22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Customs and Excise. By way of explanation, I might say that yesterday, in reply to a question by Senator Vincent on the procedure to be adopted in regard to claims for exemption from, or rebates of, the proposed diesel fuel tax, the Minister said that large users who qualified for a straight-out exemption would be issued with exemption certificates, and that those who did not so qualify would have to lodge a claim - on forms that would be made available - for a rebate of the tax of ls. a gallon. I ask the Minister: Under what conditions will a user of diesel fuel be classified as a “ large “ user, qualifying for immediate exemption? Where may the forms, which the smaller users will be required to complete if they are to receive a rebate, be obtained? Can the Minister give me an idea of the time that will elapse before the rebate is actually paid to the user of the fuel?
– It is anticipated that users of 20,000 gallons and more of diesel fuel per annum will be classified as “ large “ users. Forms will, of course, be available at the Department of Customs and Excise, but the oil companies have offered their co-operation and forms will be available at the point of purchase also. The rebate will be made by way of cheque sent from the department. This will present a fairly big administrative problem, and although rebates will be paid as speedily as possible, I cannot give any indication of what length of time will elapse in the early stages before they are paid.
– 1 wish to direct a further question to the Minister for Customs and Excise. Will he advise me whether the ls. a gallon tax on diesel fuel is to be imposed on all diesel fuel used in Australia and refunds made to those who are not roadusers? Will the Minister advise me, further, whether diesel fuel used in fishing vessels, mines, mills and farms will be exempt from the tax?
– The tax applies to all users of diesel fuel in self-propelled vehicles which travel on public roads. All other users are exempt.
– Is the Minister for Civil Aviation aware that commercial flights over the North Pole are now commonplace and that an American airways organization will commence next Saturday regular flights to Antarctica, landing at McMurdo Sound on ice runways? Can the Minister, speaking also in his capacity as the Minister for Shipping and Transport, let me know whether there is any Australian ship or Australian aircraft registered with his department which is seaworthy or airworthy enough to make journeys to the Australian Antarctic mainland, where considerable scientific and other activities are being carried out by Australians?
– The matter raised by Senator Laught is one of great interest in view of the recent flights across the North Pole arranged by certain airlines and the imminent commercial flight across the South Pole. The Australian Government has not been tardy in this respect. One of the purposes of its recent negotiations with” the United States of America, and more recently still - indeed, within the last few days - with the United Kingdom, has been the establishment of reciprocal rights with both of those countries in respect of flights across both polar regions. That does not mean, of course, that such flights by Australian aircraft are imminent, but it does mean that when they are undertaken Australia will enjoy with both of those countries reciprocal rights, and we will not be bedevilled by having to obtain those rights at a late stage.
The honorable senator referred to the physical capabilities of Australian ships or aircraft to visit the Antarctic region. In the case of aircraft, technical considerations are involved with which, as the honorable senator appreciates, I am not completely familiar. Therefore, I ask him to give me a little time in which to make inquiries. There are ships in Australia which, I understand, could make visits to the Antarctic. Few of them do so, of course, but they could.
– By way of preface to my question, which is directed to the Minister for Civil Aviation, I point out that the airports at Hobart and Launceston each have one runway. Because of maintenance requirements and changing weather conditions, whether an alternative runway is approved and constructed at each of those airports is a matter of concern to the airways companies and the air-travelling public. My question is: When will the Minister be in a position to make a statement detailing departmental policy in respect of the provision of an alternative runway at each of the two principal Tasmanian airports, that is, Llanherne, at Hobart, and Western Junction, at Launceston, each of which, as I have pointed out, has only one runway and has a large number of services each day?
– I have not in mind what plans, if any, are in existence for those projects, but I shall make immediate inquiries of the department and ascertain the position.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Territories. I preface it by saying that I understand that, in the Northern Territory, leaseholders who require extra capital may take advantage of government legislation by approaching banks for extra finance for capital improvements. Is it a fact that, in certain instances, the banks may advance additional finance, and that that advance is guaranteed by the Government through the Treasurer? Can the Minister state the number of advances that have been made to leaseholders in the Territory over the last two years, and also the total amount involved? If a large amount has been involved, will the Government consider widening the scope for this type of finance so as to cover leaseholders outside the Territory?
– I shall be very pleased to refer the question to my colleague, the Minister for Territories, and obtain a reply for the honorable senator as early as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade has advised me as follows: -
New South Wales. - Members - Sir John Tivey. Mr. Alfred J. R. Parsons. Alternate memberMr. H. J. Hendy.
Victoria. - Members - Mr. J. T. Campbell, Mr. R. A. Rowe. Alternate members - Mr. N. E. Lockhart, Mr. John Kellett.
South Australia. - Members - Mr. W. Geoff Gerard, Mr. C. A. Robin. Alternate membersMr. R. V. Allison, Mr. C. S. Bertram.
Western Australia. - Members - Mr. H. V. Illedge, Mr. E. Hearn. Alternate members -Mr. J. G. Broomhall, Mr. B. MacKinlay.
Queensland. - Members - Mr. E. W. Ross, Mr. J. W. Peden. Alternate member - Mr. J. R. Gibson.
Tasmania - Members - Mr. E. H. Thompson, Mr. O. W. Hawkins. Alternate members - Mr. Hubert C. Lewis, Mr. H. Cuthberton.
Departmental chairmen of the boards are -
New South Wales. - Mr. F. J. McGuinness.
Victoria and Tasmania. - Mr. W. G. McNally.
Queensland, South Australia and Western
Australia.- Mr. F. C. Litchfield.
– On 4th September, Senator Wright asked the following question: -
I ask the Minister for Customs and Excise whether it has come to his knowledge that a film of the Olympic Games, which was prepared by a national Olympic committee in Europe, has been sent to the Australian Olympic organizing committee, and that the department has refused to classify it as “ educational “. If this has not come to the Minister’s personal notice, I ask him to look at the matter with a view to deciding whether the film can be so classified, and thereby be exempted from payment of duty.
I now furnish the following answer to the honorable senator’s question: -
The film to which the honorable senator referred is a 35-miilimetre colour film of 6,500 feet entitled “The 1956 Tournament of the Nations of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”, produced in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It incorporates a commentary in English and depicts the opening ceremonial parade and a series of athletic events at the tournament which is an Olympic type of assembly. The film was unsolicited and arrived in Australia addressed to the Olympic organizing committee. It is a sports type film, which may be suitable for exhibition to sporting bodies, but which, after viewing by a Commonwealth film censor, it was not possible to regard as being educational.
I might explain that films may be classified as educational, interest, drama, &c, and for a film to be regarded as “ educational “ it is necessary for it to possess some instructional or educational value. Since the film did not so qualify, it was classified as of interest only. The classification applied to this film is in line with other “ interest “ classifications, particularly in view of similar treatment to a film produced by an overseas country of the recent Olympic Games. Since to accord an “ educational “ certificate to the Russian film would conflict with film classification principles, I regret I am unable to vary the classification of this film.
I might mention, however, that should the film be donated to and accepted by the Commonwealth Film Library, and provided the library is prepared to undertake that it will not be used for commercial purposes, it would be admissible free of duty under statutory provisions relating to the admission of goods by Commonwealth departments.
– On 3rd September, I placed on the notice-paper a question addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Production regarding the future of the aircraft industry, particularly in South Australia. Will the Minister inform me when a reply is likely to be forthcoming?
Senator PALTRIDGE__ I will direct the attention of the Minister to the fact that the honorable senator’s question is on the notice-paper, and ask for an early reply.
Formal Motion for Adjournment
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin). - I have received from Senator McManus an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the
Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The urgent need for appointment by the Commonwealth Government of a royal commission to inquire into statements by Judge Foster in the “ Kumalla “ case in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, April, 1957, alleging that certain shipowners were subsidizing certain maritime unions and in return were permitted to man Australian vessels sold abroad with non-Australian crews.
.- I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till to-morrow at 11.30 a.m.
– Is the motion supported? (More than the number of senators required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places) -
– I thank honorable senators on both sides of the chamber who have risen to support a debate on this matter. The circumstances relating to this urgency motion arise from the well-known and long-determined policy of certain maritime trade unions, notably the Seamen’s Union of Australasia, whose object it is to ensure that when ships are sold abroad from Australia, they shall be manned on the journey abroad by crews under Australian articles, and also to ensure that when ships are purchased for Australia, they shall be brought to Australia from the country of origin by crews under Australian articles. That is the policy of the unions, and it may be the perfectly right one for them to advocate, provided, of course, that they advocate it and carry it into effect by legitimate methods.
Early this year, the unions took certain action in regard to the steamship “ Kumalla “ because they considered there had been a breach of that particular policy in that case. The ship was held up for a considerable time, and representatives of the shipowners then took action before Judge Foster in the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, seeking to prevent certain maritime unions banning their members from presenting themselves for employment on that ship. The case was heard before Judge Foster. I shall merely say that I am one who has admired the fact that some years ago he took over an industry which had a long and unhappy record and during the term in which he has been in charge or in supervision of that industry it has had a much better record of industrial peace than it had for many years.
However, in the course of the discussions that took place, Judge Foster stated with considerable concern that he knew that some shipowners were making secret payments to trade unions to allow ships to be brought to and taken from Australia by non-Australian crews. He declared that he was considerably embarrassed by his knowledge of that practice. He then said -
A substantial number of shipping companies have acceded to the demands of the seamen’s union that ships from Britain be brought here by Australian crews. This fact has made my task more difficult. 1 have reason to believe that shipowners are still making payments to unions in this country for this very thing, and doing it secretly.
In other words, while they come to me and tell me they are not prepared to pay, they are in fact paying, and this makes my task completely impossible.
In fact, half the shipowners accept the situation, and half do not. They have said, “ We accept the position and we are paying regularly, and they are not trifles “.
The judge concluded by saying, “ I can name the ships if you want them “. That is a statement by an eminent judicial figure, who obviously would not speak unless he had ample evidence for the statements that he was making. A statement of such a character must cause and has caused grave public concern. It has done so, first, because of the existence of a system which obviously could develop into a considerable system of blackmail, if it has not already done so. Secondly, it has caused concern because it indicates that a certain section of the trade union movement is prepared, for the sake of money received from the employers, to consent to the work which ought to be done by its members being done by people who are not being paid Australian award wages. To anybody who has had any association with the trade union movement, that is a most serious allegation.
When the statement of Judge Foster was given publicity, there was a number of denials. There was a denial by the deputy chairman of the Australian Steamship Owners Federation, who declared that he had no knowledge of the circumstances. Mr. W. Bird, the secretary of the Victorian branch of the Seamen’s Union of Australasia, was reported in the “ Age “ of 10th April, 1957, as having made this statement -
I am amazed and shocked. I do not understand what it is all about.
When the statement of Judge Foster was brought to the notice of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the president, Mr. Albert Monk, was greatly perturbed. In view of his position as leader of the trade union movement, it was obvious that he should be. He made inquiries, and the result of those inquiries was reported to affiliated unions of the A.C.T.U. on 28th August, 1957. In that report, this statement appears -
During the hearing of the “ Kumalla “ dispute Foster, J., submitted that ship owners were subsidizing unions, although they came to him and said they were unable to pay the cost of transporting Australian crews overseas to bring the ships to Australia.
President Monk stated that he was perturbed at this statement and contacted the judge, following which he telephoned Comrade J. Tudehope, Secretary of the Maritime Council, and asked him whether any of the unions had received money.
I would like the Senate to note this answer -
Comrade Tudehope answered that there was no truth in the Judge’s statement. President Monk then contacted Comrade Elliott, Secretary of the Seamen’s Union, and he also-
I would like honorable senators to note this statement - reported that there was no truth in the statement.
I understand that in view of these categorical assurances the Australian Council of Trade Unions was prepared to accept that the judge had been misled or that he was mistaken. But when officials of the A.C.T.U. were interviewing officials of the maritime unions in an interval in the proceedings, while they were discussing the matter, one official said that it appeared there was no truth in the statement, and another official of a maritime union informed them that it was true, that he had received several hundreds of pounds, and that he intended to report the facts to the committee of his union and inform the committee that in his opinion what was taking place was a grave breach of Australian trade union principles. That was done. Mr. McDonald, the secretary of the Maritime Stewards Union, reported to his union that he had received some hundreds of pounds, that he did not like to take the money, that he felt it was wrong and that what was going on was against the best interests of Australian trade unionism.
Since then, as we have all read, he has been the target for the usual series of smear attacks by the Communist party. He and, sometimes, his home have been attacked. All sorts of suggestions have been made in regard to the attacks of certain people on Mr. McDonald. I myself have seen scandal sheets which have been issued in his union to attack him on all sorts of grounds, but which obviously arise from the one fact that he, as a union official, refused to condone what was going on.
It was then stated that the A.C.T.U. was so perturbed by the situation that it would initiate an inquiry into the facts. I know that one official of the A.C.T.U. said that the action of the Australian maritime unions in this case would have to be investigated, because it was obviously a breach of the code of employment of the international seamen’s trade unions. When it was obvious that there was to be an investigation, an amazing thing happened. Mr. Elliott, the federal secretary of the seamen’s union, who had assured the A.C.T.U. that there was no truth in Judge Foster’s statements, admitted that to some extent they were true, while Mr. Bird, the Victorian secretary of the union, speaking to the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, assured the council that payments had been made and that it was a common trade union practice. I can only say that honorable senators, particularly those on this side of the Senate, who have been associated with trade unionism for some years, will learn with interest and amazement that it is a common trade union practice for officials of a union to accept from employers large sums of money and, in return, permit the work usually done by members of the union to be done by other people at less than the Australian award rates.
The next thing I want to say is that it is six months since these facts were disclosed. During that period, the A.C.T.U. has not been able to hold many meetings to consider the matter. The question was raised at the congress of the A.C.T.U. a fortnight ago, and at that meeting Mr. Monk said it was not possible to make an interim .report and that the committee had had some difficulty in holding meetings. He did say that he had asked for a re-listing of the case to permit it to be investigated when Judge Foster first made his disclosures. He said that this, however, had not been done. On the next day, Judge Foster made a statement that no application to re-list the case had ever been lodged with the court either by the A.C.T.U. or by any trade union.
The facts that have been disclosed up to date are these: There exists a system under which an arrangement can be made between the employers and certain maritime union officials by which the union will permit cheap overseas labour to be employed on ships going away from, or coming to, Australia, for sale and purchase respectively, for the sum of £125 for each alien seaman employed. The extent to which this has been put into effect can be shown by the fact that in the case of one ship, no Australian seaman worked on the vessel. It was taken abroad, but the officials of the union were able to go to the office of a firm of Sydney shipping agents and collect the sum of £4,125 for nothing. Mr. Elliott, who denied entirely that this had happened, has made a statement in a journal associated with his union in which he now admits it is going on. He says that there have been 40 vessels sold off the coast in recent years; 21 have been manned wholly or partly by Australians, and eleven have had outside crews .and indemnities or payments have been received for them. Of course, in the early stages there was no truth in the statement! Eight, he said were apparently the ones that got away. They went abroad without Australian crews, and no indemnity was received.
Investigation indicates that since 1949 some 53 ships have been sold abroad, and in quite a considerable number of cases indemnities have been paid. If there is an investigation, I suggest that those investigating will strike oil if they examine the sales of the following vessels: - “ Tyalla “, “ Benalbo “, “ Muliana “, “ Mangola “, “ Ulooloo “, “ Caledon “, “ Caldare “, “ Carlisle “, “ Elsanna “, “ Echunga “, “Kini”, “Lady Isabel”, ../*—– “ “ Noora “, “ Rona “, “ Carcoolah “, “ Coolabah “, and “ Ngatoro “.
I, therefore, say that it is the responsibility of the Government of this country, when a state of affairs is clearly revealed where something is going on which could develop into an extensive system of blackmail, to take action at the earliest possible moment. I regret that six months have passed to date without any serious action being taken.
The question arises now as to what form the investigation should take. I know that it has been stated that the Australian Council of Trade Unions has set up a committee to examine the matter and that it is the appropriate body to which the investigation should be left. I do not agree with that suggestion. First of all, the facts that have been put forward indicate that because of the character of the people to be investigated - in certain cases, at any rate - any investigation where those concerned cannot be questioned on oath would be entirely useless. And the A.C.T.U. is not in a position to question them on oath.
The second thing that I want to say is this: The A.C.T.U. is an extremely busy body. As I know, it is a body which covers a tremendous range of work. Its committee has been appointed for some time, and already there have been grave difficulties in getting the committee together. Because of the possibility of delay, I feel that it is not the ideal body to investigate the matter. The third statement I want to make is that the A.C.T.U. will be concerned primarily with trade unions and trade union officials. I wish to make it clear that in this instance I do not regard the union officials as being the only persons to whom blame may be attached. The employers and the shipowners who were prepared to accede to- this kind of thing are equally culpable, and possibly even more so. Therefore, the inquiry should be of such a nature as to cover the activities of both sides.
– Is the practice of sending the members of the seamen’s union on to ships established by an award of the court?
– No. No award of the court gives to the seamen’s union the right to man ships sold abroad, or bought abroad for use in Australia.
– What is the position of the unions?
– The unions endeavour to enforce their policy by a system of holding up vessels which, in their opinion, do not adhere to that policy.
– By way of boycott?
– Yes. The other matter that I want to raise in regard to the A.C.T.U. is that I have found by experience that it is extremely difficult for the federated bodies of the trade union movement to take any effective action. I remember especially the case of Mr. Lloyd, which occurred in Victoria. Ernie Thornton, of the Communist party, was the secretary of the ironworkers’ union and was, by systematic victimization, preventing Lloyd from obtaining a job. Lloyd went to the secretary of the Trades Hall Council in Melbourne and asked him, as a representative trade unionist, as a member of the A.C.T.U. executive, what the trade union movement could do about it. He has told me himself that the reply given was that the trade union movement could do nothing for him.
At about the same time a corrupt ballot occurred in the Building Workers Industrial Union of Victoria, the members of which also went to the Trades Hall Council in Melbourne and sought an investigation. The Trades Hall Council wished to undertake it, but was not able to do so because the unions concerned refused to attend the hearing. Senator Kennelly and I were members of the executive of the Australian Labour party at that time. Senator Kennelly was present at a meeting which decided to sponsor a deputation on the subject to the federal conference of the Australian Labour party. That body later sent representatives to Mr. Chifley and Senator McKenna, and those gentlemen decided that, as the trade union movement could take no effective action in the matter, the Government must do so. That was the origin of the Chifley-McKenna legislation to prevent victimization of trade unionists, and also of the legislation designed to ensure clean union ballots. Therefore, from experience I am led to believe that no investigation conducted by the A.C.T.U. would be really effective.
For the reasons which I have given, I suggest that a royal commission be appointed. Such a commission would be able to summon before it, for examination on oath, all of the parties to the case. Also, I think that it will be necessary to investigate more than the mere question of the manning of these ships abroad, and on their way to Australia. 1 believe that there is a need to examine very carefully the balance-sheets of the unions concerned to ensure that all the money received has actually been used for trade union purposes. I say that deliberately, because members of the unions are saying on the waterfront that some of the money has been used, not for union purposes, but, instead, for the purposes of the Communist party. It will be in the interests Of the unions, and of the men who are accused, to conduct a full investigation - as a part of which the accounts and balancesheets of the seamen’s union, in particular, will be examined.
I believe that the Government has a grave responsibility to act in this matter. As for the sums that have been paid - it has been admitted by officials of the unions that they already amount to between £20,000 and £30,000. If that practice is to continue, who will pay them? They will be paid, not by the shipping companies, but by those who buy the goods after they have been brought into the country.
– Did you say that payments of that order have been admitted by the unions?
– Yes. Therefore, a very serious situation exists. In my opinion, the Government has already waited too long - six months - before taking action in. this matter. Moreover, the only effective action is action in which the community has confidence - the appointment of a royal commission. I urge the Government to give full consideration to what has been revealed. I urge it to appoint a royal commission and give Judge Foster the opportunity to place before it the evidence to which he referred in his original statement. I believe that that would have a very salutary effect upon the future of the Australian shipping industry.
– Senator McManus raises a matter that is obviously of great public importance. It appears to me to fall under two main headings. The first is that unions, with an interest in the volume of work available, have endeavoured to create conditions which provide a greater volume of work for their members. There appears to be no ground for criticizing them in that regard. But the point that Senator McManus raises, and which the Senate is called upon to consider, is that, having adopted such a practice as their policy, the unions have allowed those work opportunities to be enjoyed by those who have lower standards and worse conditions than have the members of our own unions. Having created circumstances which produce more work opportunities for their members, they have turned their backs on those opportunities and let them be availed of by others who work for lower rates and under less favorable conditions.
– They have turned their backs on their own men!
– That is so. There are no half measures about it. It is alleged that they do this in return for a money payment - for 30 pieces of silver. There is the further doubt about what has happened to the money that has been paid over to them. Senator McManus has himself raised that doubt, and has suggested that we should have an inquiry into the circumstances. It is not, he says, possible to trace from the balance-sheets of the unions concerned whether the moneys received have been used for the purposes of the unions.
The first point that I want to make is that, on this side of the chamber we felt, without knowing that Senator McManus would go as far as he did in his allegations, that he was entitled, as a member of a political party, to state his views upon the floor of the Senate. That being the case, we decided to see whether the Labour party would have the courage to support the proposal and let the issue be debated. As it did not, we on our side provided sufficient supporters of the proposal to enable the debate to proceed. I want to make it plain, and I think I should do so early in my remarks, that we do not support the approach made by Senator McManus on this occasion. The fact that we have supported him on this occasion to the extent of giving him’ an opportunity to debate this matter must not be regarded as a precedent and as an indication that we shall do so in respect of any other matter that he brings forward.
The next point I want to make is that, in a matter of such grave importance as this, naturally the Minister concerned, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), has kept in the closest touch, with all developments as and when they have occurred since the matter became first known publicly. I hope to persuade the Senate in due course that what the Government has done and is doing in the difficult circumstances is the best thing to do in the national interest. Let me recapitulate the circumstances. It is difficult to separate facts from reports, but, speaking with a sober sense of responsibility, one must endeavour not to make extravagant statements.
It is suggested that the financial advantage involved in bringing a ship to Australia or taking a ship from Australia with a crew not on Australian articles varies from £8,000 to £10,000 a voyage. We have to look at this matter with some care. We must consider, not only the monetary consideration - the price that is being paid or demanded - but also the great disadvantage to the economy that arises from the fact that if the payments are not made, events have shown that the ships concerned are tied up on their arrival in Australia and are not worked. I am indebted to Senator McManus for his statement that Mr. Elliott at first denied that this practice had been operating since 1949. My information was that he had claimed that it had been a normal practice since 1949.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions, immediately the matter came to its notice, objected to the arrangement. It is reported that it placed its objections before Mr. Justice Foster. I understand that Mr. Justice Foster has not made an award covering this point, but that he has said in effect, that the unions are entitled to make these arrangements in respect of incoming or outgoing ships. That is not to be construed to mean that I believe that Mr. Justice Foster condones these payments. Indeed, in his judgment, which I have read, he complains rather bitterly that the parties, the union and the shipowners, have come before him and stated that no such arrangements are made, whereas, in truth, he has information to the effect that they are made. The arrangements are not made under any award, but the policy is one which has the approval of the court, and the court, in one of its judgments, said that one-half of the shipowners were making payments to unions to avoid the responsibility of Australian crews.
– There is a legal remedy, is there not?
– If so, I do not know of it. I understand that attempts have been made to find a legal remedy. I share the view expressed by Senator McManus that there are two parties to this wrong - not only the unions which accept the money, but also the proprietors who pay the money. Both parties, in my opinion, are culpable. Narrowing the field down, it is fair to say that the Commonwealth Steamship Owners Association, through its chairman, issued on 23rd May last a denial of implication in this matter. The statement read -
The Commonwealth Steamship Owners Association and every one of its member companies categorically deny that it or any one of the member companies or any person on its or their behalf has made any payment, secret or otherwise, to any officials or members of any union to allow ships to be brought to or taken from Australia with non-Australian crews.
That is obviously a carefully drafted statement. Attached to it is a list of the companies concerned, all of which have the appearance of being Australian shipping companies. There are ten of them, but I will not bother to read the names. So we can say that, so far as one can gather, the payments are being made by the overseas shipping companies, not by the Australian shipping companies.
I have given a sketchy outline of the circumstances. A lot of water has run under the bridge since this matter was first brought to light. I do not think the Senate desires from me so much a description of the events as some observations on them. I repeat that my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, has been, and still is, in the closest contact with this matter and that he has given his personal attention and consideration to it. Of course, he must do so, as the responsible Minister, because it is obvious that these payments are being exacted from the shipowners by a form of industrial pressure. The material question, and one that must worry every observer with a sense of national responsibility, is: What is happening to the money which is being paid? That is the question which needs to be answered.
Of course there is disquiet in the unions that have a sense of the fitness of things and in the A.C.T.U., which is the governing body of the trade union movement. The executive of the A.C.T.U., at its meeting in July, appointed an investigating committee consisting of the president of the A.C.T.U., the vice-president, the secretary, Mr. Stout, and Mr. MacDonald. That committee enjoys the prestige and standing of the A.C.T.U. A little history attaches to the work of the committee. It was asked, upon its appointment, to let the executive have a report by the middle of September.
The committee was unable to furnish the report or, at least, did not do so. At the last annual congress of the A.C.T.U. there were moves from the floor of the conference room demanding that the report be submitted forthwith, and there was a good deal of critical comment upon the fact that the report was not available. In reply, there was what to me seems to be a sober and responsible statement by the executive of the A.C.T.U. to the effect that the committee was doing its work but had not completed it, that it did not think it was appropriate to report until it had finished its work, and that it was not prepared to submit an interim report. The executive assured the congress that that was not to be interpreted to mean that the committee was whitewashing the maritime unions concerned, or that it had any intention of letting the matter lie.
It is part of what I hope is a logical approach to the attitude that has been adopted by my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon this matter to recognize the fact that here we have a background of what seems to me, and must seem to some of my listeners in this chamber, to be, on the one hand, a group of people destroying union principles and, on the other hand, the owners doing something which surely, when judged by every set of standards, is unsavoury and nasty. Lots of people have an interest in this matter. The Government, the commercial community as a whole, and the trade union movement, have an interest in it. The A.C.T.U., from any approach, is not an irresponsible body. It has an interest in maintaining the integrity of the trade union movement, and I do not think that any individual, any group, or any department is entitled to approach the matter on the basis that the A.C.T.U. is not aiming to look at the matter impartially. The view of the Minister for Labour and National Service is that the A.C.T.U. is considering the matter impartially.
I am sorry that at this stage I disagree with the motion. I repeat that I do not think that we can proceed on the basis that the A.C.T.U. will not investigate the matter properly and impartially, and make its findings public. If it does not do so, that surely is the time for the Government to move. It will be time enough for the Government to move when it learns the views of the A.C.T.U. The Minister knows that the committee appointed by the A.C.T.U. is investigating the matter. He is in touch with the A.C.T.U., and he knows that the committee will be completing and issuing its report within the next week.
In these circumstances, I am sorry to have to say that I cannot support the view which Senator McManus has put forward. I agree with his statement that the Government cannot evade its responsibility, and it does not intend to do so. But it proposes to allow the A.C.T.U. to fire the first shot, as it were. Therefore, I think the sensible thing to do is to defer judgment until we ascertain the result of the inquiry that is being conducted by the A.C.T.U., admitting and acknowledging that the A.C.T.U. has as great a responsibility as has any other group for the policies that are adopted by its constituent unions.
– Why waste the time of the Senate?
– I do not agree that the time of the Senate is being wasted. I think the Government has indicated, by supporting the move to have discussion upon the matter, that we cannot let too much fresh air into unsavoury events.
– The Government will run away from a vote on it.
– What we are waiting to see is whether the A.C.T.U. can ascertain whether these funds are being misused, are being used for political purposes, or are being used for subversive purposes. Let that statement sink into the minds of honorable senators. I hope that, if there is any suggestion that the funds are being used for subversive purposes, that they are going to the Communists through these unions, the A.C.T.U. will lead Australian thought in open criticism of the practice.
This matter has been before this chamber previously. I remind the Senate that honorable senators have addressed questions to not only the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service in this chamber, but also to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge). Nowadays, the responsibility of governments extends in many directions. Governments can adequately discharge their responsibilities only if they get the co-operative effort of all sections of the community. Any one is entitled to express his views and state his criticism; but anything that 1 may say this afternoon is not to be construed as meaning that, if the Government is not satisfied with the inquiry that is being carried out by the A.C.T.U., it will allow the matter to rest there. What the Governm’ent may or may not do is a matter for it to decide when a decision is necessary. We shall await the result of the present inquiry; but in the meantime, as our actions have indicated, we commend Senator McManus for bringing the matter forward for public discussion.
.- 1 doubt if the Senate has ever listened to a more laboured case than that which was presented by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). The onus of responsibility for the alleged malpractices appears to have been placed on only one party. There has been no suggestion that the Government would attempt to stand up its supporters. The trade union movement has already set up a committee to investigate this matter. The Minister has named the individuals who have been appointed to investigate the matter and ascertain the facts from one side.
The case that has been submitted by Senator McManus is more or less the case as it is known to those who have taken a great deal of interest in this matter. It is true that Judge Foster first brought the matter to light. If his statement is true - and I believe that it has been shown to be true by the subsequent reported statements of the federal secretary of the seamen’s union, Mr. Elliott - the Australian Labour party is of the opinion that the shipowners, on the one hand, and the unions concerned, on the other hand, have been doing something they should not do.
– Let us say “ the union officials “.
– Very well. 1 thank Senator Gorton for the correction, but I do not want to put the blame even on the black sheep of the unions. I want to apportion the blame where it should rightly fall. The trade union movement has existed in Australia since the late fifties of the last century, but this is only the second case of this kind that has been brought to light. This is a case of very strong suspicion bordering on fact, but there was another case in which money was undoubtedly paid to certain union officials. That case was investigated by a royal commission. The culprits were not even the shipowners.
– Who were they?
– The culprits were the members of the government of the day, which was of a similar political colour to that which now occupies the treasury bench. It is interesting to read the finding of the royal commission in that case. I do not want to weary the Senate so I shall read only a portion of it.
– In what year was this matter investigated?
– In 1941. The royal commission was under the chairmanship of Sir Percival Halse-Rogers, K.B.E.. and the findings stated -
For the reasons given, I am driven to the conclusion that I should find that the moneys in question were paid out of the account established in the name of the Australian Democratic Front by Mr. Watson under instructions of the AttorneyGeneral, Mr. Hughes, with the approbation of the Acting Prime Minister, Mr. Fadden.
I am not likening the present allegations to the previous case. Those on this side of the chamber, who have spent the major part of their lives in the trade union movement, have been proud of the fact that there has been very little corruption, particularly of that sort. We have our rows, it is true, and we enjoy them.
– Are you enjoying this one?
– Yes, because before I have concluded in the nine minutes left to me, I shall show where the Australian Labour party stands on this matter. We are not like Government supporters. I noted their reaction when Senator McManus proposed this motion. Every honorable senator on the Opposition side was directed to stand in support of it.
Government Supporters. - No!
– Honorable senators on this side were directed to stand in support of the motion. That was our decision, but what did we find on the Government side? One, two or three stood, but Ministers on the front bench were glued to their seats. They thought they could steal a march on us, but again they failed. We say that this matter affects the trade union movement as a whole. I speak for the Australian Labour party, and I believe I can speak for the trade union movement on this matter as well. I have had communications by telephone with Mr. Monk about it, and have also spoken about it to the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), who is the liaison officer between the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Federal Parliamentary Labour party. I believe that if any union official is found to be engaged in graft or corruption, the A.C.T.U. will see that he is purged from the trade union movement. If no graft or corruption can be established, but it is found that the union is carrying on practices detrimental to the trade union movement generally, everything possible must be done to put such practices to an end at once.
Then we must consider whether the shipowners are guilty. Of course, there must always be two guilty parties in such matters. Mr. Elliott is reported to have admitted taking the money. If he did so, the money must have been offered first, and I have never known shipowners, or anybody of their ilk, to give away anything unless they obtained a profit from it. Therefore, I say that there are two parties to the matters under discussion. I am vitally concerned with one of them.
It is true, as the Minister has said, that the A.C.T.U. realizes that the charges that have been levelled against the maritime unions strike at a most important principle of trade unionism. Accordingly, the A.C.T.U. decided to conduct an investigation. Leading officers of that organization were appointed to the investigating committee. I have been advised by telephone this morning that, as the Minister has said, the report will be completed next week and that the investigating committee’s findings will be considered by the interstate executive of the A.C.T.U. at its meeting. I believe that that meeting will oe held in four or five weeks’ time. If the A.C.T.U. finds that the charges against the various unions have been sustained, it can do one of several things. The most drastic step it could take would be to cancel the affiliation of the union with the Australian Council of Trades Unions. Those of us who know the history of the trade union movement know that that would be a very severe penalty; in other words, it would leave the union out on a limb.
Senator McManus asks that a royal commission be appointed. I have told the Senate what one royal commission found. I have also pointed out that nothing was done after those findings were published. No one was charged with corruption or, indeed, with anything at all. Even if a royal commission were appointed in this instance, I wonder what it would achieve other than merely to ascertain the facts. I believe that the facts, so far as the unions are concerned, will be ascertained by the A.C.T.U. I agree quite candidly that the evidence heard by the A.C.T.U. will not be given on oath, but that body has on its committee men who have a very wide knowledge of trade union matters and who have at their disposal many ways by which they can ascertain such information as would satisfy any man of ordinary common sense whether the malpractice suggested here has been carried on. The Labour party, therefore, cannot see that any good purpose would be served by appointing a royal commission. We are quite content to allow the unions’ side of the matter to be dealt with by the A.C.T.U. and to allow that body to inflict penalties on any of its affiliates whose officers have succumbed, may I say, to the temptations of the shipowners in this instance.
I am now putting the view of the people about whom I am concerned. I hope to hear honorable senators opposite, who are interjecting, put forward the view of the shipowners because they are mainly concerned for the shipowners.
In over 40 years, this is only the second occasion on which such an allegation has been made. Malpractices were conclusively proved in one instance, and now it is believed by some that money has been paid by certain people to union officials. I sincerely hope that this is the last occasion when such an allegation is made. As I have said already, 1 believe that the case will be amply covered so far as the unions are concerned. If inquiries conducted by the A.C.T.U. establish a prima facie case that people have done wrong, I have sufficient faith in that body to leave it to deal with them.
Even if a royal commission were appointed and the allegations were proved to be well founded, what could be done? The Government did nothing after the royal commission of 1941 found that it had been proved that money was paid by the people I have mentioned. As nothing was done in that case, which was as scandalous as this instance, it is reasonable to assume that nothing would be done on this occasion if a royal commission proved the allegations to be correct.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
.- We have just been listening to a speech which, 1 should think, put forward the most amazing point of view that could be presented in a house of parliament. We have heard from Senator Kennelly the opinion that we are debating an allegation of corruption. Nevertheless, he says that for his part he is quite prepared to relegate that matter to the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
– It is an allegation of corruption.
– I am just reflecting upon the view expressed by Senator Kennelly. It profits him not to refer to royal commissions of the past and to signalize one, as he did. I could go through a whole catalogue that would make interesting history indeed from the point of view of corruption within the Labour party, which would be taken from cases that have gone to the courts; but that would not solve the question here.
– The Labour party has nothing to do with this matter before the Senate.
– But Senator Kennelly mentioned an inquiry by a royal commission in 1941. That has nothing whatever to do with this question.
– This is just a damp squib.
– Senator McManus has introduced, for discussion by the Senate, a matter which 1 think the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) very properly described as a matter of grave public importance. I find that so long ago as May last I asked a question in the Senate myself on this statement by Mr. Justice Foster. One of the heads of my question was -
Will the Minister investigate the statement and inform the Senate whether it is based on any evidence of fact?
To that, the Minister’s reply was -
The statement was made by a presidential member of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and the Minister would not be prepared to assume that statements made by members of the Commission in the course of the proceedings were made without evidence of fact.
The next thing that I find is something appearing in the transcript of the proceedings before Mr. Justice Foster. According to that transcript, Mr. Justice Foster did say -
I have reason to believe that the shipowners are still subsidizing unions in this country for this very thing, and doing it secretly.
Then I turn to other information with which I have only this moment been provided, attributing to Mr. Justice Foster the statement that -
If Australian crews are not employed on such a ship the unions can object as if such a crew was provided. In the case of the “ Elsanna “ and the “ Caledon “, the last ships to be sold, the payment amounted to £5,000, divided between four unions, the Seamen’s Union, the Radio Officers, the Cooks and Stewards, proportionately to the number of members normally employed on the ship.
So that evidence, coupled with Senator Spooner’s statement that these payments are made and Senator McManus’s answer to my interjection that the unions, despite their first denial of it, now admit that these payments are made, really only resolves the matter now before us into one of the category of the payments, 1 think the Minister put the question in the proper perspective when he said that it was an unsavoury payment, an unsavoury transaction of grave public importance. I would have liked the debate to end there for today so that proper consideration could be given to this matter. The motion proposed by Senator McManus is that the Senate shall adjourn. That is a procedure by which certain matters can be raised in this chamber by an honorable senator for our consideration. If these allegations are true, they demand a very careful and close scrutiny without undue delay, certainly without leaving to the A.C.T.U. the timing of the termination of its inquiry. If there is a desire to find a solution of this problem on a basis consistent with the proper principles of trade, the proper principles of trade unionism and a proper respect for the criminal law - of which the Parliament, through the Attorney-General, is the direct custodian - then at this stage, or some other early stage, the debate should, I suggest, be postponed so that better and closer consideration, in a calmer atmosphere, could be given to the problem. Section 4 of the Australian Industries Preservation Act provides - (1.) Any person who, either as principal or as agent, makes or enters into any contract, or is or continues to be a member of or engages in any combination, in relation to trade or commerce with other countries or among the States . . in restraint of . . . trade or commerce … is guilty of an offence.
A penalty of £500, or more, is provided. With our ordinary outlook on matters of this sort, I would think that if the element of clandestinity that Judge Foster referred to is present in these transactions - if the payments have been kept secret by the recipients from their organizations - we would not have to refresh our memories by perusing the criminal code before categorizing the payments as illegal secret commissions, corrupt payments, designed to prevent an officer of a union from carrying out his proper duty to his employer. In addition, if, as is suggested here, the moneys, having been paid, were misappropriated by the recipients, there is a third branch of the inquiry which we would do well to consider.
– To the exclusion of politics.
– I am leaving politics completely out of it, I hope.
– It is dripping with politics.
– I resent the suggestion that anybody here would defend the actions of employers or trade union officers who engaged in transactions of this type, if they have been properly described to-day. It is a situation calling for an immediate, four-square analysis. If there has been a breach of the law, the ordinary processes of the law should follow.
Royal commissions are very good bodies for ascertaining facts, and the appointment of a royal commission may be the appropriate procedure in this instance, but, personally, I should like to see some discretion left in the Minister for Labour and National Service in that regard, because he, no doubt, is in very close communication with the A.C.T.U., and has better information than we have about the circumstances and details of these payments. But 1 do not consider that we should appoint a royal commission to inquire into a matter which may be of a criminal nature. I have referred on several occasions to an incident that occurred while I was in the Tasmanian Parliament. I took some part in initiating an inquiry, during which Judge Reed, of South Australia, having ascertained that there was a prima facie case of corruption, forebore to proceed further and left the determination of innocence or guilt to a jury. That is the constitutional method by which the guilt, in crime, of any individual is determined. I hope that I have not been too technical on an otherwise exciting topic.
– Would you say that there has been a breach of an act in this instance?
– I have said that it looks as though there has been a breach of, first, the Australian Industries Preservation Act; secondly, the Secret Commissions Act; and thirdly, the ordinary law of larceny. But I put those forward merely as possibilities for consideration. Do not let anybody think that, while on my feet in this chamber, I would commit myself firmly to an opinion of that sort. It is because I think that those possibilities deserve consideration that it occurs to me that at this stage it would be appropriate for the debate to be adjourned. If anybody would give me the nod that that course was acceptable, I would so move.
– I listened very intently to Senator McManus, who proposed the motion, and also to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) and Senator Wright. There are many points which need consideration in this matter, which has received very wide publicity. The first point I want to make is that there was no sincerity in the mover of the motion when he questioned the bona fides of transactions entered into by the seamen’s union. His action was purely political and was aimed at the great Australian Council of Trade Unions. Anybody who belongs to the trade union movement but does not belong to the organizations with which Senator Cole and Senator McManus are affiliated, is termed a Communist. We are accused of being Communists, because we do not belong to the organizations affiliated with the Democratic Labour party.
– You did once.
– I have always belonged to the Australian Labour party, and so did Senator Cole, until he ratted. Had Senator McManus been sincere, he would have incorporated in his proposal some censure of the shipowners.
– You did not read the proposal.
– Senator McManus did not mention that aspect of the matter until he had almost finished his speech. This matter was brought under the notice of the trade union movement as a result of a statement by Mr. Justice Foster. The Minister for National Development, quite correctly, chastised Senator McManus for his foolish act in bringing this matter before the Senate. The Minister said that his colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), had this matter in hand with members of the A.C.T.U. executive, and that the Government was quite happy to wait until such time as the A.C.T.U. committee that had been appointed made some finding. I agree with that course. I believe that at the moment only one organization is competent to deal with the matter.
Soon after Mr. Justice Foster made his statement from the bench, the matter was taken up by the A.C.T.U. executive. Inquiries were instituted and some denials were made. In all cases which cover a very wide area, it takes quite a while to get down to the real facts and the foundation for the accusations made. We have only to refer back to the Royal Commission on Espionage in Australia to realize how long such inquiries take. Unlike Senator McManus, we do not want to create the impression that the statements made by Mr. Justice Foster, Senator McManus and others are based on fact, until the facts have been proven. Therefore, I say that the only course that this chamber can adopt-
– Stick up for your cobbers!
– You are interjecting a lot. Anybody who does not belong to Senator Cole’s organization - Albert Monk, Percy Clarey, Bob King and others who have had a lifetime’s interest in the great A.C.T.U. movement-
– And Vic Stout.
– They are all accused of being “ Corns “. That is the position we are faced with to-day. I say that anybody who does not agree with Senator McManus and Senator Cole is tagged by them as a member of the Communist party.
– You are only a “ fellow traveller “.
– I know all about that. This matter was brought up at the A.C.T.U. congress which was held in Sydney about a fortnight ago. The Democratic Labour party was represented there. The word “ democratic “ reminds me of the royal commission that was held in 1941, when the so-called democratic fund was for a purpose that I shall explain later in my remarks. At the A.C.T.U. congress the leader of the groupers, Mr. Maynes, asked for an interim report on this matter to be made to it. Now, you cannot report anything that has not been completed. As the report had not been completed, there was no hope of making any worth-while report to the A.C.T.U. congress. As Mr. Maynes failed in that course, he gave the facts to his representatives in this Parliament, and Senator McManus has brought up the matter. He knows, as well as I do, that this is not the right place to discuss this matter. He knows quite well that the Government will not give him a royal commission on this matter. He knows it is full of explosive politics, as was the royal commission of 1941, which was mentioned by Senator Kennelly, and to which Senator Wright replied. Senator Wright said that Senator Kennelly had no right to refer to the royal commission of 1941, and he insinuated that there should be many royal commissions in relation to the activities of the Labour party. He did not have the courage to make a statement on the inquiries that should be made into the great Australian Labour party or into the conduct of union officials.
The position is just the same to-day as it was in 1940, when France had capitulated, England was fighting the Battle of Britain, and hundreds of thousands of tons of coal were lying at grass in New South Wales. A fund established with the taxpayers’ money was used by the late William Morris Hughes and the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to bribe the miners’ leaders on the coal-fields to bring about a strike. As I have said, there was an abundance of coal available at the time the strike was brought about and the government of the day used propaganda to the effect that we were supporting the coal-miners and were starving the workers of Great Britain who were helping to fight the Battle of Britain. The same kind of propaganda will be used at the next general election by the Democratic Labour party and others who are opposed to the great Australian Labour party.
Many unions are concerned in this matter. As a previous speaker pointed out, in a case of bribery, an approach must be made by one party to another. Who are the people who have made the approach on this occasion? Has it ever been mentioned that they could be the shipowners? Of course, the shipowners are always exonerated. I venture to say that they are just as guilty as any members of the trade union movement who may have taken bribes.
Senator McManus has made accusations here today that men he has named have taken bribes from the shipowners. Let me say this to the Senate: Officials of a trade union must submit themselves to the rank and file for election to office. At the last election of officers of the Waterside Workers Federation, Jim Healy was returned unopposed. Therefore we must accept the fact that the men I have mentioned are recognized as officials of the trade union movement. Some years ago, Senator Robertson said that she was a member of a union. Surely she will not be accused by Senator McManus of supporting these “ Corns “ who are alleged to be at the head of the trade union movement. I know she does not do so, and I know that she is as much against communism as she is against fascism or any other “ ism “ that might come to this country. So am I. But Senator McManus classes as a Communist any one who does not agree with his views. He says that this money has been used by the unions concerned - we do not know which unions, although we may know in the future - to propagate the Communist cause in Australia.
– Did this money appear in unions’ balance-sheets?
– Let me tell honorable senators that these people who are to-day carrying the biggest swords to cut off the heads of the Communists could not be found in 1945 when the “ Corns “ tried to take charge of the trades halls in Adelaide and in Sydney. Where were Senator Cole and Senator McManus then, and in the ‘thirties?
Senator Cole interjecting.
– Listen and you will learn. You would not know anything about it. In the ‘thirties we were hard-put to win the executive positions - we had only two or three votes to spare - at the trade union congress of 400 delegates. Where were they then - the great champions of anti-communism?
– I was where you were.
– Why are you not with me now? I am still fighting the “ Corns “. I have a clear knowledge of what happened in 1945 when we nominated the late Reg Broadby for the position of secretary.
– You were one of the gobetweens on the unity ticket.
– You know nothing about it. Broadby won the position of secretary of the A.C.T.U. by one vote. In those days the “ Corns “ were a menace to this country. To-day, because we have a state of full employment and because the unions are run on better lines than in 1945 we have easily gained a majority of the executive positions at the A.C.T.U. congress. In the days to which I refer there was a job of work to be done. The Government has admitted that Japan fears that unemployment will lead to communism. That happened here in the 1930’s. Consequently, Japan is doing much the same as we are doing in this country.
It is not fitting for Senator McManus to come into this chamber and try to ridicule and to break down the trust and faith placed in the great Australian Council of Trade Unions. These are the people who have fought communism in season and out of season. Senator McManus knows that as well as I do, because he has had a long association with the trade union movement.
– A minute ago you said I was not there. Now you tell me that I have been there for years.
– I venture to say that in the ‘thirties Senator McManus was not a member of a trade union or, if he was, he was a very silent member.
– No one could ever say that of Senator Hendrickson.
– I always have my say. Senator McManus does not know what harm he is doing to the working movement by maligning, for political purposes, the officers of the great A.C.T.U. “Not one honorable senator on this side of the chamber would refuse to support wholeheartedly the committee appointed by the A.C.T.U. to inquire into the accusation that certain money has changed hands illegally.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Anderson). - Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I find it very difficult to connect the remarks of some honorable senators opposite with the matter that we are discussing. I was under the impression that it was Senator McManus’s motion seeking an inquiry into certain happenings on the waterfront. I thought that I should enter this debate briefly because I know something about the background, and because I believe that one of the most important aspects has not yet been mentioned.
In the past, it has been the practice of shipowners who had ships built in England, or elsewhere overseas, to man them with English seamen and firemen, and perhaps send the captain and chief engineer over from Australia. In the main, after those men had brought the ship here they stayed in Australia. Somewhat similar procedure was adopted when ships were sent from Australia to such countries as Japan or China. Native crews would be brought here to take away the ship after it had been sold.
I am very curious about the attitude adopted in this matter by Mr. Justice Foster, who has been dealing with the affairs of seamen for a long time. On 10th. February, 1956, he made an order that ships coming to Australia from England should be manned by Australian seamen, sent home for that purpose. Moreover, he ruled that ships leaving Australia for sale abroad should be manned by Australian seamen, receiving Australian wages. Such seamen were subsequently to continue to receive wages and be repatriated to Australia. His order was taken to the High Court on 22nd March, 1956. The Chief Justice, Sir Owen Dixon, granted an order nisi prohibiting Mr. Justice Foster from further proceedings with, or upon the order or award made by him on 1 0th February. This is reported in C.L.R. No. 94, at page 614. His Honour went on to say that the order or award had been made without jurisdiction or authority under either the Conciliation and Arbitration Act or the Navigation Act. In short, Mr. Justice Foster’s order was disallowed.
I have mentioned that decision to show that the present position is not different from what it has been all along - with the exception of the odd week or two during which Mr. Justice Foster’s order was in force. The rule to-day is precisely the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago. Nothing - except fear of retaliation on the part of the union - can force a shipowner to send an
Australian crew home. I refer to such retaliation as occurred in the case of the strike on “ Kumalla “ in Melbourne. Quite obviously - if these allegations are true - the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand Limited refused to pay a bribe to the union. Of course, I do not know - and I do not think any honorable senator knows - whether the union has actually been accepting bribes. I have heard such an accusation made by many people, but as soon as one asks, “ Have you any proof? “, one gets the answer, “ No “. Therefore, I make no allegations in that respect. If these things are indeed taking place it seems fairly obvious that the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand Limited refused to pay a bribe to the union, and its ship was therefore, held up in Melbourne for four months.
In the case of ships going out of Australia, I have been told by shipping brokers in Sydney that a native crew is brought down and a payment made to the union. Here again, I can prove the allegation no more than can Senator McManus. The brokers do not care who gets the money, because they merely tack it on to the bill of sale for the ship. They are not concerned whether it is right and proper, or legal. In that sense, of course, they are just as much in the wrong, and just as guilty of breaking the law, as are the people who accept the money. However, as I have said, I cannot prove that these things are happening, and I have no intention of trying to do so.
The claim of the seamen’s union that a ship going to Japan or China should be manned by Australians, who should then be repatriated, seems ridiculous. Senator McManus read from a list of some 30 or 40 ships sent out of Australia and sold overseas. If an Australian crew were put on board all such ships, it would upset the availability of seamen to man ships on the Australian coast. If three ships were suddenly sent overseas, 70 or 80 men would be removed from the pool of seamen, and a shortage would result. When they came back, unemployment would occur. It is a far better arrangement - and one that has been in operation during all my time at sea - to let people from the nation which builds a ship bring it out. Further, when a ship is sold to another country, it is better to bring people here from that country to take it away. In that way, regular employment is maintained. If that is done, there is neither unemployment nor a sudden demand for men to man three or four ships. In the old sailing days, of course, men were paid so much for the run and had to find their own way home. That practice would, of course, be quite unacceptable now.
In common with the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), I am quite willing to let the Australian Council of Trade Unions proceed with its investigation. I sincerely hope that something will come out of it. If the investigation finds no justification for these wild statements - which may not really be so wild - I shall be very happy to support any move for the appointment of a royal commission to get to the bottom of it all. That is all that I need say.
I thought that I should at least direct attention to the fact that Mr. Justice Foster had made an order that this contentious procedure should be adopted, and that that order had been subsequently disallowed by the High Court.
.- Three considerations seem to have emerged from this debate and the matters upon which the debate centres; first, the degree of public interest involved in the circumstances which have been disclosed; secondly, the integrity of the trade union movement, and of one trade union in particular; and thirdly, the integrity of the shipowners’ association, which is the other party suggested to be involved in this type of transaction. I do not feel that adequate emphasis has, at this stage, been placed on the consideration of public interest. After all, payments of this nature are translated into freights and costs, which are already high and are already gravely affecting theeconomic stability of the Australian nation.
I do not, however, propose to canvass, that point at any length. I am interested in the integrity of the trade union movement. It is to the credit of the Australian Council of Trades Unions that, having thesefacts presented to it, it put in train investigations to establish or disprove once and’ for all the suggestions implicit in the secret” transactions and commissions which havebeen the subject of allegations. I have not the familiarity with the A.C.T.U. that other honorable senators have who have spoken- from a lifetime of close personal association with it but, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I would be reluctant to condemn this investigation as being only in the nature of a gesture, not a valid and genuine attempt to get to the bottom of the situation. If it is genuine, then the Government has some warrant for waiting until the investigation has been concluded before doing anything itself in the matter. The only qualification I make relates to the point made by Senator McManus - the ability of the trade union movement, or any other body similarly constituted, to assemble, elicit and sift the evidence that may be available, in the absence of power to call for that evidence under sanction and take it on oath. Therefore, I say that, however well advised and however honest the approach of the A.C.T.U. may be, it is possible that its investigation could, in the overall, be partially abortive. If the Government is going to base its future course of action only on what emerges from that committee’s investigations, it is relying on something that may give it little or no support in the ultimate. After all, if the Government is waiting for the A.C.T.U. investigation to be completed, obviously it intends to take some notice of that investigation and to direct its subsequent course of action accordingly.
However, I am concerned most with the attitude of the Government to the shipowners, the other party to these alleged transactions. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I credit the trade union movement with the keenest desire to preserve the honesty and the good name of the organizations attached to the A.C.T.U., and to punish those who have been guilty of any deviation from the standards of duty which it expects to be observed. However, we have seen no similar sensitivity, no similar solicitude, on the part of the other party to the transaction. When, as was stated by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), the Australian shipowners’ association was approached with a view to finding whether any of its members were involved in these transactions, it immediately replied by saying that none of its members were involved. The Minister concluded, therefore, that it must be members of the overseas shipping association who were involved on the other side. But we have seen no evidence of a desire by the shipowners’ association to appoint a committee of inquiry to see whether its members, collectively or individually, have transgressed. I should have expected that the Government, if it is going to delay action on this proposal for the appointment of a royal commission until it has received the report of the A.C.T.U. committee of inquiry - which, no doubt, will be made available to it - and has assessed its degree of accuracy to the extent to which that is possible, would have realized its obligation also to call on the other party to the transaction - the shipowners’ association - to canvass its members and to appoint a committee to see whether there had been transgressions by shipowners.
– Do you say that the payments are admitted by the unions?
– I am not saying that.
– If the payments are admitted, what is there to investigate except the legal consequences?
– What the honorable senator says may be true, but I am dealing with the point raised by the Minister for National Development. I have to declare what will be my attitude to this proposal.
– What is the honorable senator’s attitude to the propriety of these transactions from the viewpoint of the trade unions involved?
– If it is established that trade unions have taken this money, it is established that the money came from some source.
– Nobody would deny that.
– Exactly. As the honorable senator himself said in answer to a series of questions by Senator Benn, he would think, giving an offhand and immediate opinion, that the payments involved the transgression of various branches of the law.
– By both sides.
– That is the point I am making - by both sides. Irrespective of whether the investigation by the A.C.T.U. is warranted or will add anything to the case, the Minister has said that that is the investigation on which he will rest and on which he bases the decision to postpone any immediate action.
If that is so, then to be logical, he should call on the other party, the shipowners’ association, to assist the Government by giving its side of the story and by initiating an investigation to discover which, if any, of its members were parties to these unfortunate transactions, these rather nefarious deals. In that way the Government would be completely fortified from both sides.
For that reason, I still support the proposal for the appointment of a royal commission. I think the A.C.T.U., by immediately opening an investigation, even though it may be limited in its opportunities to establish what is there to be established, has shown, .first, a regard for its integrity, and secondly, some concept of public interest, but the inquiry, however well intentioned, must almost -inevitably fail to be conclusive. There is another untouched field of information still available on the other side, among the .shipowners, which could assist the Government to decide in its final course of action. Therefore, I suggest that this proposal by Senator McManus should be supported. Perhaps a third party coming in, supported, by the sanctions of the law, could, even if it were only a fact-finding body, be of assistance. Once some criminal action had been established, the parties found culpable could be dealt with by the ordinary processes of the criminal law. As a fact-finding body, a royal commission would still be well worth while and justified, despite any good intentions on -either side to carry .out the investigation in any other way.
.- Before I consider in detail the allegations made by Senator McManus, I think I should review the statement made by Senator Byrne that the Government had stated through its spokesman, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), that it will rest upon the findings of the committee of the Australian Council of Trades Unions. I understood the Minister to say quite clearly that the Government would wait and see what evidence was produced, because it would then be in a better position to judge whether a royal commission should be appointed.
It is’ time we got back to a consideration of the facts of the case as alleged by the mover of the motion, because those facts have’ been somewhat overlaid by the reverberating rounds and simulated fury of
Senators Hendrickson and Kennelly. The facts, as alleged, are simple. It is alleged that officials of maritime unions entered into arrangements with shipowners, that following those arrangements the shipowners paid sums of money to maritime union officials and in return were allowed to send from and bring to Australia ships manned, not by Australian crews, but by foreign crews at cheaper rates of pay, and that they were enabled to do this without any fear of industrial action being taken against them by those union officials. It is further alleged that those sums of money, after they had. been so paid to the union officials, were diverted from the use of the unions and were spent in some other way, that at least some of that money was paid into the funds of the Communist party. Just where they were paid is, I .think, immaterial to the main .charge that they were diverted from the unions to which they were paid.
That is the substance of the allegations that are made by Senator McManus. They are -allegations which I shall not say were proved but for which a very strong prima facie case was made out, as was fully and freely admitted by Senator Kennelly, who is acting as Leader of the Opposition. He said, if I remember his words correctly, that the allegations had been proved to within a hair’s breadth.
What amazes me about this debate is that, allegations of ‘this seriousness having been made, there should be a tendency on the part of members of the official Opposition to claim that the matter is purely one for internal union decision. It may well be that some of the things which are alleged are matters for internal union decision. If union officials scab on their members, as has ‘been claimed in this instance, that is a matter for the unions concerned. If union officials let down the principles of trade unionism without breaking the law, that may be a matter for the internal management of the union concerned. But to hold the premise that anything which any trade union official does is, because he is a trade union official, not subject to law other than trade union law would lead to a state of jungle .law and complete defiance of the law of -this .country on all fronts.
Surely not only the “members of the unions or the shipowners are concerned. If this kind of practice is to grow, the whole of the Australian people can become concerned. If the law is to be broken - it is alleged that it has been broken by both sides - that obviously is a matter for the courts to decide and for the Parliament to discuss. It is beyond the belief of any responsible man that it could be claimed that this matter should not, in any circumstances, be the subject of debate in the Parliament and should not ultimately, if corruption is proved, be the subject of investigation in a court of law.
I direct this supplementary question to those persons who claim that this matter should not, just for the moment, be looked at by the Parliament but should be decided finally and ultimately by the A.C.T.U.: What can the A.C.T.U., as such, do if it is proved by a perusal of the balance-sheets that large sums of money paid to trustees of a union have been diverted to other uses?
– They can ask the Federal Attorney-General to do his duty.
– That interjection clearly shows that the Opposition believes that all it can do is to bring this matter before the law of the land for the punishment of the offenders. The Opposition, by that very interjection, shows that it retreats immediately from its previous stand that only the A.C.T.U. should deal with this sort of thing.
– No one other than you said any such thing.
– It was said by some one other than me. I believe that most honorable senators who are in the chamber heard that interjection. What can the A.C.T.U. do to individual trade union officials if the members of those unions do not wish to dismiss them? We have been told that it can disaffiliate the unions concerned. What effect would that have on the union officials, particularly Communist union officials who hold their kangaroo courts and wield their weapons of intimidation against those whom they hold as serfs but who should be the masters of their elected officials?
I congratulate Senator McManus upon having brought a matter which has been clearly shown to be of public importance to the light of day in the Parliament of the people who will be affected if this sort of thing should lead to there being in control of unions the kind of racketeers who have been seen in various cities of the United States of America because the attitude was adopted that trade union affairs were the affairs solely of the trade unions and not of the citizens as a whole.
If this matter eventually comes before a royal commission and corruption is proved in that the shipowners paid money and broke the law and trade union officials took money and broke the law, quite clearly both parties ought to be dealt with. They should be dealt with according to the law and not by the A.C.T.U. or the trade union movement. If it is further proved that particular trade union officials scabbed on their members and diverted the money that they were paid. That, too, is a matter which should be dealt with by the law and not solely by the trade union officials. There is no conflict between the case for the shipowners as such and that for the A.C.T.U. or the trade unions as such; the only question is whether, because this matter affects the lives of every citizen, it is a matter of public importance which should be dealt with in the courts of the land.
I again congratulate Senator McManus for having brought it forward. I shall look with great interest to see whether the committee that was appointed by the A.C.T.U. can steer through the A.C.T.U. interstate executive, with its Communist component, the report-
– Does the honorable senator deny that the A.C.T.U. executive has a Communist component?
– One-third! I know more about the trade union movement than you do.
– The proportion is one-quarter. Senator Hendrickson does not seem to know too much about it himself.
– You have them in the Liberal party.
– Let us not argue about the fraction which the Communists constitute.
– The numbers count.
– Whether the fraction is one-fifth, one-third, or one-quarter, whatever you like, it does not affect what
I was saying, which was that I shall be interested to see whether the report can be steered through the A.C.T.U. interstate executive, with its Communist fractional component. I hope that, if these allegations about the giving of the money are proved, the Government will take proper action to investigate the legal consequences as they affect either side.
– We are discussing a motion for the adjournment of the Senate, and it is suggested that a royal commission should be appointed to inquire into a certain matter. When such proposals are made, they are usually of a partisan party political character. I think we ought to get right away from that atmosphere for the moment.
We have heard lengthy discussions on the A.C.T.U. Honorable senators know that most of us on the Opposition side - and some of the others, too - are very jealous of the ethics of trade unions. If honorable senators want evidence of the fact that men have protected trade union ethics, they have only to search the law reports. They will find hundreds of cases where action has been taken against men who have received money wrongly or have misappropriated it. There are cases of men who have not done the job that they should have done and have acted in a criminal manner. Action has been taken against them by the unions themselves, as the law reports will show.
What is the A.C.T.U. doing in this case? Because of some allegations that were made in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, the council has set up a committee of inquiry to protect the good name of the unions. This matter was raised in the Arbitration Court. That is where the A.C.T.U. comes into it. Honorable senators can take it from me that if the council finds that there has been corruption and maladministration, it will take the appropriate action to protect the ethics of the Australian trade unions.
So much for that side of the matter. I am not concerned at this moment with what the A.C.T.U. intends to do or what it is inquiring into. What concerns me is the Government’s dereliction of duty in this matter. I am concerned because, when it learned of the statements that were made in the Arbitration Court, the Government did not immediately set about gathering evidence to prove in a court of law whether the allegations that were made were true or false. That could be done only in a court of law, and the Government has not sought to ascertain the facts.
The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) told the Senate this afternoon that it was possible that funds which came from some overseas shipping firms were paid to the unions and to some other body for subversive purposes. If the Minister believes that statement to be true, it is of no use for him merely to rise and make the statement in this chamber. He should use the processes of the law to prosecute those concerned. That has not been done, so the Government is guilty of a dereliction of duty.
The Government does not want to see such action taken. It wants somebody to raise the matter in this Parliament so that its supporters can talk politics, try to link the Australian Labour party with the Communists and claim that the Communists are controlling the trade unions. The Government wants to get out from under. It is evading its duty.
In proposing the motion for the adjournment, Senator McManus asked that a royal commission be appointed. I have had some experience of royal commissions, as also have other honorable senators. What do royal commissions do? If honorable senators peruse the reports of royal commissions, both State and Federal, they will find that the procedure usually follows these lines: A person makes a statement before a royal commission as the result of which another person’s character is assassinated. No proof is deduced of the truth of the statement, but its political repercussions, as it applies to a particular man or woman or band of men, are spread all over the country. I am not prepared to malign any individual. If anybody has evidence, he should go to a court and not assassinate the character of individuals who might be mentioned before a royal commission. Moreover, anybody who gives evidence before a royal commission is suspect immediately, and his character is assassinated also. The holding of an inquiry of that kind is not the solution of the matter that is before the Senate.
– An inquiry would allow some fresh, air into the matter, although there is no actual proof of crime.
– That is all right, too.
– The community would feel much better for it.
- Senator Wright made a very good, speech to-day, in which he proved that the Government has not done- its. duty.. I shall revert to that point again in a few moments. First, I wish to emphasize that a royal commission spends an enormous amount of money. To what purpose? lt merely brings in a finding, such as that mentioned by Senator Kennelly in the case of a royal commission which dealt with a mining case some years ago, involving one Nelson, W. M. Hughes and somebody else. What happened? Was anybody prosecuted on the basis of the findings of the royal commission? Let us consider the results of royal commissions that have sat recently. Some truths were sustained by witnesses who appeared. Did the Government take any action against the people concerned, either in a court of law or in a criminal court? No action was taken at all.
An enormous amount of money is spent in such cases to assassinate somebody’s character and provide a finding with which the commission itself cannot deal and upon which the government of the day does not act. Therefore, I ask: What is the use of a royal commission in this instance?
The Minister has told the Senate that the Australian shipowners are not at fault, because they have denied that they have been responsible for paying over any money. I believe it has been admitted in the Arbitration Court that certain funds were paid to certain maritime unions. Now a charge has been made, not only that the money has been paid, but also that there has been a misappropriation of funds. Surely, the Government itself is in a position to discover whether it has sufficient evidence, to go before a court and charge those responsible with breaches of the law! That is the crux of the matter. The Government has been dilatory.
Neither the Australian Labour party, nor any man who is concerned in the trade union movement, will stand for bribery or corruption in the movement. The law reports show that we do not stand for bribery or corruption. Men have been emptied out of the trade union movement time and time again. In this case, the background is entirely different from’ that of a. case involving; the ordinary ramifications of a. union, because, according to the Minister, we are dealing with some foreign body which is paying money that is probably being used for subversive purposes.
– Do you remember any cases in the law reports or in union records in which unions have taken money instead of getting wages for their members?
– Are there any?
– There are some. The point I am making is that if there is sufficient evidence to prove that some overseas shipping company is paying money to somebody in this- country for subversive purposes,- then surely there ought to be an immediate challenge by the Government’ of this country in the courts of Australia to protect the good name of Australia. If overseas shipping companies are using some of the maritime unions, the Government still should prosecute instead of waiting for the A.C.T.U. te take action. If the Government has the evidence, why should it be necessary for any one to move the adjournment of the. Senate in order, for political purposes, to draw attention to the fact that this is taking place? The Government should get on with the job immediately and put the matter in proper order so that men may be charged with contravening the law.
I am not particularly concerned about which law is being broken, but I do know that one cannot take bribes or use money corruptly without offending some part of the laws of this country. I know that one cannot even take money for ulterior or subversive purposes without breaking the law. Action against that kind of thing may be taken under the laws of this country. It is of no use Senator Gorton or anybody else asking what the A.C.T.U. proposes to do about the matter. TheA.C.T.U. will deal with it in its own way to protect the ethics of the movement. As a general rule, if any union member acts in some way detrimental to his- trade union, we take the same action as we take in the political sphere; we empty him out. We say to him, “ You are not entitled to belong to this organization. You join the Liberal party, if you like. You cannot remain a member of this organization, and you cannot take part in it”. Why, we provide penalties for men who commit slight technical breaches of an award. Time and time again, unions have fined members for having committed only slight technical breaches of awards. We are very jealous of the ethics of unionism.
Having said that, I repeat that we on this side object to the appointment of a royal commission. We do not want to be involved in any royal commissions, for the reasons I have stated. As for the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, whether we sit at 11 o’clock or half-past eleven in the morning is of no importance. I do not think it matters a tinker’s benediction whether the motion is carried or defeated.
Senator VINCENT (Western Australia [5.29]. - This debate arises out of an allegation by Senator McManus, very ably supported by one or two other speakers, relating to alleged payments by certain unnamed shipowners to certain named unions in consideration of the waiver by those unions of an alleged agreement, to which Senator McManus referred, and by which ships bought and sold in Australia should be manned exclusively by Australian seamen.
The first observation I wish to make about the matter is that the alleged agreement is not a lawful agreement; it is an unlawful agreement. In the case of the Queen against Foster, reported in volume 94 of the Commonwealth Law Reports, the High Court held that the decision by Mr. Justice Foster there was out of order. The facts in the case were that Mr. Justice Foster did rule that henceforth ships sold in Australia for delivery overseas should be manned by Australian crews. The High Court held that he had no jurisdiction so to order. So, the first point I wish to make is that there is no agreement, that there cannot be an agreement between the shipowners and the unions in regard to this matter which, therefore, I suggest, resolves itself into the proposition that any action of a coercive nature or otherwise, taken by any union, to force or extort the payment of money in those circumstances is getting very close to an illegal act.
Having said that, I wish to go further and. say that, under those circumstances, I agree entirely with other speakers that this matter has a very important public aspect. Senator McManus very ably said that that aspect of the question should be examined through a royal commission. Senator Byrne argued that the Government was resting its stand upon an investigation by the Aus. tralian Council of Trades Unions. With very great respect to Senator Byrne, I say that is not so. I suggest that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) made it clear - it was clear to me at any rate - that the Government would hold its hand in relation to any decision in connexion with a royal commission until it had seen the report of the A.C.T.U. That is not quite the same stand that Senator Byrne suggested we had taken. He said that we were resting our case on the report of the A.C.T.U. We are not. I think I am correct in saying that all the Government is doing is waiting to hear what sort of report the A.C.T.U. makes. It will then make its final decision upon this request by Senator McManus. I agree wholeheartedly with that position.
– Can you say why the Government did not take drastic action after Mr. Justice Foster made that statement?
– I am coming to that now. I suggest there are two aspects of this question that need looking at, and that must be looked at from two different levels. One is the public interest. That, very properly, can be taken good care of by a royal commission or a public investigation. But neither a public investigation nor a royal commission is a criminal proceeding. It has- nothing whatsoever to do with criminal proceedings. It is an investigation purely for the purpose of satisfying an element of public interest in a particular matter. At the moment, it might quite well be that the investigation- by the A.C.T.U. will release sufficient information to render unnecessary any further investigation of this matter. We do not know; we shall have to wait, and it will not be until after the report of the A.C.T.U. is to hand that we shall know whether a public inquiry is warranted in the interests of the public.
I pass from that to perhaps an even more important aspect, namely, the aspect of criminal law in relation to this matter.
The Government has made no statement of its purposes, and I venture to suggest that no government ever does make any public statement of its intentions. The law of this country, in relation to criminal prosecutions, takes its course, irrespective of any public inquiry, and I think 1 would be right in saying that the Government will be pursuing any action relating to criminal prosecution of the parties concerned irrespective of any investigation by the A.C.T.U. or even by a royal commission.
– Why would not the Minister be interested in a similar inquiry among the shipowners?
– He has not said he is not interested.
– It would be logical.
– If the AttorneyGeneral has reason to believe that under the criminal law there is a prima facie case, and certain shipowners are implicated, it would not be very appropriate to announce that fact in this Parliament before a charge was preferred.
– I think that the appointment of a royal commission is the only way to deal with the matter.
– The action that this Government takes pursuant to the criminal law has nothing to do with a public examination. That action, I hope, is being pursued in the ordinary procedures that are adopted in the Attorney-General’s Department. If any criminal offences have been committed, 1 sincerely hope that the actions of the Attorney-General will very shortly be brought to light in the usual way, and not ventilated in this Parliament. Therefore, I say that in our discussion this afternoon we are getting a little confused in relation to the two distinct aspects of the matter, the public aspect and the criminal aspect. I am certain that the criminal aspect is being looked after and is in very good hands. As the Minister has said, the public aspect is also being looked after, and I suggest that it, too, is in very good hands.
.- I am rather surprised and disappointed that more has not emerged from this debate. Senator McManus, who proposed the motion, did not bring anything fresh before the Senate.
However, I agree with his remark that this is a matter of particular public importance. There has been considerable comment on it throughout the trade union movement and by the public generally, ever since it was raised by Judge Foster. It was stated this afternoon that it was not a common practice for unions to accept payments in lieu of award rates and conditions. I assure the Senate that it is not the practice for trade union officials to accept such payments. I have been associated, as an official, with the trade union movement for many years, and I have not met one instance of a trade union, or one of its officials, accepting such a payment. I am pleased to be able to stand here and say that no employer ever approached me with an offer of a payment to accept any rates and conditions other than those prescribed by an award. I have taken action against employers for breaches of awards, and on three occasions judgments for £2,000 or more have been made against employers. An employer would have benefited if he could have escaped such a prosecution by the payment of a few hundred pounds, but I am pleased to say that I was never offered a bribe by an employer in the industry with which I was associated.
– You would not have taken it.
– No, I would not in any circumstances have taken a bribe if it were offered. I have never accepted a bribe in my life, and I would never consider doing so. In this instance, the shipowners are just as blameworthy as the maritime unions, if payments have been made as alleged, lt is rather significant that the Government did not take any action after this matter was raised by Judge Foster. Why did the Government not take action on this issue at that time? Was it because the shipowners were implicated that the Government did not want to have this matter brought to light? I venture the opinion that that may have been so, because the shipowners naturally would be supporters of the Government and its policy in relation to higher freight rates. I am particularly concerned if payments were made, because those payments would naturally be added to the cost of goods entering this country and being consumed, in many instances, by the workers.
There is a provision, in relation to the sale of ships to overseas buyers and the purchase of ships for the Australian trade, that the vessels must comply with Australian standards of accommodation. I think I am correct in saying that if a ship does nol comply with those standards the shipowners are entitled to engage an overseas crew to bring the ship to Australia or to take it away. A committee has been appointed by the A.C.T.U. to investigate the allegation that payments have been made to the maritime unions. That matter has been before the A.C.T.U interstate executive on two or three occasions. If I remember correctly, it came before the executive when we met in Adelaide, again in Melbourne, and again prior to the congress in Sydney last month. The committee which was appointed to get information on the alleged payments comprised the president of the A.C.T.U., Mr. Monk, the secretary, Mr. Souter, and the vice-presidents, Mr. Bill Evans and Mr. King.
Sitting suspended from 5.4S to 8 p.m.
– Mr. President, when the sitting of the Senate was suspended for dinner, 1 was giving the names of the members of the committee that was set up to investigate the alleged payments to the maritime unions by the shipowners. I said that Mr. King was one of the vice-presidents of that committee. He withdrew from the position at the last congress of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, and Mr. Kenny has taken over in his place. Other prominent trade union officials are on the committee.
As I said earlier, the committee has not yet completed its investigations. It was hurtful to me to hear certain honorable senators deplore the fact that the A.C.T.U. has been tardy in completing its investigations and bringing forward a report. I point out that the president of the A.C.T.U. was ill for some weeks in hospital. Naturally, when a person is in ill health, a committee set up under his chairmanship would have considerable difficulty in continuing its investigations.
The matter was raised at the A.C.T.U. congress in Sydney by Mr. Maynes, of the clerks’ union. When Mr. Maynes endeavoured to get a progress report from the
A.C.T.U. interstate executive, Mr. Monk quite naturally referred this matter to the A.C.T.U. interstate executive, which, in its wisdom, considered that an interim report would probably mislead not only congress but also the public. The members of the interstate executive thought that it would be in the best interests of the trade union movement, as well as of the persons concerned, not to make a statement at that time, which could be misconstrued, and what might appear at that particular time to be facts might prove to be entirely incorrect when followed out to their logical conclusion.
The interstate executive of the A.C.T.U. has at all times been kept well informed on this particular issue. The only reason why, as far as’ I could see, some men raised this particular issue at the A.C.T.U. congress was frustration because the industrial group, as we know it in the trade union movement, had endeavoured for some considerable time to have this matter brought out into the open. Whilst I do not disagree with it being brought out into the open, I do disagree with only an interim report being submitted to the A.C.T.U. congress.
I was very pleased to hear honorable senators opposite say that they would not support the proposal to set up a royal commission at this time. I was also pleased to note that for once they were not going to endeavour to interfere in the domestic affairs of the trade union movement. We feel that there has been considerable interference by parliaments in the past. I refer particularly to the penal provisions of the Crimes Act and the fines that have been imposed on unions as a result of legislation that, in the main, has been enacted by this Parliament. Some of that legislation has been successfully challenged in the courts and unions have won appeals against fines imposed upon them.
If it is proved that payments have been made to a maritime union, the A.C.T.U. can, and I have no doubt will, disaffiliate the union. That, in itself, is a penalty on the union. I feel confident that when this matter is dealt with finally by the A.C.T.U., and its report is received, that will be the time for this Parliament to deal with the matter, if need be, and to take action. I understand that the report will be furnished early next week.
– The matter we are discussing is of peculiar “interest to the shipping industry, and of -direct and particular importance to the trade union movement, as well as to every -trade unionist and the general public of -Australia. Senator McManus, who has raised the matter, seeks the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the alleged incidence of what has become known as secret payments to certain officials of maritime unions by certain shipowners.
The background of the matter is that the maritime unions claim that ships bought or sold overseas should be manned by Australian crews for the voyage to or from Australia. It is alleged that instances have occurred of the maritime unions claiming a cash compensation in lieu of the employment of Australian crews. Senator McManus has mentioned that the payment runs to £125 per head and that, in the event of the payment not being made, ships are tied up for lengthy periods. It is also said that this practice has been going on for a number of years. Senator McManus said that certain union officials had admitted receiving from the shipowners something of the order of £30,000 by way of compensation for not employing Australian crews.
The subject came into particular public prominence some time ago when the “ Kumalla “ case was before Mr. Justice Foster. “ Kumalla “ was a vessel that had been purchased overseas and brought here by a non-Australian crew. The seamen’s union then refused to supply a complement. Mr. Justice Foster, in commenting on the matter, said -
Another aspect of this matter which no one has mentioned yet . . . is . . . that a substantial number of shipowners in this country have acceded to the demands, unreasonable if you like. All right, half the shipowners do it, and half don’t. The other thing is (hat I have reason to believe that shipowners are still subsidizing unions in this country for this very thing, and doing it secretly.. In other words, while they come to me and tell me that they are not prepared to pay, they are in fact paying in respect of this problem.
Later, His Honour said -
I do not think there is anything unclean about it. They simply recognize the inevitability of it, and they have been doing it. Perhaps in the proper management of their industry, they have been doing it, but in all events, it embarrasses me. 1 pause merely to state that when this matter received publicity, the Commonwealth Steamship Owners Association gave at once an emphatic and a clear denial that it had anything at all to do with payments of this nature. For the purpose of the record, and in complete fairness to the constituent members, 1 mention that the members of the association are the Adelaide Steamship Company, the A.U.S.N. Company, Australian Steamship Proprietary Limited, Huddart Parker, the Melbourne Steamship Company, Mcllwraith and McEacharn Limited, James Paterson, Tasmanian Steamers Proprietary Limited and the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand.
I also take the opportunity of referring to a question that was asked of me by Senator McManus some little time ago. It concerned the possibility of a vessel formerly owned by the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, “ Tyalla “, being in any way involved in any of these payments. In reply, I :gave a categorical denial. But he referred to it to-day, as well as to other ships formerly owned by the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, “ Carcoola “ and “ Coolabah “. . I take the opportunity now of stating categorically that the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission has in no way at any time been involved in any of these payments. But there is a matter which I want to emphasize. Judge Foster referred to shipowners in this country, and I indicate in fairness that if these payments have been made, at least there is the possibility that payments may have been made by shipowners other than Australian shipowners, and that Australian shipowners are carrying the odium of the alleged act. I repeat that the Steamship Owners Association has denied this allegation, and on behalf of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, I give an assurance to the Senate that it has never been involved at all in any of these alleged payments. I think the Australian public generally, particularly the members of Australian trade unions, will hear these allegations with a good deal of quite understandable repugnance. I say at once that the trade union movement, through the A.C.T.U., did the right and proper thing. Acting with a full sense of responsibility, it set up a committee to investigate the charges which have been made. That committee, as has been’ indicated, includes top level officers of the council - its president, its. two vicepresidents and one or two other prominent members of its executive committee. I understand that even to-day, as we are discussing this subject, the president of the A.C.T.U. is in Sydney pursuing further inquiries into the matter, lt is expected that the report will be available shortly and that it will be considered in two or three weeks’ time by the executive committee of the A.C.T.U. I have noted a number of expressions of confidence by trade union officials of responsibility and standing that the committee will find out, not only whether any union officials have been involved, but also whether people other than trade union officials have been involved.
During the debate, the view has been expressed on more than one occasion that the Government has not been interested in this matter. On the contrary, the Government has shown a continued interest in it. Answers given to questions asked from time to time in this chamber and in another place have indicated that the matter has been watched very closely by my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt). As the Minister for Shipping and Transport, I have taken more than a casual interest in what has been going on. If shipowners are involved, I emphasize that the Government considers them to be as blameworthy as the unions. Both are parties to a transaction which offends the sense of decency of all Australians. The offence, if proved, would be considerably more serious if, as has been suggested, the money received by a trade union, or by a trade union official, had been misappropriated in any way. lt is puerile to suggest, as I have heard one or two irresponsible speakers suggest in this debate, that the Government has any interest in defending any party to these alleged transactions or in suppressing any information that might put an end to them. The Government is not interested in defending any one. The Government is more interested than any one else in finding out the extent of this activity. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) has made it perfectly clear that the Government is doing nothing to evade what may be described as its responsibilities. The Government does not favour a royal commission at this moment, but that does not mean that it is not prepared to investigate this alleged practice. What ever action the Government takes eventu-ally will be determined in the light of all the information uncovered. The Government will wait to hear with very great, interest, but without placing total reliance upon it for the purpose of making a decision, the finding of the A.C.T.U. committee, which I hope will be available within a very short time.
.- W’e are discussing a proposal which has some measure of urgency, in the opinion of some honorable senators. To me, it is ironical’ indeed to know that the Government had knowledge of the incidents connected with this matter at least six months ago. I shall have something to say about tot later on.
Let me give the history of the matter. Overseas shipping companies bring their ships and crews to Australia and, on occasions, purchase ships in Australia and take them overseas. The crews they employ to do the work are from overseas - not Australian crews under Australian articles. The overseas crews do not receive the rates of wages prescribed by the industrial awards, of Australia.
– They are not under Australian articles.
– If Senator Kendall will remain quiet, I will inform his mind. I did not interject when he was speaking this afternoon, although I was tempted to do so on numerous occasions. I know that they are not on Australian articles. I do not wish to emphasize that point because this is not a technical discussion as to whether the crews are on overseas or Australian articles. There is a difference between the wages paid to Australian seamen and the rates operating overseas. It appears that some of the maritime unions, fully aware of that fact, approached the Overseas Shipping Representatives Association - or an approach was made by the association to the maritime unions - and something like this was said: “ There is a difference between the rate of wages payable to the Australian crews and that of the crews you have employed. The crews which you have employed are receiving a lower rate of wages than would be paid to Australian crews. What about paying us the difference? “ Evidently, the Overseas Shipping Representatives Association concurred, and, according to the information that has been supplied here to-day, the system has been in operation since 1949. That acquiescence was given because, apparently, it was profitable for the Overseas Shipping Representatives Association to give it. Evidently, the money has been received by some maritime unions and, according to the information given us to-day, it has amounted to between £20,000 and £30.000.
What has the law to say about this situation? As I understand it, a charge of corruption can be levelled against no one unless the law prohibits this form of transaction. We say that it is an unsavoury transaction, and repugnant to the great mass of the Australian people. We, on this side of the chamber, the members of the Australian Labour party, say that we do not tolerate for one moment such conduct on the part of any industrial union. It is, perhaps, fortunate that I and my fellow senators can stand up here and say that the unions which have been accused to-day are not affiliated with the Australian Labour party. We want to make that quite clear. If they were, and this class of conduct became known officially, their affiliation would be promptly cancelled.
I have referred to the history of the case. I am speaking on the assumption that there is no law denouncing the form of conduct which we are discussing and when such an incident occurs, we may look at the matter in a factual way, just as would the average citizen. Three parties are involved: the Overseas Shipping Representatives Association, the maritime unions - or one or two of them - and the Government, representing the public interest. Therefore, we all have some interest in the matter that we are discussing. Labour, in its crusade over the years, has refused to encourage improper conduct on the part of any union. It will not tolerate conduct of the kind that has been described here to-day. Of course, I realize that 1 am referring to ah allegation only, and that we have nothing further by way of evidence than the statement of Mr. Justice Foster. At the same time, I realize that a judge does not make such a statement lightly.
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport regarded part of Mr. Justice Foster’s statement as incorrect.
– A certain deduction was made in respect of that statement. Other things have been said here to-day, and I am sure mat those who have said them will bc prepared to repeat them publicly outside. For instance, it has been said that certain union officials have admitted receiving the money, or some of it.
– Where has the money gone?
– First of all, I should like to make sure that the money has in fact been paid to the unions by the Overseas Shipping Representatives Association.
– That has nothing to do with it.
– I come now to the main point of my speech, and I thank Government supporters for helping me to make it. They may well feel that there is more to this matter than a mere allegation - that it actually happened. They are supported in that attitude by the statement of Mr. Justice Foster. I come now to the question of the neglect of the Commonwealth Government to protect the public interest, lt is certainly most apparent in this case. We have been told that Mr. Justice Foster referred to this matter some six months ago. Was it not the duty of some government department to note that remark and immediately set the wheels in motion, so that this kind of thing would become an offence under a Commonwealth act?
This afternoon 1 asked whether the type of transaction that we have been describing was in breach of any statute. I appreciate the legal standing of the honorable senator who replied, but even he could not say with confidence whether a breach of any act had occurred. How can there be corruption, when no law to prevent it operates? Evidently the Overseas Shipping Representatives Association and the maritime unions were free to negotiate with each other in this way. However, if it had been in breach of any statute we should know where we stood. The matter would not have reached this stage. I realize that the Government does not stand for that kind of conduct. Indeed, I imagine no Australian would stand for it.
I shall digress for a moment to speak of the cost of such conduct in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. If £30,000 or £40,000 has been handed over in this way, it has been paid, in the long run, by either the consumers or the primary producers in Australia, or the consumers overseas. Honorable senators are fully aware of the fare increases that have operated on the shipping lines during the last twelve months or so. Several freight increases have been made since September, 1953. The first, amounting to l per cent., cost £1,850,000 annually. In October, 1955, there was a further 7i per cent, increase in freights involving a further increase of £1,990,000. These added costs must be paid for by the Australian consumer and producer, or by the consumer overseas. There was a further 5 per cent, rise in 1957, which amounted to £1,610,000. The sum of £30,000 that allegedly has been paid by the overseas shipping companies to the maritime unions fades into insignificance; it becomes a mere bagatelle when compared with the sum that the overseas shipping interests have gained from the increase of freights.
I now come right back to the point that I proposed to make a while ago, that is, the failure of the Commonwealth Government to discharge its duty to do what a government should do in such circumstances. That is my complaint. Governments are required to do certain things in certain circumstances, but this Government certainly did not do what it should have done on this occasion. I have before me now a very lengthy definition of “ industrial matters “ in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The definition is so broad that it includes such things as the wind and an open door. Let me briefly state the definition as it affects this discussion. It reads - “ Industrial matters “ means all matters pertaining to the relations of employers and employees, and without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes-
This is the interesting part - all matters or things affecting or relating to work done or to be done.
Therefore, the Commonwealth court had jurisdiction in the matter that we have been discussing to-day. The definition refers to twenty or 30 express matters, and concludes in the following way: -
What did the Government do after it became aware of this corrupt practice, shall I say, involving the overseas shipping interests and the maritime unions? The Government needed only to examine its own legislation to ascertain what should be done.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin).- Order! The time allotted under Standing Order 64 for this debate has expired.
– I present the following report of the Public Accounts Committee: -
Thirty-third Report - Expenditure from Advance to the Treasurer and Variations under section 37 of the Audit Act 1901-1957.
As this is a particularly important report, I desire to direct the attention of the Senate to it.
Honorable senators who have had the time to read the Thirty-first Report of the Public Accounts Committee submitted in May last will recall that we recommended changing the manner in which the expenditure from the Treasurer’s Advance Account should be reported to the Parliament. Since 1906, when the Advance was established, the Supplementary Estimates have fulfilled that purpose. Since 1953-54, the amount of the annual vote has been £16,000,000.
By glancing in particular at Division No. 232, on page 103 of the Estimates, we see that the notation to the vote “ Advance to the Treasurer “ is different from what it has been in recent years. There has always been the implication that the Advance would be available to meet, amongst other things, emergent or unforeseen expenditure. While that condition still remains, I would remind honorable senators that the notation was changed in 1954-55 when the Treasurer undertook, amongst other things, to use the Advance “ to meet expenditure particulars of which will afterwards be included in a parliamentary appropriation “.
Last year, when the Public Accounts Committee was examining the form in which the Supplementary Estimates should be submitted to the Parliament, we were advised by the Treasury, the Parliamentary Draftsman, and others, that the practice of including the expenditure from the Treasurer’s Advance in a supplementary estimate was legally unnecessary as we’ll as ineffective. The argument put to us was that since the Advance had already been appropriated when the Estimates were passed, there was nothing to be gained, . legally or otherwise, by appropriating details of the expenditure.
The committee was anxious that, by adopting this contention, it should not in any way derogate from the rights of the Parliament to be informed of the manner in which the Treasurer had spent the Advance voted to him. While there was no need to pass .another appropriation measure, there was every reason why the Parliament should be told how the money it had appropriated had actually been spent.
The committee considered a number of ways in which the information could be submitted to the Parliament and decided that a satisfactory procedure would be for the Treasurer to submit, as soon as possible within the next financial year, a statement of the allocations of the expenditure authorized by him from the Advance, and also to move a resolution seeking the approval >of Parliament to those allocations. We undertook to report on each statement as .early as possible and, if possible, by the date on which the Treasurer tabled it.
Honorable senators will see that in 1957-58, the notation to the vote “Advance to the Treasurer “ has been amended to read, .amongst other things, “.to meet exexpenditure, particulars of which will afterwards be submitted to Parliament “. The Parliament will, therefore, be in exactly the same .position as .formerly. It will have before it the report of the Public Accounts Committee on .matters which seemed worth while reporting upon to the Parliament, such as the report I .am submitting now, and it will have a complete catalogue <of the things upon which the Treasurer’s Advance has .been spent. -But instead -of being asked to pass another appropriation bill, it will have for consideration a /resolution submitted by the Treasurer.
This thirty-third report of the committee has been prepared in the terms of the new procedure.
Ordered to be printed.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Debate resumed from 8th October (vide page 408) on motion by Senator Henty -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I move the following amendment: -
Leave out all words after “ That “, and insert: - “ the bill be redrafted to provide, as from 1st July, 1957, in the light of the declining purchasing value of money, increases in the rates of social service payments to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, and, particularly, to ensure as a minimum that each of these payments is restored to the same percentage of the (unpegged) basic wage as it was under the adjustment of rates by the Chifley Government in 1948”.
During the course of my remarks I shall foreshadow further amendments that the Opposition proposes to move at the committee stage. Before I come to that I want to have something to say about the secondreading speech made .by the Minister for Customs .and Excise (Senator Henty) as representing in this Senate the Minister for Social Services. I have perused the speech very carefully and I consider it to be utterly dishonest.
– The honorable senator is biased.
– I will set out in due course to prove what I mean when I say that the speech was utterly dishonest.
– That is a tough statement to make.
– I have said it twice and, if encouraged by Senator Pearson and Senator Scott, I would be quite happy to say it again. I wish to quote from the second-reading speech of the Minister. Realizing that :the bill did not measure up to the requirements of the Australian community, the Minister attempted to stifle criticism in advance by drawing innumerable red herrings across the trail in the hope that the inadequacies of the bill would be lost in the explanations that he tendered. Some of those explanations are so misleading that they border on the dishonest. At page 2 of the roneoed copy of the secondreading speech, the Minister said -
The task of maintaining a system of social services involving an annual expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds would not be an easy one even for a nation with a population many times greater than that of Australia.
That is an attempt to set up a smoke screen and to suggest that this Government has done many things that it has not done at all. What is the position in other countries? The Minister has stated in his secondreading speech that this Government has done marvellous things.
– What is wrong with that statement?
– I will tell the honorable senator in a minute what is wrong with it. He should not be too impatient. Probably other honorable senators on the Government side are not following me as closely as he is. Everybody knows that the lightning brain of Senator Scott is always a flash ahead of the brains of his colleagues. The paragraph that I have read indicated that the MenziesFadden Administration was using a tremendous proportion of the national revenue for social services. That is clearly what the Minister tried to establish, and it is one of the misleading statements with which the second-reading speech is studded.
Let us examine the true situation. The International Labour Organization conducted research not long ago into the social service provisions of many nations. In those countries whose living standards are comparable with ours, we find some very extraordinary progress in social services. For example, in 1949, the German Republic spent 17.1 per cent, of its national revenue on social services. The percentage of national revenue diverted to social services by other countries in that year is shown in the following table: -
In the comparison taken from the I.L.O. statistics, we find that of seventeen countries whose living standards had at least some relation to ours, Australia was at the bottom of the list. As I have said, the highest percentage was 17.1 per cent. In Australia, the percentage of national revenue used for social services, in 1950, was 6.1 per cent. The statement that I have read from the Minister’s second-reading speech, therefore, is misleading. I hope that I am not being too dogmatic when I say that it is completely untrue, and sets out to delude the Australian public into believing that this Government is providing far greater social service benefits than it is doing. I believe I have established that point definitely.
At page 3 of the roneoed copy of the Minister’s second-reading speech, there is an even more extraordinary statement. The Minister said -
The extent to which the position of the pensioner has improved under the present Government’s administration will be especially evident if account is taken of permissible income-
We say very definitely that the position of the pensioners has not improved at all under this Government.
– Read the whole paragraph.
– I shall be happy to do so. It continues - that is, of the amount of income which a pensioner may receive from outside sources without a reduction in the rate of his pension.
– Now we have the full sense of the paragraph.
– It does not alter the position at all.
– The honorable senator was wrong in his first statement, and he could be wrong again.
– Senator Scott will have :an opportunity ito rebut my statement. It will toe interesting to hear what explanation ihe can give of my statement regarding the expenditure on social services by other countries, compared with Australia. I think Senator Scott and his colleagues will have to be very busy indeed to disprove those figures. I doubt if he can do it, or whether he will attempt to do it. The statement by the Minister that there has been an improvement of the pensioners’ position is not true. I have before me a table of figures which I will place before the Senate in due course..
I come now to the most impudent statement in the Minister’s second-reading speech.
– It is grotesque!
– If I had Senator Byrne’s command of language I could probably describe it in even worse terms. This is a gem of inaccuracy. At page 5 of the roneoed copy of the speech, the Minister stated -
Even without these additional services, however, the pension has shown a marked increase in real value since the present Government took office.
– That is dishonest.
– That is what I was referring to. The Minister continued -
This will be quite clearly demonstrated if we compare the purchasing value of the proposed new pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week with that of the pension which was in force in December, 1949.
Then comes the snide little statement by which this duplicity is given some appearance of responsibility. The Minister said -
To do this, I will apply the C series retail price index which is the best or perhaps the only yardstick for the purpose.
I submit that that is completely untrue. It is completely unreal. The C series index has never been recognized by the trade union movement as a reliable basis for the standard of living and the value of money. The C series index is limited. It deals with only a portion of the requirements of an ordinary working-class person. In face of those facts, it must be admitted that the C series index must be dismissed as a reliable guide for purposes of comparison. In fact, it is well known that in South Australia, where a hotch-potch of prices control is maintained, the Premier rigidly controls the prices of those items which are considered in the determination of the C series index figure and leaves the position high, wide and handsome in connexion with those articles which are not considered. Therefore, I feel that I can say without any hesitation that to endeavour to establish that the value of pensions can be compared by taking the C series index figure as a guide is to insult the intelligence of those people whom the Government obviously expects to swallow it.
We say that the only reliable guide in determining the real value of pensions is the unpegged basic wage. If we relate pensions to the unpegged wage of £13 5s. for the six capital cities in 1957 and compare the result with the percentage that pensions bore to the unpegged basic wage operating in 1948 under the Chifley Government, we find that the pensioners of Australia should be getting 9s. 7d. more than the increase proposed by the Government in this bill. I claim that it was completely and utterly, wrong for the Minister to attempt to use the C series index as a guide in making his comparisons. Ask any person who has to work for a living what he thinks about the value of the things his wages will buy. Without doubt he will say that the only reliable method of arriving at the purchasing power of the pension is to express it as a percentage of the unpegged basic wage.
– Did Labour always do that when it was in office?
– I am coming to what we did when we were in office, and I do not intend to be thrown off the track by Senator Pearson. If he will only give me the opportunity, I shall refer to what wc did when we were in office, and it will not make very pleasant hearing for him. I repeat that the amount that should be paid to the pensioners is 9s. 7d. more than is proposed in this bill. So much for the fantastic statement relating the pension to the C series index.
– Did you always relate the pension to the basic wage?
– I come now to unemployment and sickness benefits. In his second-reading speech, the Minister said -
I turn now to unemployment and sickness benefits. Honorable senators will recall that the rates of these benefits were doubled by the MenziesFadden Government in 1952. This year, as F have indicated, further substantial increases will be made.
The uninitiated, those who have not had much experience of the rather dubious ways in which this Government goes about things, might be lulled by that statement into the belief that this Government has substantially increased unemployment and sickness benefits. Again using what I suggest is the only reliable yardstick - expressing the benefits as a percentage of the unpegged basic wage - we find that if the percentage which pensions bore to the unpegged basic wage in the Chifley Government’s time were maintained, that is to say, the percentage which £6 13s. bore to £12 16s., the payment to-day should be £6 17s. a week.
I have heard honorable senators interjecting about permissible income. If we apply the same yardstick to the permissible income, it should be £2 15s. a week now for pensioners.
– If the basic wage is the yardstick you say we should adopt, why did you not apply the same principle when you were in office?
– I am coming to the position when we were in office, and I shall deal with it adequately.
– I would not say “ adequately “. You have missed out a lot up to date.
– That ls a matter of opinion. I notice on reading the Minister’s second-reading speech that he sets out how much social service benefits will cost the Government. He says -
The proposals included in the bill will cost £8,830,000 for 1957-58 and £12,775,000 for a full year.
Let me deal with that statement. The Government talks about the magnificent sum of £12,000,000 to be allocated for a full year for increased social services, but I suggest that it would do well not to overlook the fact - we have not overlooked it - that in the same Budget, with carefree abandon, it gives the big financial institutions of the country taxation relief to the tune of £15,000,000. Yet it is not prepared to give the. person who is unemployed, the person who is sick, the person who is aged or infirm, any more than £12,000,000 in the aggregate, £3.000,000 less than it gives in relief, with a stroke of the pen, to the big financial institutions of this country!
I come now to the most dishonest statement of all in the Minister’s speech. I refer to his attempt to establish what the total social service payments will be. He said -
The total costs for this financial year of all benefits under the Social Services Act will amount to £200,784,000.
The total cost of all benefits payable from the National Welfare Fund, including health benefits and services costing nearly £43,000,000, will be £243.572,000. This compares with £74,600,000 in the last full year when Labour was in office.
– Shame on them!
– That brings shame on the Government because it is deliberately misleading, it is dishonestly misleading. If the Minister wanted to tell the Senate and the people of Australia the truth - and I submit they have not been told the truth - he should have stated what the national revenue was in the year when the Chifley Government went out of office. If we relate the amount paid out in social services to the national revenue of something in the vicinity of £400,000,000 in 1948, we find that the percentage allocated for social services in that year was greater than is proposed in the present Budget. Make no mistake about it, the percentage in 1948 was greater. I have taken the trouble to do a little research into this matter. I have perused the Budgets from 1939 onwards and have discovered what the actual position was in 1948. That perusal of those budgets also disclosed to me the duplicity of the Minister and the Government in setting out, without conscience, to create a wrong impression in the minds of the Australian people. I say without fear of contradiction that a far greater proportion of the national revenue was paid out in social services in 1948 than is proposed in the present Budget. I challenge any honorable senator on the Government side to disprove that statement.
– Tell us about when Labour reduced the age pension. That would be more interesting.
– I come now to the question in which Senator Pearson appeared to be interested. I refer to what Labour did.
– No. I asked whether you regarded the basic wage as being the yardstick.
– I am answering the question in my own way.
– You answer my question. I asked just one question. Answer that.
– I will tell the Senate the situation that existed when Labour was in office, in order to remind Government supporters, who bask in the reflected glory of the social services provided by the Labour government. They will recall vividly what was happening in their own parties at the time. They will recall, probably, their deficiencies as a government, which brought about their downfall, but that is another story. When the Chifley Labour Government came into office, the full extent of social services was a pension of a few measly shillings given to aged and invalid people. That was the record in social services of honorable senators opposite.
– What about child endowment? When was that introduced?
– You wanted the history of Labour in the field of social services.
– I asked a simple question, which you have not answered.
– I shall answer many questions before I finish, but I want to get my story over first. In 1941, in Labour’s first year of office, it took the initial step in providing the people of this country with some system of social welfare by substantially increasing the existing age and invalid pensions. It must be remembered that at the time Labour started on its programme of social welfare it had the slight diversion of a total war to contend with.
– It might have been slight to you; it was not to many other people.
– I am talking in terms which perhaps Senator Marriott would not understand.
– You said the war was a slight diversion. I said it was not. I know your thoughts.
– Senator Marriott’s interjections always amuse me. They sound like the full-throated roar of a mouse. In order that there will not be any misunderstanding, let me say that when I said, “ the slight diversion of a total war “, I was emphasizing the problems with which the Chifley Government had to deal. There is no need for Senator Marriott to remind us of the seriousness of a total war. The Government supported by honorable senators opposite had a go at conducting it, but could not do anything, and had to get out.
– I happened to be in the Middle East at that time, and I did not see you there.
– That has nothing to do with the matter. It appears that I have succeeded in doing one thing. I have livened the Senate up a little. Before I was interrupted so frequently and rudely, I was dealing with Labour’s record in social services.
– Forget that.
– The people of this country will not forget it, because the Labour party was the first party ever to provide proper social services. In 1944, when the Labour Government was organizing a full-scale war effort by Australia, it introduced sickness and unemployment benefits. The parties which now form the Government did not do anything about that when they had the opportunity to do so years before. This action was in line with a policy that had been enunciated by Labour for many years, and at the first opportunity Labour put that policy into operation. Supporters of the present Government had had all the time in the world to do something about it, but had- done nothing. Labour was the first political party in this country to provide widows’ pensions. Honorable senators opposite had an opportunity to provide them but failed to do so.
– Tell us about child endowment, for a change.
– Child endowment is the only star in their heaven. If they had not introduced child endowment, the sky would be very black in their record of social services. I remind the Senate also that it was Labour which first introduced hospital benefits and established the National Welfare Fund, which honorable senators opposite refused to carry on.
– You had spent it all.
– No, we had not. As a matter of fact, we suspect that the Government has spent it. There was a certain amount of money in it when we left office and we do not know what has happened to it since. No adequate explanation has ever been given, but that is beside the point. The purpose of the National Welfare Fund was to provide the means of extending social services, but the present Government parties were afraid of that sort of thing. They forgot that the National Welfare Fund ever existed, or they sabotaged it. Nobody can deny that that is what happened. Honorable senators opposite asked about Labour’s record in social services. That is the situation. All. that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party ever did was to give a. few shillings to age and invalid pensioners. Admittedly they introduced child endowment.
– Why did they do that?
– I should say it was done as a political bribe. Admittedly, they introduced child endowment, but every other social service benefit for the purpose of easing the problems of our underprivileged people was sponsored by a Labour government. All that this Government ever did was to continue to provide those benefits, because it feared to discontinue them, but it steadily drained the value from them by the inflation that its policies produced. The value of social service payments has been reduced year by year. The Government never quite compensates, in the increases that it makes, for the reduced purchasing power caused by its inflationary policy. That is the history of social services in this country. The Government has contributed nothing at all.
The party I represent is the only party that has ever set out to uplift the living standards of the people. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, said that great strides have been taken in the fields of hospitalization and health. We wanted to introduce a completely free health scheme, but out efforts were sabotaged by some members of the Australian medical profession, with- the full concurrence and assistance of the parties which now comprise the Government. As a consequence, honorable senators opposite have to accept some degree of responsibility for the fact that to-day we have not a completely free health scheme. There was some reference in the Minister’s second-reading speech to what this Government has done for the aged people.
– We have encouraged the provision of homes for the aged.
– Yes, a few homes, but the Government has not even scratched the surface of what is required in order to assist the aged people of this country. The Government does not even contemplate helping in a major way the people who are doing the work that the Government itself should be doing. I refer to services that are rendered voluntarily by members of the community - social welfare work. They operate such projects as Meals on Wheels, which was commenced by Miss Doris Taylor in Adelaide. This service undertakes the feeding of hundreds of pensioners who; because of age or infirmity, or both, cannot feed themselves.
– It operates in Sydney, too.
– Yes, also in Victoria, and the service is being extended to Western Australia. This is an instance of members of the community accepting responsibility for social work that the Government has failed to undertake. I think that the care of the aged should be undertaken completely at the government level. I am referring to those people who, because -of physical infirmity or because they have no relatives to assist them, are left to their own. devices. There are thousands of such people in this country who are suffering from various disabilities, of whom the Government has no knowledge, and in whom it is not particularly interested. In the case of elderly people who cannot feed themselves, the Meals on Wheels service provides them with one decent meal a day and such other assistance as it can. But that does not alter my opinion that the Government has a responsibility in this matter. I repeat that the Government has not yet scratched the surface, as far as- its responsibility to the aged people in the community is concerned. It is a disgrace that old people in dire straits must rely on charity. It is a disgrace that welfare workers - I commend them for what they are doing - should have to undertake work that should be carried out by the Government. The Government takes pride in the fact that it has made finance available to subsidize the provision of a few homes for the aged. It has not even started to provide nearly enough homes for them.
– You do not even know the figures.
– Would Senate Marriott like to know the figures in relation to the people who are still waiting for homes, because that is the only reliable yardstick? To-day, hundreds of thousands of old people throughout Australia are living in hovels, in deplorable circumstances
– There were more in 1949.
– If supporters of the Government have read the newspapers during recent months they will have seen articles describing how some old people in this country are living - in hovels and under unspeakable conditions. There does not appear to be any government provision to uplift them. 1 say that this Government has failed the old people of Australia.
Government senators refer with pride to the proposal to grant an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in pensions. They talk about building a few homes for the aged, and of granting increased pensions to invalids. They overlook the fact that the proposed increases are totally inadequate, and that the older members of the community are suffering considerable privation. I suggest to Senator Pearson, a fellow South Australian, that if he wants to gain an insight into what is happening in relation to the old people, he need only discuss the matter with the people who, in a voluntary capacity, are operating the meals on wheels service.
– Does not the honorable senator believe that I know their conditions as well as he does?
– Well, why are you interjecting?
– Because you are unfair and unreasonable - because you are making biased and untruthful statements.
– I have come to the conclusion that I am not very popular with the Government senators. I did not think that they’ disliked me so much. Perhaps I have got under their skin a little to-night.
– The honorable senator agrees that I have touched him on the raw. Well, I set out to alert the Government to its responsibility in connexion with the aged people of this country. If I cannot persuade the Government with honeyed words to accept its responsibilities in this connexion, perhaps I can shame honorable senators opposite into accepting it. I hope that the comments I have made to-night will serve a useful purpose. To summarize the position, I said at the beginning of my speech that the Minister’s second-reading speech was dishonest.
– You have produced nothing to prove it.
– I think I have proved, at least to honorable senators on this side, that it is a dishonest document.
– I rise to order. Senator Toohey has repeatedly used the word “ dishonest “, which, I submit, is contrary to the Standing Orders. I ask that he be directed to withdraw the expression on this occasion.
– Order! The word “ dishonest “ is offensive in the way Senator Toohey has used it, and he will withdraw it.
– Order! You will not argue against my ruling. You will withdraw the offensive word that you used.
– I was about to say that I would withdraw it.
– You may proceed, Senator Toohey.
– I shall content myself by saying that the speech bristles with inaccuracies.
– It is not in accord with facts.
– It certainly is not.
– In your opinion.
– I think I have established, at least to the satisfaction of honorable senators of this side, that the document does bristle with inaccuracies. In many instances, I have been able to expose inaccuracies that have been deliberately designed to create false impressions in the minds of the Australian community.
I am prepared to concede that the Budget was skilfully framed; the Government gave a fraction here and a fraction there, but for people who might be regarded as malcontents, the Budget was only designed to achieve what is achieved when one throws some scraps to a hungry dog to keep it quiet. The Budget does not set out in any major way to rectify one anomaly in the social services legislation of this country. It does not provide the recipients of social services with the purchasing power that they received at the time the Chifley Government went out of office. 1 think that to-night 1 have established that point quite clearly.
The Budget does not meet in any way the requirements of people who are in the worst circumstances in the social services field. I foreshadow that, at the committee stage, I will move several amendments, including one relating to the amount of funeral benefit, the amount of assets in respect of entitlement, the question of natives - nomadic and others - and so on. Finally, I contend myself with saying that this bill contains very little that will assist the needy of this nation.
– The second-reading speech of the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) read very well. He continually compared the efforts of his Government to help the pensioners with those of Labour governments. The comparison might well have enhanced the prestige of his Government if it had not, in fact, been so unsoundly based. A slight improvement in the pittance paid by a former government does not lighten the burden of the pensioner in trying to eke out the little he receives. In the social service field we again condemn the Government for its failure to show justice to the pensioners - especially those who are aged or invalid. The Government has itself to blame if the subject of pensions becomes a political football.
Honorable senators will recall that earlier I moved that pensions should be taken from the realm of politics by the establishment of a needs tribunal which would give the pensioner justice. However, neither the Government nor the Evatt party saw fit to support that motion. It is now up to the Government to take the place of that tribunal and offer just pension rates. My party feels so strongly on this matter that if the pension rates are not increased, we are prepared to defeat the Government on the Budget.
– You mean that you will try!
– We will defeat the Government on the Budget if, for the first time in two years, the Evatt party can muster its full quota in the Senate.
– That would merely deny to the pensioners the increase that the Government proposes.
– It will do nothing of the sort, lt would force the Government to readjust the pensions scheme, and in short order, bring down a new bill to replace the bill before us. The Government should accept the motion foreshadowed by Senator Toohey and announce that the increases will apply retrospectively, as from 1st July, 1957. That would surely cause very little hardship. The Government can no longer ignore the national indignation at the pitiful plight of the pensioners. Ail sections of the community agree that these folk are being very badly treated. Previous increases in pensions have been 7s. 6d. in 1950; 10s. in 1951; 7s. 6d. in 1952; 2s. 6d. in 1953; 10s. in 1955; nothing last year and now, in 1957, a further 7s. 6d. These increases have not kept pace with the increases in cost of living. Therefore, the lot of the pensioner has not, in fact, improved. We have accepted the fact that we belong to a welfare State.
– Who said that?
– The Government legislates as for a welfare State. Therefore, the principle should be applied properly, and the pensioner given an adequate living allowance.
– You would not want it to be interpreted as a “ farewell State “? That is what would happen if we followed your suggestion.
– Perhaps I shall be pardoned for stating once again the policy of the Australian Democratic Labour party in regard to pensions. It is that the Government should establish an independent tribunal to determine reasonable rates for all social service payments, and that those rates should be increased in unison with upward movements in the cost of living. We further demand that there should be at once an increase of £1 in the pension rate, and that such increases should be paid retrospectively, as from 1st July. That should be done while the tribunal’s finding is being awaited.
– What would that cost?
– In the neighbourhood of £29,000,000. The precise figure was given earlier in answer to a question. I know that the provision of social services is costing a tremendous amount of money -in the neighbourhood of £243,000,000 annually. As the increases that we have suggested would strain the national economy to the utmost, we urge the Government to establish a comprehensive, contributory, national insurance scheme to cover all persons and all pensions and sickness and hospital benefits. That would enable us to abandon the obnoxious means test, which creates many anomalies. If expenditure on social services were maintained at its present level and the contributions to such an insurance scheme were also available, adequate pensions could be provided for the aged and the needy.
– What would be the total cost of providing the benefits which the honorable senator describes?
– That would depend on the sum that the tribunal decided would adequately meet the needs of the pensioner.
– What would be the cost of removing the means test ,and of providing sickness and hospital benefits, in the way that you have suggested?
– At present, social services, including hospital benefits, cost £243,000,000 annually. I believe that that level of expenditure should be maintained, and that the money available through a national insurance scheme would enable the Government, without imposing a strain on the economy, to give adequate pensions.
– Would it not involve increased taxes?
– If the plight of the pensioners were relieved, I should not worry very greatly about that. This can be done, and should be done, at once. I believe there is, on the statute-book, a law relating to national insurance which has never been proclaimed. That being so, no difficulty would be experienced in putting that measure into operation. I understand that, at one time, the present Government parties had such a plan in their platform, but since they have come to power they have done nothing about it.
I desire to bring to the Government’s notice certain anomalies that should be rectified at once. A married person on a full pension, whose wife is not pensionable, is allowed to earn £7 a week without any reduction being made in his pension, but if such a married pensioner is in receipt of superannuation payments in excess of £208 a year, or £4 a week, he is debarred from free hospital and medical benefits. That anomaly causes great hardship. I shall give as an example the case of a superannuated railway man in Devonport. When the superannuation scheme was instituted, he took out two units above the minimum number, which most men took out. The minimum number of units would have given him a pension of £4 a week, but he took out ten units, because he was thinking of his wife, who was much younger than himself, and hoped to provide for her. He is receiving superannuation payments amounting to £214 10s. a year. Because he is receiving £6 a year over the limit prescribed by the act, he does not get free hospital and medical benefits. He is receiving this amount by way of superannuation payments and, therefore, he is not able to hide the fact. Many others earn more than the maximum amount prescribed, but the fact is not found out by the department. At the present time, this man is very sick. During this year, he has spent over £200 on hospital treatment. He had saved and had bought a home, but now has to mortgage it in order to pay his hospital bills. He is very worried because, as I said, his wife is younger than he, and he realizes that when he passes on he will leave a mortgaged home to her.
– The mortgage money will then disqualify her from receiving a pension.
– I believe that this provision was put into the statute at the instigation -of the British Medical Association.
– What is that?
– The provision that if a pensioner receives moTe than £208 a year, or £4 a week, in superannuation payments, he will not receive free medical ‘benefits, although, under the act, he can receive a pension and earn £7 a week.
– That is over and above the pension?
– Over and above the pension. I think that anomaly should be rectified at once, because it is causing great difficulty to people in the lower superannuation bracket. 1 now shall deal with child endowment, which has not been increased for a number of years. One of the greatest failures of the Government in its social service legislation is its persistent refusal to increase rates of child endowment. Since 1948 this section of family income has halved in value. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) promised to examine the case presented to him in 1956 by members of the industrial group unions, but he has not done so. The position of the family breadwinner compared with the single wage earner is still deteriorating. I shall give the Senate the relevant figures. In 1941, when child endowment was introduced for all children except the first, the payment for a child was 5s. a week. The basic wage at that time was 95s. a week. The child endowment payment then represented 5.3 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1945, child endowment was increased to 7s. 6d. a week for each child. The basic wage then was 96s., and the child endowment payment was -7.8 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1948, child endowment was increased to 10s. and represented 8.4 per cent, of the basic wage, which then was 119s. a week. In 1950, the first child was endowed with a payment of 5s. a week. The basic wage was 135s. and the payment of 10s. for children other than a first child was 7.4 per cent, of the basic wage. In 1955, child endowment was still l’Os. and the basic wage was 242s. The endowment was 4.1 per cent, of the basic wage. Honorable senators will see that since 1948 the value of child endowment has fallen by one-half when compared with the basic wage. To restore the previous value of child endowment relative to the basic wage - ignoring the payment for the first child - it should be increased to 20s. a week.
My party has a plank in its platform relating to child endowment. We say that the first child should receive 5s., the second, third and fourth children 20s., and that for each subsequent child the amount should be increased by 2s. 6d. a week.
– What would that cost?
– For the first child, the weekly payment would be 5s. or £13 a year. The number of eligible children is 1,246,986. The annual cost would be £16,210,818. Our proposal is that the second child should receive 20s. a week, or £52 a year. The number of eligible children is 773,818. The annual cost, in round figures, would be £40,000,000.
– Give us the total cost; that will do.
– I am making this speech, not you. The proposal in relation to a third child is 20s. a week, or £52 a year. The number of eligible children would be 349,576, and the annual cost would be £18,000,000.
– What would you do under your proposal?
– This is our proposal. lt is proposed that the endowment for a fourth child be 20s. a week, or £52 a year. The number of eligible children would be 139,304, and the annual cost £7,000,000. The proposed endowment for the fifth child is 22s. 6d. a week, or £58 10s. a year. The number of eligible children would 54;039 and the annual cost £3,000,000. For a sixth child, it is proposed that the endowment should be 25s. a week, or £65 a year. The number of eligible children would be 21,286 and the annual cost £1,383,590. For the seventh child, the endowment would be 27s. 6d. a week or £71 10s. a year. The number of eligible children would be 8,612, and the annual cost £615,000.
– Stop there.
– We go on to the fourteenth child. That will not affect a great number here. For the fourteenth child, the endowment would be 40s. a week or £104 a year. The number of eligible children would be 151, and .the annual cost £15,000. In regard to children in institutions, the rate would be 40s. a week, or £104 a year. The number of eligible children would be 24,951, and the annual cost £2,500,000. The final, result is that the total number of eligible children would be approximately 2,500,000 and the annual cost £90,000,000.
– Would the honorable senator mind telling us who is going to pay for all this?
– I suggest that it will be paid for by a contributory national insurance scheme.
– Some one must pay for it.
– I do not mind who pays for it as long as these people get it.
– That is not a very responsible outlook.
– It is responsible, because you will pay for it with your national insurance premiums.
– At what rate?
– That is for the Government to work out. The present annual cost of child endowment is £55,000,000, so the increase would cost £35,000,000. The cost could be reduced to a certain degree by eliminating the payment of endowment for the first child. That would relieve the situation to the extent of £16,000,000.
– The honorable senator does not propose that it should be paid in respect of the first child?
– As far as the first child is concerned, I do not think the endowment has much bearing on the situation.
– Oh, yes, it has.
– I do not think it has. At present-day values, the sum of 5s. is so small that it does not make much of an impact on the family wage. I return to what I was saying before, that is, that there is great national indignation at what the Government is doing, or rather is not doing, for the pensioner. I should like to quote an article that was written by a responsible editor when it was thought that the Budget would make provision for an increase of 5s. or 7s. 6d. in pension rates. I think the article summarizes what my party and 95 per cent, of the people of Australia believe. It reads -
Ordinary citizens won’t thank the Government for the absence of tax reductions - but most of them–
I remind the Minister for Customs and Excise that this is very important - would gladly do without tax cuts if they knew that life was being made a little easier for the old and sick.
– When you form a government, will you do all these things?
– Yes, but that will not be for another three or four years. The article continues -
Pensioners won’t thank the Government, because (as most of them know from bitter experience) 7s. 6d. a week will scarcely help them to draw another breath in the daily battle for existence.
A government which thinks in terms of 7s. 6d. at a time when the weakest, frailest and most helpless members of the community are being systematically starved to death can hardly be said to have considered the problem at all.
We have frequently drawn attention to the tragic condition of the sick and the friendless pensioner who has neither money nor the capacity to earn any. In thousands of slum backrooms to-day, men and women are struggling to keep themselves alive on pensions of three or four pounds a week.
What help will 7s. 6d. be to these people?
It comes at a period when the cost of even the commonest food or clothing is at an all-time peak, when the price of bread has just gone up and the price of butter has just gone up - and bread and butter seems to be the pensioners’ staple diet.
If the threatened increases in rail, bus and tram fares are inflicted on us, no doubt pensioners will spend most of the extra 7s. 6d. on gettingto the post office to draw their pensions.
– Was that editorial written in Tasmania?
– No. The editorial continues -
Either the old and sick are worth being helped in their fight for existence or they should beleft to die in the twilight. But 7s. 6d. a week means neither existence nor extermination.
Surely if the Government really wants to aid the pensioners it could make a handsomer, more human and more effective gesture than this grudging concession.
That comes from a reputable newspaper..
– From which newspaper?
– It comes from the “ Sun “.
– Which “ Sun “?
– It comes from the Sydney “ Sun “. I presume that is a reputable newspaper.
– I do not think it is.
– It is a matter of opinion; I do not know. That view expressed in that article seems to be the general view of the people of Australia. I think the people have reached the stage where they would be quite willing to suffer some little privation if extra could be given to these more needy people.
At the committee stage, I shall move «certain amendments to the bill. I moved similar amendments on a former occasion. I did not then have a seconder, but Senator -Scott was good enough, in one case, to second the amendment. So I hope that I shall have his support on this occasion in the committee stage. Senator Scott was the teller on that occasion. We just reached his standard; we got as far as two. At the committee stage, I shall move for the appointment of an independent tribunal to ascertain and inform the Parliament on suitable amounts which should be made payable for the comfort and needs of the various recipients of welfare payments. To make sure that the payments do not lose their value, I shall move, also, that a new clause be inserted after clause 8, in the following terms: -
The amounts fixed in this act as the maximum amounts which may be paid for age, invalid and widows’ pension shall be reviewed annually and increased in accordance with any upward movement of the cost of living as measured-
– Who wrote that?
– This is similar to an amendment which Senator O’Byrne refused to support only twelve months ago.
– Who wrote it for you?
– This is an amendment that was prepared for me by the Clerk of the Senate.
– I knew you did not do it.
– This a proposal which Senator O’Byrne refused to support when the social services legislation was before the Senate previously. The only way I could get a division was to get Senator Scott to second the amendment because, at that time, I was the sole representative of my party in this Senate. Senator O’Byrne ran across the chamber and voted with the Government against an amendment designed to benefit the pensioners.
– Politics for the pensioners!
– I want to divorce social services from party politics. That is why I shall move these amendments later.
– The poor old pensioners! You are using them as a political football all the time.
– I shall read my proposed amendment in full again. It is as follows ; -
The amounts fixed in this act as the maximum amounts which may be paid for age, invalid and widows’ pension shall be reviewed annually and increased in accordance with any upward movement of the cost of living as measured by the weighted average retail price index for food, clothing and groceries as ascertained by the Commonwealth Statistician for the twelve months ending on 31st March in each year.
I have outlined the amendments that I shall move at the committee stage. I hope that, on this occasion, we shall not see what we saw previously, when the supporters of the Evatt party voted with the Government against similar amendments. Let us hope they realize at last that we are trying to do something for the pensioners.
– The honorable senator would not have them in his party, would he?
– I would have several of them, but not too many. I repeat that the Government has failed, in the Budget and in this bill, to provide adequately for pensioners of all categories. I reiterate that for that reason, we are prepared to defeat the Government on the Budget. We only hope that the Evatt party will get its full complement of numbers in this Senate for the first time in the past two years. Then, the Government might take notice of what we are trying to do.
Senator Toohey will be moving quite a number of amendments which will be designed to improve the position of the pensioners. We will give him all the support possible on those amendments, and we expect, now that the Opposition senators are not under the whip, to get support from the Evatt group for our amendments.
– I wish to support the bill, but before proceeding I wish to comment on several statements that were made by Senator Toohey. It was very surprising that the honorable senator, who charged the Government with being dishonest, should make very remarkable comparisons regarding the social services provided in other countries. If I understood Senator Toohey correctly, when he quoted the results of research by the International Labour Organization, he cited percentages of national revenue which I would take to mean the total value of national revenue, but when he quoted the Australian figure and gave it at. 6.1 per cent., I think he related it to Commonwealth revenue. That is not at all a fair comparison, nor is it an accurate one. “ Senator Toohey then spoke about £400,000,000 which he represented as the amount of the Budget in 1948. In trying to relate the amount of money that had been paid from the National Welfare Fund in respect of pensions, he stated that the proportion was very low. Since Senator Toohey spoke, I have examined the records of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the years 1946-47, 1947-48 and 1948-49, and I hold in my hand a copy of the Budget for 1949-50, which was the last Budget prepared by the Right Honorable J. B. Chifley. I cannot find in it any amount of £400,000,000. What I have found is that, in 1946-47, expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund was £431,256,307, whereas the payment from the National Welfare Fund was £62,021,726. That is very different from the statement made by Senator Toohey. In 1947-48, expenditure was approximately £466,000,000, and the expenditure from the National Welfare Fund was approximately £70,000,000. The position was much the same in 1948-49. Total expenditure was £555,797,802, and the expenditure from the National Welfare Fund was almost £100,000,000.
The most remarkable feature of all is that in the 1949-50 Budget, the estimate of expenditure was £544,000,000 which, in fact, was £11,000,000 less than in the 1948-49 Budget. One would have imagined that, if the Chifley Government had had any consideration for the pensioners at all, it would not have budgeted to spend £11,000,000 less than it did in the preceding year.
I should now like to deal with the bill itself. The purpose of the bill is to increase rates of pensions and the unemployment and sickness benefits, and to minimize the means test for unemployment and sickness benefits. This will be done at a cost of more than £8,000,000 for 1957-58, and a total cost of £12,775,000 for a full year. As the Minister has stated, this will bring the total for the financial year of all benefits under the Social Services Act to the amazing sum of £200.784,000. If we take the overall figure, we find that, despite what Senator Toohey has said, the amount of £243,572,000, which includes benefits from the National Welfare Fund as well as health benefits and services, is nearly £169,000,000 more than it was when we took office in 1949.
– And what was the national revenue then?
– I have given, that already. I am sorry that Senator Toohey was not present at the time. I have studied the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Commonwealth since Senator Toohey spoke, but have been unable to find any amount of £400,000,000 as mentioned by the honorable senator. What I did find was that the expenditure of the Commonwealth in 1948-49 was a little over £555,000,000, so that in point of fact Senator Toohey was wrong in quoting £400,000,000.
The Minister has pointed out that the figures quoted cannot fail to impress with their magnitude, and I heartily agree with him. Despite the comparison that Senator Toohey sought to make, they represent a diversion of nearly one-sixth of the national revenue to social services. Because the figures are so high, because social services touch the lives of so many people, I feel that the whole question of social services should be reviewed. It is essential that a review be made if we are to preserve the stability of the economy in future, if we are to give adequate protection to more of the people who need it and if we are to preserve in the Australian community a sense of thrift and independence.
The record of the Menzies-Fadden Administration in connexion with social services is most impressive. It is proposed by this bill to increase age and invalid pensions to £4 7s. 6d. a week. When we came into office in 1949, the rate was £2 2s. 6d. a week, and, for Senator Toohey’s edification, I might point out again that in its last year of office the Chifley Government budgeted for £11,000,000 less than it did in the preceding year.
We have made six increases in pension rates. In 1950, we increased them to £2 10s. a week. In 1951 we increased them to £3. In 1952 there was a further increase to £3 7s. 6d. In 1953, this was increased to £3 10s. In 1955, the rate was £4, and it is proposed now to increase it to £4 7s. 6d. Again, as all honorable senators know, in 1956 an additional 10s. a week was granted to invalid pensioners for each child after the first.
As we are making comparisons to-night, let us compare costs under the National Welfare Fund for the years of the MenziesFadden Administration. In 1949, the cost was approximately £42,000,000. In 1951, it was nearly £50,000,000. In 1953 it had increased to £73,000,000. By 1955 it was £88,000,000, and in 1957 it had risen to £109,000,000. This year, it is estimated to be £121,000,000, which represents an increase of nearly £80,000,000 since we took office in 1949..
By liberalizing the means test, we have made it possible for people to enjoy a higher permissible income. In 1949, the permissible income was £1 10s. a week with a property exemption of £100 and a property limit of £750. To-day, the permissible income is £3 10s. a week with a property exemption of £200 and a property limit of £1,750; These liberalizations have brought many more people under the scheme. Many who were unable to enjoy any benefit previously now, thanks to the Menzies-Fadden Administration, are entitled to either full or part-pension.
I should like to give honorable senators some idea of the increase that has taken place in the number of persons to whom pensions are paid. In 1949, there were 321,327 age pensioners, 76,056 invalid pensioners and 5,639 age and invalid pensioners in benevolent homes. This gives a total of 403,022 recipients of pension benefits. In 1957, we find that there are 554,017 age pensioners, or 150,995 more than in 1949.
Mention has been made of the great benefit pensioners have obtained from the medical and pharmaceutical benefits scheme which this year will cost the Government approximately £5,000,000. That must be taken into consideration when assessing the actual value of increase in the rate of pension.
The position of the widow in the community has exercised the minds of many of us, of the women senators in particular. lt is extremely gratifying to learn that at last the Government has put the Class A widow in a very much more advantageous position than she has been in hitherto. It will be remembered that in 1949 the permissible income of widows was £1 10s. a week. In 1954, the Menzies-Fadden Administration increased it to £3 10s. a week and disregarded income from property. In 1955, the ceiling limit on a widow’s pension plus a war pension was abolished. In the past, a class A widow received the same pension regardless of the number of her children, but under this bill we are providing that she will be able to have, in pension and other income, up to £8 12s. 6d. a week, if she has one child, and up to £11 12s. 6d., if she has four children. Until 1 949 the total amount of income that such a widow could have was only £4 2s. 6d., so we have moved some of the way towards easing the position of the widow. There has been an increase in the number of widow pensioners.
In 1949, the number was 43,262. In 1957 it has increased by 2,154 to 45,416.
When we traverse the whole scope of social services, we find that through the actions of the Menzies Government great benefits have been given to the various categories of eligible people. The Minister mentioned the increase that will be granted to those people who are entitled to unemployment and sickness benefits. It is proposed to give to adults and married minors an allowance of £3 5s. a week, £2 7s. 6d. for a wife, and 10s. for one child, and to permit an income of £2 a week from other sources, so that the total amount of benefit plus other permissible income will be £8 2s 6d. a week.
I should like to deal with the great benefit obtained by elderly people in the community through the provision by the Government of assistance to charitable organizations engaged in the building of homes for the aged, but as this will be the subject of a bill, I shall leave what I have to say until that bill is before the Senate.
Having dealt with the record of the Government, I should like to repeat what I said in this chamber on a previous occasion, namely, that I doubted very much whether the granting of an overall increase in pensions was the correct way to tackle the problems of the aged and the sick. I regret sincerely that the Government did not see fit to accept the advice of its supporters in the Parliament and persons outside it, that the great need to-day was for some type of extra pension for those people who have special needs. Who are those people? Largely, they are people living alone, without homes, and residing, in many instances, in rooms in sub-standard buildings. They are just existing, and that is all. A great proportion of their pension goes in rent. They huddle together in conditions of indescribable misery. Anyone engaged in social service work will confirm what I am saying. These aged pensioners represent the real problem in Australia. There is little hope that for them the housing situation will improve. People are not inclined to give them cheap accommodation. All State governments will find it increasingly difficult to fix economic rents that pensioners can pay, unless the States are in a position to sustain heavy losses from rental rebates. I see very little hope for the people who comprise that section of the community unless the Government takes it into its mind to give special assistance to them.
I am aware of the fact that the help which many people desire is not only in money. They need care and attention. Therefore I trust that any scheme that may be evolved for the special care and protection of what I would call the hard core of needy persons will take into consideration all aspects of their requirements. On the other hand, as we all know, many pensioners have good homes and their families assist them. Some have superannuation and some - a small proportion, I agree - have been able to provide for themselves by means of annuities. Others are gainfully employed. They have a permissible income of £15 15s. a week, and if they are able to avail themselves of medical and pharmaceutical benefits they are in a position which is probably no less satisfactory than that of the married man on the basic wage. Their wants are fewer and they are being quite reasonably catered for.
We are forced to consider the position of another very unfortunate section of the community composed of people who are, perhaps, the most thrifty. They have not been able to avail themselves of superannuation, but with great courage through the years they have attempted to put aside a few pounds to keep them in their old age. We know what inflation has done to the savings of these people. An amount of £14,500 invested at 3£ per cent, would be needed to return to a man and wife the equivalent of the pension only. An investment of £1 1,500 at 4 per. cent, interest, or approximately £9,000 at 5 per cent, interest would be required. It is absolutely impossible for an average working couple to accumulate so much money.
– Are you speaking of a pension for the two?
– Yes. If those figures were halved, it might even be more difficult for them to do so. I am thinking of unmarried women who have not had the advantage of earning full money all their working years. They would need over £7,000 invested at 34 per cent., £5,750 at 4 per cent, or £4,500 at 5 per cent, in order to derive an income equivalent to the pension. I believe that a means of assisting’, these people must be found which will not discourage thrift. People who are in. middle life sometimes feel that they will not be able to reach the target, and they are therefore disinclined to accept the responsibility to make any provision for their old age. There are various ways in> which, I believe, this problem could be attacked but I have insufficient time at my disposal to-night to outline them.
I take this opportunity to commend not only this Government, but also the previous Labour government for the advances that have been made in the training and treatment of physically handicapped people. The present scheme was introduced in 1948- and it has been estimated that over 9,000’ physically handicapped people have been enabled to return to employment. That is a very good achievement. However, I point out that during the last five years more than 200,000 people have been injured in motor vehicle accidents. This demonstrates the tremendous present scope and the likely future scope for the rehabilitation of injured and disabled people. Their rehabilitation is good business as well as being a very humane project. It has been calculated that, since the scheme has been in operation, the Commonwealth has been saved almost £700,000 in pensions and dependants’ allowances.
About three months ago the Department of Social Services was represented at a world congress in London by the DirectorGeneral of Social Services, Mr. Rowe. There is an enormous rehabilitation field to be exploited, and I congratulate the Government not only on sending Mr. Rowe overseas but also for inviting to Australia certain notable authorities on the subject to assist us in our rehabilitation scheme.
Again I appeal to the Minister to give consideration to the provision of a rehabilitation service for disabled housewives, who receive no social benefits, no rehabilitation benefits, and no workers’ compensation. At present, if a housewife becomes physically handicapped, until she qualifies for either the invalid pension or the age pension, she receives no assistance whatever from the Government. I do not think it would cost a tremendous amount of money to make provision for disabled housewives within the rehabilitation programme. Expensive buildings would not be needed, because a woman could receive rehabilitation training in her own home. Furthermore, I believe that the members of her family could be trained to provide the physiotherapy treatment or massage needed to restore her to at least some degree of physical capacity. In a previous speech, I outlined three case histories that had been supplied to me by a leading medical man in connexion with this problem. I could quote a dozen more - equally sad, and all proven - in order to show how necessary it is to make provision for housewives in the rehabilitation scheme.
Recently, 1 had an opportunity to inspect a geriatric unit in order to see what can be done to provide, at low cost, suitable equipment for the rehabilitation of women in their own homes, lt is relatively simple to provide treatment, training and occupational therapy for a woman who is confined to bed, very often in her own home. While her husband goes out to work, she has little or no chance of improvement, unless he is possessed of the means to give her the correct treatment, and may always be a confirmed invalid.
I should like, once again, to ask the Government to investigate thoroughly the whole field of social services. We should continue to encourage people who, by their nature, are thrifty, and who have been prepared to make sacrifices by putting a little money aside for a rainy day. We must ensure that they will not be disillusioned when they reach pensionable age, and regret that they saved. I think that it is important to retain in the community the Australian spirit of sturdy independence. As I have said on a number of occasions since entering this Parliament, I am a firm believer in a national contributory scheme covering age, invalidism, sickness and unemployment, and which, while providing the people with some protection during difficult periods, would give them an incentive to save during their working lives in order to make better provision for their old age. In conclusion, 1 should just like to say that I disagree thoroughly with the two previous speakers, who tried to suggest that the Menzies Government had not been conscious of the needs of the Australian people, and had not made payments as great as those made by Labour governments. The figures that I have given completely disprove those statements. I support the bill and commend it to all honorable senators.
.- The bill before us is one to authorize a payment of £13,000,000 for the provision of increases in the pension rate. Honorable senators on this side of the House have moved, in effect, that, in view of the declining value of money, the bill be re-drafted to increase, to the maximum extent that the national economy will permit, the rates of social service payments, and to ensure, as a minimum, that each rate is restored to the relative percentage of the unpegged basic wage that obtained under the Chifley Government in 1948 - all such increases to apply retrospectively, as from 1st July, 1957.
– Why did not Opposition senators choose 1949 instead of 1948?
– I shall deal with that point. I should have thought that the Minister would have examined the matter before coming to this chamber, but his second-reading speech convinced me that he certainly did not. The amendments of my colleagues are not in any way designed to prevent or delay the payment of pension increases to those who have surely earned them by a lifetime of service to this country.
The debate on the bill in another place was sound and constructive. The trend of the debate both there and in this chamber should serve as a warning to the Government. On one of those rare occasions when the standard of constructive thought in the other House matched that of this House, the debate was maintained on a high level.
For a very long time I have felt that the Senate has shown the way in this regard.
The Government would be well advised to take careful note of what private members have said in both Houses. I was very impressed by the speech of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon). He laid down three principles which he said his Government had tried to put into practice since it came to office at the end of 1949. He added that he hoped the question of social services would be divorced from politics. Many of us wholeheartedly agree that party politics, in its narrowest sense, could well be absent from such discussions. However, I notice that on no fewer than twelve occasions the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty), who is in charge of the bill in this chamber, alluded to party politics in the narrowest possible way. I felt that the Minister for Primary Industry was far closer to the feelings of the Australian people. I advise this new Minister in the Senate to talk to the person who wrote his speech and try to deal with social services as they should be dealt with. After all, those who live on the pension pittance are not very much concerned whether an increase comes from a Labour government, or results from the probing of Australian Country party, or Liberal party, members. They expect the Government of this country to honour its obligation to provide for needy citizens when they fall upon hard times.
Notwithstanding what I have said about the Government’s narrow party approach to social services - I use the term “ narrow “ deliberately - I remind honorable senators that, if it had not been for political pressure over the last couple of decades, we should not have to-day even the present social service policy that we have. I recall that that great statesman, the late John Curtin, was severely criticized for having had the temerity, during a world war, to introduce such amenities as social services. However, John Curtin had the right background, and he had waited so long to see justice done that he could wait no longer. Time has proved his action to have been the correct one.
The three principles enunciated by the Minister for Primary Industry deserve the consideration of every member of the Parliament. He said, first, that the Go vernment had tried to lay down that the pensions paid were to be adequate; secondly, that they should in no way discourage thrift in the community; and, thirdly, that the Government tried to face up to the most difficult question of financing the pensions of Australia. I do not think that we could argue against any of those principles, and I have risen to speak only because I believe that the Government has not given effect to any of them. I could not help, noticing that all reference to them was evaded, or avoided, in the introductory speech of the Minister in charge of the bill.
I propose to be somewhat brief in dealing with my next point, because it was dealt with at some length by Senator Wedgwood. Because I am of a generous nature I shall examine the pension rate as it will be when the proposed increase becomes law - and we should never forget that the Budget refers to a period that is already passing away, and that the pensioners have not yet received the increase of which we speak to-night. Can any one say that even the proposed payment of £4 7s. 6d. would enable any person in the community to live properly? I have in mind especially elderly couples. We can discard very rapidly the matter of permissible income. Both statistics and° our experience as practical members of Parliament have convinced us that very few people in the community of advanced age are able, in the present worsening economic position, to earn anything extra.
Let us consider the lot of a married couple living in that section of the city which Henry Lawson so adequately described as being, “ Where the inner suburb and the city proper meet “. I may say in passing that I have never heard a better description of that peculiar part of all cities, where people are to be found crowded in rooms and other inadequate accommodation. Such people may, if they are lucky, pay only £2 or £3 a week for their room. With the death of his wife - that financial wizard who is able to spin out money more efficiently than can the male of the species - the pensioner finds that the rent is an intolerable burden. The same amount must be paid, although now it must all come from £4- 7s. 6d. I do not think that I need labour that point. Obviously, £4 7s. 6d. will not meet the exigencies of day-to-day living. I have taken a figure of £2 or £3 a week. I am sure that people in the larger States, where the position is not as good as in Western Australia, will admit that it is a very conservative figure.
I was asked, in an interjection, “ Why do you not deal with 1949? “ I would far rather take this golden opportunity to paint on a broad canvas a picture of what confronts us in the provision of pensions, family allowances and other social service benefits. The Labour government made its last increase of pensions in 1948. Let us compare the value of pensions then with the value now. In 1948, the pension was 37 per cent, of a basic wage of £5 17s. Does not that basic wage of £5 17s. conjure up memories? If the present Government, following the example of the Labour government of those days, had tried to hold the basic wage down to what it was then, what a different position we would be in to-day, not only from the point of view of social services, but also from the point of view of export markets. But the Government cannot have it both ways.
I remember the 1949 general election very clearly, because it was my baptism of fire in the front line. I had previously fought many battles from the back line. Throughout Australia the people were told that the pension the Labour government was paying was totally inadequate, but to-day this Government uses it for the purposes of comparisons. The last increase of pensions made by the Labour government was in 1948. The present Government made promises to the pensioners in 1949 and at the multitude of elections which we seem’ to have had since then. It stated, not only that the value of pensions should be maintained, but that it should be increased. If the Government wanted to maintain a pension rate equal to 37 per cent, of the basic wage, the present increase would take the pension, not to £4 7s. 6d., but to £4 17s.
When the Minister was making his second-reading speech I was amused at the way in which he used figures galore. He used them as if he were pouring them over the pages from a pepper shaker, but he finished his speech by saying that the true value of social service payments cannot be measured in money terms. Of course it cannot. The way in which he used those figures was akin to saying that if a man on the basic wage in 1948 received £5 1 6s. a week, to-day, with a wage double that amount, he would be twice as well off. We know that the basic wage earner now is no better off than he was then. Indeed, he is relatively worse off. It was rather a naive and, perhaps, a dishonest approach to the matter to use figures in that way. I am surprised that in these enlightened times the Minister’s advisors should write such a speech for him, trying to base comparisons on figures alone. But when the Minister had read his speech, giving that mass of figures, he said, in effect, “ Don’t take notice of the figures that I gave. They are not the yardstick after all “.
Let me turn to the second point made by the Minister - that in the view of the Government pensions should never be used to destroy the great quality of thrift. It is no good trying to wriggle round the difficulty. The fact is that so long as social service benefits are subject to a means test, we shall strike a blow at thrift. It is unfortunate that the abolition of the means test has been thrown into the hurly-burly of the political arena. I welcome this debate because it has brought forth constructive criticism from private members on both sides of the Parliament. We are faced with the anomalous position that persons who have £209 in the bank are eligible for a pension, but if they have more than that they are penalized for their thrift. A person with £1,750 gets nothing in the way of a pension. However desirable it may be from the peculiar departmental viewpoint, there is no doubt that that provision strikes at thrift. If a person had £1,700 invested at 3i per cent, he would receive a little over £50 a year in interest, but if he still had that sum when he reached the age of eligibility for an age pension, he would, under the new legislation, deprive himself of pension payments amounting to £227 a year. It is a vicious circle. It is bad from a psychological point of view. We say, in effect, to our people, “ Do not invest in government bonds, do not save money, because if you do you will be deprived of a pension when you reach the appropriate age”. But if the people do not save, they do not have money available for investment in government bonds. Then, because the loan market will not yield the amounts that the Commonwealth and the States require, they have to be taxed heavily so that £200,000,000 a year can be found from revenue for capital works. As Senator Wright pointed out last night, capital works should be paid for, not in one year, but over generations. As I say, there is a vicious circle. Because of the means test, people do not save and, therefore, have no money for investment in government bonds, but because of that they are penalized by heavy taxation.
The only way out of the difficulty is to solve the problem of the means test. It is of no use merely to talk about the value of thrift. I repeat that for so long as a means test is applicable to social service benefits, thrift will be penalized. One of the most unpleasant duties of members of Parliament to-day is to explain the present position to people who approach them and ask their advice about pensions. We have to go into the homes of the old people. We say to them, “ Because you have a certain amount of money, you are ineligible for an age pension, but if you buy a new lounge suite and new- carpets, spend money on a holiday or on new cement paths, you will be able to get a pension “. That sort of thing is anathema to many old people. I hate having to project this modern line of thought into their minds. I am one of those who love the fierce old independence. When we advise old people to spend some of the money they have saved, we are destroying something they have built up. Surely, we have no right to cast a shadow over them in the twilight of their lives. Peace of mind is very important to them. They have been saving for their retirement, but this legislation almost forces us to advise them to dispose of their savings. When we have persuaded them to spend the paltry £800 or £900 which they have saved, so that they can get a pension, we walk away with an empty feeling, wondering whether we have not taken something away from their peace of mind in the twilight of their lives - something which we have no right to interfere with.
I agree that the problem of financing social services is a very difficult one. I do not dispute that for a moment. I believe that a government has every right to be worried about the many millions of pounds that are spent on social services to-day. I remember that when this Government came into office late in 1949, there was something that it abolished amidst cheers. Do honorable senators recall that in the old income tax returns there were two sections - a social service section and a taxation section? This Government said that that was a lot of hokey pokey - or is it hocus pocus? 1 always get those terms mixed. Anyway, the Government said that there should be only one tax. 1 do not think that that was a complete answer; but I do think that, if we had a retiring tax and if, when inflation reached the stage where it was necessary to increase the retiring allowance from, say, £4 to £5, we increased the tax by 6d. or 7d., or whatever the figure might be, we would remove this benefit from the political arena and would be able to say to every young couple in Australia that, as they had paid the tax, the allowance would be theirs as a matter of right when they retired. That may not be the best way to do it, but I suggest it for consideration.
I pay a great tribute to the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) for the way in which he dealt with this matter in another place. He has a proposal for solving the problem; I do not know whether it would be the right one. But surely it is not beyond the wit of the Parliament and surely it would be in keeping with the spirit in which this debate has been approached by members of both Houses, for the Government to face up to the financing of such a proposal. If that were done, we would not continue to make an issue of the matter at election time and make it a political football.
There is only one other remark I want to make before I hurry on to deal with a very important omission that the Government has made. Irrespective of what is done towards abolishing the means test, there should be set up a special cases fund. I do not suppose there is any such person as an average Australian. We will continue to be confronted with special cases, because fate will continue to pursue families and grind them into the ground. I do not think a very large sum of money would be needed to provide for persons who fell on particularly hard times.
– With a means test?
– Yes, with the application of a means test. It seems paradoxical, but, after all is said and done, we are dealing not with a matter of logic but with human nature and the many things that affect people from the cradle to the grave. As time is passing quickly, I must hurry from point to point; 1 merely comment upon them because 1 think they are the three salient points with which we should deal.
The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) said the Government had tried to grapple with the problem, but I think that its effort has been very unsuccessful. 1 do not say that in any spirit of hostility but in a spirit of co-operation. Every member of the Parliament would be ready to help the Government if it gave a lead and tried to get out of the morass. 1 noted that the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services was strangely silent when it came to a question of producing comparative figures in relation to child endowment. When this Government assumed office, the payment was 10s. for a second child and subsequent children, but it has remained at that figure. With the exception of the payment of 5s. for the first child, there has been no alteration of child endowment payments. Is there any Liberal senator here to-night who says that he does not believe in child endowment? I am sure there is not. That being so, why have honorable senators opposite been prepared to remain silent and allow the value of child endowment to be halved during this Government’s term of office? If they look at the C series index, they will discover that the endowment should be 22s. lid. instead of 10s. What they are doing by their silence’ is, in effect, to acquiesce in a reduction of child endowment.
Let honorable senators opposite not think that they can rid themselves of responsibility in the matter because of a recent decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. When Judge Beeby said in 1940 that the basic wage was intended to provide for the needs of a man, wife and one child, the government of the day, which was led by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), was forced to introduce child endowment. I remind the Senate that that was not the first of such payments in Australia. In 1927, a New South Wales Labour government introduced legislation to provide for the payment of 5s. for every child. The Commonwealth court, particularly in its last two judgments, departed from the basis of the needs of a family in fixing the basic wage and stated that the basic wage should be the highest wage that industry could afford to pay. But how long can the Government expect the court to rely on that judgment if the Government allows the value of child endowment to run down? Sooner or later, the court will be forced to face up to the position that the government of the day liasallowed the value of the endowment and the basic wage to fall. 1 do not think there is any need for me to point out that Australian retail stores adopt almost stand-over methods when, dealing with children’s clothing. I shall never be convinced that the price of children’s shoes, which are about onequarter the size of men’s shoes, should be the same as the price of men’s shoes. The cost of keeping children is not diminishing but is gradually rising, yet Government supporters sit by and, by their acquiescence, allow the value of these payments to run down. I was very much impressed last night when Senator Wright told Ministers that, if they were practising in the maintenance courts, they would know that nomagistrate allows less than 30s. a week for the maintenance of a child. In spite of that, the Government has allowed child endowment to remain at 10s. a week for the second child and subsequent children ever since it assumed office in 1949. The purchasing power of the people’s incomes has gradually diminished. The Government seems continually to be striking a blow at the family man.
Before I entered the chamber, I had a glance at the maternity allowance and discovered that, even though it was £15 when the Government assumed office, it is still at that level. Why is it that the person whodeserves the greatest protection from the Government receives the least protection?’ I repeat that the Minister was strangely silent when it came to a question of producing comparative figures.
I think I have proved that what the Labour party has asked for in its amendment is the minimum that should be provided, and not the maximum. The Government will remember that, when it appealed’ to the electors of Australia in 1949, it said’ that it wanted, not only to retain the value of pensions, but to increase that value. The- -Government is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on immigration, but it is denying justice to natural-born Australians. Surely, that is a lop-sided approach.
I have already stated a couple of times that there has been much constructive criticism in both this chamber and another place. Surely, it has been established that the social service scheme has grown up like Topsy, that it has developed into a patchwork scheme. Over the years, the Government has increased the age and invalid pensions, but has completely ignored the family man. I do not know why that should be, but the Government should face up to the financing of benefits for the family man. We have been in the field of social services for only a couple of decades, but may 1 say without undue modesty that surely it is time we appointed a parliamentary committee to examine the whole scheme. Surely, there has been no lack of evidence over the last couple of years of the valuable work which parliamentary committees can perform. Evidence of the value of this work is provided, to a large degree, by the Public Accounts Committee, and to a lesser but nevertheless increasing degree by the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, which is under the able chairmanship of Senator Wood. The Government now has before it a golden opportunity to have a complete review of its social service policy.
Land Settlement of ex-Servicemen.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- At the invitation of the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator O’sullivan), I have read the remarks that he made in the Senate yesterday in reply to a question I had asked him about the land settlement of ex-servicemen in Tasmania. I am most grateful to him for his invitation because, on reading his statement, I found that it was more erroneous than I. had at first thought. I only wish to put the Minister on ‘the .right track. I hate to see him misled by ‘his advisers and -led up the garden path into a dead end. I shall quote what he said when he was wrong and hope that he will correct his statement. He said -
There is “no information on the file or in the possession of the War Service Land Settlement Division that has not been conveyed to the honorable senator by the administrative officer in Tasmania.
I have had no discussion with any administrative officer in Tasmania on the case to which I referred yesterday. I did have correspondence with the manager of the Agricultural Bank, Mr. Driscoll, and asked him to hold up the case.
– You saw the Director of War Service Land Settlement, Mr. Colquhoun.
– I saw him in Canberra, and not in Tasmania. You said that I saw him in Tasmania. I saw him here. Mr. Colquhoun was introduced to me as a federal officer. Later, he was described to me as the Director of the War Service Land Settlement Division.
– That is so.
– But I did not see him in Tasmania. I saw him here.
– Much ado about nothing!
– I advise Senator Maher to keep out of something he knows nothing about. The Leader of the Government also said yesterday -
If the honorable senator cares to read his correspondence, he will see that he was asked to supply certain information. That information has not been supplied.
That is not correct. There are copies of it here. If the Leader of the Government had looked at the file, he would have found on it the information that was supplied to Mr. Colquhoun. Therefore, the statement of the Leader of the Government is false. He also stated yesterday -
It is remarkable for the honorable senator to say that he does not know who is responsible when he has been in contact with the Minister and, at the Minister’s request, with the administrative officer in Tasmania.
I take it that the Minister to whom the Leader of the Government referred was Mr. McMahon. I did not have any conversation with Mr. McMahon on this matter at any time until I was buttonholed at the Hotel Canberra last night. I interjected yesterday, when the Leader of the Government was speaking, and asked, “ Who is the Minister? “ The Leader of the Government replied -
The Minister wilh whom the honorable senator has had correspondence is Mr. McMahon.
That is a fabrication. At no time have I had any correspondence with Mr. McMahon on this matter. I challenge the Leader of the Government to produce any correspondence that Mr. McMahon has received from me. When I had a conversation for a few seconds with Mr. McMahon to-day, he said, “ I wrote to you. You had a letter from me “. I replied, “ Never “. The Minister corrected himself when he found that he still had the letter in his own file.
– What is all this about?
– I am showing convincingly that the statement by the Leader of the Government in reply to my question was completely false.
– We accept your apology.
– I ask the honorable senator to accept something else. I have been referring to a case in respect of which I could not get a civil audience with the Minister concerned. I was buttonholed about it in the foyer of the Hotel Canberra last night. At this stage, I will not discuss the merits or demerits of the case, but I want to put one proposition.
– Did you not see the Minister for Primary Industry personally yesterday?
– 1 did not see him until 1 was buttonholed in the Hotel Canberra at midnight. If the Minister has any information to the contrary, it is false. At a later stage I will deal with the merits or demerits of the case. I want to say now that I am satisfied that instructions were issued by Mr. McMahon for the prosecution of the ex-serviceman concerned in the case, who is also a repatriation pensioner. It is also a fact that the pensioner has a wife and a family of eight children. In 1940-41 when a Liberal government went out of office, it claimed, when applying the means test for a concession to an invalid pensioner, that an income of £2 10s. a unit in the home was the minimum required.
If the family income was £2 10s. a unit, an invalid did not receive a pension. That was a clear admission by the Government that an income of £2 10s. a unit in the home would provide a reasonable standard of living.
– Did not this exserviceman buy a new motor car?
– I am now talking about conditions that applied in 1941, before the inflation that we have known under this Government was thought of. If we apply the 1940 basis to this returned serviceman and his wife and eight children he is still £5 short of the minimum that was required by the Government at that time in assessing eligibility for a pension. With current inflation, the amount required for each unit to provide a reasonable standard of living would be at least £5. When the Government prosecutes this exserviceman, it is taking a penalty not from him but out of the stomachs of his children, yet Government supporters talk about malpractices. I ask the Minister to be humane. This ex-serviceman fought for the freedom of Australia and of the many who did not go away to fight. His children should be protected from malnutrition. I challenge the Minister who prosecuted him to meet me on any platform in Tasmania and try to prove his case to the satisfaction of the people of that State. That is an open challenge. If he does not accept it, I shall be compelled to put the merits of the case before the Senate.
– The honorable senator will be buttonholed again!
– I would not doubt it, judging by the Minister’s attitude.
– You said that you did not see the Minister to-day.
– I said that I saw him for a few seconds. I saw him last night at midnight when I was buttonholed.
– You saw him to-day.
– I only wanted to see whether he was in earnest last night or whether his nerves had become strained a little. I wanted to see whether he was genuine, and to give him a second opportunity. That is why I saw him to-day. I ever like to brand a man as arrogant until such time as I have proved that he is. That is why I wanted to see him again to-day.
– I will lend you a glove with a horseshoe in it.
– If the honorable senator would care to represent the Minister in Tasmania he is welcome to accept the challenge on his behalf. I shall be only too glad to have him in Tasmania representing the Minister on this particular case, at any rate, if not on others.
That is all I have to say at this juncture. I rose merely to correct the Leader of the Government, who had been misinformed. I do not blame him entirely for what he said because he is only relying on information furnished to him by somebody else.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 9 October 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1957/19571009_senate_22_s11/>.