason why some examination ought to be made. I remind the Senate that, in 1923, when the formula was first introduced, it was tied quite closely to self-help. It was a £l-for-£l grant. Money was only granted by the Commonwealth if the State or municipal authorities made a similar allocation. That is another argument in favour of my proposition, not that the system should be changed, but that it ought to be examined.
I invite honorable senators now to consider the manner in which an injustice which, at its inception, was small and of little significance in practice, has grown, and is likely to grow, beyond all reason. In 1923, when this formula was first introduced, the amount to be distributed between the States was a mere £500,000. The operation of the formula meant that the large States such as Queensland and Western Australia received £5,000 or £6,000 more than did Victoria. That, as I have said, was a matter of no great significance, but, as the years’ have gone by - and particularly in recent years - the Commonwealth has become more and more generous in its allocation to the States of revenue obtained from the petrol tax. The number of motor vehicles on our roads has increased in geometric progression, and the amount of money to be distributed to the States has grown from £500,000 to £24,000,000. Similiarly, the discrepancy which at first was only a few thousand pounds, has grown to a figure of great magnitude. I envisage the time when allocations to the States from the petrol tax will have increased from the present £24,000,000 to £32,000,000 or £48,000,000.
– That cannot happen because as Australian petrol refineries come into production, the yield from, the customs duty on imported petrol will decline. That is one of the features of the new proposals.
– Let us look to the future. We must expect a vastly expanded population, and so we must expect a vastly increased number of motor cars. Perhaps .the excise duty will be increased ro the present level of custom duties. We do not know. The point I make is that, just as in the last 20 or 30 years the allocation to the States has increased from about £500,000 to £24,000,000, so, in the next 20 or 30 years, it may increase in similar proportions. And as it increases, so will the discrepancy to which I have referred, increase.
– But the ratio will still be the same.
– Yes, but tindiscrepancy will increase. In 1923, it amounted to only a few thousand pounds, but in the year ended the 30th June, 1953. it had grown to £269,000 and in the cur rent year, it is expected to reach £432,000 As the allocation continues to grow thai £432,000 will become £500,000, £600,000. or £700,000. The injustice which, in th. beginning, was unnoticed because it wa.small, is becoming more and more noticeable, and more and more burdensome. Already it is having a vital effect on the road system of Australia as a whole. Already Victoria, because of its mileage of roads and its number of vehicles, ha.» a road programme for which sufficient money cannot be provided. The Country Roads Board has a £30,000,000 programme, but it received only £7,000,000 last year. Roads are falling into disrepair and new roads are not being built.
– That is the position in all the States.
– It does not apply to all the States. Last year, Queensland did not spend over £2,000,000 of its road.grant.
– But the work is there to be done.
– That money wa>u n spent. It could have been spent in Victoria. We needed it. Last year. £2,000,000 of the roads grant to Queensland was unspent. That is a half of what the grant will be for this year. Western Australia, too, had a large surplus. By distributing this money in such a wa) that one State is unable to build nev. roads because it has not enough money and other States apparently have more money than they can spend on their roads, we are not helping the national roads programme. On the contrary, we are hindering it. Whatever conclusion the Senate desires to draw from the figures, the figures are undisputed. I say they indicate that there is ground for an examination to see whether the effects of th is policy on the roads programme of Australia are the best effects for Australia as a whole.
I have dealt with this subject briefly in a general way, and I have put to the Senate some of the specific points which I think prove that an examination is required. I ask all honorable senators to look farther into the future when they consider this matter. Australia is developing more rapidly than ever before, and the presentratios of State populations will be altered. There will be a vast industrial expansion in “Western Australia, with the construction of the Kwinaua oil refinery, with oil strikes, and with general industrialization by Broken Hill Company Proprietary Limited. It is probable that Queensland is on the threshold of population development.
– Hear, hear!
– I am delighted to hear a statement of future intentions by Senator Wood. But let me bring the Senate back to the examination of a problem that is a little more immediate. How will this formula work if new States are formed, if the part of Queensland north of Mackay is made into a new State, and if the part of Western Australia north of Geraldton is made into a new State? Some honorable senators say “ Hear, hear ! “ That proves that new States are desired by many people. Should not we make an examination to see how the operation of a formula of this kind would be affected by the establishment of new States? Is not that a reason why a committee should be appointed to examine this matter? It would be a committee that could do nothing but examine evidence and bring facts to light, but should not we examine the evidence and ascertain the facts? I do not want to prognosticate. It may be that it will be found that, although this is the best method of distributing the present amount of petrol tax, some new basis should be adopted for distributing an increased amount in the future, or that special grants should be made to States that are discriminated against by this formula. It may be that an examination should be made of the wisdom of hypothecating a special revenue collection for a specific purpose. It might be found that it would be better to pay all revenue into the Consolidated RevenueFund and make all payments out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. They are all matters of great moment. We should have all the facts at our fingertips when the time comes for us to examine the operation of this formula and decide what should be done in the interests of Australia.
Whilst I do not believe that any words of mine, or indeed any words of the recordingangel, could swing the vote of any honorable senator who felt that his State would be damaged by an alteration of the formula, I believe that all honorable senators should desirethat an impartial examination be made of this matter so that all the evidence can be adduced. Any honorable senator who set his face flintily against an impartial examination would show clearly that he was a litle frightened of what an impartial examination might bring out. This is a matter that is peculiarly within the province of the Senate. Itis one in which we could do a good job for the whole of Australia, and I hope we shall try to do it.
Debate (on motion by Senator Critchley)adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Cooper) agreed to-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday, the 13th October next, at 3 p.m.
asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Tie answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows: -
This 10 per cent, concession applies also to vehicles used in the carriage of goods in the course of a trade or calling. There are no concessions for primary producers in Queensland, South Australia or the Northern Territory.
asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The following answers have been provided : - 1 to 4. This question raises matters of banker/customer relationship and the internal administration of the Commonwealth Bank about which I am unable to comment. Under the authority of section 4 of the Civil Aviation Agreement Act 1952, and in accordance with clause 3 of the agreement with Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited approved by such act, the Commonwealth has issued a. guarantee to the Commonwealth Bank covering £1,500,000 of the total amount nf £3,000,000 provided for in clause 3 (1) for the purchase of aircraft and spares.
asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
Motion . (by Senator Cooper) pro posed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I do not wish to detain th, Senate for very long.
Opposition Senators. - Hear, hear!
– I notice that a number of honorable senators are only too willing to knock off early to-night, but during the last two day3 the Government has been, accused of rushing legislation through the chamber and not giving honorable senators sufficient opportunity to debate it. It is well to remember that fact, particularly as the Opposition is so sparsely represented at the moment. Soon after my entry into the Senate, not more than eighteen months ago, I directed attention to what I felt was the need to cut out wast, in the provision of printed matter for honorable senators. I regret that I have seen little or no improvement of the position. Obviously, the committee that was given the task of going into the matter found that I was in the wrong. Now, curiously enough, having admitted that I tried to cut down the supply of printed matter to honorable senators. I want to make a request that may increase the paper warfare a little, but I think with good effect.
Owing to the importance of international subjects,some Ministers are a broad. From time to time, some of them are absent from the Parliament owing to ill health. The team of 22 Ministers is sometimes reduced, and the remaining Ministers are required to represent their absent colleagues. All I ask is that the members of the Parliament should be informed of the names of Ministers who are representing absent colleagues. I do not think that, because we are members of the Parliament, we are expected to have photographic memories. At present, five or six Ministers are absent, and some Ministers are representing one or more of the absent Ministers. I suggest that on the noticepaper there be set out the names of Ministers who are acting on behalf of absentcolleagues, and the portfolios in which they are acting. Sometimes we desire to ask questions that affect a department administered by a Minister who is away, but we are not sure whether the acting Minister is a member of the Senate or a member of another place. The service that I suggest would not greatly increase the paper warfare, but it would give information that would be of assistance to members of the Parliament. I think it is assistance that should be given. Therefore, I ask the acting leader of the Government - or should I say the deputy acting leader of the Government? - to consider my suggestion and, if he feels that it is in the interest of good government, to give effect to it.
.I rise to reply to the statements that were made in the opening remarks of Senator Marriott. They were cheap, nasty, and sarcastic words spoken by an’ honorable senator who was totally ignorant of the circumstances. I suggest that my esteemed colleague, the Government Whip, doher best to make the honorable senator understand the reasons why the Senate is rising comparatively early to-night. I assure the Government Whip and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) - I think Senator Marriott gave him the title of deputy acting leader of the Government - that if they find it difficult to make the honorable senator understand the true position, I shall, with my usual humility, assist them fully to instruct him, even though he may consider that he is possessed of all knowledge.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Immigration Act - Return for period 1947-53.
Nationality and Citizenship Act - Return for year 1953-54.
Overseas Telecommunications Act - Eighth Annual Report of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission ( Australia ) for year ended 31st March, 1954, together with financial accounts.
Seat of Government (Administration Act) - Variation of the plan of lay-out of the City of Canberra and its environs, dated 21st September, 1954.
Senate adjourned at 9.29 p.m. to Wednesday, 13th October next, at 3 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 30 September 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1954/19540930_senate_21_s4/>.