22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMuIIin) took the chair at 1 1 a.m., and read prayers.
Senator GORTON presented a petition from 15,570 citizens of Victoria, asking that an alteration be made to the Commonwealth Constitution so that there could be created a Commonwealth Department of Native Affairs.
Petition received and read.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. So that the question will be well understood, I preface it by stating that recently two unemployed persons in indigent circumstances reported to me that they were allotted employment, through the Department of Labour and National Service, with employers who were unable to pay their wages when they had completed their service. I therefore ask whether the Minister is aware that there have been instances where the employment section of the Department of Labour and National Service directed unemployed persons to employment with employers who had not sufficient funds to pay the wages of employees, that the payment of the unfortunate employees was, in some cases, made by cheque which, on presentation to the bank, was returned because of the employer having insufficient funds in his account to meet the payment of the cheque, and that in other cases the employees, having completed their work, were told by the employer that he just had not the money to pay the wages due. Will the Minister arrange for an examination to be made of the financial position of employers who seek labour through the employment service of the Department of Labour and National Service, to ensure that in all cases, at the time of registering applications for the supply of labour, they are sufficiently financially stable to meet the wages of employees? Will the Minister state what action is taken by the Department of Labour and National Service to ensure that employers seeking workers from the employment section of the department are financially sound? When a worker accepts employment through the department, what assistance, if any, will the department give him to recover wages when the employer defaults? Will the Minister ensure that unemployment relief payments are not prejudiced by a worker being so unfortunate as to be allocated a “ phony “ job?
– I am quite certain that the circumstances that the honorable senator mentions are most unusual. It is a most unusual situation in Australia for an employer not to meet his wages bill. The Australian citizen has a high sense of decency in this respect. My experience is that an employer regards his responsibilities to his employees as ranking first in his moral obligations. Therefore, I say that the set of circumstances described by the honorable senator is extraordinary. Against that background, I am quite positive that the officers of the Department of Labour and National Service would do all they can to obviate placing an employee in that situation. I do not think this situation is one that can be covered by rules and regulations. It would be impracticable to make an inquiry into the financial circumstances of every employer before directing a man to his employment. I think you have to leave it to the common sense of the officials to do the best they can, believing what the honorable senator has mentioned happens very seldom indeed and that when it does there is a remedy at law. The law always provides that wages have priority-
– But the employees need money to go to law.
– They do not need money to go to law in these circumstances, because a claim for unpaid wages has priority over any other claim against the assets of an estate. As the honorable senator knows, the law will not allow an employer to pay wages in any form other than cash; he cannot make deductions for services and so on.
– I should like to ask the Minister for Customs and Excise the following questions: - Is there any secrecy about the banning of books?
– Has your book been banned?
– I wish it had been! If there is no secrecy about the matter, will the Minister let me know how many books have been banned during the regime of the Menzies Government, and why they were banned? Will he also inform me, the Senate, and the people of Australia how many books were banned during the Labour regime?
– I am having a look at the whole set-up, as it exists at present, in relation to the censorship of literature in Australia. I do not think that banned books have been catalogued to show which government banned them; in my opinion that does not come into the picture. The present set-up has obtained for quite a number of years. This Government and Labour have been equally culpable in regard to this matter. As I have said, I am having a look at the whole position, and I hope, in the course of a few weeks, to make a comprehensive statement on censorship.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Has he seen in to-day’s issue of the “ Canberra Times “ a reported statement by Surgeon-General Dr. Leroy Burney, of the United States Army, to the effect that there is no cause for alarm over the lead content of paint on Japanese toys, and that such toys are safe? Will he ascertain whether that opinion is correct?
– I have seen the statement that the honorable senator has mentioned. I will bring his question before the notice of my colleague, the Minister for Health, and endeavour to obtain a reply for him as soon as possible.
– I ask the Leader of the Government: In view of the Soviet’s demonstration of its achievement in the field of controlled space satellites, will the Government give honorable senators an assurance that Australia will not be used as a launching ground for intercontinental ballistic missiles unless it has full control of such weapons? Is it a fact, as has been alleged in certain quarters, that the Soviet experiment caught the Weapons Research Establishment flat-footed, and that instruments to track such satellites had not been delivered at Woomera in time? What method was employed by the Government to communicate to Moscow the offer by the Minister for Supply, Mr. Beale, that he would authorize the Woomera scientists to radio-interrogate the Russian satellites, and record the automatic radio replies - if Russia would provide the necessary data and equipment? Does this mean that diplomatic relations with Moscow have been re-established through some intermediary?
– I shall not attempt to answer the honorable senator’s question in detail, because it is somewhat technical. I ask him to place it on the notice-paper and I shall endeavour to give him a speedy reply. However, I must point out that his suggestion that the Western world was caught flat-footed is not correct. The free world knew that these experiments were taking place as part of the activity during the International Geophysical Year, but the Russians sent up their satellite a little ahead of the schedule anticipated, and accepted, by the Western democracies.
– My question is directed to the Minister for National Development. I note, with interest, the proposal to hold next week an atomic energy exhibition in the King’s Hall. I understand that the exhibition is to be taken to the other capital cities on the mainland, but there has been no reference to a Tasmanian itinerary. Will the Minister say whether arrangements will be made to present the exhibition in Tasmania also?
– I shall have a talk with the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and see whether the honorable senator’s request can be acceded to. As the honorable senator knows, the exhibition in the King’s Hall is being presented in conjunction with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Commission. Tasmania has not been neglected by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. Quite recently one of the commission’s officers took part in a series of discussions there on the use of isotopes in industry and elsewhere. His visit created a good deal of interest. I say this merely to point out that we must spread our resources in the best way possible to ensure that every one is given an opportunity to see what is happening.
– I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer: Has the attention of the Government been directed to a statement by the Attorney-General for Victoria, the Honorable A. G. Rylah, that if the tax reimbursement grant had been made on the basis of population, Victoria would have received at least £3,700,000 more than it did? In view of this and the present very high rate of development in Victoria, will the Government give consideration to increasing its grant to that State?
– The Government does give the most earnest consideration to these grants each year at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. I think it is unfair for the representatives of the State governments to sit round the conference table, witness the efforts of the Commonwealth to do what is right and fair, take the best that they can obtain, and then go away and criticize the Commonwealth. It may be good policy - but!
– My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade. In the debate on the Japanese Trade Agreement, did the Minister say there would not be an increase in the overall imports to Australia? If so, will he state whether the overall imports are governed on a monetary basis or on the basis of the quantity of goods? If they are governed on a monetary basis, as I believe to be the case, does the Minister agree that £1,000,000 worth of goods from Japan would be far greater in quantity than would £1,000,000 worth of goods from Great Britain or any other country, thereby greatly accentuating the threat to employment in Australia?
– If I said that there would be no increase in imports, I was relating my remarks to the Japanese Trade Agreement. The Government’s constant objective is the elimination of import restrictions. It looks forward to an increase in the volume of imports as financial conditions permit. That is the context in which my statement was made. I said during the debate that the arrangements with Japan did not give to Japan any licences to send here goods over .and above the all-round limit of our imports. Imports are restricted on a monetary basis. If the honorable senator can establish that ‘Certain classes of goods from Japan would be cheaper than similar goods from elsewhere, it follows that it would be possible, for the same expenditure, to bring in a greater volume of those goods from Japan, or the same volume plus goods from other countries. That might be a disadvantage to some people but, on the other side of the ledger, it would be a tremendous advantage to the Australian people generally, because if goods were cheaper, they could buy more of them.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I invite Ms attention to a reply he gave me in May last when he .explained that the Flax Bounty Act would extend the bounty then agreed to by the Senate only until the end of October, 1957. He explained that an inquiry was being conducted by the Government .into the whole of the industry and he assured me that the committee of inquiry was fully aware of the need to present its report in time to enable the matter of the bounty to be considered before the next flax planting season began. In the annual report of the Flax Commission, presented yesterday, it was stated that the interdepartmental committee which had been appointed by the Government, of which Mr. Kentwell, the Assistant Secretary to the Department of Primary Industry, is the chairman, commenced its investigations into all phases of flax production in Australia in June last, but that the result of the investigation is not yet known. I ask the Minister: Has the normal flax planting season for this year now passed? Has the report of the interdepartmental committee yet been furnished to the Government? If so, will he release the report to the Senate, and if not, when does he expect the report to be made available to the Senate?
– Realizing the urgency which attaches to this matter, I shall take it up with the Minister for Primary Industry immediately and obtain answers for the honorable senator as quickly as possible.
– I do not know to which Minister my question should be directed, but I preface it by stating that I have read in the press that huge shipments of Japanese toys are due to be landed in Australia, if they have not already been landed. I have also noted reports that a 20 per cent, content of lead has been discovered by American chemists in the paint on Japanese toys, and that that content is dangerous to the American children. I ask the responsible Minister whether every precaution has been taken to ensure that the huge shipments of Japanese toys that are about to be landed in Australia do not contain the same quantity of lead as do the toys that have been shipped to America.
– If this is a matter for the Minister for Health, I point out that a similar question was asked earlier by Senator McCallum. I shall obtain from the Minister for Health the same kind of information that I promised earlier to get.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister by stating that Australia is suffering from an acute shortage of trained engineers and scientists in both governmental and private activities, and also that many trained technicians are unable to proceed to university degrees because of lack of finance. Although limited facilities do exist at present in some departments, will the Government examine the possibility of granting to all technicians in its employ who have successfully passed their highest departmental examinations some form of educational scholarship or bursary to enable them to obtain their engineering or science degrees at a university on the condition that they promise to remain in Commonwealth employment for at least five years after qualifying?
– Speaking offhand, I think there is considerable merit in the honorable senator’s suggestion. I shall take up the matter with the Prime Minister, who is in charge of the Commonwealth Office of Education.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service whether he noticed a report in Tuesday’s press to the effect that a Lithuanian who spent several years in Siberian and Russian prisons and who later walked to freedom has had only one month’s work since he arrived in Australia,that the nearest he can get to obtaining a job is a promise of work after Christmas, and that the nearest he can get to obtaining the unemployment benefit is the filling in of forms. I also ask the Minister, who I know is in very close touch with this important matter, whether the pool of unemployed in Australia is becoming smaller each month and, if it is, at what rate.
– I did not see the newspaper report to which the honorable senator has referred. If I had seen it, I would not have believed it. Figures showing the trend of unemployment are published month by month by the Department of Labour and National Service.
– Once again, I must protest against the practice of honorable senators of asking, without notice, long and involved questions which Ministers cannot possibly answer. If honorable senators would put such questions on the noticepaper, they would save the Ministers the embarrassment of having to ask constantly for notice of questions. If honorable senators would follow that course they would save much trouble and the time of the Senate.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Production, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence Production has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions: -
asked the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice -
In view of the fact that certain imported articles do not have the name of the country of manufacture marked upon them, will the Minister give favorable consideration to having the import regulations amended, so as to make it mandatory for all imported articles, and not merely their wrappings, to show clearly the name of the country of origin?
– I now have the following information in reply to the honorable senator: -
In the case of imported articles in respect of which marking is necessary, it is mandatory that the goods themselves be marked provided it is practicable for the marking to be so applied; otherwise, marking applied to the container meets requirements. It is not considered necessary to require that all goods imported shall be marked as to the country of origin. However, where in any particular case it can be established that such marking is desirable in the public interest, consideration would be given to an amendment of the Commerce (Imports) Regulations to require marking accordingly.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The Minister for Primary Industry has supplied the following answer to the honorable senator’s questions: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Production, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence Production has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has furnished me with the following information: -
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Under the Aged Persons Homes Act the Commonwealth may make grants to religious, charitable and certain other organizations to assist them in providing homes for older people. The object of this bill is to increase that assistance. When the act was passed it received the approval of both sides of this chamber and, I believe, of all organizations and individuals in the community. That was three years ago. The principles in the act were then something of a departure from the usual run of Australian social services. Events of the last three years have proved how sound that approach was and how completely it has been possible to obtain full co-operation between the Government, the churches, and charitable and other organizations.
It is accepted on all sides that housing constitutes one of the greatest problems for older people. Some face the problem of obtaining adequate accommodation. Others find their accommodation adequate but no longer appropriate for their needs. Others, requiring special care and attention, find the problem not one of accommodation only but of obtaining that accommodation in surroundings where the necessary services will be available to them. Great human factors are involved. The Government rightly took the view that the time had come to seek a partnership with the churches and other organizations. Their long experience of humanity, of intimate personal relationship, and of spiritual as well as physical needs, made them able to bring in aid a depth of understanding that could be supplied by no government acting alone. In various fields of welfare for the aged, they had a long and magnificent tradition. Over the centuries many of them have had experience of providing accommodation and succour.
The Aged Persons Homes Act brought the churches and other organizations into partnership with the Commonwealth. We sought for co-operation, mutual trust and good will, and have obtained all three in full measure. Not only co-operation, mutual trust and good will between the organizations and the Government, but co-operation, mutual trust and good will between all those who play a part in establishing homes. This includes those who give so generously by their services and by financial support. It also includes those whose lives are such that full domestic happiness is possible for them in the homes that have been built and are continuing to be built.
Let us look at the success that has been achieved. Approved grants towards 192 projects total £2,214,028. Grants have been made to churches or other organizations in every State and in the Northern Territory. These grants have not been for homes concentrated in the capital cities. Seventyfour have been in country areas or provincial towns. This will mean that many older people will be able to remain amongst their families and friends in familiar surroundings. In all, assistance, has been granted towards the provision of accommodation for 3,590 old people. They will have what many previously lacked - the companionship of their contemporaries.
Much has been done but there is still much more to do. Encouraged by the outstanding success of the Aged Persons Homes Act the bill before the Senate proposes to grant assistance on a more liberal scale. This will be done in two ways. In the present act, the capital cost of an approved home includes, in the case of a home erected by the organization, the cost of erecting the home and the cost of the necessary fixtures. The cost of the land is not included. On the other hand, where buildings are bought for conversion into a home, the cost of the land on which the buildings stand is included. Organizations building on new sites have been less favorably placed than those purchasing premises for conversion. Some have found their resources for building seriously depleted because of the heavy outlay on land.
The definition of “ capital cost “ is amended by the bill. The capital cost of a home to be erected may in future include such amount in respect of the whole or a part of the land acquired for the purposes of the home as is determined by the Minister, in his discretion. The new provision will apply only where land is acquired on or after the date of commencement of the amending act.
The Government’s intention of doubling ihe rate of contributions it is at present making towards the capital cost of approved homes is effected in the other amendment. The amount of a grant is now limited to one-half of the capital cost of the home as determined by the Director-General, or to the amount (excluding borrowed moneys or moneys obtained from a government) raised by the organization towards the capital cost, whichever is the less. This limit will be raised to two-thirds of the capital cost of the home, or to twice the amount raised by the organization. Instead of grants being made on a £l-for-£l basis as at present, they will be made on the basis of £2 for £1. The new scale of assistance provided for in this bill will apply to homes approved on or after the date of commencement of the amending act.
In the Budget £1,800,000 has been appropriated to meet expenditure under the act. This is to meet grants already approved but not yet paid, or only partly paid pending completion of the projects. It will also meet grants approved on the new basis. This £1,800,000 for 1957-58 compares with £751,136 actual expenditure in 1956-57. Whereas previously the Government was prepared to make a maximum contribution of £1,500,000 a year towards the cost of homes for the aged, it is now prepared to grant assistance up to a maximum of £3,000,000 a year,
Mr. President, the amendments 1 have outlined should enable the churches, voluntary organizations, and the Government, to make a further and more effective step forward in providing accommodation for the aged. To those who, in their advancing years, find it necessary to seek fresh surroundings - a new home in their old age - it is a new and a great adventure. In some circumstances it could be a terrifying experience. We hope the Aged Persons Homes Act will, in time ensure that a change of home for the elderly will never be that. A magnificent start has been made. There is much work ahead. This bill will make still greater progress possible.
I commend the bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Kennelly) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 9th October (vide page 476), on motion by Senator Henty -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator Toohey had moved by way of amendment -
Leave out all words after “ That “, 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 “.
.- A good deal of the debate on social services in this and the other chamber seems to be devoted to conflicting claims by both sides as to what they have done, or what their opponents have not done, for the recipients of social service benefits. I do not propose to spend more than two minutes on that aspect. I would not even spend those two minutes were it not that I should not like it to be thought that 1 accept without rebuttal some of the extravagant claims we have heard in this place. All 1 wish to say on the matter is that whatever the basis of comparison you care to take, whether you take the Statistician’s cost of living index, the percentage of the basic wage in 1948, and of the basic wage to-day, or a comparable basis of percentage of national production devoted, you will find that the purchasing power - that is what counts - of the age pension is greater now than it was in 1949. lt really has not anything to do with whether it is enough for the pensioners, but, as 1 say, I merely want to make that flat statement in rebuttal of some of the extravagant claims that have been made.
I want to move on to a consideration of the problems which face us in relation to social services - age pensions in particular - and the problems which are foreshadowed by the community’s acceptance of these obligations. We see, now, £200,000,000 a year being devoted to relief of various kinds, and we must anticipate, on the history of the last decade, that we will see greater and greater sums of money required for these matters, not only because the proportion of aged may be inclined to grow, but also because there will be inevitably in all the world gradual inflation, and it will be necessary to vote a greater and greater amount of our productive capacity to pay the age pensions and other social service pensions, lt is quite easy to say, “ Well, let us just raise the money, or print the money to do this “. But it is not a matter of giving these people money; it is a matter - and this is common ground - of giving them purchasing power. Printing money to back it will not meet that objective. However we might try to avoid it, we must realize that we are devoting for this purpose the productive capacity of the country and the consuming habits of the country’s population. If real pensions are to be increased in the future, they will be increased at the expense of the young earning section, the middle-aged, and even to some extent those approaching pensionable age. If that is to he done, let us realize that the standard of living of these other sections must bear the cost of it. That, of course, is a limiting factor.
– Unless you get greater production.
– Indeed, a greater production will enable a greater distribution to age pensioners but, as I have said, it will mean that the earning section will have a lower level of living than they could otherwise enjoy as a result of that production. It is that, really, which places a limit on what we are able to do under our present system for social service claims of all kinds.
– Should that stop us from doing justice?
– What I think will emerge in the course of my speech-
– What did the honorable senator mean by the words, “ under our present system “?
– I meant under the present system of financing social services entirely from taxation. I propose to confine myself mostly to a consideration of age pensions, because they make up the bulk of the pensions we have to pay and because, whereas in other fields it is possible to run fairly simply an insurance scheme against sickness, it is much more difficult to evolve any insurance scheme against old age. In a sickness insurance scheme the bulk of those contributing do not draw, but in an old age insurance scheme, unless death intervenes, everybody that contributes is going to draw.
If what I said before is true, if by financing age pensions out of taxation we place a burden on the earning section and thereby place a limit on what can be done, then naturally people’s minds turn at once towards some other system of financing age pensions, and they ask for some sort of a contributory national insurance scheme. That is a proposition which commends itself at once to the emotions of honorable senators on both sides of this chamber as well as to people throughout Australia. But it is not enough for one to point to the obvious advantages of such a scheme, if it could be introduced and run, and to point to the Tightness of it. unless one can propose some specific method by which it can be brought in.
We can all agree that it would be wonderful if it could be brought in, but any one who speaks about it and commends it is under an obligation to say how he proposes it should be implemented. Although I would like to see it, Mr. Deputy
President, I am very conscious that there is no country in the world which, in spite of the best endeavours, has been able to introduce a contributory insurance scheme for age pensions which works.
In the first place it is obvious, as Senator Willesee said last night - although this is a minor point - that there will always be quite a proportion of the population which, because they have been invalids during their life, because they have had periods of unemployment or because they have suffered from the unfortunate things that can happen to people, will not be able to pay insurance premiums, either in whole or in part. Their needs, in consequence, will have to be financed out of taxation and, therefore, the means test will have to be applied to them to see whether they have, or have not, needs which they cannot meet themselves.
– Have you anything in mind about a contributory scheme?
– I do not quite understand Senator Benn’s question. Does he want to know whether I shall propose some scheme of my own?
– No, I am going to examine various proposals which have been put forward, and various schemes which have been tried, in order to indicate that, in my opinion, no scheme has yet been evolved. I hope that somebody with a better brain than mine - perhaps Senator Benn - will be able to evolve a scheme that will work. But I think it is right and proper that we should examine the schemes that have been put forward, if we are to try genuinely to seek some scheme that will work.
As far as I know, there are only about four methods by which a national insurance scheme can be run. One is the scheme proposed already in another place by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). That scheme, as is obvious at first glance, is not a contributory insurance scheme at all. lt proposes a contribution of 3£d. in the £1 of income to be made by all citizens of Australia for a flat rate pension. In short, it proposes a graduated premium, rising as income rises, for an equal pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week. Quite clearly, the payments are to be in the form of income tax, because they vary with income. They are not in the form of in surance premiums, because the test of insurance premiums is that those who pay the same premium get the same reward or, to put it another way, those who at the end are going to be entitled to the same reward must not be charged different premiums. To my mind, that is merely a system of income tax, and not in any way a contributory insurance scheme. It suffers from the disability common to other such schemes - that 40 years may well elapse before the contributor reaches the age at which he can draw from the scheme. It is almost certain that by then the pension to which he is entitled will provide no more than half of what he needs to live. Consequently, it will have to be supplemented by the State. There again, to ensure that the pensioner has no other method of sustaining himself, a means test must be applied. And as soon as that happens you have all the anomalies and difficulties involved in drawing a line of demarcation - people having to get rid of their assets in order to place themselves under the permissible income limit, and so on. In fact, such people are then worse off than ever.
– Where did the honorable senator get the estimate of 40 years?
– From the Department of Social Services, and from the scheme worked out under the Beveridge plan. It was calculated that, on the average, 44 years would elapse before the contributor would begin to draw a pension. Another scheme which is, I believe, now in operation in the United Kingdom, was evolved from the Beveridge plan. As honorable senators opposite well know, it is not an insurance scheme either. Under it contributions are made by the employer, by the employee and by the State. At the end of a given period, the employee is entitled to draw a pension, but it is clear at once that the State’s contribution must be provided from taxes, that the employer’s contribution is also provided by way of a kind of tax - because it is added to prices - and that the employee alone is really contributing. The pensions paid under that scheme, which has been in operation for a long time now, have been raised three times since 1945, because they were insufficient. Notwithstanding this, one quarter of the pensionable population is still unable to exist on the pension. Consequently, supplementary pensions must be paid out of taxes, and a means test is necessary to ensure that the pensioner is actually entitled to the additional payment. I may say that though a quarter of the pensionable population has been in that category, the proportion has been rising steadily over the years since 1945. There again, we have something that is really not a national insurance scheme, and runs into the difficulties experienced by the other schemes to which I have referred.
I believe that the only scheme really based on insurance is the scheme which is in force in the United States of America. It is called, I believe, the “ Old Age and Survivors Insurance Programme “. Under it, a graduated contribution, according to earnings, is made, and a graduated pension, according to contributions, is drawn. It meets the requirements of an insurance scheme in that the payment eventually received has a direct relation to the premiums paid. For that reason, the scheme has not run into as much difficulty as have the schemes of some other countries. However, even in the. United States of America 10 per cent, of the contributors find that, for one reason or another, the pension to which they are entitled is insufficient, and supplementary social service benefits have to be paid. I. believe that the figure of 10 per cent, would, be much greater but. for the fact that the United States of America is inclined, to apply a rather more severe basic means, test than does, the United Kingdom Government or the New Zealand Government.
For those pragmatic reasons, I cannot myself evolve a scheme which appears to me to be workable- without calling for graduated’ income tax payments, additional to those at present made. Also, I know the Department of Social Services has, on at least three occasions since 1949, attempted to draw up a scheme of that kind which would have some prospect of working eventually, and would not, as happens in some schemes, double the contribution necessary for old- age pensions. If that happened, the present expenditure of £1 20’,000;000 would become £240,000,000, and would drop gradually over the next 30 or 40 years. Those who urge the complete abolition of the means test, coupled with a national insurance scheme, should put before us plans which overcome all those difficulties and seem likely to work. No one would be more pleased than I if such plans were evolved. At the moment, I do not think that they can be evolved. However, a great many things, can be done to encourage saving and to remove the necessity for, first, so much taxation, and, secondly, for so much productivity to be diverted from the earning population to those who have ceased to earn.
I would suggest for the consideration of Senate that, to this end, there should be an amelioration of the property means test and the income means- test along the lines which I shall now describe. One of the main difficulties that we are running into in paying these pensions - as in other things - is that we are forced to keep taxes at a higher level than would be necessary if we could attract into our government loans sufficient money for our physical development. If that were not so, we could lower the general level of taxation and, at the same time, pay the present, or higher pensions. I think that both objectives could possibly be approached. Most members of the working population could expect to save during their working life no more than about £3,000 or £5,000, in addition to owning, a house, furniture and a car. If such a person were to say to the Government, “ I- want a pension because you provide pensions for other people “, the Government might very well say, “ We are prepared to do that, notwithstanding, your savings, if you are pre. pared to invest those savings in government, loans and leave them there. If you are prepared to do that, you can keep the property for your heirs, in spite of the fact that you are drawing a pension, and you can have, without a means test, the income that the property will bring in “. I gather that, that proposal does not meet with general approval on this side of the chamber.
– I think there are some points that would need to be discussed’. Would the honorable senator leave such fields of investment as hire purchase exclusively to the £10,000 to £100,000 people, forcing the £3,000 and £5,000 people to accept the rate of interest offered by the Government?
– I gather that Senator Wright’s objection is that this scheme should not be confined to people who have only £3,000 or £5,000; but should embrace everybody, even people with £10~,000 or more. 1 do not mind what the level is, but I do suggest that the bulk of the population would be encouraged to be thrifty and to save if they knew they could accumulate some thousands of pounds and still obtain a pension, as long as they invested their money in Government bonds. I suggest that many people would invest their money in Government loans in return for pensions which, at the moment, they are debarred from receiving because they have property.
Another alternative scheme, which again may not meet with full approval, is one that is in operation to some extent, in New Zealand, I think. At the end of his working life, without requiring a pension, a person who has accumulated, let us say, £5,000, can be relieved of the operation of the means test to his property by buying a governmentsubsidized annuity. That scheme was introduced, I understand, because insurance companies, as such, do not like to provide annuities. They do not wish to sell them. They have a saying, “ Annuitants live long “. Consequently, their rates for annuities are much higher than they should be. The result of that policy would be much the same as the result of the first one I propounded, because the lump sum paid to the Government in return for an annuity would undoubtedly be invested by the Government in its loans. That scheme does not, in my opinion, offer as much inducement to thrift as the other scheme because the capital sum is lost at the death of the annuitant and cannot be passed on to his descendants. However, in essence, the approach to the problem is the same.
An attack could be made on the problem by introducing a system of graduated pensions - this, of course, has been suggested many times before - under which a man, on reaching the retiring age, would make a contract - I suppose that is what it would be - with the Government. He would say, “ Although I have reached the age at which 1’ am entitled to a pension, I do not wish to draw it. T wish to go on working. I shall wait until I” am 70 or 75 before drawing a pension “. At that age, he would be given a higher pension in return for his self-denial.
Another aspect of this problem is the provision of homes for aged persons. No matter what scheme is introduced to give added purchasing power to pensioners, there is no doubt that loneliness, the lack of com panionship, is one of the things which single pensioners find most trying. The provision of aged persons’ homes, with a right to draw, for subsistence purposes, most of the money payable to the pensioners, will, I think, make one of the greatest contributions to the solving of the problem. 1 hope the scheme will grow and grow in the years to come.
I rose to speak only on age pensions and a national insurance scheme, but there is one supplementary matter that I should like to bring to the attention of the Minister. Although it is hot, perhaps, directly relevant to the bill, it is concerned indirectly with the field of social services. I urge the Government to direct its attention to the needs of an individual who finds himself, or a member of his family, the victim of a long, protracted and expensive illness. At present, he cannot insure through the ordinary health insurance scheme against such a longdrawnout expense, which could ruin him. The expenses against which he can insure are very often those which he could meet without great difficulty. I urge the Government to examine that problem and see whether it can be overcome. That is all I wish to say.
– I support the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition. It reads -
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.
That amendment is a fair one. Although Senator Gorton is a very humane person, with a great deal of sympathy for the less fortunate members of our community, he did not contribute very much in his speech to a solution of their problems. He gave a good dissertation, but I judge from his remarks that he is another dissatisfied Government member in this Parliament. He spoke about the great disabilities under which pensioners are labouring, but he omitted any reference to the important fact that 85 per cent, of them have nothing but their pensions on which to exist.
The Government’s primary responsibility should’ be to see that these people are provided with a civilized standard of living.
We boast about our standard of living and talk about slave labour in other countries, but the slave labourer is better off than the indigent aged person who is in ill health, underfed and with no hope of obtaining employment or additional income. I think, therefore, that the problem is much more serious than Senator Gorton suggested. Honorable senators opposite have argued that the only way to meet this situation is by extra production. We find, when we examine the figures given in the present Budget, that the Government has budgeted for an estimated expenditure of £1,321,700,000. lt is indeed a mighty productive country that can provide that sum of money for expenditure and still have a surplus. The Government does not propose to give back that surplus to the people but; as an underwriter of loans, to lend it to the States at interest.
Senator Gorton and other supporters of the Government apologize for the fact that the Government cannot do very much more for pensioners; they say that the Government has reached the ceiling in the provision of social services, unless it changes the system. In 1949-50, when the country was passing through a period of rehabilitation after World War II. and when it was confronted with tremendous problems but nevertheless had a stable economy, £566,579,158 was extracted from the people for budgetary expenditure. Despite all the specious arguments that the Government has advanced in support of its claim that the economy will not stand greater social service payments, this year it is extracting from the people for budgetary expenditure the sum of £1,321,700,000- two and a half times as much as was raised in 1949-50. But that extra revenue is not reflected in any way in the amounts that are to be paid to the pensioners and for unemployment relief. The Government has been particularly harsh on the young man and woman who are rearing a family and are thus helping to relieve the Government of the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds to bring migrants to this country to offset failure in the past to populate the country by procreation.
So we find that the Government this year is raising £107,000,000 more by way of revenue than it raised last year, and £755,123,842 more than was raised in 1949-50. So much for the argument about whether a fair thing has been done; it has not been done! The more competent supporters of the Government have said, as have Opposition members, that the position is unjust and that the Government has not done a fair thing in this field.
Let us now compare the purchasing power of pensions to-day with the purchasing power of the pensions that were paid in 1949-50. Based on the unpegged basic wage, the loss in relation to a class A widow is 16s.; in respect of a class B widow, 10s. 8d.; and, in the case of invalid pensioners, 9s. 7d. We find, in vindication of the argument that the family man has received less consideration from this Government than have other members of the community, that although couples with one child are now 5s. better off, the loss for a couple with two children is 7s. 10d., for a couple with three children £1 0s. 8d., for a couple with four children £1 13s. 6d., and for a couple with five children £2 6s. 4d. I agree with men like Senator Gorton who say that the Government should realize its responsibility towards people who accept their responsibility. I say that the Government has a grave responsibility towards the family man but that it has not discharged that responsibility.
The position is lamentably bad also in relation to maternity allowances. Those allowances have been granted for the very good reason that we want more Australian citizens. We have been grateful for having been able to obtain migrants from overseas, but we have never been quite as keen about having immigrants as we have been about having additional Australian-born citizens. The loss in the purchasing power of the first-grade maternity allowance has been £19 5s. 4d.; in relation to the second-grade allowance, £20 lis.; and in respect of the third-grade allowance, £22 9s. 7d. That presents a pretty horrible picture. It is all very well for the Government, whose collection of revenue from the people has kept pace with the rate of inflation or even outstripped it, to ask, “ Well, where are we to stop in providing for social services? “ The Government should be at least prepared to pass back to the people some of the additional revenue that has been raised, but it is not doing that.
I had occasion to-day to direct to the Minister representing the Minister for
Labour and National Service a question in relation to unemployment relief. When we analyse the situation we find that, on the basis of the unpegged basic wage, the purchasing value of the payment that the Government has granted to the single man is greater by 7s. lid.; that, in respect of a dependent wife, the gain is ls. 10d.; that in respect of the first “ permissible “ child, there is a loss of ls. 5d.; and that in respect of permissible income, there is a loss of 5s. 8d. So in that field the Government has kept somewhat abreast of the times. But there is a vast difference between the administration of the Department of Labour and National Service when Labour was in office and its administration to-day. I have discovered in recent times that unemployed persons have been waiting at the unemployment bureaux for jobs but that jobs have been unavailable.
The administration is becoming more harsh. Social service benefits and unemployment relief are being brought into such close relationship that any person who is unfortunate enough to be unemployed and unable to re-establish himself is having a very miserable existence indeed. During the last recess, a person who was injured at his employment called on me. He drew weekly insurance payments for a considerable time, but the insurance authorities, as they usually do, after a certain period of time approached him with the suggestion that his injury should be assessed and he should accept a final lump sum payment. They said that in their opinion he could not be treated further. He had suffered a 32i per cent, disability as a result of his injury, and was certified as being fit to take light employment. The Western Australian Government railways could not offer him a position, so he registered for light employment, but no position was available for him. The Department of Social Services ruled that, because he had received a lump sum as compensation for his injury, assessed on the basis of 32£ per cent, disability, he could not get sickness or unemployment benefit. His injury was permanent and, therefore, it was claimed that his compensation should be assessed in terms of weekly payments. Until the lump sum was absorbed on that basis, sickness and unemployment benefits were not available to him.
The Labour movement has fought a hard and bitter fight for the principle that any man who is injured in industry should be compensated by the industry, and that such compensation should be inviolate. Nobody should take from the employee anything that would reduce the compensation that has been paid to him for assessed permanent disability. Gradually that provision has been twisted. This poor wretched fellow could not get sickness or unemployment benefits. The insurance company said that further medical treatment would not cure his 324 per cent, disability. A doctor told him that, irrespective of what the insurance company said, he would give him treatment and was of the opinion he could effect a cure. So the patient is drawing the £800 he had received for his assessed disability and is paying that money away in dribs and drabs to the doctor and as a result of his action has not received either sickness or unemployment benefit. It is a moot point with the Department of Social Services whether it will give him the sickness benefit because his injury was received in the course of his employment.
– For which he has received a lump sum?
– What department is refusing him benefits?
– The Department of Social Services. The officers of the department are very sympathetic. They realize that this case creates a horrible anomaly, and they have asked for a ruling on it. I ask the responsible Minister to review the procedure and to provide that if a man is injured in industry and is paid a lump sum for his disability, that payment should be regarded as constituting the completion of a contract with the employer. The amount received is compensation for an assessed disability in his earning capacity, it should not affect social service payments for which the worker has contributed through taxes.
– That cuts across the English system under which social services absorb workers’ compensation.
– Yes, but that is not the case here. We are talking about our rights which were established in the first place by a Labour government, and the manner in which the social service provisions are being administered by this. Government.
I turn now to a case which I submitted to-day to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services. A man had been directed to go to an employer, but the employer was a man of straw and could not pay the man the wages due to him. The cheque he gave his employee was presented to the bank, but there were no funds to meet it. A report was submitted to the department that the employee had not continued in his employment and was unsatisfactory. The man had received workers’ compensation previously and the case became very involved. The man did not have any money with which to launch a prosecution against his employer. He left the cheque with the bank in case funds became available, but it has not been met yet, and another employee has been allotted to the employer. The man who left his employment has to report to the Department of Social Services every day. He has had to be registered as unemployed and give the names of former employers and of those whom he has approached in order to prove that he has made an honest attempt to get employment.
I know that there are cases where it is necessary to be tough, but the approach to these cases is changing continuously. It is all very well for the Minister to say that his officers cannot investigate the affairs of all employers to ascertain whether they are financially stable, but when a man is on the other end of the stick and is applying for unemployment relief, he is raked over thoroughly. I am not quarrelling with the need for learning these details, but when the Minister states that the employers cannot be investigated, he shows that there is no thought at all for the workers.
I have previously brought to the attention of the Minister the plight of the wives of invalid pensioners, and I have received a sympathetic hearing. Those wives have to run their households on a very low income. The pension paid to the husbands is meagre. The wives cannot go out to work and they have great difficulty in sustaining their families. Provision has been made for an attendant’s allowance but, in fixing it, the Government has been parsimonious and mean. These wives cannot get medical attention or hospitalization for their husbands, and if they could, they would not be able to pay for it. There is no possibility of their earning additional income. They have not the time to look for it, and many are broken in health themselves. In any event employment is not available for them even if they are prepared to neglect their invalid husbands and children. Something should be done to help them. I have been promised in this Senate, in reply to questions, that something would be done, but the Minister has been quite hypocritical. I firmly believe that my representations were not taken beyond this chamber, raised in the party meetings of Government supporters or referred to the Minister for Social Services. That .nothing has been done about them is disgraceful. The speeches that have been made by supporters of the Government indicate that they realize that the Government is falling down on its job. I hope that they will urge the Government to recognize the needs of the pensioners and their dependants. J do not like to see anybody trying to gain political advantage from the poverty and misery of our less fortunate brothers and sisters in the community.
Senator Gorton has said that he appealed to the Government to provide for those who are unable to join an approved society or cannot cover themselves in some way for medical treatment, pharmaceutical benefits and hospitalization in their old age. When the Labour government left office, every pensioner knew that if his health broke down, so long as he was drawing a pension he could obtain hospitalization, pharmaceutical benefits and medical treatment. This Government, by legislation, removed many pensioners from those benefits. It has done immeasurable harm to those people. The situation should be corrected.
– The honorable senator should correct his own statement. Those benefits for the pensioners were introduced by this Government.
– Did not this Government, by its legislation, exclude pensioners who were not in receipt of 100 per cent, pension from, and place a means test on, the most important health benefits?
– The Labour Government did not provide any of those benefits.
– The British Medical Association stopped us from doing so. If we are to discuss the medical benefits scheme and hospitalization services we shall open up a much wider field of debate. But I do say that the Government sold out lock, stock and barrel to the British Medical Association, and that under the present scheme, the expense to the person contributing to one of the Government’s approved societies is almost as great .as it was when the Labour government went out of office. The only people who have gained, and they have gained immeasurably, are the doctors and some hospitals. Doctors’ fees and hospital fees have been increased out of all reason, and the Government can do nothing about the matter. The position is just as embarrassing to the Government as it is to the person who cannot afford to pay these high charges for hospital treatment and medical attention and the Government is powerless to deal with it. I repeat that the Government has compromised both itself and the people by its .agreement with the British Medical Association. The Government has no hold over the B.M.A., which is, in effect, outside the law in relation to regulating its charges and services.
But that is not the subject we are discussing to-day.” The matter for discussion at the moment is the bill before us, and my point is that those persons who are in direst need of assured medical attention, hospitalization and pharmaceutical benefits - because the recipients of part pensions have been denied hospital and medical benefits through the imposition of the means test - are at present in an infinitely worse .position than they were before this agreement to exclude some pensioners from medical, hospital and .pharmaceutical services was entered into with the British Medical Association. I know most honorable senators on the Government side agree with what I say, and I am not attacking them because I know that the Government has been forced into this position, but I do feel that both the Government and the Opposition should fight for the correction of this tragic anomaly. Relief from this burden would be worth more than all the little garnishings the Government is putting round the dish. I appeal to all honorable senators on the Government side, to Ministers in particular, to do their utmost to see that those whose pensions are. reduced because of the means test are granted the hospital and medical service which is of very real benefit to them in their old age. If the service is abused in any way, then by all means take steps to check the abuse. However, I feel confident that it will not be abused, and I do urge that this benefit be restored to these needy people.
There are other matters that require our consideration. I refer to the establishment of homes for the aged. We all agree that the Government’s scheme is a good one. This is the first real attempt by the Government to provide the aged with essential housing and attention, but some anomalies are apparent in the scheme. However, it is a step in the right direction.
– It is a start.
– It is a start, but, at the same time, it is essential that the Government refrain from adopting a laisser-faire attitude. It must not feel that, as it has provided subsidy on a £l-for-£l basis, it has done all that it should do. Those people and organizations who have made it -their life’s work to promote the establishment of homes for the aged are not strong enough financially to establish a scheme of the magnitude envisaged by the Government. I am certain that they cannot raise enough money to absorb all that the Government is prepared to make available by way of a subsidy on a £l-for-£l basis, or even a subsidy of £2 for £1. Saturation point can be reached; there is a limit to what the charitably minded can afford.
As an indication of one way in which the Government could help tremendously, I mention that in Western Australia there are some admirable institutions catering for the aged. If they had more help from the Government, they could extend their operations immeasuraby. For instance, there is the Mount Henry Home for Aged Women, of which any Australian can justly feel proud. Indeed, I suggest that it is an example to the rest of the world; but it is not able to do enough. The Aged Persons’ Home at Claremont is situated in one of the most beautiful spots in Western Australia, but, unfortunately, nothing has been done since about 1907 to extend its capacity to meet the demands of the aged. I suggest that the Government offer the States a subsidy of £2 for £1 if they are prepared to embark upon big projects for accommodating the aged. We cannot hope, or expect, to throw the load on the back of charity permanently. Those persons who are of a charitable turn of mind, those who have adopted the Christian role of doing something for the infirm and the aged, can certainly administer these schemes more effectively than anybody else, but there are too few of these workers in the field. The Government should make a broader approach to the problem, and should accept some responsibility instead of leaving it to the few who are prepared to dedicate their lives to this work. I repeat that the Government would do well to consider the establishment of a more comprehensive scheme to accommodate the many people who are in indigent circumstances.
I come now to those about whom we should be most concerned, but about whom, out of shame, we say the least. I refer to the people on the streets, the people who are paying exorbitant rents, and who cannot afford the food that is necessary to sustain them in reasonable health. I speak of the people who are begging clothes from such institutions as the St. Vincent de Paul, the Junion Chamber of Commerce, and others. They have nothing. It is of no use our talking about giving some little increase in the permissible income to the 75 per cent, of pensioners who have no income other than the pension with which they could purchase additional comforts. Few can afford to fulfil their reasonable food requirements, and are enjoying some benefit from having a home. Lt is no use boasting or talking about small increases to them. They already enjoy at least frugal comfort, cleanliness and reasonable clothing, but, until we have cured the plight of those pensioners who have virtually nothing but their pension to live- on, we have no right to seek favorable publicity by granting a few small concessions to those who are well provided for.
– You were going to abolish the means test in one fell swoop.
– I wish I could; I would do it right away. At the moment, however, I am pointing out the Government’s responsibility. We have to be realistic about this matter. I have merely said what I honestly believe - that a pensioner without a home or additional income should receive greater immediate relief. If Senator Pearson thinks differently, he has a right to express his views when he is speaking, without trying to baulk me in making my suggestions. I shall answer any question afterwards, if the President will permit me to do so. It is terrible that honorable senators should take advantage of the position and, by making interjections, seek to distract me. If the honorable senator had any feeling for the unfortunate people to whom I am referring, he would remain silent.
– I am not arguing with you.
– The honorable senator is doing his best to distract me.
– Order! I ask Senator Cooke not to take any notice of interjections.
– With all due respect, Mr. President, I humbly ask for protection.
– If you will address your remarks to the Chair, you will find it to your advantage.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting, I had dealt* with numerous phases of the bill. I directed attention to the huge national revenue collected by the Government and the inadequate amount that the Government is devoting to social services. I mentioned the lack of consideration of vital points, and the apparent neglect to consider submissions made by both Government and Opposition supporters for the maintenance of a proper economic standard for age, invalid, and widow pensioners. I expressed concern that although we have presented petitions from thousands of people praying for a higher standard of living for pensioners, the Government has failed miserably to provide it. I pointed out that the wives of invalid pensioners and totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners had been badly neglected and were suffering a real hardship, which the Government has not alleviated. At one time all pensioners enjoyed full medical pharmaceutical, and hospital benefits. The withdrawal of these benefits from some of them has imposed a real hardship. The Government is gradually ceasing to make a sincere attempt to improve the position in relation to social services.
I want the Government to tell the Senate what has happened in relation to the scheme for the rehabilitation of pensioners. I remember the great enthusiasm with which the Labour government initiated rehabilitation centres, so that pensioners might cease to be a charge on the community. The objective was not so much to relieve the community of the charge as to give to pensioners a feeling of human dignity by permitting them to take their place in industry. The aim was that pensioners, with the aid of the rehabilitation organization and Government guidance, would be fitted to earn their own livings, as a high percentage of them desire to do. I know that the system has been continued in operation, but is it being operated with the same vigour, interest and energy? From what I can see, expenditure in that direction has been gradually reduced. The attitude appears to be that there was a big initial expenditure, an impression was made, and the Government can rest on its laurels in respect of that side of social services.
I think it is a most important side. The Government could have given more consideration to an extension of the scheme and an improvement of the facilities now existing, to broaden the field and enable more pensioners to be rehabilitated and employed in industry. A person has to be 85 per cent, incapacitated before he may receive an invalid pension. Many people who suffer from serious disabilities could obtain positions in industry if they were given an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. Quite a number of admirable folk, anxious to work, of good repute, and with the very best of intentions, have come to me seeking employment. They are not capable of obtaining employment because of some deficiency, but if that were corrected they could take their places in the community. At present, they become a charge on the community by qualifying for invalid pensions, or sickness or unemployment benefits. In the keen race to obtain positions, they cannot keep pace with the worker who is fully equipped and 100 per cent. fit. The Government should give some consideration to that matter. I should like the Minister to tell us whether the Go- vernmentpromisestomindthattypeof social service. I know that the deputy directors of social services in every State have been and are now very keen about the scheme.
I wish to suggest a new departure in social services. I do not think that we have anything to be proud of in our social services programme. It is not in accordance with the Government’s policy to have a welfare state. The Government parties suffer it, rather than encourage it. I do not think that we need to have an entire, complete welfare state, but there are some other kinds of service that the Government has to provide to bring us into line with more advanced, civilized ideas of social justice. I make a plea to the Government to give consideration to the need for establishing some kind of social services to meet the great challenge presented by mentally retarded children. If these children are 85 per cent, invalid, at the age of sixteen they become invalid pensioners. State governments from time to time have given grants and made loans to very earnest people who are working in the interests of these children and trying to rehabilitate them, while young, to a degree where they may have the human dignity of feeling themselves a useful part of the community. It is not the aim of the doctors and the good people associated with this movement to make these children 100 per cent, normal, as they know that that is impossible. But they are doing excellent work and in various States they have established homes for these lovable children who, in the absence of the efforts of these people, probably would be put in asylums - as some of them are - with persons who are quite unsound mentally. In these homes in every State, an endeavour is being made to give these children, according to their mental or physical capacity to absorb it, the sort of training which will enable them to become useful, and to relieve the parents, to some extent, of the terrible fear that these mentally retarded but lovable children will be put in asylums when the parents are too old to care for them. The Mentally Retarded Children’s Society has made submissions to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to try to get Commonwealth recognition and some assistance in relation to this aspect of social services, but it has not been successful. I do not wish to imply that the right honorable gentleman himself is to blame. The organization requested that the Commonwealth make a grant for the education of these children.
– Is that a Western Australian organization?
– Yes. It held its federal conference in Perth recently. The Treasurer was quite justified in saying that the Commonwealth has no power, under the Constitution, to make payments in relation to education. These various organizations are seeking to have this form of social service accepted as a Commonwealth responsibility. The State governments have made grants for the provision of ordinary schools and farm schools for these children. In that way, the States have contributed to their education. However, the provision has been inadequate, and I consider that the nation is confronted with a challenge in this respect. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider the. incorporation in the social services programme of provision for mentally retarded children. The Commonwealth could subsidize the building of an institution for them, or could provide that the children on attaining a certain age shall be provided with rehabilitation training. If this type of education were provided, by the time a mentally retarded child attained the age. of sixteen years he would be able to: take employment of some nature, or to engage in some other kind of avocation, compatible with his ability. By this means,, the! children, would be enabled to feel that they are a useful section of the community. Ultimately, the Department of Social Services would benefit from a saving in invalid pensions, in- respect of children who- were invalids only, because,, prior tq their reaching sixteen years of age, their education had been completely neglected.
I feel that social consciousness in respect of these children is growing, Certain people who have been working on their behalf have been unremitting in their endeavours to proved- schools and rehabilitation training for them. I do not think that the Government should continue to disregard its responsibility in the matter. I ask the Minister to assure the Senate that the Government will examine this matter, with a view to incorporating in the social services scheme a plan for the rehabilitation of these children. They should form as much a charge on the social services vote as persons who become incapacitated after attaining the age at which they become separate earning entities in the community.
Before the commencement of the present sessional period, I endeavoured to arrange for the Treasurer to receive a deputation in connexion with this matter. The right honorable gentleman apologized for having to decline to receive the deputation because he was busily engaged in the preparation of the Budget. I am sure that many honorable senators on both sides of the chamber agree with me when I say that this field of social services has been entirely neglected. It is necessary for the Government to do something, about this matter, because the number of these children is- increasing. The number has risen considerably since World War II. Some 650 mentally retarded children in Western Australia have asked the society to do- something for them. Of course, some of these children are now older than they were when the matter was first raised, and consequently they are in an entirely different category. This is a great field of social service; to which the government of the day, irrespective of its political colour, should contribute. Therefore, I urge the Government to look into this matter to see whether funds could be made available for expenditure on this field of social, service. It has been admitted by supporters of the Government that this im>portant field of. social, service has been neglected. I therefore ask the Government to indicate the reason for its approval of increased expenditure, due. to inflation, in every field of social services with the exception of this; field.
Government supporter after Government supporter has stated that a form of national insurance should be introduced, and has appealed to the Opposition to say how such a scheme could be implemented. The previous Labour government introduced a national welfare scheme, under which the taxpayers were required to contribute in accordance with their ability to pay. A person was called upon to pay a social services contribution, which was paid into the National Welfare Fund. A fund so established’ is unaffected’ by the success or otherwise of the economic policies of the government of the day. If that fund were in- a sound condition and if it could not be affected by the success or otherwise of a government, these children could be provided for from it. But the fund was destroyed and we are now back to the old business of theorizing. If the National Welfare Fund had been maintained in the healthy condition in which the Labour government left it, the Government would not be able to make lame excuses why these children with acknowledged disabilities cannot be provided for because of the danger of upsetting the budgetary position, and there would be no reason why the proposed increases could not be applied from 1st July. There is no valid reason why increases of pensions should not have been made from 1st July, in order to relieve the misery of the recipients who, in any event, deserve more.
As I say, if the fund were still intact and if the money had been earmarked for the provision of social services, a government could decide to pay the increases from a certain date, and the pensioners would not be affected by the whim of a government in introducing its Budget earlier or later than usual. I trust that the Government will accede to our request for .a re-assessment of pensions at the appropriate time, instead of saying that this does not come within the budgetary framework. A certain amount of window-dressing has been engaged in, and, altogether, there has been a piffling approach to the subject. The Government has made a poor attempt to justify the way in which it has distributed its revenue in providing social services.
– Perhaps the honorable senator would tell us what his Government did with the National Welfare Fund. When we came to office there was nothing in the fund.
– That is. nonsense. I have described the only way by which the Government’s supposed objectives can bc achieved. The Government should give immediate attention to the plight of the pensioners who have petitioned this Parliament, and should compute correctly the number who actually signed the petitions. These people have nothing more than the pension on which to exist. They have not adequate accommodation, and, because fares are constantly rising, cannot pay their way on public transport. They rely on charity for such small amenities as tobacco and’ the other comforts of life. We have to-day a “ Meals on Wheels “ scheme, which is conducted by good-hearted people who are1 anxious to help their- fellows. At one time we thought that, by giving real social justice by way of pension, and cherishing the hope that we could later build up and improve those pensions, we had dispensed with the need for that kind, of thing. In fact, pensions have not been increased with the passing of time, and the Government has little cause to be proud of the bill before us.
I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will devote some attention to the matters I have raised, and will tell honorable senators what is. to be done to help the family man, especially. I have in mind such things as maternity allowances, widows’ and invalid pensions, and free medical attention. The application of the means test results in some persons being only partially excluded from receipt of a pension, but entirely excluded from medical and hospital treatment. Such people, who are not. in affluent circumstances by any means, do not receive free medical attention. If the Government acts fairly in these apparently small, but important, matters it will provide free medical treatment and hospitalization for all pensioners.
.- I hesitate to intrude upon a debate devoted to this bill and do so solely because of the impression that has been made upon me by the very thoughtful speeches of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) in another place, and the contributions in this chamber of Senator Wedgwood, Senator Willesee and Senator Gorton. Their speeches have elevated the debate that takes place almost each year on the Social Services Bill from- a level at which one customarily gets only a few rich pickings, to one at which there has been a real attempt to approach a national problem from the stand-point of stability. Unless such a basis of stability does exist in relation to the pensions paid in respect of the various units of the social service scheme, the whole scheme may well be a snare and a delusion.
It is of no use to hand money to the pensioner if it is to become increasingly valueless. It is not, therefore, merely a matter of giving way to the promptings of the heart. All one’s natural feelings prompt one, after considering individual cases, to do that, but it is rather a question of using one’s judgment to evolve a scheme to ameliorate the economic disadvantage these people suffer in terms of real purchasing power.
I merely wish to offer a few unprepared remarks in the hope that they will maintain the level and spirit of the debate. It is, of course, quite beyond the scope of our parliamentary objectives to obtain a decision on this matter this year, but if we discuss it thoughtfully, in a spirit of mutual goodwill, such as was displayed last night by Senator Willesee - who let down all party barriers in seeking to promote the general good - we may well make progress within the foreseeable future.
Reference has been made to the need to revise the whole basis of our system. In Australia, as a result of an historical accident, we have drifted into maintaining what has become a huge national expenditure on social services of nearly £250,000,000 annually. The actual figure for this year is estimated to be £243,000,000. This tremendous expenditure has developed from a small beginning in 1904 or 1906, under the constitutional heading “ Invalid and Old Age Pensions”, of £1,000,000. Any one who looks at the way in which the poor laws of last century developed, and at the contest which took place between centralized and local administration, will share my view that it is only as a result of an historical accident that the main focus of our social service scheme is not upon the contribution of local government.
By virtue of an accident, the Australian Parliament had power to introduce invalid and old age pensions and, at the same time, found itself possessed of surplus revenues. Ingenuity was brought to bear upon the task of devising a means whereby the constitutional obligation to return that revenue to the States could be frustrated, and the money could be transferred, by way of book entry, to a trust account. In that way, the government of the day had surplus revenues with which to develop this scheme. One may well spend time in considering whether the complete centralization of a social welfare scheme offers the most effective form of administration. I have in mind the advantages that would flow from the intimate knowledge of the worth of an individual pensioner that exists as between members of a local community. Such knowledge would, I believe, greatly assist the administration of a social services scheme. Instead of following that course, in 1946 we took the plunge, and the whole of Australia - with the support of both parties - voted overwhelmingly for the aggrandizement of the responsibilities of the Federal Parliament.
We now have the problem fairly and squarely in our laps. It is quite hopeless to look in the direction of local government. Therefore, the solution of the problem remains a challenge to this Parliament. Are we satisfied that we are really approaching the problem of social services in a responsible manner when we deal with it by way of annual appropriation? I feel that we have to find a new basis on which to work. It has been suggested that it was not to the advantage of the social welfare scheme to bring in legislation whereby the outgoings of the National Welfare Fund each year balanced, to the £1, the intake to the fund. That made the National Welfare Fund simply a vacuum into which a certain sum is placed at the beginning of the year, and out of which precisely the same sum is taken at the end of the year. That was done in about 1951, when we first felt the impact of the deficiency in the loan programme and found that it was necessary for the stability of State public works to provide additional funds from Commonwealth revenue. At the same time, as honorable senators will remember, our income tax assessment forms ceased to have two columns, one dealing with social service contributions and the other with income tax. I believe that the revision of those two measures is worthy of consideration. I speak without firm convictions on these matters. I simply put forward a thought, but here again, meek as I am today, that thought is not unfortified. It has already been expressed by others in this chamber who carry a much greater responsibility than I do.
Reference has been made to the percentages of the national earnings which the Commonwealth Government appropriates from time to time for social services. I think it was Senator Toohey who made comparisons of percentages. I should not like that viewpoint to gain complete acceptance in the Senate. Superficially, it is quite attractive to say that Sweden devotes - I mention merely fictitious figures - 20 per cent, of its national income to social services, that Denmark devotes 16 per cent, and that Australia devotes only 10 per cent., or whatever the figure may be.
– Australia devotes only 6 per cent.
– That may be so. Senator Toohey has a much greater knowledge than I have of the viewpoint of the trade union movement, which is so forcibly represented in the International Labour Organization, but the International Labour Organization has repeatedly emphasized that a comparison of these percentages as between countries is quite misleading. The thing to remember is that the lower is the general economy of a country, the greater will be the percentage of the national income which the government of that country will be compelled to devote to social services. We can draw misleading conclusions if we try to use for our purposes the experiences of an intensely industrialized and thickly populated country like Great Britain, whose resources are entirely different from ours and whose structure of trading is almost the reverse of our own, or the experiences of a country such as America, whose economy is on an entirely different basis. We cannot simply apply to Australia the conclusions which have been arrived at in each of those countries, probably in much the same haphazard way as we have drawn conclusions from our experiences. We cannot transport their conclusions across the oceans and say, “ That one shows a mistake and this one shows an advantage. Therefore, that will be a mistake in Australia and this will be an advantage in Australia “. I direct those remarks, with the utmost goodwill, to my colleague, Senator Gorton. It was obvious that he had given a great deal of thought to his speech, and I defer to his much wider knowledge of the subject, but he reviewed the different contributory schemes and illustrated their defects by reference to experience in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the United States. I think
Senator Gorton would be the first to concede that that is not the final solution to the problem.
– I interpret Senator Gorton’s interjection as meaning that he is in agreement with what I say. 1 cannot disabuse my own mind of the impression that we shall have to make our provision for social services on a contributory basis. I do not believe that social services are wholly uneconomic. I do not look on a vote of £243,000,000 for social services in the present financial year as economic waste. It is a recognition of human requirements to promote at the lowest level the situation that humanity demands, but, at the same time, it will benefit the trading community of the country - the small shopkeeper, the butcher, the baker, the tradesman, the builder and-
– And the undertaker.
– I trust that the prospect of the undertaker is not responsible for the intense gloom of the interjector. After all, the undertaker can be left to His undertaking.
– He gets only £10 for an age pensioner’s funeral.
– I would have something to say on that if it were germane to this argument. I was hoping that some members of my audience - I do not profess that my contribution is worth listening to - would later make contributions that would raise the level of our debates on social services. I cannot relinquish the conviction that our social services structure should be on a contributory basis. I think that concept is well founded. I wonder how many of those listening to me have read the inscription on the monument erected by the citizens of Sydney to Sir Thomas Mort, the founder of the Australian Mutual Provident Society and the originator of refrigerator trains. I refer to him particularly in his capacity as the founder of the A.M.P. Society. Surely the existence of our mutual insurance companies is a beacon which lights the way that we should follow. I remember that in the inspiring days when liberalism was really liberalism we used to say, “We will draw a line below which no man may fall, but we will not draw a line beyond which it is impossible for any man, by his achievements, to go “.
– What is liberalism to-day?
– It is not Tooheyism The appeal of contributions as each man goes through life would be emphasized terrifically if we could get a sense of political responsibility. Let me say that without pointing the remark too strongly in any one direction, but to honorable senators on both sides pf the chamber. If I were to yield to the advice offered by Senator Gorton this morning, if I were to start to earn wages at 25 years of age and found myself increasing my savings bank deposits by £100 a year, and if I were induced to put that money into Commonwealth stock, I would have the experience of investing to-day £100, and, three years later, when the intrinsic value of the £1 had been reduced by 25 per cent., not getting back even 100 nominal £ls, but only approximately 92. Those are matters for which political units must take responsibility, and they illustrate the need to get judgment into the basis of granting social service benefits.
If, when arranging our loan programme and formulating our taxation programme, we load the incomes of the earning section of the community to the degree that those people become frustrated and dispirited, and thrift is curtailed, we will find that we have reached the stage where increased rates of income taxation, far from producing greater revenue, will produce less revenue. I feel that we must take proper stock of the trend in taxation and realize that over the last 50 thoughtless years we have developed an outlook in public finance whereby some sections of the political community are inclined to place the whole weight of public revenue upon the people’s earnings. If honorable senators look at page 40 of the thirty-fifth report of the Commissioner of Taxation, they will note that, as a national contribution, the contribution that is made by the extremely wealthy, that is, those persons who are in receipt of more than £5,000 a year, is insignificant. It is quite obvious that, if we were to base our social service programme on the rates advocated by Senator Cooke, we would be faced with a degree of income taxation that would be almost perilous from the viewpoint of raising the required revenue.
Added to that consideration, if a drought were to occur and affect our wheat exports, and if, at the same time, there were to be buyer resistance against the sale of wool, with the result that our available export, income further constricted our imports, we would have the unhappy situation - I emphasize the word “ unhappy “ - of a reduced revenue being available in that critical year to expand the expenditure on social servicesto any significant degree. All those considerations compel one to conclude that we are not justified in rejecting the contributory basis as being the proper basis, for the main, part, of our social service scheme.
I wish to quote to the Senate some phrasesthat I read in the paper that was published earlier in the year by Professor Downing, and which I know has already received’ quite wide publicity. At page 5 he says -
It would be better to use whatever money that is available to try to tackle the special problems of this minority. The pensioners in the best position of all are married couples in good health with a well-furnished house of their own, a garden with space to grow vegetables and raise chickens, a good stock of clothing, £400 in the bank, a joint income from earnings, annuities or superannuation of £7 a week and each receiving the full pension of £4 a week, giving them a total of £15 a week.
That is the optimum situation of a pensioner under the conditions of eligibility and the rates of pension that prevailed before this bill was introduced. He further says -
At the other extreme is the pensioner who lives alone, in poor health and needing looking after, paying a high rent for a low-quality room, with only a few bits of clothing, furniture and bedding, and no income but his pension of £4 a week.
I have not seen better expressed the two extremes of the social service community.
But I suggest to the Senate that the Parliament has not thoughtfully considered the graduation of pensions to meet those two extremities. In other words, within the general field of social service beneficiaries there are such differences that it is not satisfactory to say, in relation to the age pension, “ The rate will be £4 7s. 6d. a head “. Individual needs justify a little specialization of the pension provision.
National considerations would be greatly advantaged if we did not feel compelled to raise the basic rate for those persons who otherwise are comfortably provided for, and if we devoted to special cases of persons living in abject poverty such revenue as could be appropriated. A special classification of the rate having regard to housing, family support, age, health, and such other matters as could be placed, not on a basis of just sloppy sympathy, but on a basis related to economic needs and justice, such classification to be made by a specialized tribunal or, on the recommendation of a specialized tribunal passed into law as a graduated scale, would be of great advantage to both the individual pensioner and the nation.
In considering all these matters, we must bear in mind that we are living in a gradually improving community. The age span of our community is growing most impressively. Surely we are mature enough to reconsider the working limits of life that were fixed when our expectation of life was so much less and the ravages of disease were much worse than they are to-day. Surely we are able to revise the retirement age so that we can keep the experienced people working longer.
I can bring to mind several purposeful, resourceful and capable men who have been compelled to retire in accordance with artificial limits prescribed 20 or 25 years ago. Their energies are so abounding that they are putting the same degree of work into much less responsible occupations. By way of illustration, high public servants have retired and have become mere law clerks. It would be wise to take into consideration the increasing percentage of persons of pensionable age who are now becoming eligible for pensions.
I take leave to remind honorable senators of a statement that I made in a similar debate last year which showed that the percentage of pensioners to the persons of pensionable age was 33 per cent, in 1933, but had risen to 37.9 per cent, in 1947, 42.6 per cent, in 1954 and to 45 per cent, last year. It is astonishing to note the growing percentage of our population eligible by age. for the pension, and. to realize that the percentage has risen from 33 per cent, in 1933 to 45 per cent, in 1956.
– The graph goes the other way from now on.
– I shall be pleased to be convinced of that. I know that, because: of the fertile birth, rate of the last few years, and the. increase of immigration, the predictions’ for- fifteen: years hence have been revised, lt was estimated that we would, have a gradually increasing percentage of our population above the age limit, but the estimate has been revised because of the injection of immigrant youth into our community. It is expected that the expansion in the old age group will not be so great as was estimated two or three years ago. However, I think I would be correct in saying that I am supported byrne statisticians in anticipating a gradually increasing percentage of aged persons in our population. The increase will not be as steep as was expected some years ago but, nevertheless, the percentage will rise.
When we consider that we are basing provision for that increasing body of persons upon an annual appropriation derived in various ways from revenue, we must realize that we have to find a better basis. In relation to such matters as tariffs, where taxes are imposed upon 100,000 items, it becomes impracticable - and, indeed, impertinent - for a parliament to fix the detailed items by ordinary parliamentary processes. In industrial matters, where there is a great variety of classifications of wage-earners in a great variety of avocations, and where industrial margins and skills are widely varied, it would be unwise to leave such matters to the Parliament. That has always been recognized as is shown by the rigid constitutional requirement that wage fixation should be left to an arbitration tribunal.
Those two matters show that such details are not dealt with best in the Parliament. In that respect, the proposition that has been advocated by Senator McManus deserves consideration, and it conforms, I believe, with the viewpoint of Liberals. He has suggested that it would be a good thing to get the fixation of social service payments out of the realm of partisanship that party politics is capable of generating, One is grateful to acknowledge that it has not. been so noticeable this year, but, in the usual way, it is almost inevitable, especially, in the year when a general election is near.
When the chief objective, is to provide stability as well as justice, we have to consider the parliamentary agency that can most efficiently give justice in line with stability. I have heard some: persons inveigh that, from past experience,- they would never consider a contributory scheme. I ask them not to foreclose their minds to that proposition, or to a proposal that there should be established a specialized tribunal with the duty of thoughtfully recommending to the Parliament increases or adjustments of social service payments in line with the policy of the government of the day, and subject to approval by the Parliament.
– How does Senator Wright define justice?
– Perhaps I will be pardoned if I say to my honorable friend, Senator Cameron, that it would take me too long to explain that to him.
– That is an admission of your inability to explain it. You are playing with abstractions.
– I am not concerned to contest the suggestion by Senator Cameron as to my inability to explain it. The only other thing I want to say, in conclusion, is that I am grateful to honorable senators for not having shown their resentment of my protruding these thoughts on the Senate. They have paid me the courtesy of listening with interest and in increasing numbers. I do not deserve it, but I want to say that probably the best way of approaching this matter is not from the viewpoint of any one party capturing advantage by evolving a scheme for this or that or the other election. Even the monument of political life is only temporary, and damage was done in 1954 when a great grab was made, with the support of only half of one party in the political arena, for power to abolish the means test.
– Do not spoil a good speech.
– I am simply saying that if this matter is approached from a partisan point of view, the real purpose can be damaged. Therefore, I think we all ought to consider seriously setting up a committee of both Houses of the Parliament at this stage when this question is developing into a real national problem. I do not use the word “ problem “ in any sense of frustration. Problems are the things which give some excitement and encouragement. A committee of both Houses of the Parliament would be the best means of dealing with the problem. We have only to look at the work of Mr. K. C. Wilson’s committee within our own party and how fruitful its efforts are to realize how infor mation can be obtained and how a school of thought can be developed. If we could operate in that way it would need, of course, twelve months at the very least before thinking of placing any of the conclusions before the Parliament, but it should be a very helpful contribution to the thought of a government which has the responsibility for budgeting.
When these matters are left to the study of an overloaded Minister, and the holder of this portfolio changes with real frequency, there is a lack of continuity, and there is a singleness of consideration that would be eliminated if we had a committee of both Houses to consider whether we could afford a solution better than annual appropriations passed upon these matters.
In deference to the submissions I heard from Senator Wedgwood and Senator Gorton during this debate, I have foreborne making reference to what are great problems in this direction. I refer to the means test in its effect upon the saving capacity and inclination of the community and in its effect upon the taxable capacity, by way of consequence, of the people who think that it is not rewarding to save. Those honorable senators have put those matters so forcefully that there is no need for me to do anything but make one reference to them to show that they have not been left out of consideration.
.- At last we are making headway with one item that comes before this Parliament each year. I refer to social services. It is indeed a pleasure to sit here and note the change of front that has taken place, a change of front for the better, I am delighted to say. In the past we have heard it argued here that the Government could not afford to pay widows’ pensions, the sickness benefit and so on. But that was in the past and several honorable senators, especially those who belong to the Liberal party, now realize that social services are not only a right but a necessity. The time has now arrived when we can, with the consent of honorable senators on the Government side, forget the past and think about the future.
There are one or two remarks that I should like to make because, brilliant and all as some honorable senators think they are, there are times when other honorable senators can offer information that may be helpful to them or can correct some of their statements when they have gone a little astray. Senator Wright made a most enjoyable speech. If he gets a little more to the left, he will be right with us-
– He will be up in the clouds.
– No, he will be over here with us because he has made the greatest change of front of any honorable senator. In his closing remarks, he dealt with something that was strongly supported by the Labour government. I shall deal with that later. I should like to deal first with some of the statements made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who said -
I must deplore the ill-considered petitions which are presented to this Parliament from time to time requesting social service payments equal to half the basic wage. A moment’s reflection will reveal that if increases of that kind could be granted without drastic reductions in permissible income and property limitations, a very grave injustice would be perpetuated on every wage and salary earner in our country who would be taxable by social payments for married pensioners who, together with their permissible income, and apart altogether from permissible property, would exceed the basic wage.
I remind the Minister that the great majority of those who signed the petitions are not in receipt of an income that would put them above the basic wage. They have not the ability, nor do I think the Minister would expect them to do it, to go into details or to devise a bill that would remedy the small anomalies that would crop up. They are putting forward the principle. They are submitting a principle for the Minister to work upon if he is in any way sympathetic towards their request. I think everybody realizes that the permissible income, together with pensions, would lift some married couples well above the basic wage, but that does not get away from the fact that the pensioner who has no income at all is entitled to some consideration and must not be brushed aside because other pensioners are fortunate enough to be enjoying some income that would lift them above the basic wage.
I should say that those who signed the petition took into consideration the fact that the Minister had at his disposal sufficient ability and intelligence to devise some means test by which those in most need of an increase in pension would get it. It was unfair of the Minister to say that some pensioners would receive more than the basic wage and, therefore, the increases should not be granted. He has experts to advise him on how to overcome these difficulties. The pensioner, on the other hand, has no such advice available. In many cases, he has no opportunity of reading or studying the effects of these things. But that does not dispose of the fact that the Minister has ample opportunity for doing so. I suggest we are reaching a stage at which we must either eliminate the means test and adopt a contributory scheme such as that suggested by other honorable senators on the Government side and which did operate when the Labour government was in office, or give justice where it is most needed and, if necessary, introduce a means test to enable this to be done. The responsibility for that is upon the Minister. It is of no use for him to shuffle from underneath and say that he is surprised at illconsidered statements in petitions, when he knows perfectly well what these people want and that the road is open and clear for him. He went further and said -
It is argued, of course, that permissible income and property should be eliminated from our social service scheme, and that the resources available to the department should be concentrated on those who are without income of any kind and property in any form, but that, quite obviously, would impose an indefensible penalty on the industrious, the provident and the thrifty.
He claimed that if the Government were to do that, it would discourage thrift, and that it would be completely unfair to those people who, by some good fortune, had property left to them or otherwise had a good run through life and were able to accumulate some means. He said that if the Government took such a course there would be a penalty on thrift. Is the Government, instead, to penalize the men or women who have had a bad run through life, through being partly crippled, suffering sickness, helping invalid children, or for some other cause, and in their old age have no home and no other income than the pension? I claim that it is the Minister’s responsibility to overcome anomalies and administer justice. He should not make these erroneous statements. When I was reading this speech, in my mind I complimented the Minister on making a very well-constructed speech, until I came to these two items which spoil a really good effort. I realize that he is new in the Ministry. As he gains more experience he will realize; - he has probably begun to realize it now - that his job is to find a way round these anomalies in order to administer justice.
– From whose speech are you quoting?
– The second-reading speech of the Honorable Hugh S. Roberton.
– I thought that you had the wrong one, but that you really would not know.
– The same remarks would apply to the Minister as would apply to his colleague, Mr. Roberton. Birds of a feather flock together, and all the peas in a pod are the same. I want to make a few remarks in regard to the tribunal which was suggested by another party in this chamber, the Santamaria-Cole party. Senator Cole said that an independent tribunal is needed to assess the rate of all pensions. It is rather remarkable that the leader of this new-born party, who was once supposed to be a member of the Australian Labour party, has already forgotten that he himself sanctioned the appointment of a joint committee, composed of honorable members and senators from all parties to advise the Labour government. Senator Wright made a similar point in his closing remarks. He suggested that an all-party committee might be appointed to give consideration to these matters. Under the Labour government, an all-party committee did exist, and the great majority of its recommendations were acted upon by the Labour government. One honorable senator who played an important part on that all-party committee is the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). He remembers very well indeed the findings, which were always unanimous, that were acted upon by the government of that day. If recommendations were not acted upon, and very often when they were, all members and senators were not suited. More than once I have heard Senator Cooper in this chamber, as a member of that committee, defending the actions of the Labour government upon recommendations of the committee. The committee worked very satisfactorily indeed. Such a committee today could probably advise the “Minister along very sound lines and overcome some of the differences confronting the Government at present.
If .Senator Cole had stopped to think, he could have .described to the Government the work of that all-party committee, which did a far better job than could be done by any independent tribunal advising a Minister to-day. Why leave it to outsiders? It is the responsibility of representatives of the people, in the Senate and in another ;place, to devise ways and means of establishing the ‘best social services scheme and ensuring that justice is rendered to those who are sick, infirm, or aged.
– They will not live up to their responsibilities.
– The honorable senator happens to be the first to advocate shirking our responsibility by handing it to an independent tribunal. He admits that he wants to shirk his responsibilities. There are many members of the major parties in this Parliament who are prepared to carry the responsibility that they carried before. We are not interested in whether or not he wants to shirk his responsibility. He can have an independent tribunal .of his own. I do not think that he can bring sufficient influence to bear on members of the Liberal party, and I am sure that he has not sufficient influence with members of the Australian Labour party, to persuade them to shirk their responsibilities and hand them over to an independent tribunal. An all-party committee worked satisfactorily before. If the “Minister wanted assistance, he. could get it from members of both Houses. The new-born party does not want to go forward in social services; it wants to go backwards.
I come now to the contributory scheme, of which so much mention was made. I am 100 per cent, with Senator Wright and other speakers who say that eventually there must be a contributory scheme. We had a contributory scheme which worked very satisfactorily indeed. The National Welfare Fund was established under a contributory scheme. It worked satisfactorily and provided more benefits than we are receiving to-day, measured in terms of purchasing .power. Senator Wright referred to that scheme. He said that it is not beyond the bounds of ..possibility .that we shall have to consider re-introducing it. Only one scheme could take the place of the contributory scheme which operated under .the Labour .government, and that would be a scheme to which everybody contributed, whether they could afford it or not. Under the Labour government’s scheme, which worked so successfully, contributions of so much in the £1 were made. Under that scheme, those who had the largest incomes paid the most, and it worked very satisfactorily. Under -the scheme advocated by the leader of what might be called the Santamaria-Cole party, everybody would be required to contribute irrespective of his ability to do so. I suppose that if a person could not afford to contribute, he would receive no social service benefits. We cannot get away from cold facts. This newborn scheme brought forward by Senator Cole-
– Is it actually a new-born scheme?
– It is new-born as far as Senator Cole is concerned, because he is so far behind politically that he does not realize its shortcomings.
– If you are so far ahead, I thank the Lord that I am so far behind! But are you so far ahead?
– I am up with present-day events, anyhow. I shall now direct my remarks to unemployment and sickness benefits. Humane acts of Parliament are on the -statute-book despite the opposition to them that was raised years ago by certain honorable senators, including Senator Cole. Most members of this chamber believe that the provisions of those acts are just, and should be continued. I think that most supporters of the Government agree with my contention that prevention is always better than cure. If we can obviate the necessity to expend millions of pounds on unemployment and sickness benefits we shall contribute to the stability of this country and increase its productive capacity.
The unemployment benefit was introduced as a means of tiding an employee over a period of temporary unemployment while he was .transferring from one job to another. It was never intended to ;keep men permanently on the unemployed list. Therefore, on the assumption that preven tion is better than cure, we should not allow a big pool of unemployed to exist. I have before me last Tuesday’s Melbourne “ Herald “ - not a Labour newspaper - which contains a report concerning a new Australian named Stasys Urmonas. Under the heading “ Stasys just walks - Let me work, he pleads “ it is stated -
Stasys Urmonas, the man who walked from Siberia to Shanghai to find freedom, is now walking round Melbourne to find work.
Each day he leaves his rooms at Gardenvale and walks to factories, businesses and societies with his plea. “ I will do anything, anything so my wife, Margaret, and I can be secure and not have to ask ourselves, ‘ What will we do to-morrow, what will we eat to-morrow ‘ “, Stasys said to-day.
I need not read any further. It appears that this man landed in Australia two months ago after having been imprisoned in Communist concentration camps for several years. Now he is in this free country. He was in work for a month, then the job cut out, and he has ,Deen walking around Melbourne ever since trying to find a job. He went to the Department of Social Services and he says that all he received were forms to fill in, but he obtained no financial assistance. In the course of his inquiries for work, the best offer of hope that he received was that certain firms may be able to give him a job after Christmas. After Christmas! If we want to avoid .paying .out millions of pounds in the unemployment benefit, we must provide employment for the workers. They should not be unemployed. Although we appreciate .the small increases that have been made by the Government to assist people in necessitous circumstances, we cannot ignore cases like that of Stasys Urmonas, who came to Australia to find freedom. But what freedom has he found? He has not found freedom from want or fear, because -he is afraid that he may not get anything to eat to-morrow.
– He has found freedom from work.
– He has found freedom from work, because .he cannot find any, despite the fact that he is prepared to do anything. He has travelled half-way around the world to find freedom, and he has found it, but he cannot find a job. We must find a means .of preventing this unemployment disease.
Turning to the sickness benefit, I point out that we are appreciative of the small increase that has been granted, but consider that more should have been done in this direction, because it is when a person is sick that he needs assistance and nourishment. Again, we can prevent the diseases if we are fair in our administration - if the Government is fair to the rising generation. We all know about the effects of malnutrition. We have only to realize that, in many instances, the payment of the sickness benefit to-day has been necessitated by malnutrition of children who were born in the early ‘thirties. I mention this aspect of the matter because the decisions that are made by some Ministers result in the malnutrition of the persons affected. I have already mentioned in this chamber the case of an exserviceman whose prosecution was ordered by the Minister who is administering war service land settlement. His children, aged between three and fifteen years, will suffer from malnutrition and, consequently, in years to come, they may become a charge upon the community as recipients of the sickness benefit. This is an instance where the Government should acknowledge that prevention is better than cure. The family to which I refer is, to-day, living on £2 a week per unit. It is not receiving justice, having regard to present-day prices. If they are to suffer a further deduction from that payment of £2 a week as a result of a prosecution that is not of the father’s making, the result will be further malnutrition for the children. This will ultimately be reflected in a need for sickness benefits, which will have to be paid by future governments. I refer, of course, to the King Island case. If the prosecution proceeds, that family, with eight children, must suffer malnutrition. Unfortunately, the opportunity to avoid this course has not been taken, and the Minister is going ahead for all he is worth, utterly regardless of the effect on the rising generation.
Though we on this side of the chamber are not in government, we are delighted to see the fruits of our work over so many years. The supporters of the Government, who have always opposed social legislation such as sickness and unemployment benefits, and widows’ pensions - saying that they were not needed and that the country could not afford them - have eventually come round to our way of thinking. That has been caused by our presence here and by our fight over the last two decades for increased social services. At last Government supporters have come to realize that social service benefits are a necessity - something to which the people are entitled. If we are doing nothing else here we are at least getting something for a section of the community which cannot come here to speak for itself. The Government has come to this enlightened way of thinking for two reasons. I shall give it the benefit of the doubt and say that the first is that it has realized that the payment of social services is only fair and just. The second reason undoubtedly is that it is fearful of facing the electors if it fails to acknowledge the need for such a payment.
– I rise to support the bill, and commend the Government upon the generous nature of the proposals made therein. It has approached this great problem of pensions with generosity, sincerity and sympathy. I commend the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) upon his excellent presentation of the bill. I do not propose to deal at length with the arguments of honorable senators opposite, but I cannot help commenting on their failure to increase pensions when they had the opportunity to do so. It is on record that pensions have been reduced on only one occasion when the Scullin Government reduced them in 1941. The reduction was the very small amount of 2s. 6d. I am not familiar with the circumstances, but a reduction in pensions does not seem to me to be warranted at any time. It is also on record that the Chifley Government, in the last year of its life, failed to increase pensions. For the information of honorable senators opposite I am referring to the year 1949. It was then estimated that the cost of living had increased by 10 per cent. Surely that was an appropriate time to increase pensions? It is, therefore, pertinent to ask honorable senators opposite why that did not happen. If those circumstances did not justify an increase, I should like to know what circumstances would.
The Menzies Government has had a splendid record of achievement in the pensions field since it came to office in 1949. During these years Australia has become a very prosperous country. The Government is determined that that prosperity shall be shared, not only by those able to work and engage in business, but also by those who, because of age or ill health, are unable to join them. That is one of the reasons why, under this Government, social services have been more liberal than under any other government in the history of Australia.
It is often said that social services should be divorced from politics. I agree entirely, but that seems too much to expect under our present system of party government. Perhaps it will come to pass in the dim and distant future. I certainly hope that it does. This Government contends that pensions should be measured, not by formulas which prove attractive to honorable senators opposite, but by whether they meet the needs of the recipients. To put it mildly, pensions should be based on the needs of the pensioners, measured in terms of housing, food, clothing and medical benefits.
I think that most people will agree that the Government could not entertain the suggestion that pensions should be related to the basic wage. Originally, the basic wage was drawn up according to the needs of the family unit of three or four persons. The pension is, of course, based on the needs of one person. Therefore, the only sensible scheme of pension payments is one which is based on the needs of the recipients. I, too, was somewhat disappointed that some more scientific scheme - more acceptable to modern ideas and conditions - was not offered on this occasion. I realize that it is difficult to introduce a scheme that is perfect. Every scheme will have its weaknesses and imperfections, but 1 believe that the situation could be met by two schemes. The first, which has been advocated by many honorable senators during this debate, is of the kind which has a national security basis. It provides, at a prescribed age, a security payment for all, without a means test. It would be necessary to couple with that scheme a contributory scheme, demands upon which would be met from general revenue and paid by way of allocation to the States, on an approved basis, for the relief of special hardship cases.
On the figures at present available to the Government this fund would be in the vicinity of £5,000,000. It could be administered by committees, set up in the various
States, comprising two officers of the Department of Social Services, two members of social welfare organizations, and an independent chairman. I am convinced that the present pensions system is antiquated, and does not conform with modern ideas. Moreover, I believe that the proposed general increase in pensions does not meet the situation fully. All age pensioners do not suffer real hardship. It is the lot mainly of aged persons, with no income other than the age pension, who are single, widowed or divorced, and obliged to pay rent. Certain information which was gained as the result of a survey conducted in Melbourne by the Department of Social Services may be of interest to honorable senators. The following facts were elicited: - Forty per cent, of aged pensioners are either single, widowed or divorced and do not own their own homes; 23 per cent, are either single, widowed and divorced and own their own homes; 15 per cent, are married and do not own their own homes, and 22 per cent, are married and own their own homes. Those figures show that the special cases of hardship exist among 40 per cent, of the pensioners. Of that 40 per cent., a certain proportion are living in church or charitable institutions or with their own families. A certain proportion are in receipt of other income from earnings, superannuation, or perhaps investments. It is evident from the figures I have quoted that only about 20 per cent, or, at the very outside, 25 per cent, of pensioners are actually in need of further help. This help, in my opinion, should be given generously, on the basis of needs, after a close examination by the various committees which, as I have suggested, should be set up in each State. If warranted, these pensioners should be granted increases of from £1 to £3 a week as the occasion demands. I think a scheme such as that would be in line with present-day requirements.
A general increase in pensions often adds unnecessarily to the incomes of many pensioners who are not in need of any further help. The system I have advocated could bring relief to hardship cases, and the taxpayers would need to find only one-half of the amount of money that has been allocated under the present scheme. Organizations which have made representations to to the Government for relief or for an increase in pensions have quoted, almost without exception, hardship cases. So why not, at this stage, concentrate upon bringing special relief to those unfortunately situated people who are really in need of help? I have always held the opinion that every person over’ 70 years of age should be provided with a pension free of the means test. If it is necessary to create a fund for this purpose, it should, in my opinion, be created on a contributory or other approved basis.
Up to the present stage, I have not mentioned the increases that have been granted in pensions. The general increase of 7s. 6d. a week covers age, invalid and widows’ pensions. There has also been an increase in unemployment and sickness benefits and a change in the means test applicable to those benefits. All of those increases have been made on a generous basis, and I think honorable senators on both sides of the chamber are in agreement as to the need for them. In addition, it must be remembered that the States also give a certain amount of relief in this field. Some States have home nursing services and other welfare services. The Commonwealth has introduced the medical and pharmaceutical benefits scheme.
It has been said that the present value of pensions is not in line with the value in 1949. I think honorable senators on this- side of the chamber have produced figures to prove that the present pension compares more than favorably with the pension that was operating in 1949. I understand there is a difference of 3s. 6d. in purchasing power in favour of the 1957 pension.
It must be admitted that the present system does penalize thrift. Savings amounting to more than £209 deprive a person of a certain amount of his pension, and savings amounting to £1,750 deprive him of a pension altogether, although on an interest rate of 3i per cent., which is still operating on some government bonds, the income from £1,750 invested in government bonds would amount to only about £60 a year. Savings which, would bring in an income of that size deprive a person of a pension of £228 a year. I think that before the next Budget is presented in 1958 some thought should be given to introducing a better scheme.
I have not dealt with increases in detail. I. do not think that is necessary, because other honorable senators on. this side of the chamber have gone into the subject very fully. They have very adequately dealt with and confounded the arguments presented by the. Opposition. All the increases have been widely approved and amply justified. They may not be as generous as we would like, but the Government has only a certain amount of money available to meet the needs of all sections of the community. We have every reason to believe that in the future pension rates will be increased from time to time in accordance with the country’s expanding economy. I think that that is the only fair way to deal with this matter. I have much pleasure in supporting the bill.
.- I rise with some diffidence and not with much enthusiasm. I have been in the Senate for 25 years. It has been a wonderful experience, but I have come to the conclusion that much of our labour is like that of Sisyphus, the guy who had to push a ball up a hill, the ball rolling down again as soon as it reached the top of the hill. We talk and talk about various matters, but we do not get very far..
It is rather sad to reflect that all our talking does not bring much, happiness to the age and other pensioners who are living below the bread-line. All the talk of the Labour Opposition will not, and does not, influence the Government one iota. During the many years I have been here, especially the latter years, the Opposition has not been able to secure any amendment or improve any legislation because there is in power a government which is almost totalitarian. It arrives at a decision in its party room and that decision must be accepted by the Parliament. The speeches made by the Ministers who introduce bills in this, chamber are virtually the same as those made in another place.
There are many splendid members of the Parliament who use a lot of energy and go to a good deal of trouble to obtain information. Many of the speeches that have been made during this debate have been excellent. If we were to examine the speeches that have been made in this chamber and in another place, we could almost arrive at a. proper understanding about what to do for the pensioners without appointing the committee about which Senator Wright has spoken. Members on both sides of the Parliament have shown great industry in an effort to convince the people about what they have done. At times the situation becomes rather pathetic, because the poor old pensioner does not receive much from the debate. However, the speakers themselves derive some satisfaction from having spoken, just as I am now getting some satisfaction from speaking. 1 could tell honorable senators quite a number of amusing stories about the use and misuse of figures. On one occasion when I was in America helping to make dollars - but not too many-1 - for the steel trust, I went to the theatre, and there I saw a negro performing. He was a very amusing gentleman. His first trick was to swallow a plate, and then he went on to show, by using the figure 7, that he was his own grandfather. Certain members of the Parliament, too, can do almost anything with figures.
Most honorable senators may have heard the story about the Christian and the Jew. The Jew was the boss and the Christian was the slave. The Christian had been working long hours for many months without a break, so he went to the Jew and asked for a week’s holiday. The Jew was very civil to him and said, “ Sit down, my friend. You say you want a week’s holiday? “ The Christian replied, “ Yes “. The Jew then said, “ Let us reckon it up. Do you work on Sundays? “ The Christian replied, “ No “. The Jew said, “ Write that down. There are 52 Sundays in a year “. Then he asked, “ Do you work on Saturday afternoons?” The Christian replied, “No”. Then the Jew said, “ Write down another 26 days “. The Jew further asked, “ Do you sleep? “ The Christian replied, “ Certainly. I sleep eight hours a day “. The Jew said to him, “ Put that down. Eight hours constitute one-third of a day, and that means one-third of a year, or another 120-odd days “. Then he asked, “ Do you play? “ The Christian replied, “ Yes, for eight hours a day “. It reminds me of the saying. “ Eight hours’ work, eight hours’ play, and eight bob a day “.
Then the Jew said, “ That means another 120-odd days”. Then he said, “You do not work on Christmas Day, Good Friday and Boxing Day “, and he enumerated all the holidays. He continued, “ Put those down. You have morning and afternoon tea; put those down “. He reckoned it all up, and the result was 379 days. He said to the Christian, “ Good God, you have not been working at all. You owe me fourteen days’ work “. That is an example of what can be done by using figures. In spite of that, it has been proved conclusively that the age pensioner to-day is not receiving, in general values, the same that he received years ago. As I said, that has been proven conclusively, so we need not go into it any further.
The history of social services is very interesting. If we start with the commencement of man’s progress from the time of primeval slime, we find that there has gradually developed an understanding of man’s relation to his fellows. That development has not been uniform. There was a time in the Christian era when all things were had in common. The Essenes were more or less Communist; they had all things in common, and no one went short, of anything. If we read the story of the Indians in America, we find that it was quite common for an Indian from one tribe to visit another tribe and take whatever he wanted without anything being said against it.
Of course, there was a time when old men and women were knocked on the head and dumped over a cliff. I heard a man say the other day that he wished he were knocked on the head. I told him that I had a better system than that whereby he could be sent off very nicely, full of alcohol, and to the accompaniment of music. He liked the idea, but in these modern times we cannot do that. One cannot suggest such things nowadays, but one can understand how nice it would be, if people wanted to pass out, to let them pass out happily to the accompaniment of music. But we are Christians and are on a higher level than that!
Later, with the acquisition of private property, poverty became a crime. We read in the glorious history of the Old Country of times when men were poor, could not find a job, had no money, had to pace from one end of the country to the other, were prosecuted as beggars, punished, and even mutilated by having their ears cut off. We do not do that to-day; we starve them, or nearly starve them.
I have experienced poverty. Although I came from a good home and had no need to starve, on many occasions I went without my breakfast, dinner and tea, and travelled many miles amongst the bottom dogs of the Old Country - amongst those who were forgotten of God and had to live in the workhouses. I went into many workhouses and had the experience of sleeping and working in such institutions. They were the vilest institutions that have ever been conceived in the brain of man. Many poor men and women in the Old Country who were no longer of service to those who wanted to exploit them committed suicide rather than go into a workhouse. The workhouse was a hellish institution. Of course, I was only a casual visitor. I would go to the workhouse, knock at the wicket, and ask to be taken in. I was taken in and given a night’s lodgings. On the next day, I had to crush a hundredweight of stone and, when it was small enough, pass it through a grille. After I had done that I was given a slice of bread, a glass of water and possibly one and a half ounces of cheese. At one workhouse, I had to cut quite a number of logs for many hours, after which I got my glass of water and slice of bread, without cheese, to enable me to walk on to the next workhouse.
I am happy to say that that vile, rotten, inhuman kind of institution has passed. When I was in the Old Country two years ago I went to a workhouse and saw the happy faces of many men and women who were housed there and were receiving their pay. I thought back 50 years and realized how vastly different things were as the result of the activities of men and women of the Labour movement who fought for the abolition of that system and for the passing of a pension act so that people could get a pension when they reached a certain age. The original age pension in England was 5s. a week and was paid when a person reached 75 years of age. Of course, very few reached that age. But those who reached that age after a lifetime of work for the exploiters of that gallant little island in the North Sea were given 5s. a week. When this law was first promulgated, many lords rode up and down the country telling meetings that if the bill was passed, it would destroy individuality and the sturdy independence of the workers of England. A payment of 5s. a week!
Those of us who have lived long enough and experience these things know that, at every turn, we were bitterly, strongly and violently opposed by those who would say now that they are in favour of the welfare state. I am not saying anything against our friends on the Government side. They are in favour of a modicum of assistance to the pensioners. They feel in their hearts that they are doing a kindly, Christian act, but, somehow, they do not give the pensioners enough. Every man who has had anything to do with the pensioners knows the suffering that is being experienced throughout Australia as a result of our niggardly approach to this great problem. lt is remarkable that, in this modern age, when technology has reached such a high peak and our scientists work marvels in many ways, we cannot solve this problem of keeping our aged warm in winter, feeding them and bringing a little happiness into the eventide of their lives. We do, in a charitable way, support some humanitarian activities. Some people are pleased to do good, and it is as well that we have in the community those who will do their bit for the pensioners. The Government talks about bringing a Briton to Australia. That is very good indeed. Perhaps, in the present social, economic and political set-up, it might be a good thing if every person -would consider making a friend of an age pensioner. Recently, my wife and I have done something in that direction, and I was surprised how much happiness we brought into a home because we befriended two elderly people. We do not say that our activities should rest at that. The Labour movement believes that Australia is productive enough, and has developed sufficiently, to enable us to give to the pensioners sufficient food, clothing, shelter and the amenities of life to make them happy.
I have heard Senator Cameron point out, time and time again, how we have progressed in the field of production, yet, when we suggest that we give to the pensioners blankets which are no longer used because of a reduction in the number of national servicemen, the Government turns away from us and tells us that it cannot be done because of financial considerations. Was there ever such a pathetic answer to an intelligent suggestion in these days of “ Comrade Sputnik “ ? In these days of economic advancement and prolific production, the men and women who have worked for a lifetime cannot be kept warm except through the efforts of charitable persons or the activities of a newspaper. In Brisbane, every winter, the “ Courier-Mail “ conducts a blanket appeal, lt is an appeal to the charitable people of the community, who form only a small percentage, because many persons never subscribe to such appeals. The “ Courier-Mail “ has to appeal for blankets when this Governnent has thousands of Army blankets in store, where they are being eaten by wogs.
What is it that prevents these people from getting what they should from the community? In our family life, we look after our children and those who are dependent on us. The way we treat our aged, our sick and our children is a criterion by which our modern civilization will be judged. Under modern financial capitalism, we are unable to solve this problem, because finances will not permit it. Consider the home of any aged couple and what they purchase each week. Nearly every article, with the exception of tea, is produced in Australia.
We employ airmen, soldiers and many other individuals in the defence forces. They are well fed, housed and cared for generally. The modern soldier is on a much better wicket than were the soldiers of old. The modern soldier does not have to be cold in winter or go short of food. Not one of them goes short of the necessaries of life except through his own fault, yet, in these days of great technological advances and scientific invention, we cannot treat our aged people as we treat our soldiers. It is no wonder the totalitarian countries sneer at our democracy. We boast continually of our democracy. We boast about what a wonderful system it is, that we are free men, that we are not totalitarians, that we have not got dictators, that we have Mr. Menzies, Brother Spooner and all those kind gentlemen-
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Anderson). - Order!
– Not one word against them do I say. We have all these highly intelligent and learned men of great experience looking after our democracy, yet when the Labour party asks that a few more shillings be given to the pensioners, it cannot be done. There is something radically wrong when a government that possesses the power and ability to place the burden of taxation upon certain shoulders denies to the age pensioners of this country the right to a decent livelihood.
We have heard much talk about how this problem could be solved by some superannuation scheme. We have the wheat, the wool, the meat, the butter and the cheese, but we cannot solve this problem until we evolve a superannuation scheme that will meet with the wishes of the people! Some years ago we passed legislation to introduce what was called a national insurance scheme. The act was never proclaimed. Now, Senator Gorton and other serious-minded men are suggesting a superannuation scheme. Some people are suggesting it in England. I admit that the Labour party there is suggesting it. I admit that at the Blackpool conference a scheme under which the workers were to pay so much a week was put forward.
When we analyse the position properly, we see that a real effort is made by those who are paying heavy taxation to place the burden upon the shoulders of the workers. Why, everything that is being done in the community is paid for by the workers. Posterity cannot do it. All the work and all the services are being carried out now, but the one thing that stands out in this Parliament and everywhere else is the strenuous effort on the part of various people to make claims upon the labour power of the people. Because we have to meet out of revenue the expense of age pensions and other social services, the people who are paying taxation are looking for superannuation and other schemes calculated to take from the worker part of his wages or part of his claim on what has been produced so that their taxation bill will be reduced. That is their sole purpose.
The Labour government established the National Welfare Fund. It spread the burden of taxation in such a way that those who were best able to afford it had to bear it. The only difference now is that it is called a tax and the Government seeks to bluff and mislead the people by coming out with wonderful superannuation schemes. Mark my words, many honorable senators on this side, too, do not fully understand the situation. Senator Cameron has tried time and time again to explain it. Let us look at the question from a commodity stand-point, and forget the actual money. The fact is that all the work of feeding age pensioners is being done now. The Governments’ main concern seems to be to shift the burden from one man’s shoulders to those of another. Senator Gorton rather pathetically said that it would be a terrible thing because, in effect, to grant these improvements would mean imposing a tax upon the young man and other persons younger than 65 years of age. Who is bearing the burden now? The young man, the man who is working is doing it! There is no difference in circumstances at all. In reality, all the work is being done now. The aged are being fed - to some extent. We on this side want to see them fed better. That would mean the payment of only a few extra shillings by this person or the other. I plead with the members of the Government, as intelligent men, not to wait and argue for years about superannuation and all the rest of it. Give the pensioners these increases now, and make the payments retrospective to 1st July last.
I wonder who is to speak after me. I do not know. I could conclude now, I daresay. Whether I have done any good, I do not know, but I should like honorable senators to think of what I have said.
In conclusion, let me deal with my dear friend Senator Henty. I have no ill feeling towards any man. I hate no man. I cannot. It is impossible for me to hate any man. But I hope I can criticize, and I want to criticize fairly, not personally. To my mind it is pathetic that this modern Parliament, this legislative head of the country, an organization that we have set up and in which we believe, should have failed in this instance. Although we are trying to show to the world how superior we are, although we are trying to show that we are far in advance of Russia, China, the totalitarians and the so-called godless men, we have bungled many of these reforms.
I was about to deal with Senator Henty’s speech. In the old days, when I first entered this Parliament, Ministers knew their bills. They spoke from a few notes, and we had a real debate. All we have to-day, however, is something akin to a kindergarten. The Minister reads word for word a prepared speech made in another place. And we wonder why the Senate is degenerating!
Our good friend Senator Henty read certain figures. I do not know whether honorable senators on the Government side think we on this side are a lot of morons, idiots, or nitwits. I do not blame Brother Henty in this matter. I suppose we have done the same thing ourselves. I forget the exact amount he mentioned. I think it was £200,748,000. He stated quite proudly that the Menzies-Fadden Administration proposed to spend £200,748,000 on social services. The Government flatters itself, it puffs out its chest like a pouter pigeon about this £200,748,000. Then, after making this proud boast, Senator Henty pointed to what the Labour government had spent on social services. He scathingly stated that in its last year of office the Labour government spent only £70,000,000. He said not one word about the difference in conditions operating then and now, nor did he refer to the fact that inflation is with us and that more inflation will take place. It might increase before the present Government goes out next year, or perhaps the year after or in five years’ time. I do not know.
However, the honorable senator said that this Government is spending £200,748,000 while the Labour government spent only £70,000,000! What sophistry it is! What a stupid, misleading argument to attempt to put over intelligent people! Conditions are entirely different now. Inflation is with us to-day. Above all, the poor old pensioner is suffering daily because this Government, tied hand and foot as it is by financial capitalism, cannot use the commodities that are produced so prolifically in Australia even to feed and keep warm these dear old people who have done so much for Australia.
– in reply - I think that this has been one of the best debates on social services that we have had in this chamber for many a year. A great deal of thought has been put into the matter and many suggestions have been made by honorable “senators. We have been able to draw upon the experience of men who have been here a long, long time, and who have had in other countries experiences which we in this country have never had - thank goodness! I shall not occupy unduly the time of the Senate now, because it is essential that we ensure that pensioners are paid the increased rates next Thursday. A few points raised have been noted by the department. Contrary to what has been stated by the last speaker, notice is taken of anything that is said in this chamber. Only a little while ago I had the privilege of seeing the notes made in many of the departments. I was very pleased indeed to find that the suggestions made in this chamber from both sides - not only on social services, but also on taxation and other matters - are recorded, and reviewed each year before these bills come before us.
– Are they understood?
– The contributions made on this subject and on others from both sides of the chamber have been noted and, I believe, understood, so the last speaker was, in regard to that aspect, quite out of touch with reality.
I want to deal briefly with the Opposition’s amendment, which proposes that the bill be redrafted and that the increased rates operate from 1st July, 1957, and be related to a fixed percentage of the unpegged basic wage. In the first place, it is quite plain to us all that the Government will not take any action which would result in delay in making the increased payments available to pensioners and beneficiaries. The Government, therefore, is unable to accept the amendment. The question of retrospective payment is one which has been consistently raised at this time every year. It has, however, been accepted as a sound budgetary practice, by both the Opposition and the Government, that increases in social service benefits should operate from the first pay day after the authorizing legislation has been assented to. That is a sound and tried practice that has operated over the years. Indeed, the late Mr. Chifley, when Prime Minister and Treasurer in 1948, firmly stated in another place that his Government would not depart from this well-established principle. The present Government has adhered to this policy, with regard not only to social benefits, but also to repatriation pensions, and it does not now propose to vary it.
The second part of the amendment proposes that social service payments should bear the same relation to the unpegged basic wage as they did under the Chifley Government, in 1948. The relevant year to be taken into account is not 1948, but 1949, when the Government assumed office. ‘
– No, 1948.
– I hurried over that passage, because it might be somewhat controversial. The year 1949 is not quite so good a year as 1948 for the Opposition’s arguments. 1 know that the Opposition would sooner make a comparison with 1948 than with 1949. The unpegged basic wage to which the Opposition refers is a purely fictitious concept. It has no existence in fact. The basic wage is that which is fixed by the Arbitration Court. It is £12 16s. - no more, and no less. In addition, the basic wage now includes elements other than needs, and it is not regarded as a satisfactory yardstick for pension rates. Pensions have never been related to the basic wage, pegged or unpegged.
Pensions were adjusted in accordance with variations in the cost of living from 1933 to 1937, and from 1940 to 1944. The system was never satisfactory and was finally abandoned by the Labour government. One of the main weaknesses in such a system is that the cost of living varies from State to State, whereas the rate of pension must be uniform throughout the Commonwealth. The system suggested by the Opposition was tried. Over the years, it was found not to work, and it was abandoned by a Labour government.
The best, or perhaps the only available yardstick for measuring the purchasing value of the pension is undoubtedly the C series retail price index number. If we use this basis, we find that the pension of £4 7s. 6d. proposed in this bill has a purchasing power which is 10s. lid. in excess of the pension of £2 2s. 6d., in 1949, when this Government took office. In addition, we always tend to overlook the fact that, quite apart from monetary values, free medical and hospital benefits, which are available now, did not operate in that year.
I want to refer, briefly, to the statements made by Senator Cole concerning the appointment of an independent tribunal. I fully appreciate his sincerity and the sincerity of others in relation to this matter. But such a tribunal would, in effect, determine the amount of revenue to be appropriated each year for social services, without having any responsibility for raising that revenue. In other words, it would take from the hands of the elected representatives of the people, in this Parliament, the power of deciding what proportion of the available finance should be allocated to social services. I do not think that we will ever reach a stage where the elected representatives of the people will not take the responsibility for raising revenue and determining expenditure, and being judged by the people for what they have done. That is the way that democracy works. With an expected expenditure of over £200,000,000 in 1957-58, social services becomes a major Budget item which cannot be considered apart from the Government’s other commitments.
The Government is unable to accept any of the proposed amendments. To do so would throw into confusion the arrangements which have already been set in train to make the increases provided in the bill available at the earliest possible date. We propose to follow the soundly tested procedures and practices of this Government and previous governments.
I listened with great interest to Senator Cooke’s remarks on the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, and 1 refer him to a booklet which was produced recently and which shows that this is a very active branch of social services. I pay a tribute to the girls who train for this work. Whilst they are training, they receive very low wages indeed. We would all commend them for their services. I draw the honorable senator’s attention to the fact that this work is being extended, and the department is making provision for it in ever-increasing degree.
J think that that covers the position for the moment. There are a number of other comments which I have not answered at this stage, but I should like honorable senators to know that, as 1 have said before, these matters are taken into account each year when social services are considered. The Minister who is charged with the responsibility gives adequate attention to them and makes such improvements as he can each year.
Question put -
That the words proposed be left out (Senator Toohey’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The Deputy President - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title and citation).
– I move -
That the clause be postponed,
As an instruction to the Government - that, immediately on payment of the present increases, provision should be made for the establishment of an independent tribunal to ascertain and inform the Parliament of suitable amounts which should be made payable for the comfort and needs of the various recipients of welfare payments.
There has been opposition from both sides, in the speeches I have heard, to the establishment of an independent tribunal. However, I believe that the only way the pensioners will receive justice is by the establishment of an independent tribunal, in order to remove pensions from politics. That is the objective of the amendment, and I believe that honorable senators who really desire to see justice given to the pensioners will vote for it.
An independent tribunal is one that is not subject to parliamentary pressure. Time after time the pensioners have been used as political footballs by the party in power in the hope of gaining a political advantage. That has been going on for years and years. Senator Aylett contended that we should not give away our right as a Parliament to decide the rates of pensions. If that is not a foolish argument, particularly when we remember what has happened under successive governments of different political colour, I do not know what is.
The Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) has stated that, as the Government is responsible for raising the revenue, the expenditure of the money should not be left to an outside body. I remind him that independent tribunals have fixed public service salaries and our own allowances. Therefore, there is no valid reason why an independent tribunal should not fix the rates of pensions.
During my speech on the motion for the second reading of the bill, I referred to the raising of the necessary money. I believe that an independent tribunal would give justice to the pensioners. If the tribunal is selected with discretion and is composed of people who have the pensioners’ welfare at heart and also pay regard to the legal position, and if it is under the chairmanship of a judge, I believe that the pensioners would be given more than the miserable pittance that they are now receiving because the Government is its own tribunal. The Government has been the tribunal ever since age pensions were established, and what a poor job governments of the past have done! Pensions should be removed entirely from the field of politics, and placed in the hands of an independent tribunal. It would then be the responsibility of the Parliament to find the money with which to pay the pensioners the rate considered adequate for their needs.
– I second the amendment. For years now this Parliament has witnessed the degrading spectacle of elderly men and women lobbying Ministers and members of both Houses of Parliament in an endeavour to obtain pension increases. Obviously, many of them have not been in a fit state to undergo the ordeal. Honorable senators who have conversed with them have been distressed that they should be obliged to come here at all. Under the present system they have no alternative to applying political pressure in that way if they wish to improve their lot. The amendment embodies one of the most commendable suggestions for dealing with the matter that could possibly be submitted to the Parliament. It asks us to take pensions out of the realm of politics. I am convinced that honorable senators, however they vote on it, agree in their hearts that a properly constituted and independent tribunal should fix pension rates. Honorable senators would then be relieved of the necessity - often very unpleasant - of having to reject the approaches of pensioners’ representatives.
I was amazed that the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) should have seen fit to suggest that the prestige or powers of the Parliament would suffer if such a tribunal were given the responsibility of recommending pension increases. After all, the Parliament would retain the right to express its approval or otherwise during the annual Budget debate. As a public servant in the State of Victoria, my salary was fixed by an independent tribunal, but no one ever suggested that the Victorian Parliament suffered any loss of prestige as a result.
In the federal sphere, the Government relies upon independent tribunals to fix the salaries of its servants. Members of the Parliament appointed an independent tribunal to adjudicate upon their own salaries. I am amazed that the Government should be so selfish as to say that the pensioners should not receive the consideration that parliamentarians demand for themselves. The only difference between the tribunals would be that perhaps members had taken greater care to ensure that their own tribunal was likely to be sympathetic.
– Would such a tribunal as the honorable senator advocates decide the extent to which the means test would operate?
– I see no reason why such a tribunal should not be empowered to make recommendations on all aspects of pensions.
– That is not implied in the amendment.
– I am satisfied with the Way in which it has been drawn up, and I propose to discuss it on that basis. Are the people to be told that this Parliament demands that an independent tribunal decide the salaries of its members, and those of public servants, but will not extend the same privilege to the pensioner? I may add that in Victoria both the Liberal party and the Australian Labour party supported the principle that the salaries of public servants should be fixed by an independent tribunal. In the circumstances, surely the Government will not deny the pensioner a similar privilege?
– I dealt with this aspect of the bill in an earlier speech. The Government cannot accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the clause be postponed (Senator Cole’s amendment).
The committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator R. W. Pearson.)
Majority . . . . 47
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 -
This Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
.- I move -
Leave out “ come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent “, insert “ be deemed to have come into operation on the first day of July, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven “.
The amendment relates to the retrospective payment of pension increases to those who are to benefit under the terms of the bill. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber believe that in view of the extremely small nature of the pension increases, namely 7s. 6d., the payment of those increases should be made retrospective to 1st July. Honorable senators opposite might cavil at the additional expenditure involved. From inquiries I have made, I have elicited that the amount would be in the vicinity of £4,000,000. In terms of a budget approximating between £1,300,000,000 and £1,400,000,000, it seems to me to be reasonable to ask that this extra £4,000,000 be provided to give at least some measure of relief, particularly to those pensioners who have no income other than their pensions.
I assure honorable senators opposite that the pensioners themselves are very conscious of the need for retrospectivity on this occasion. Indeed, I have had communications from officials of pensioners’ organizations asking me to use whatever powers of persuasion I have at my command for the purpose of ensuring that retrospectivity shall be granted. It is not too much to ask. It can be truly said that 95 per cent, of the pensioners throughout Australia believed, and indeed expected, that they would receive considerably more than the 7s. 6d. increase set out in the bill. We on this side of the chamber cannot alter - that amount, but we can attempt at this eleventh hour to persuade the Government, in view of the established fact that the increases do not in any way match up with the expectations or the requirements of the pensioners, to make the payments retrospective to 1st July. The sum of approximately £4,000,000 which would be involved in such a gesture would not be missed by this Government, which has on occasions during the last five or six years spent considerably more than that on projects which have returned the country little or nothing. I do not intend to mention those projects, but honorable senators will have a fair idea what I mean. However, be that as it may. We on this side of the chamber are firmly of the opinion–
– Has the honorable senator always been like that?
– All the members of his party?
– We have always been like that in regard to social services and we are prepared at any time to measure our record against that of the party to which Senator Scott belongs. I think I dealt effectively with that aspect of the situation last night. Unless Senator Scott wants a repeat of the statement which I made about the Government’s very poor record on social services, I intend to deal with the amendment.
– The honorable senator would not be game to say that sort of thing twice.
-I think the truth will bear telling a million times.I told honorable senators last night the truth about their record as it applies to social services. However, I am not going to be side-tracked. In the course of my remarks in support of the amendments which I will be moving from time to time, I shall have ample opportunity to remind honorable senators opposite, first, of their record in respect of social services, and secondly, of the many deficiencies associated with that record. Senator Kendall’s action just now in crossing the floor of the chamber to hand me a glass of water seems to indicate that he is so ashamed of his colleague’s attacks upon me that he is trying to ease the impact. I very much appreciate what he has done.
Apparently supporters of the Government are prepared to be vocal at this stage in their opposition to what I have to say, but let them demonstrate the sincerity of their attitude towards the pensioners by wholeheartedly supporting the amendment, which provides that the pension increases shall be made retrospective to 1st July.
– I dealt with this point at the second-reading stage.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Toohey’s amendment) be left out.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 8
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Proposed new clause 2a.
– On behalf of the Opposition, I move -
After clause 2, insert the following new clause: - “ 2a. Section nineteen of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (2.) all words after the word ‘ Australia ‘ and inserting in their stead the words ‘ unless he is nomadic.’.”.
This amendment deals with the position of an aboriginal native of Australia in respect of age and invalid pensions. So that the sense of the amendment will be apparent, I quote the relevant part of section 19 of the principal act. It reads -
An age pension or an invalid pension may be granted to an aboriginal native of Australia if -
he is for the time being exempt from the provisions of the law of the State or Territory in which he resides relating to the control of aboriginal natives; or
he resides in a State or Territory the law of which does not make provision for such exemption, and the DirectorGeneral is satisfied that, by reason of the character and of the standard of intelligence and social development of the native, it is desirable that a pension should be granted to him, but shall not otherwise be granted to such a native
I hope that the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) will not use the same excuse as he used in relation to the previous amendment for refraining from commenting upon this amendment, because it is one matter to which he did not refer during his second-reading speech.
We of the Labour party think it is completely wrong that an aboriginal native of Australia should be subjected to different conditions of entitlement to an age or invalid pension from those which apply to white people. We say it is completely wrong that the question whether he should receive a pension should be determined upon somebody’s assumption about his standard of intelligence, social development or character. Surely, if we believe in equality we should all be completely in agreement with the assertion that the native, subject to his not being completely nomadic, should come within the scope of social service benefits and should not have added restrictions imposed upon him. Has the Government considered the position of a person who falls below the requirements to which reference is made in section 19 (2.) of the act, but who cannot be classed as being nomadic. I do not think they have, and I am positive there is no provision in the act for a person who falls somewhere between the two categories. The social development and character of a native, and whether he is completely nomadic, are determined by some person or persons. If we accept the fact that there is no provision for that group of individuals who fall between the two categories, it follows of necessity that their development is being retarded. Indeed, the terms of their qualification for the age and invalid pension are much more difficult to meet.
It can reasonably be said that once a native ceases to be completely nomadic in his habits and shows even the beginning of a tendency to become civilized, he should be encouraged with all the social service provisions that are available to people of the white race in Australia. No matter what argument might be adduced against the contention of the Australian Labour party that is implicit in the amendment, it cannot be denied that there is discrimination between black and white persons. I should like to hear the Minister’s views on this matter, because no tribunal assumes any responsibility in determining the standard of development or the character of a white person who, because of ill health or age, is entitled to an invalid or age pension. As these provisions do not apply to a white person, but do apply to these unfortunate natives, we must conclude that this is absolute discrimination against those whose colour is different from ours.
I shall be interested to hear the arguments of the supporters of the Government against the amendment which has two main objectives. The first is to remove the discrimination between Australian aborigines and those of the white race that is implicit in the act. The second is to have explained to us how these people are to be uplifted if they are not to be given the conditions that white people enjoy.
It is true that some missions do wonderful work and, to some extent, bring certain aborigines up to the standard of development that is referred to in such a peculiar way in the existing act. However, if Government supporters have a sense of justice and accept their responsibilities to the aborigines, they will vote for the Labour party’s amendment.
– The Opposition has circulated a number of amendments relating to aborigines. In effect, those amendments would entitle aborigines to pensions and other benefits under the usual qualifying conditions unless the natives were nomadic. I should make it plain at the outset that the constitutional power over and, consequently, responsibility for aborigines, rest with the States, except in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Where the States have adopted procedures whereby aborigines are granted exemption certificates from the provisions of the law relating to the control of aboriginal natives, it is reasonable that, in general, the Commonwealth should accept the holder of such a certificate as eligible for social service benefits.
The fact of being nomadic would, under the Opposition’s amendments, be the sole cause of disqualification from social service benefits. This is unrealistic, as many aboriginal natives live in State-controlled reserves which, from their very nature, pre- vent the natives from being nomadic. Yet the fact that they are required to live on reserves is indicative of the fact that it is not considered proper by the State concerned to grant them certificates of exemption.
A statement has been prepared on the terms under which Australian aborigines may qualify for Commonwealth social services. Copies of it will be made available to any honorable senators who are interested. In the circumstances, the Government does not propose to accept the Opposition’s amendments.
The Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) has treated the amendment in cavalier fashion. He has said that the Australian Labour party had circulated numerous amendments and implied that because they are numerous, each of them should not be judged on its merits. Today, Senator Gorton presented to the Senate formally a petition signed by more than 15,000 persons in Victoria praying for a better deal for the aborigines.
– Praying for an alteration of the Constitution.
– That is true. The Minister has not given any indication that the Government will try to give greater justice to the aborigines. The Australian people will no longer tolerate the wiping out of a whole race of aborigines as was done in Tasmania. The Minister did not mention that change of attitude, nor did he refer to the growing criticism that we hear from our allies overseas of our attitude towards our aborigines.
This worthy amendment seeks to give our coloured people equality with Europeans. Immigrants are coming into Australia from Malta and southern European countries. If we can pay child endowment and maternity allowances in respect of children born to southern Europeans, it is more than time that we paid those allowances also to our aborigines. The insincerity of Government supporters is shown clearly when they are prepared to recognize with words, and only with words, the campaign to lift the less fortunate Australian native people out of squalor and hunger, and to treat them as human beings. They are neglecting these people and turning a blind eye to their needs at a time when all Australian governments are being severely criticized for their treatment of the aborigines.
– Which country is criticizing us?
– We are being criticized by some of the countries which are members of the United Nations. Every time they get a chance they criticize the way we are treating the natives of Papua and New Guinea, and they make slight digs at the way we are treating our own aborigines. We should be above such criticism. Their propaganda machine is fed while we allow a state of affairs like this to continue. I have lived amongst these aborigines. When I was a bookkeeper on the Paroo in western Queensland, there were tribes who were partly nomadic. They lived on the Cuttaburra, Warrego and Paroo rivers. I used to supply them with rations when I was on Caiwarro station and I got a very good insight into their mentality. They liked to go on walkabouts, but they were not nomadic. They were very faithful people, a very kindly people. They did have some bad habits amongst themselves.
– They are not the only ones.
– That is quite true. There might be people in those flying saucers going round the world who are looking down on us and saying, “ What a funny lot of people they are down there “. As Bobby Burns said -
O wad some pow’r the giftie gie us To see oursels as others see us!
These aborigines are human beings. They are made in God’s image. They have a soul and they need sympathetic, Christian consideration from this Parliament. There is nothing wrong with the amendment that has been moved by Senator Toohey. It is an attempt to advance the status and welfare of these people who are putting forward a claim, after 100 years of neglect, and it is more than time that this Parliament snapped out of its cynicism, its sarcasm and its ignorance and did something to help them.
– As some honorable senators do not seem to be aware of the present position, and as I have an explanation prepared, 1 think it will be as well if I read it. There is nothing wrong with the amendment moved by Senator Toohey except that it is unconstitutional, and that is a great difficulty to overcome at this stage. I was most dreadfully sorry that the colour question was raised. There is no such thing as the colour bar in this democracy of ours. The amendment, if it were accepted, and if it were constitutional, would provide for all aborigines except those who are nomadic. I suppose when they are nomadic they turn white! The amendment itself makes for discrimination. There is no discrimination, and no colour bar has ever been raised under our legislation. There is no suggestion of it in this bill. Let me tell honorable senators what is done at present.
Child endowment may be granted to an aboriginal mother in all cases except where she is nomadic or where the children are wholly or mainly maintained by the Commonwealth or a State. A maternity allowance may be granted to an aboriginal mother who has been granted exemption from the provisions of the law of the State or Territory in which she resides relating to the control of aboriginal natives. Provision for the granting of certificates of exemption exists in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. Consequently, in those States, only those aboriginal mothers who have been granted certificates of exemption are eligible for maternity allowances. In Victoria, where there is no provision for certificates of exemption, an aboriginal mother may receive a maternity allowance if the Department of Social Services is satisfied that, by reason of her character, standard of intelligence and social development, it is desirable that a maternity allowance should be granted to her. In practice, an aboriginal mother residing in Victoria is paid a maternity allowance if her standard of living is such that she would be likely to be granted .a certificate of exemption if she were residing in a State which provides for exemption. “These provisions apply only to natives in whom aboriginal blood predominates. They do not apply to half-castes and lighter caste aboriginal mothers, who are eligible for maternity allowances under the same conditions as white persons.
The provisions of the Social Services Act relating to the eligibility of aborigines for age and invalid pensions are the same as for maternity allowances. Pensions are not, however, granted to half-castes and lighter castes who live on aboriginal reserves or settlements. This is in accordance with policy followed by successive governments for many years. The view is taken that half-castes who elect to live on reserves set apart for the exclusive use of aborigines should not be placed in a more favourable position in regard to pensions than natives with a preponderance of aboriginal blood.
An aboriginal native may be paid the unemployment benefit subject to the same conditions as apply to other claimants, if the Department of Social Services is satisfied that, by reason of his character, standard of intelligence and social development, he is a suitable person to receive payment. Compliance with the normal conditions of entitlement is, in itself, to a large extent indicative of the fact that the native is a suitable person to receive the unemployment benefit. For example, he must be capable of, and willing to undertake, suitable employment.
The conditions under which sickness benefits are granted to aborigines are, broadly, the same as for age, invalid and widows’ pensions.
– I am amazed at the attitude taken by the Minister on this matter. If I heard him correctly, he said that the Constitution does not provide for the extension by the Commonwealth of social services to aboriginal natives of Australia. If that is so, why do we see in the Social Services Act a provision that an age or invalid pension may be granted to an aboriginal native of Australia, and why does the act then set out the qualifications necessary before this shall be done? I challenge the Minister to prove that there is any constitutional barrier to giving effect to what is sought by the amendment I have moved.
I also join issue with him on his statement that we on this side raised the colour bar. The Government raises it by the restrictive provisions contained “in the Social Services Act. All we have done is to accept the fact that there is discrimination. Having accepted and established the fact that there is discrimination, we say it is discrimination in favour of the white against the black. His sneering reference to an exclusion of those aborigines who are nomadic was an utterly stupid statement because anybody who has any understanding of the matter knows that the native who is looked upon as nomadic is the one who is completely tribalized and not in contact in any way with civilization. Senator Henty, by the fatuousness of his remarks, is probably suggesting that instead of excluding the nomadic natives we should round them up and let them be given the same privileges as are extended to those aborigines who, because of some contact with civilization, are not now nomadic. I sincerely trust that the Minister will give a more sensible reply to amendments we propose to move later.
.- I should like to read a short statement prepared by Mr. Michael Sawtell, Government appointee on the Aborigines Welfare Board of New South Wales. I mention, in parenthesis, that I have known Mr. Sawtell for the last 50 years or more as a man who has taken a very active interest all the time in the welfare of the aborigines of this country. This is what he says in a statement circulated throughout New South Wales -
Aborigines are entitled to sickness and unemployment benefits, irrespective of the applicant’s caste or place of residence.
The same position does not exist so far as Commonwealth pensions are concerned. These are only paid to exempted aborigines living off stations or reserves, or if living on a reserve which is not under the supervision of a manager. This distinction, in the Board’s view, is illogical and unjust, but despite repeated representations, the Commonwealth authorities adhere to this rule. As a result of this discrimination, aborigines are frequently obliged to move off the Board’s stations in order to qualify for a pension, some even taking up residence immediately outside the station boundary.
Efforts to secure full Commonwealth social service benefits to all aborigines in New South Wales, whether exempted from the provisions of the Aborigines Protection Act or not, will continue.
Sitting suspended from 5.46 to 8 p.m.
– by leave - Honorable senators will recall that on 3rd September I made, by leave, a statement that defined in detail the Govern ment’s civil aviation policy. In that statement, I dealt at some length with the Government’s plan for the expansion of air services to and from Australia. I referred specifically to the agreement signed in Washington in August last, whereby traffic rights were exchanged as between the United States and Australia. It will be recalled further that an important consequence of this agreement was authority for our own overseas airline, Qantas Empire Airways Limited, to extend its Pacific service beyond San Francisco to New York and across the Atlantic to Europe. It remained for the Australian Government to obtain the approval of the United Kingdom Government to the granting of the necessary traffic rights at London on this North American routing, and I said then that an Australian delegation would proceed to London immediately for that purpose.
It is not without some pride and satisfaction that I now report the achievement in London on 4th October of a most comprehensive air services agreement. Subject to ratification by the two governments concerned, this agreement will result in the development of a most impressive pattern of British Commonwealth air routes converging, in the north, on the United Kingdom and, in the south, on Australia. The negotiations were carried out against a background provided by the traditional civil aviation partnership between our two countries in the operations conducted over the now historic “ Kangaroo “ route through the Middle East. Great advantages have accrued from this partnership and it is an essential part of our philosophy in British Commonwealth relations that these social and economic advantages deriving as they do from the vital importance of air communications, should be permitted to multiply.
The main immediate Australian requirement was, of course, the achievement of the rights at London to which I have referred. These were readily accorded by the United Kingdom authorities and Qantas will, it is expected, give practical expression to these rights by inaugurating its direct round-the-world service before the end of this year. This will be achieved by linking the new Pacific-North America-Atlantic route, already named the “ Southern Cross “ route - an honour of which Australians need no reminder - with the “ Kangaroo “ route. In my earlier statement I mentioned that Qantas planned to commence new international services in the near future from Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. Rights to serve these same cities have now been given to their partner, British Overseas Airways Corporation.
Turning from the immediate to the future, the agreement envisages with complete confidence, a truly global pattern of air routes for Qantas and B.O.A.C. Both governments have agreed to permit services on the following routes to serve, in due course, both the United Kingdom and Australia: - First, a route via the central Pacific, Mexico and the United States; secondly, a southern-Pacific route via South America and the Atlantic; thirdly, a route via the Far East, Japan and the north Pacific or over the North Pole; and fourthly, a route via Antarctica.
I am happy to be able to inform the Senate, therefore, that the objectives which the Government had in mind have been completely achieved. For this result we are, of course, indebted to the United Kingdom authorities who extended every assistance and co-operation to our delegation.
In committee: Consideration resumed (vide page 521).
– When the sitting was suspended, I was about to say that when T received that printed circular which I read, I telephoned Mr. Michael Sawtell and asked if he could amplify it in any way, making the amplification as brief as he possibly could. Yesterday I received the following short communication from him -
In answer to your kind inquiry about full-blood aborigines living in civilization and the old age pension, here are the facts. I explained the facts to the Honorable the Minister for Social Services and his secretary in a brief interview at Dubbo about a couple of months ago, and later received a reply from the Minister in which he just quoted to me constitutional facts, from which it is evident that the Minister does not understand what the Aborigines Welfare Board of New South Wales is asking for, and all other good Australians support. For many years the board has been asking for more humane and intelligent treatment of full-blood and near full-blood aborigines living in the civilized parts of Australia and the Commonwealth social services, but the Government hides behind the Constitution. Over 30,000 copies of the attached letter-
That is the letter that I have read - have been sent in to both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Social Services explaining this matter. Also the Honorable the Minister for the Army and Senator Anderson of New South Wales have heard me explain the matter at Liberal party meetings in Sydney. I have explained again and again all that is needed is for the Commonwealth to put all the responsibility of exemptions on the State welfare bodies, and when we exempt the full-blood aborigines, then the Commonwealth could pay the social services without question. We want the aged full bloods on our stations where our managers and matrons can care for and protect these aged aborigines. All over New South Wales, Rotary clubs, Lions, Apex, C.W.A. and all the churches are supporting this just and humane plea. I am also pleading for the fullblood aborigines all over Australia who are quickly becoming detribalized into civilization. (Signed) Michael Sawtell.
As I have said, I have known Mr. Sawtell, I think, for more than 50 years, from the early days of Western Australia, where my own experience of the treatment of aborigines goes back as far as 1894 or 1895. I saw there the outrageous and atrocious manner in which some white people treated the aborigines. On the other hand, we had Michael Sawtell and others who took up the opposite attitude, but they were always in the minority, just as they are in the minority to-day. What is the position overall? The aborigines have been expropriated from the land and they have been treated as derelicts. From my point of view - and I have had considerable experience - the treatment of them has not improved - except on paper. According to what the Minister has said, on the advice of his officers, everything is all right, but that is not so.
The aborigines in Australia are being treated as inhumanly as the aborigines in other countries have been treated by white men. I regret that there is such a thing as colour prejudice which, in my opinion, is deliberately cultivated. I am relying not on what I have read, but on what I have actually seen. This inhuman treatment is as bad and as rampant to-day as it was years ago. The only men I have met who have taken up the cause of the treatment of the aborigines as human beings and not as inferior animals - of course there may be others - were Mr. Michael Sawtell, of South Australia, Mr. Don McLeod, a Scotsman, and Dr. Duhig, of South Australia, whom I have met only once. We had a long conversation, during which he told me how the aborigines were treated in South Australia when preparations were being made to carry out an atomic experiment. Despite what the Minister has said, 1 have not seen any change for the better. Of course, he sticks to the written word, the written document; as one who has had experience, I stick to the human document. I believe that if I were to travel now, as I travelled years ago, in the backblocks of this country I would see the aborigines being treated as viciously as they were by the explorers of the past. I am asking supporters of the Government, as Christian democrats, to do something, but they are not prepared to do anything beyond what the Minister and his advisers have suggested should be done. I do not say this in anger as much as in sorrow.
Honorable senators opposite do not seem to realize that these people are human beings, just as we are, and are entitled to be treated in the same way as we expect to be treated. But quite the reverse is the case. 1 have had experience of aborigines at Lawler, in the Murchison district of Western Australia. A few of us got together to deal with the picanninnies who had inherited white men’s diseases. In the mornings, I used to wash their eyes and put salve on their sores which had been caused by white men’s diseases, not inherited from their aboriginal parents.
On 24th September, I saw in the Assembly Hall in Sydney a film that had been made recently by people who had had experience of aboriginal children. I saw children treated for diseases and I recalled that years before pictures were shown in Australia, I saw aboriginal children suffering from these diseases and receiving similar treatment. Now, the Government is asking us to believe that it wants to treat the aborigines as human beings, as they should be treated. Senator Toohey, other honorable senators on this side who have had experience of the aborigines, and I consider that the Government should demonstrate its interest in this matter, not by words and explanations, but by proof of what the Government is prepared to do.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 -
Section twenty-eight of the Principal Act is amended -
by omitting from sub-section (1a.) . . .
– I move-
After paragraph (a), insert the following paragraph - “ (aa) by omitting from sub-section (2a.) the words ‘ but does not exceed One thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds ‘; and “.
Two other amendments are consequential upon the acceptance of the amendment which I am now moving. I do not intend to proceed with them if this amendment is lost.
The amendment seeks to extend the ceiling of entitlement. Under the principal act, once a person has property to the value of £1,750, entitlement to a pension ceases. We believe that this situation bristles with anomalies. I shall give one example. If a person had exactly the amount prescribed - £1,750 - in the bank, £200 of that would be exempt from the calculation of £1 in every £10 by which the pension diminishes, and that amount would be reduced to £1,550. That means that the full rate of pension - before the increase suggested by the Government would take effect - would be £208 and the person who had exactly £1,750 would receive a pension of approximately £53 a year. But if a person had £1,751 in property, his entitlement to a pension would cease. It must be obvious to anybody who makes even a cursory examination of the situation that this in an anomaly that must be - and should be - rectified.
Our suggestion in the amendment is a perfectly simple one. We say, “Do away with the ceiling of £1,750 completely and solve the situation by keeping to the principle of reducing the pension by £1 for every £10 by which the prescribed amount is exceeded. If that were done, a person could have property to the limit of £2,480 before entitlement to a pension ceases. Government supporters might think that the proposal to raise the limit by approximately £700 is rather steep, but when they consider the position of the person who is receiving just £1 over the limit I am sure they will see how illogical and unjust it is. I use the word “ unjust “ advisedly. The acceptance of this amendment would do a great deal to alleviate the difficulty confronting those who have practised some degree of thrift during their lifetime, and are now harshly penalized as a result.
I could discuss this aspect of social services for a considerable time, but I think that I have pointed out sufficiently clearly the anomalies created by an absolute ceiling limit of £1,750. The matter deserves the most serious attention of the Government. Indeed, if it has any consideration for the welfare of pensioners who have been thrifty during their lifetime, it will accept the amendment.
Clause agreed to.
Proposed new clause 3a.
.- On behalf of the Opposition, I move -
After clause 3, insert the following new clause: - “ 3a. Section thirty-two of the Principal Act is amended by inserting in sub-section (1.) after the word ‘ pensioner ‘ (second and third occurring) the words ‘ or an age pensioner
This amendment seeks to vary section 32 of the principal act to provide for the wife of an age pensioner the payment received by the wife of an invalid pensioner. 1 refer, of course, to the person between 65 and 70 years of age. Beyond that age another provision covering the position operates, regardless of the wife’s age. The Australian Labour party contends that many women are obliged to devote a tremendous amount of time to the care of an. age pensioner who cannot qualify for the invalid pension. The wives of invalid pensioners receive special consideration, but we have proof that the wives of many age pensioners are young enough to go out to work but cannot do so because of the degree of attention that they must give to their pensioner husband. This anomaly ought to be rectified. If the Government believes in a just application of social service benefits, it should not discriminate as between persons in almost identical circumstances.
In many instances the wife of an age pensioner is under 60 and quite capable of working. If such women are unable to do so because of the ill health of the husband, they should receive the consideration that is extended to the wives of invalid pensioners.
.- I support the amendment. At the outset, I want to say that T do not approve of the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) sitting pat and not attempting to answer the arguments put forward by my colleagues in order that this matter might be ventilated. Surely some answer is called for. I hope that the Minister will at least show more interest than he has so far in the amendments moved on this side of the chamber. The one that we are discussing now has certainly not been moved merely for the sake of moving an amendment. It has been moved because the act creates a glaring anomaly which should be rectified.
Some men who receive an invalid pension, upon reaching the age of 65 years transfer, because of its wider application, to the age pension. The wife of such a person must reach 60 years of age before she is entitled to an age pension. She may well be below that age - in her fifties - when her husband becomes an invalid pensioner, but immediately he transfers to the age pension her allowance ceases. No wife should be inconvenienced in that way. Surely the Government can produce some explanation for its attitude on this matter. To me, it is inexplicable, for the claim of the wife cannot be denied. I am sure that all honorable senators have encountered anomalies of this kind, and have seen the futility of trying to do anything about it while the act remains unamended. I hope that the amendment will receive the support of all honorable senators.
.- I rise to support the amendment and to protest against what I can only describe as the Minister’s arrogance in not bothering toreply when amendments to correct anomalies are moved by my colleagues. I do not know whether he has no information in his possession, or whether he is just treating us with contempt. One can only try to guess at the truth.. If he is not competent to give the reasons why he cannot accept our amendments, we can forgive him, but if he is treating us with contempt we can be pardoned for showing some resentment.
– The pensioners will not like it either.
– If the pensioners take the trouble to read “ Hansard “, they will see very clearly what attitude the Minister is adopting. We have moved two other amendments. The amendment before the one we are discussing now sought to correct a grave anomaly, but still the
Minister sat pat. I should like to ask the Minister, through you, Mr. Chairman, whether we are to take it that he does not know the answers to the questions Opposition senators are asking. He has given no reasons why, in his view, the amendments should not be accepted. If there are such reasons, does he intend just to sit dumb and not inform us of them? I know of many deserving people whom this amendment would help. I have in mind ‘ the case where a husband receives an age pension, but does not qualify for an invalid pension. His wife, many years younger, is duty bound to spend the whole of her time at home looking after him. She cannot go to work to augment their income and so they have to live on the meagre pittance of one age pension.
Surely an amendment of this description is worthy of consideration by the Minister. If he cannot accept the amendment, the Opposition is entitled at least to the courtesy of a statement of his reasons for not accepting it. We have had that courtesy extended to us by other Ministers, who told us why they could not accept amendments we had moved. I advise the Minister concerned - he is a new Minister, and I offer this advice for his benefit - not to adopt the attitude of treating the Opposition with contempt. If he continues to do so, I. shall have to put him in the category in which I put a Minister yesterday, who I said was acting in a most arrogant manner.
– There are just one or two points I should like to make in reply to Senator Toohey. If a husband is permanently incapacitated, a wife’s allowance is paid, whether the husband be an age or invalid pensioner. In practice, all age pensioners of 70 years or over are deemed to be permanently incapacitated, with the result that their wives are deemed eligible for an allowance, although there is no specific provision for that in the act.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Proposed new clause 3b.
– I move -
After clause 3, insert the following new clause: - “ 3b. Section thirty-three of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (1.) the words ‘ Ninety-one pounds ‘ and inserting in their stead the words ‘ one hundred and forty-three pounds
This amendment would have the effect of amending section 33 of the principal act by increasing the wife’s allowance from £91 per annum to £143 per annum. I point out that wives coming under this section have had no increase of their allowance since 1952, but increases have been granted under other sections of the act, with the result that this section has got out of step with others.
– What weekly increase is the honorable senator proposing?
– We propose £1 a week. I hope that question was not put as a trap. As I have said, this section is out of step with other sections of the act because no increase has been made in the amounts provided by it since 1952. Even in this Budget, the Government has increased the allowances for the wives of people drawing sickness and unemployment benefits. I am not attacking it for having done that. I am suggesting, on behalf of honorable senators on this side of the chamber, that the Government should give earnest attention to sections that give rise to anomalies, of which this is one.
We arrived at the figure of £52 per annum by taking the percentage of the basic wage represented by the allowance in 1948 and relating that percentage to the present wage. Government senators will at least concede to us the virtue of consistency in that respect. We believe that the amendment should be accepted. I do not regard the silence of Government senators as meaning that they see no merit in the suggestions we have made this evening. Frankly, I believe that if they examined their innermost minds, most honorable senators on the Government benches would agree with almost all of the amendments we have moved. Do not let us have any misunderstanding about that. I am still hopeful that at some stage of the discussion on the amendments we shall move this evening there will be a change of heart on the part of Government senators and that some very serious anomalies will be corrected.
– I also wish to protest at the contempt that is being shown to members of the Opposition by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty). It is an extraordinary position. Opposition senators are moving amendments and supporting them with arguments, yet the Minister remains in his seat and refuses to make any comment. When the amendments are put to a vote, the members of his party automatically vote against them. lt has been suggested in this chamber on several occasions that there has been a decline in the authority of the Parliament during the last few years. Senator Wright has raised that subject frequently. If evidence were needed of the contempt that members of the Government have for the Opposition in the Senate, it has been supplied by the attitude of the Minister in charge of this bill. 1 have been in the Senate for a long time, but I have never before seen Opposition amendments treated with the contempt with which the Minister has treated to-night our amendments, which have been moved with great seriousness and supported with great weight of argument. I feel that it would be wrong for the Opposition to allow this committee discussion to proceed in this manner - an Opposition senator moving an amendment, placing his arguments before the Senate and being supported by another Opposition senator, but Government senators remaining silent and the Minister taking no notice of our arguments. Each clause is being agreed to by virtually a silent vote. If the Government continues to follow this procedure, I shall ask the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to adopt all possible measures to prevent the speedy passage of the bill. If the arguments that we advance are not to receive proper consideration and if we are not to receive from the Minister some reasons as to why he refuses to accept the amendments, the only effective protest that we shall be able to make will be to use whatever parliamentary means are available to us to delay the passage of the bill.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Proposed new clause 4a.
– I move -
After clause 4, insert the following new clause: - “ 4a. Section fifty-five of the Principal Act is amended by omitting the words ‘ Ten pounds ‘ and inserting in their stead the words ‘ Thirty pounds
I am not very much concerned about whether supporters of the Government are vocal or silent on this matter, but I shall be very interested indeed to see whether one of them is prepared to oppose the amendment. Provision for the payment of a funeral benefit of £10 was inserted in the social service legislation by the Curtin Government as far back as 1943, but now, some fourteen years after, the amount is still the same. My colleagues and I on this side of the chamber feel very strongly about this matter.
Section 55 of the act provides -
Subject to this Division, there shall be payable in respect of a deceased age or invalid pensioner the cost of the funeral of the pensioner or the sum of Ten Pounds whichever is the less.
It is perfectly obvious that the sum that was inserted originally was designed to cover almost exactly the cost of a funeral. If it were not designed for that purpose, the last part of the section would not have been inserted. I suggest that, if we allow another year to go by without making some attempt to rectify what perhaps is one of the gravest anomalies in the social service legislation, the Government will be shown to have failed in its duty and its responsibility towards that section of the community which needs this form of assistance most.
What is the situation in relation to an aged person who is destitute? Of what use is £10 if a deceased pensioner is to have a decent burial? Surely we are not prepared to say to the old people of Australia that, if they die without any assets, they are to be condemned to a pauper’s funeral, to be cast upon the charity of their neighbours or upon the good feelings of some of their friends. Can one go to a funeral director to-day and ask for a funeral to be arranged at a cost of £10? In this field, costs have risen to perhaps a far greater degree than have costs in many other fields. To allow to remain in the act a provision which belongs to the distant past is a reproach on the people who are governing this country.
The amendment suggests that the benefit should be £30. Even so, I do not think it goes far enough, because those of us who have had experience in this matter know that it costs a lot of money nowadays to obtain a decent funeral. When the amendment was framed, I had the gravest doubts, and still have grave doubts, about whether it adequately covered the situation. The
Government now has before it an opportunity to make a small gesture to the pensioners - a gesture which will not cost millions of pounds but only a paltry few hundred thousand pounds. I know that Government supporters in another place have already voted against this amendment, but I have heard it stated that in this chamber there are some Government supporters who have a certain spirit of independence and who break out periodically. If they think that the amendment is worthy of support, they might support it.
I realize that most, if not all, of the amendments that we propose are defeated before they are moved, but at least we want the people of Australia to know that we are constantly striving to assist the underprivileged sections of the community. If honorable senators opposite defeat this amendment to-night, they will stand condemned in the eyes of the people of Australia.
– The cost of implementing this amendment would be more than £100,000 or so; it would be £740,000. In addition, it would be necessary to pass other similar social service legislation. Seventy-one per cent, of the age and invalid pensioners are single, widowed or divorced persons. In most cases, the cost of the pensioner’s funeral does not necessarily fall on another pensioner. In many cases, the benefit would be payable to some one who was not in need ot it and who, in any case, was merely fulfilling his filial duty.
The question of an increase of the funeral benefit was considered when the overall scheme of pension increases was considered and was discarded when we were allotting the money that was available for social service increases.
– I thank the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) for his brief reply. It at least gave us an indication that he knows something about some points in the bill. I take him up on his statement that some pensioners would not require the benefit. The fact that some people are more fortunately placed than others and would not require it does not lift the burden from others who need it. If the Minister discovers that one section of the community could do without the benefit, it his respon sibility to devise ways and means within the law of giving justice to those who are entitled to it. We are speaking only for those persons who are justly entitled to the benefit and who require it.
The sum was fixed at £10 many years ago, and to ask that it be raised to £30 is but a mild request. Supporters of the Government are opposed to increasing the amount from £10 to £30. I would like them to tell the committee why they are opposed to the increase. The only reason given by the Minister is that it will cost £740,000. What does that matter when the Government expects a surplus of £100,000,000, and when it talks about the good job it is doing? If the Government excluded those who do not need the money, the cost would be less than £740,000, but even if it costs that amount, if the proposition is fair, just and necessary, why quibble about it? Let us be humane in dealing with this unfortunate section of the community.
– Nobody doubts the sincerity of Senator Toohey and other honorable senators on the Opposition side in putting forward the proposition that is before the committee, but as only a limited amount of money is available to each department, I believe it would be better to spend the £740,000 on something more advantageous to persons who are still alive rather than to utilize it for funeral expenses.
Senator Toohey said that many honorable senators on the Government side would like to see this done. Of course they would, but I would rather see the money expended on an increase of age pensions or other pensions which come within social service payments than see it utilized as suggested. As the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) has said, 71 per cent, of the pensioners who are buried are single or divorced persons, widows or widowers and do not bear any of the brunt of their own funeral expenses.
.- When Senator Kendall or other honorable senators on the Government side speak of £10, the implication is that they are speaking of £10 in terms of gold. Actually, £10 to-day is worth only 35s. in terms of purchasing value. Authorities on finance will tell honorable senators that that is correct, and that the purchasing power of money has never been depreciated so much as it is to-day. None of them, however, will explain the cause. The fact is that when we speak of £10, we are speaking in terms of purchasing value of 35s., and when we ask for the funeral allowance to be increased to £30, we are asking for the equivalent of approximately £5 5s. to bury one of our own kind as a mere pauper. This proposal is being argued in terms of money. What has to be considered is the cost. What is the actual cost in these days of inflated currency? 1 should imagine that Senator Kendall does not understand the position, or he has not the moral courage to tell the truth. Supporters of the Government are posing and postulating as great statesmen. They pretend that they are doing the very best they can for the unfortunate people who have worked hard all their lives and have never had a chance to save anything for their old age. When they are too old to work, they wither and end in a pauper’s hell. Then the Government buries them as paupers. Yet supporters of the Government say that £10 is an ample allowance. I often wonder if they have any sense of shame. 1 watch the way they behave and express themselves. With callous indifference they view their fellow creatures just as they would a mongrel dog. When the President recites the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “ Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven “, and supporters of the Government bow reverently, I often think, “ What damned hypocrites you are, merely posing and postulating as Christians “. When it comes to translating the ethics of Christianity in practice, the supporters of the Government act entirely differently. The plight of the unfortunate pensioners does not matter to them. They are well paid, well fed, well clothed and well housed. What does it matter to them?
Senator Kendall was formerly a naval commander. He did not care a damn for the ratings and how they were slaughtered as long as he could save his own life. That is the approach of honorable senators on the Government side. They practise rationalized Christianity. They pose as altruists and humanists and as respecters of human personalities. Senator Wright has been holding his hand to his ear. I wonder sometimes what is between his ears.
– That would bewilder you.
– Honorable senators are laughing. It does not matter to them. They are all right and they are satisfied, but these unfortunate people, the pensioners, are not organized. They are incapable of speaking for themselves as an organized body, and the Government has no respect for them. The organized bodies of workers who are capable of withholding their labour power, and of challenging the Government as it should be challenged, get more consideration. The Government will yield to physical pressure, but it will not yield in the slightest to what might be called dialectical pressure.
The Government puts into words the terms and conditions under which the aged people are to be treated and the way they are to be buried. The Government would bury them as paupers, just as it would bury a mongrel dog. It shows no response at all unless it is faced with organized physical pressure which I have advocated through the years. I feel that I should tell the Government these things. I cannot imagine anything more appropriate to the occasion than the lines by that well known Scottish poet, Robert Burns -
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
It is man’s inhumanity to man in this year, 1957, that is making countless thousands mourn.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. During his speech Sena-* tor Cameron accused me of slaughtering hundreds of naval ratings when I was in the Navy. I should like to put it on record here and now in refutation of his statement that during the 35 years I was in the service I did not kill one rating, not even a Wren.
.- It has been amazing to-night to see the vociferous professors of concern for the pensioners staging an intestineless sit-down strike. I include the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty).
Exception must be taken to the Minister’s attitude to all the amendments suggested by honorable senators on this side. I have come to the conclusion that he and his followers are obviously acting under instructions. Their boss, the Minister for
Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is in the gallery now, and they are afraid to move.
– We did not know he was there.
– It is of no use professing that you only just found out that he was there because I have seen a bit of ticktacking going on for quite a while.
I cannot understand the Government’s refusal to accept this amendment. As was pointed out by Senator Toohey, £10 was allowed in 1943, yet we have to-night the amazing statement from the Minister that these people do not want any more now because 71 per cent, of them are widows or bachelors; in other words, he suggests that they do not need a decent burial unless they have friends who are prepared to foot the bill. As a matter of fact, there was an interjection, I think it was from Senator Maher, who usually tries to pull the wool over our eyes. He asked, “Do you want to enrich the undertakers? “ What a tragic state of affairs when supporters of a reputedly responsible government take that attitude towards our request that the funeral benefit be increased from a miserable £10 - we know how far that will go towards defraying the cost of a funeral - to £30! As was correctly pointed out from this side of the chamber, even £30 would not pay one half of the cost of a funeral to-day. By their silence, honorable senators on the Government side are saying to pensioners who may die in very poor circumstances, “Ten pounds is all we will give you although it will only pay for a pauper’s funeral. If your friends or relatives do not foot the bill for a better one, we commit you to that type of burial “. It is amazing that this attitude should be adopted, especially when we remember that when other matters are being discussed honorable senators on the Government side profess great concern for the pensioners. .
The Minister told us to-day of the amount that is being spent on social services and he compared that with what was spent in 1948. As Senator Toohey correctly pointed out, that was a distinctly dishonest statement; at least it was misleading because the Minister knows as well as everybody else does that the £1 is worth infinitely less to-day than it was in 1948.
I do not want to speak at any great length, but I was impelled to rise when I saw the attitude taken by the Government towards this amendment. Its acceptance will involve the expenditure of a mere £750,000. Although budgeting for an expenditure of approximately £1,400,000,000, the Government says to the age pensioners who cannot afford a decent funeral, “ We will give you £10 and you will have to depend on charity for anything better “.
.- 1 rise to take part in this debate only because, for some extraordinary reason, the Opposition is attempting, in the dying hours of the discussion, to twit honorable senators on the Government side for not speaking on these amendments. This particular one can best be described as hypocritical. It seeks to increase the funeral benefit payable under this legislation from £10 to £30. “Hansard” is a record which remains for all time, and I think that the utterances of honorable senators opposite to-night will indicate clearly to those who are ready to read “ Hansard “ the unhappy position and childlike outlook that the Opposition, in its tattered and torn position, has to adopt when it takes up the cudgels, as it has done, on this particular occasion.
I have never been ashamed, and I hope I never will be ashamed to be recorded for all time as saying in the National Parliament that I do not think it is the right of any parliament to take action which will relieve the people, particularly the younger people of our nation, of their family responsibilities. I believe we are doing a great disservice to this country by our social services legislation when we either talk or vote in favour of taking away from the younger people, friends, relatives and charitable organizations their responsibilities to their fellowmen.
I do not believe in the welfare state. 1 have never believed that the Commonwealth should be responsible for the people from the cradle to the grave. I believe that we do our country a great disservice when we have a broken particle of political life in this country putting forward amendments of this kind. Sheer hypocrisy is my description of the attitude of the. Opposition. I believe that we do a lot of harm to all forms of social life in Australia when we take away responsibility from, as I have said before, the friends, relatives, and great charitable organizations which are operating in this country regardless of the interfering effects of the Australian Labour party, or whatever it calls itself now.
This broken Opposition, in its attempt to get some headlines or some unanimity of thought, sought earlier to-day to have the pension increases made retrospective to 1st July last. To support its suggestion, the Opposition said that it would cost only £4,000,000. These friends of the working man say that would cost only £4,000,000. Now they say that to accept the amendment under discussion would cost only £750,000. They also talk about reducing income tax to save £40,000,000. They want to spend more and at the same time draw less into the Treasury. Whether they have been proved mathematical fools before this, I do not know, but they have been proved mathematical fools in connexion with this matter. All I want to say in respect of this amendment is that I do not think it is sincere in its origin, the arguments in favour of it have no weight, and the electorate of Australia would not give the Opposition one ounce of credit for it, because the people would know that the Opposition is not being fair. Let us leave to the friends and relatives of the deceased the right to see that the last sad rites are performed. Do not make it a Commonwealth responsibility. Let private enterprise, initiative, and decency still live in our land.
.- I was inclined to agree with Senator Kendall that it would be much better to do something for the pensioner while he is alive than to try to ensure that he shall be given a decent funeral after his death. I would agree, if the bill contained any clause that would enable a pensioner to make provision for a decent burial by leaving sufficient savings for the purpose. In that case, the relatives, or these charitable institutions of which Senator Marriott has been speaking, would be able to do the job. In fact, this is such a miserable bill from beginning to end, and the relief that is to be granted to those persons in receipt of social service payments is so paltry, that I can see no basis for the argument advanced by Senator Kendall. Any one who has had any experience at all knows that the amount of this funeral benefit is far too small. We on this side of the chamber are not seeking to enrich the undertakers, as has been suggested by an honorable senator opposite. As a matter of fact, I believe that many reputable funeral directors are doing this work at below cost. They are not being paid the full cost of conducting pensioners’ funerals, because all their costs have increased. Their drivers, for instance, are receiving much higher rates of pay than they received when this provision was enacted.
Let us make a comparison between two individuals. Let us consider, first, the man or woman who has the luck to be elected to this Parliament, or a State parliament, and to become a Minister of the Crown. In due course he or she passes away, and a benevolent State provides a State funeral out of the taxpayers’ money. . An amount of £400 or £500 is spent on the funeral of a Minister who has been here, possibly, only a day or two. I remember a former Minister of this Parliament who died in an old men’s home. He had no relatives and no friends. A State funeral was accorded him. The second individual who had done equally as much as, if not more than the first individual, for the development of this country, was removed from the same institution to a pauper’s grave. That is the position, but honorable senators opposite are prepared to accept the provision as it exists to-day.
Labour senators are not seeking extravagant funerals for age pensioners. We ask that the amount be increased to at least £30. Senator Toohey, who proposed the amendment, felt that because a similar amendment was defeated in another place it must be defeated here. I should have thought that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) or those persons in the department who advise him would, as a result of the debate that occurred in another place, have gone through the bill and noticed the anomalies which evidently were not noticed when the bill was drafted originally. It would appear from the attitude of the Minister and his advisers, in not supplying information, that when this bill was under consideration the Government looked about to see where it could grant the minimum amount of relief - half a crown here, and 7s. 6d. somewhere else. Their attitude was, “ That will do. We shall put this forward and then say, ‘ Look what we have done in comparison with what the Labour party did when it was in office ‘ “, notwithstanding that at that time the Labour Government, in fighting a successful war, was conducting the most expensive operations that this country has ever known. Honorable senators opposite point to what they have done since they assumed office in 1950 when there was no war, but great prosperity everywhere, and a field for taxation that was undreamed of in 1938-39. In 1938, I think, our total Budget was £100,000,000. Look at what it is to-day! Yet honorable senators opposite talk about what they have done. Evidently, this is one clause that they have not looked at. If they had added even 7s. 6d. to the amount provided in funeral benefit, we should have thought that they had considered it. If they proposed in this measure anything that would enable pensioners to save sufficient to ensure a decent burial, I would forgive the Government for not increasing the amount prescribed.
– I agree with Senator Kendall’s contention that it is much better to do something for the living than to increase the funeral benefit. I have been very interested in this question throughout the debate, and 1 should like to quote some remarks made by Senator Toohey, who has raised the matter of what Labour did whilst it was in office. He said -
Labour . . . established the National Welfare Fund, which honorable senators opposite refused to carry on.
– I did not say that in relation to this matter.
– He went on -
There was a certain amount of money in it when we left office and we do not know what has happened to it since . . . The purpose of the National Welfare Fund was to provide the means of extending social services.
I agree that that was the purpose of the National Welfare Fund. I am fully in accord with that statement. But I want to remind Senator Toohey that, in spite of what was said about carrying on a war, Labour did establish a National Welfare Fund. Labour had a particular tax-raising medium whereby it extracted from the taxpayer money for social services. It is true that Labour collected it, but its application is a very different question, and that is the matter to which I want to direct
Senator Toohey’s attention. The Labour government collected the money, and facts and figures have been furnished of the amount that was expended to provide age pensions. That government collected £130,000,000 more than it expended on social services. If it had been sincere, it could have provided with that amount of money all the various things that honorable senators opposite are now saying should be provided. What did the Labour administration do with the money? It spent the money on things other than social services. With all their posturing and posing, honorable senators opposite will never convince me of their sincerity in this matter.
– I did not intend to rise again, but the remarks that were made by Senator Marriott were so fantastically stupid that I feel impelled to answer them. The honorable senator said that Labour, in advocating an increase of the funeral benefit from £10 to £30, was looking for limelight. I should like to remind Senator Marriott - but not in the hysterical manner in which he addressed the chamber - that when Labour introduced this benefit in 1943 we were not looking for limelight. We wanted to give to an under-privileged section of the community a means of covering the situation. What we are advocating on this occasion is the increasing of the amount of the benefit to an amount in keeping with present-day charges.
Senator Marriott said that he does not believe in the welfare state. I differ from the honorable senator in that I do believe in the welfare state. That admission on his part probably reveals the true reason for his opposition to our social service proposals. It is interesting to note that Senator Marriott’s views in this connexion are not shared by his colleagues. Obviously, he knows that, because he never opposes any proposals to increase social service benefits that are brought before this chamber. If his statement to the Senate to-night were true, and he were consistent in thought and purpose, we would have expected him to do exactly that. All I say is that Senator Marriott failed miserably to discredit the Australian Labour party in respect of this measure. He failed to convince honorable senators that his arguments were valid. He succeeded only in making an utter and absolute fool of himself.
.- Many years ago a well-known American philosopher said -
The cheapness of man is every day’s tragedy, and the cheaper man is to his fellow men the more he suffers.
That observation is equally true to-day. I make it clear that I did not say that Senator Kendall himself had slaughtered anybody; he would not appear to be quite capable of doing that. What I indicated was that those in charge of military operations regarded life very cheaply. As one who was actively associated with them long before I came into this Parliament, and as one who has had some years of experience of them, I say that they have no appreciation of human values to the extent that the individual has of himself. The approach is, “ The action cost 400 or 500 men. What does it matter?” This is in line with Senator Spooner’s approach to the unemployment problem. He says, in effect, “ So many thousand men are unemployed. What does it matter? “ The tragedy is that life is cheap. That is the approach that I challenge now, both in relation to men on active service and age pensioners.
Senator Marriott referred to what is being done by charitable organizations. To-day, certain newspapers are capitalizing on the poverty, the hopelessness and the sickness of the weak, for the purpose of getting a few blankets for them. As Senator Cooke has said, the Government is riding on the backs of those who are charitably disposed, instead of imposing taxation in the right quarter to provide blankets for the poorer sections of the community. When a business man donates £1,000 worth of blankets to a charitable organization, he is eulogized by the press as a great philanthropist, even if he increases prices in his store on the following day in order to recover more than that amount. The hypocrisy of the situation should be apparent to anybody who has even an elementary knowledge of the technique employed in capitalizing on the misery and the ignorance of people who do not know any better.
Senator Mattner has referred to what Labour governments did in the past for the deserving sections of the community. When it was suggested by a previous Labour government that elderly people should be paid a pension, vicious opposition was en countered from the other side, but ultimately, as a result of sustained pressure by organized Labour in demanding that a little of the wealth created by the workers should be used to provide pensions for the aged, this was done. What was extremely unpopular in those days is now popular. While listening to certain supporters of the Government during this debate, I could have closed my eyes and imagined that I was listening to personalities who were conspicuous in the middle ages in their opposition to anything likely to benefit the impoverished people.
If the amendment is agreed to, the value of the benefit will still be 50 per cent, less than its value in terms of purchasing power when the amount was fixed at £10. This is a result of the way in which the mechanics of finance are organized by bankers and financial institutions, and condoned by the Government in order to give effect to its policy, at the expense of, and with callous indifference to, elderly people who could even be the mothers and fathers of Government supporters. This is done with the stereotyped ignorance and arrogance of men who refuse to face the realities of life. Government supporters do not care what happens to any one else. They postulate as Christians and humanitarians who want to do their best, but in practice they do their worst. I notice that the Minister is laughing. It is the laughter of the political sadist. The savage of old laughed at the agonies of his victim, just as the Minister laughs to-day. If I were a psychologist I should doubtless classify the Minister as a political sadist, and trace the cause as either his ignorance or his callous indifference to the welfare of others. I cannot imagine that the savages of old would be any more unmoved.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator Toohey’s amendment) be inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon.
A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause 4a.
.- On behalf of the Opposition I move -
After clause 4, insert the following new clause: - “ 4a. Section sixty-two of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (2.) all words after the word’ Australia ‘ and inserting in their stead the words ‘ unless she is nomadic.’.”.
I referred to this matter earlier and do not intend to traverse the ground again. Briefly, the amendment seeks the provision of widows’ pensions for aboriginal native women other than nomads. The Minister made the somewhat surprising remark that, in excluding nomads, my colleagues and I were being discriminatory. So that there will be no further misunderstanding on the question, I point out that a nomadic native is one who is completely tribalized and not in any way in contact with civilization.
– The Government could not give such persons assistance even if it wanted to!
– That is so. The Australian Labour party would leave itself open to criticism if it sought the widows’ pension for all aboriginal women. In view of the simple logic of the proposition, I thought it rather strange that the Minister should adopt that attitude. We merely seek the extension of widows’ pensions to aboriginal women who meet the require ments of the act.’ The amendment is in conformity with that previously moved, and the same arguments apply to it also.
– Like Senator Toohey,I have already referred to this matter in some detail, and do not want to cover the same ground again. The Government is unable to accept the amendment.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.
Proposed new clauses 6a and 6b.
– I move -
After clause 6, insert the following new clauses: - “ 6a. Section ninety-two of the Principal Act is amended by omitting paragraph (a) of sub-section (2.) and inserting in its stead the following paragraph: -
unless that woman or her husband -
is a resident of Australia as defined by the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act 1936-1957; and
is not a resident of a place outside Australia specified in section seven of that Act; or ‘. “ 6b. Section one hundred and four of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (2.) and inserting in its stead the following subsection: - (2.) An endowment shall not be granted or paid by virtue of the last preceding sub-section unless the person to whom the endowment is granted or paid or, if that person is a woman, that woman or her husband -
is a resident of Australia as defined by the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act 1936- 1957; and
is not a resident of a place outside Australia specified in section seven of that Act.’.”.
The effect of the amendments to sections 92(2.) and 104(2.) will be to place Australians temporarily resident in Cocos (Keeling) Islands or any other place that may be specified in section 7 of the Income Tax Assessment Act in the same position for child endowment and maternity allowance purposes as Australians temporarily resident in Papua, Norfolk Island or New Guinea. Persons resident in places specified in section 7 of the Income Tax Assessment Act are not liable for Australian income tax on income derived in those places.
The Chifley Government in 1948 wrote into the Social Services Act the principle that where persons who were temporarily resident in Papua, Norfolk Island or New Guinea received the special taxation exemption, by which their income derived from sources in those places is not subject to Commonwealth taxation, they should not be entitled to receive child endowment or maternity allowances. This amendment extends that principle to other places where the same taxation exemption applies or may, in future, apply. It is necessary in the interest of consistent practice and follows the Government’s decision to extend the taxation exemption to residents of the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. It is merely an extension of the principle laid down by the Chifley Government.
There are about fifteen endowees in Cocos (Keeling) Islands who will be affected by the amendment. However, no hardship will be involved as they already receive a special child’s allowance of £50 a year for each child up to four. This allowance is paid by the husband’s employer under arrangements made between the four main employing authorities - Qantas Empire Airways Limited, the Shell Company of Australia Limited, the Department of Civil Aviation and the meteorological section of the Department of the Interior.
Proposed new clauses agreed to.
– I move -
After clause 6, insert the following new clauses: - “ 6c. Section eighty-six of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (3.) all words after the word ‘ Australia ‘ and inserting in their stead the words ‘ unless she is nomadic.’. “ 6d. Section one ‘ hundred and eleven of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - 111. An unemployment benefit or sickness benefit may be granted to an aboriginal native of Australia unless he is nomadic.’.”.
These proposed new clauses deal with aboriginal natives. The arguments that I advanced previously apply also in this instance, and I do not intend to traverse again the ground that I traversed then. However, I think the Senate should know that some of these people are in a class between the category comprising tribalized natives and that comprising those who are eligible for social service benefits. The natives to whom I am referring now receive some assistance from State governments and certain charitable organizations. I am reliably informed that in South Australia natives who, so to speak, circulate in the vacuum between the two categories I have mentioned receive each week from the State government, at certain centres, 15s. worth of groceries, three loaves of bread, three pounds of meat and 6s. worth of vegetables. It is obvious that these people, who have forsaken to a major degree their tribal life and have departed from their usual way of living, but are not considered as eligible for social service benefits by those administering the social service legislation as it applies to aboriginal natives, are in a very bad position. If any Australian, not an aboriginal native, were required to live in the circumstances I have outlined, he would think he was in a very difficult position, indeed. It is not hard to imagine what our reaction would be if we had to contend with conditions of that kind. I shall say no more. I think what I have said shows that a responsibility in this matter reposes somewhere. My suggestion is that it reposes on the Commonwealth Government.
Proposed new clauses negatived.
Clauses 7 and 8 agreed to.
Proposed new clause 8a.
– I move -
That, after clause 8, the following new clause be inserted : - “ 8a. 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 the 31st March in each year.’”.
The amendment is self-explanatory. What is the use of increasing age pensions, or any pensions for that matter, if cost of living increases - which are almost certain to occur during the year - will reduce the value of the pension? To safeguard the position of pensioners, I hope the Senate will agree that it is necessary to insert this proposed new clause 8a.
.- The Opposition does not support the amendment moved by Senator Cole. During the life of the Chifley Government, pensions were tied to the cost of living. In one year the cost of living fell, and the various associations which look after the welfare of pensioners requested that pensions be separated from the cost of living index. For that reason, the Opposition will not support the amendment.
– I cannot quite understand the reasoning of the Opposition on this matter. The amendment seeks to provide that the pensions shall be reviewed and increased in accordance with any upward movement of the cost of living. There is only one way in which to retain the value of the pension, and that is to add to it the increase of the cost of living. If, at the end of a year, there is no allowance for an increase in the cost of living, the value of the pension will fall, even though initially the rate was reasonably good. 1 am amazed that the Opposition will not support this amendment. To-night, my party has supported the various amendments that have been moved by the Opposition, because it thought that if they were agreed to they would, in some little measure, improve the age and invalid pensions. It seems to me to be peculiar that a Labour Opposition should refuse to support such a proposal as this. As I said earlier, I just cannot understand its reasoning.
– As I indicated at the second reading stage, the Government does not accept the amendment.
– I cannot understand the reasoning of Senator Cole in relation to this amendment and his inference that because the Opposition will not accept this amendment, it has not been sincere in submitting its amendments.
– I did not say that the Opposition was not sincere in moving its amendments. To the contrary, I said that it was quite sincere.
– I am sorry if I have misunderstood that part of Senator Cole’s remarks.
– We supported all the Opposition’s amendments.
– I point out to Senator Cole that his amendment means that the present rates of pension are sufficient.
– It does not mean anything of the kind.
– If Senator Cole will remain silent for a moment, I shall try to make the position clear. If he does not agree with me, he may explain the matter further. His amendment provides that the pensions shall be reviewed annually and increased in accordance with any upward movement of the cost of living. In other words, the amendment provides that the only way in which the pensions shall be given any further value in the years to come is, if the cost of living rises, to add something to meet that extra cost of living.
It has always been the aim of the Labour party to raise the pension rates, because we believe that the pensioners are not receiving an adequate sum. I certainly am not prepared to accept an amendment that has as its base the present rates of pension, and say, in effect, that we are satisfied with those rates, but that, if there is an upward movement in the cost of living, we want that increase to be added to the pension.
A great deal more thought should be given to the problem of fixing age and invalid pensions and quite a number of other social service benefits. I think there might be far better ways of caring for these people than by merely giving them a lump sum of money. But, while the Parliament is not prepared to make a move towards treating these people in a more modern manner, I am not prepared to agree to an amendment which provides that the present rates shall be fixed and that they shall be altered annually only in accordance with any movement in the cost of living. I fail to see that any other interpretation can be placed on the amendment than that it provides that whatever changes there are in the cost of living shall be reflected in the present base rates of pension. If we were to accept the amendment, we could not hope to get proper improvements to what, I believe, are already too low pension rates.
– If Senator Arnold had been honest in his attitude towards the pensioners, he would have supported the first amendment that I moved to-night, which sought to provide for the establishment of a tribunal to fix adequate rates of pension. By “ adequate “, I mean rates of pension that will provide very suitable living conditions for pensioners, lt is the objective of my party to have provision inserted in the social service legislation for the establishment of such a tribunal. Naturally, the position would be reviewed over the years. If there is an increase in the cost of living, a pro rata increase should be given to the pensioner. I repeat that, if Senator Arnold had been honest in expressing a wish to help the pensioners, he would have supported my earlier motion.
– I regret that seemingly Senator Cole is not particularly clear about the meaning of the amendment that he has moved. His amendment reads -
That, after clause 8, the following new clause be inserted: - “ 8a. 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 the 31st March in each year.”
There is no reference in that amendment to the establishment of a tribunal.
– There would have been if the Opposition had agreed to the first amendment.
– It is of no use arguing on the basis of something that was defeated earlier. All that the amendment now before us provides is that pensions shall rise in accordance with the upward movement of the cost of living. I remind Senator Cole again that the pensioners’ organizations waited on Labour governments prior to 1949 and unwisely, in my opinion, asked them to alter the system of fixing pensions. I am certain that if those organizations had their time over they would not make such a request again. The effect of agreeing to this amendment would be to say that we thought £4 7s. 6d. was a fair pension.
– For the particular twelve months.
– All that would happen then would be that, if there was a rise in the cost of living, the pensioners might get an increase of 2s. One lives in the hope that, because of possible events at the end of next year, when the rates of pension are again reviewed there will be a much greater rise than a rise of perhaps 2s. or 3s. based on the cost of living. 1 regret the request of the pensioners, but at least they made the decision themselves. They have not been sorry for it since, as they might have been, and they have not currently tied their organization to it. That is why the Opposition cannot support Senator Cole’s amendment.
.- I am disposed to support the amendment if a variation of it can be accepted. It is common ground that the present rate of pension is inadequate, and many methods by which justice could be done to all pensioners have been canvassed. No satisfactory solution has been proposed. Certainly none has emerged in a conclusive and acceptable form. The point about this amendment is that it was dependent upon the amendment which preceded it being carried. That amendment was to the effect that a tribunal should be set up to establish the base rate for the pension. It was rejected. If it had been accepted, Senator Cole’s amendment would have begun to operate but, in the circumstances, the second one now appears to be out of plumb.
The points that were made by Senators Arnold and Kennelly were extremely valid, but I still believe that if the principle could be improved by a further small amendment, it should be reasonably acceptable to the committee. The point made by Senator Kennelly was that the pensioners originally had this system, but they were suddenly faced with a decline in the basic wage and the cost of living. Under the system, the pension had to follow that decline. That would be a just and equitable system if it were common ground that the pension was just and fair at any time. On the contrary, however, it is common ground that the pension is not just and fair.
Nobody can say what is the real basis of approach in fixing social service payments generally. Is it an attempt to do some measure of justice, or merely a measure of the limited financial capacity of the Government at any time to put social service benefits in some order of priority, both in charity and justice? That is an order which some of us dispute. What is the basis on which these payments are made? If the basis is acknowledged and commonly accepted to be inadequate, any movement downward in the basic wage is merely adding an injustice to an existing inequity. Therefore, the principle of that basis would be unacceptable and would have to be condemned.
But this amendment proposes that the basic wage should affect the pension only when it is on a rising movement. That, in itself, is a declaration that the existing pension at any time is inadequate. If it could be increased in any way, whether by legislative determination on particular circumstances or by an automatic determination upwards - and only upwards following an increase in the cost of living - that would be all to the good. Therefore, I think the words “ upward movement “ of the cost of living answers what otherwise would be a valid criticism. There was formerly a protest against it and, as a result, provision for that type of movement was removed from the legislation.
The further point made by Senator Kennelly was a valid one as the amendment stands. It was that if we accepted the amendment in this form, and subsequently decided to approach the problem in some other way and to lift the pension substantially for some other reason, we would be stopped, because the only method of obtaining an increase would be the automatic method following adjustment of the basic wage. That seemed to be the argument against the amendment in its present form. The upward movement of the basic wage meets one aspect. The fact that we recognize it as inequitable seems to cover the whole amendment. I suggest that the wording should be altered to read: -
The amounts fixed under this act as the maximum amounts which may be paid for age, invalid and widows’ pension shall be reviewed annually and shall at the least be increased in accordance with any upward movement of the cost of living. . . .
If that were done, I cannot see anything in the amendment that would not be of tremendous advantage to the pensioners. It would seem that that is as much as we could do within our limited financial means. For that reason 1 move as an amendment of Senator Cole’s amendment -
After the words “ annually and “, insert “ shall at the least be “.
I do not know whether those words adequately explain what I hope to convey. The matter might need some discussion. 1 suggest that they be inserted in the amendment moved by Senator Cole.
– With the concurrence of the committee I amend my amendment accordingly.
.- I wish to say only a brief word of regret that Senator Cole, who has been happily released from caucus control, and Senator Byrne, who is usually capable of an intelligent contribution to the committee’s deliberations, should offer an opinion as to the adjustment of the pensions rates judged upon their disparity from the cost of living and that, having established that principle, they should be tied to the cost of living only on the upward grade.
– Do you support my argument?
– I think it is a degraded argument. I content myself by adding that it is a completely irresponsible argument. I thought better of the honorable senators.
Proposed new clause, as amended, negatived.
Proposed new clause 8a.
.- I move-
After clause 8, insert the following new clause: - “ 8a. After section one hundred and forty-five of the Principal Act, the following section is inserted: - 145a. Where a person would, but for this section, be in receipt of a pension, allowance or benefit under this Act at a rate less than the rate of Thirteen pounds per annum, the rate of the pension, allowance or benefit payable to that person is, by force of this Section, the rate of Thirteen pounds per annum
This is the last amendment that is proposed by the Opposition. Before I explain its provisions, I wish to state that the final amendment that appears on the list of amendments circulated in my name will have no effect if this amendment is defeated. It is consequential upon this amendment, and we shall not proceed with it if this amendment is defeated. This amendment sets out to establish the minimum amount of pension which may be payable to a recipient in certain instances.
The payment of £13 per annum would mean that a pension of not less than 5s. a week would be paid to any recipient who was entitled to any form of pension at all. The situation at the moment is that, according to their circumstances, people may receive pensions as low as ls. or ls. 6d. a week. We consider that this is farcical. We suggest that a minimum of 5s. would make for easier bookkeeping in the department and would not cost much. The cost would be negligible, but the acceptance of the amendment would remove from the act a provision which can create a somewhat farcical situation in which a few pence is paid each week to a pensioner.
– This proposal would vary the provisions of the principal act by increasing to £13 a year, or 5s. a week, the pension allowance or benefit where the amount payable would otherwise be less than that amount. Thus, although the strict application of the means test would reduce the pension to less than 5s. a week, the minimum pension would be 5s.
Since only pensioners with income or property near the limit would be entitled to pensions of less than 5s. a week, the amendment would help only those pensioners who were the better placed financially. It is, in fact, the very converse of the proposition that those with little or no resources should receive additional assistance. Consequently, the Government is not prepared to accept the amendment.
Proposed new clause negatived.
The amendments effected by this Act apply in relation to -
a payment of a benefit made in respect of a period that commenced on or after that date.
– I move -
In clause 9, leave out paragraph (b), insert the following paragraphs: - “ (b) endowment or benefit in respect of a period commencing on or after that date; and “ (c) maternity allowance in respect of a birth occurring on or after that date.”.
These amendments are merely consequential on the amendment relating to Cocos Islands, with which we have just dealt.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator O’sullivan) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to amend the Gold-mining Industry Assistance Act 1954- 1956 to give effect to the liberalized subsidy proposals which were announced in the Budget speech. Before I explain the proposed amendments, may I remind honorable senators of the importance of the gold-mining industry to this country. The annual value of gold produced in Australia and the Territories is between £16,000,000 and £17,000,000 per annum. Apart from a minor quantity used for industrial purposes, the whole of this output is added to Australia’s international reserves. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that certain populated areas of Australia are largely dependent for their existence on continuance of gold-mining operations.
There is no doubt that the subsidy scheme has been of great assistance to the industry. However, since the scheme was brought into operation there have been further increases in the cost of mining and treating gold, but no increase in its official price. Moreover, the supplementary income from premium gold sales has dwindled. In consequence, some producers, even with the subsidy, are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
Under the subsidy scheme, gold producers are divided into two classes, small producers and large producers. Large producers, those whose output exceeds 500 ounces per annum, may claim subsidy if their average cost of production exceeds £13 10s. per ounce. The rate of subsidy payable to large producers varies with a mine’s cost of producing gold. Under the formula arrangement, the amount of subsidy payable in a year on each ounce of fine gold produced is three-quarters of the excess of average cost of production per ounce over £13 10s., with a maximum rate of £2 per ounce.
During recent months, the Government has received representations on behalf of the Chambers of Mines of Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland for an increase in the maximum rates of subsidy payable. Theserepresentations have stressed that rising costs are pressing very heavily on certain sections of the industry, and especially on those producers whose recovery rate is declining. The Government has carefully considered these requests and proposes to increase the maximum rate of subsidy payable to large producers by 15s. per ounce.
At present the maximum rate of subsidy of £2 per ounce is payable when the average cost of production is £16 3s. 4d. per ounce. The proposed new maximum rate of £2 15s. per ounce will be payable if a mine’s cost of production is £17 3s. 4d. per ounce or more. This will mean that a mine can still operate without loss if its cost of production does not exceed £18 7s. 6d. per ounce. When costs reach this level a mine will be making a trading loss of £2 1 5s. per ounce on the official price of £15 12s. 6d. This loss will, however, be offset by the new maximum rate of subsidy of £2 15s. per ounce.
Under the Act, the formula applies only to large producers. Small producers, those whose output of fine gold does not exceed 500 ounces per annum, receive a flat rate subsidy, because few keep adequate books of account. It is proposed that this fiat rate subsidy be increased by 10s. per ounce to £2 per ounce and be payable, as heretofore, without regard to production costs or profit rate.
As I said earlier, subsidy is offered to certain gold producers in order to retain as going concerns those mines on the margin of profitable production. For the continued operation of a mine, it is necessary to find, test and prepare ore bodies for future working. The cost of these development operations is, within certain limits, allowable in ascertaining cost of production for subsidy purposes.
The management of a mine whose cost of production is narrowly covered by receipts from sales and subsidy may be finding it difficult to carry out reasonable development. Indeed, the Government has received many requests for further assistance in meeting the cost of development. To a large extent, these requests will be met by the proposed increase in the maximum rates of subsidy. Large producers will be entitled to claim subsidy of three-quarters of their average cost of production above £13 10s. per ounce, until their average cost reaches £17 3s. 4d. per ounce instead of £16 3s. 4d. per ounce as at present. This will be of very considerable benefit to mines whose development may be restricted by increased costs.
The Government also proposes to offer further assistance to certain producers to meet development expenditure. Section 10 of the Gold-mining Industry Assistance Act imposes, inter alia, a limit on the amount of development expenditure allowable in cost of production for subsidy purposes. It is proposed that the limit be liberalized.
Sub-section 10 (3.) of the act sets out how the cost of development of a goldmining property for a year is to be determined. It is not proposed to vary this. Sub-section 1 0 (4.) sets an upper limit on the cost of development allowable in ascertaining cost of production for subsidy purposes. As the act now stands, this limit is the lesser of -
However, the Treasurer has a discretionary power to determine that where the cost of development for each ounce of fine gold’ produced in a year exceeds this limit, he may allow some or all of this excess to be- included in cost of production, if he considers that special circumstances warrant it.
In a few cases, the development expenditure claimed as an allowable cost has exceeded £3 10s. per ounce. In the case of other mines, the cost of development claimed in cost of production is rising and is approaching £3 10s. per ounce. It is now proposed that the maximum allowance for development be raised from £3 10s. to £5 5s. per ounce. The purpose of this amendment is to permit the cost of development, up to £5 5s. per ounce of fine gold produced in a year, to be allowed in ascertaining the average cost of production for subsidy purposes. This amendment will assist gold mines operating on a small profit margin to meet the cost of developing their properties, and so to continue in production. It is proposed that the amended subsidy provisions apply to gold produced after 30th June, 1957.
I believe that the bill is one which will receive the support of all who appreciate the financial difficulties being experienced by a section of the Australian gold-mining industry. I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Willesee) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator O’sullivan) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- There is a matter that I propose to raise, and as it affects a department controlled by Senator Paltridge, I indicated to him that I would raise it on the adjournment to-night, or at some other appropriate time. On Tuesday, Senator Paltridge made a statement in the Senate relating to negotiations with Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, in reply to a statement made by Mr. Haddy, the former chairman of directors of that company. The Minister said -
The picture presented by Mr. Haddy is in some respects both misleading and incomplete. In assessing’ the reasons for the financial difficulties of A.N.A. he takes no account of that company’s responsibilities for efficient management and operation, complaining that “ all the great powers of the Treasury were used to smash us “.
It is in relation to that reference to the failure of this company to assume its responsibilities and, apparently, to discharge them, that I propose to speak, but at no great length, to-night.
As honorable senators know, in 1952 this Parliament passed an act by which the Commonwealth Government undertook to guarantee loans to Australian National Airways to a maximum of £3,000,000, in the event of that company being unable to secure finance at the prevailing rates of interest and on satisfactory terms through ordinary sources, without the assistance of that guarantee. Subsequently, I had occasion to notice in the “ Mercantile Gazette “ that £1,500,000 of that £3,000,000 was made available by loan from the Commonwealth Bank, and I asked the Minister who. was then in charge of the Department whether he could indicate to me from what part of the Commonwealth Bank that money was made available. I mention this incidentally because it raises a matter which in other circumstances can be of tremendous importance. The Minister, in his reply, said that that was a matter of a private nature between banker and customer, and even though it involved a public corporation like the Commonwealth Bank, the Government, as a matter of policy, would not answer a question of that nature in detail.
– - Even though the loan was guaranteed by the Government?
– Exactly. I accepted that answer. I think that subsequently Senator Gorton raised the general principle of the responsibility of Ministers and the Government to answer questions involving the operations of public corporations. It is a new field of government activity, and there is not a great deal of law or a great deal of literature on the subject. I mention, just incidentally, that Herbert Morrison, an outstanding member of the British Labour party, has written a text-book on the relations between Ministers and public corporations, and parliamentary responsibility for their activities.That is another matter which can be debated, and, I feel, should be debated, in this chamber on another occasion.
All I am concerned to discuss to-night is the question of the apparent failure of Australian National Airways, at least at this stage, to measure up to the responsibilities that might have been expected of it as a trading corporation. Apparently, the Minister is now in a position to say that this company was not conscious of its responsibility for efficient management and operation - in other words, that it was not efficient in management and operation, and was not conscious of that fact. When reference is made to failure to measure up to responsibility, that responsibility, in this case, is not merely the ordinary responsibility which a company would have to its shareholders or, perhaps, to its customers. In terms of the Civil Aviation Agreement Act, which this Parliament passed, and to which an agreement is annexed as a schedule, that responsibility became a contractual responsibility, under statute, for that company to operate its business efficiently and economically. If honorable senators will bear with me, I shall read the part of the agreement which makes specific reference to that matter. Clause 11 reads in part - (1.) The Company undertakes that, during the continuance of this agreement
Obviously, at least in the immediate past, that has not been done. From a further statement made by the Minister, in reply, I think, to a question asked in another place, it appears that the inefficiency or the lack of economical running of that company has disclosed itself in the failure of the company to honour its obligations to its mortgagees under agreements it entered into - two with the Commonwealth Bank, each for £1,500,000, and one for a similar large sum with the Australian Mutual Provident Society. I have no other indication financially of the inefficiency of this company reflected in any of its accounts, because it is a private company and its accounts are not generally available. But so far as its failure to meet its obligations is concerned, and so far as that is an indication of inefficiency, then at least we have that proof.
What I am concerned about is this: When this Parliament was asked to provide these guarantees, and when it insisted in the agreement that this company should undertake to. operate economically and on business lines, what investigation was made at that time to show that the company was in fact so doing? As I say, I have no evidence that it was not, but there is now evidence, and there is the Minister’s statement that it is not now, or was not until immediately before this takeover running efficiently, and apparently it was not doing so for some time past.
After all, it is a very serious thing, Mr. President, when this Parliament is asked to stand so substantially by guarantee behind a company of this nature in a sum aggregating £4,500,000, or something of that nature, unless we can be absolutely sure that we were not, in fact, buttressing for some reason, perhaps a matter of a political idea. The Government at that time was honest enough to say that was its intention. The Government believed in keen competition with the government airline, as the private airline had been first in the field and pioneered it.
– To some extent.
– All right, I will concede that, lt was first in the field, but for one reason, or even for a number of reasons, the Government was prepared financially to support it and did so with the concurrence of this Parliament. What I am concerned about is this: Although that was the reason given, was it unknown or was it known to the Government at the time, or was it a fact that the company at that stage was not meeting the required standard of competence in business administration and efficiency in the discharge of its operations?
– Who is the judge of that?
– I know that is a very difficult question. I ask this, anyhow-
– Under your theory of politics, you would set up every Minister as a judge?
– T do not say that, but I want to know the answer, and I should like the Minister to tell me if he is in a position to do so. I am bringing this matter up out of solicitude for this Parliament, and the control that the Parliament should exercise over the expenditure and guaranteeing of public moneys in any instance.
– If A.N.A. is going to pay this debt to the Commonwealth Bank, does it matter?
– I am just asking this in view of the statement by the Minister that this company is apparently not efficient and was not efficient at the take-over.
– The Commonwealth Bank cannot complain about that contractual relationship.
– That is true, but it is a government instrumentality and became involved as mortgagee, as the holder of a bill of sale in a gigantic sum which I said at the time possibly offended wisdom, and perhaps offended propriety, and may even, in terms of the Commonwealth Bank Act, have offended legality. In the Commonwealth Bank Act, there is a requirement that the bank’s money shall be used for the financing of businesses and for their creation, especially small businesses. In the very year credit was extremely attenuated in this country, a tremendous amount of the credit of the Commonwealth Bank was tied up in the two advances to this company. To this extent, the Government was involved, and a government corporation.
I do not know how much time is at my disposal, but I am asking: What inquiries, if any, were made at the time as to the efficient operation of this company at the time the guarantee was given? Has this growing inefficiency disclosed itself over the intervening years until it has culminated in the Minister’s statement that the company was apparently not efficient and the management did not have a sense of responsibility regarding the necessity to be efficient? What would have been the position if Ansett Airways Limited lost its desire to buy? Was the Government so conscious of and primed about the decline of this company that it was going to step in with the knowledge of this Parliament in terms of the agreement and in terms of its rights as guarantor? I raise this matter only for that reason. I think the Minister made a bold, courageous and clear statement in reply to the chairman of directors of the company, and I think this Parliament is entitled to be informed.
Senator PALTRIDGE (Western Australia - Minister for Shipping and Transport and
Minister for Civil Aviation) [10.36]. - Senator Byrne has referred to clause 11 of the Schedule to the Civil Aviation Agreement Act 1952, referring to undertakings of the company, which provides as follows: - (1.) The Company undertakes that, during the continuance of this agreement -
It is perfectly clear, therefore, that the agreement does provide the Government with a protection against gross inefficiency and rank mismanagement in the ordinary sense. If one goes back to the time when the agreement was signed, I do not think there was in the mind of any one in Australia any thought other than that A.N.A., under the guiding genius of Sir Ivan Holyman, was anything other than a most efficient company, which had pioneered the airline industry in this country and had rendered a great service to Australia. What has happened since is a somewhat different story. I say at once that the condition of management and of operation to which I referred in my statement meant not what we ordinarily understand as mismanagement or inefficiency, because continuing right up till now no one will deny that A.N.A., in the ordinary sense, is efficient, and that it is well run by a staff which knows its busi: ness from A to Z. It fell uponevil times–
– A.N.A. suffered huge defalcations in its accounting. It had a very weak system.
– If Senator Cooke is referring to the unfortunate incident at Perth - I agree it was most unfortunate - I am sure he would not make so bold as to say that the same misfortune might not to-morrow become the experience of Trans-Australia Airlines.
– I do not quite agree with that.
– I do not think you make a point by referring to that. When I referred to the condition of management and operation of the company, I had in mind what has now come to be regarded by all people who understand the airlines business as a bad business judgment - an unfortunate technical error, more correctly - in that the company bought equipment which did not prove, particularly in comparison with the Viscount, to be economical for Australian operation. For that reason the company suffered a sharp financial setback. I make the point - and make it quite strongly - that at the time the agreement was signed there wa« nothing to indicate that this company was not completely efficient and completely well managed.
– And still is.
– That is so. The default to which the honorable senator has referred is not of long standing. It first occurred on 15th June, 1957. If memory serves me correctly, a further default occurred at the end of June. As I said previously, in answer to a question, those defaults totalled some £435,000. It would, however, be quite wrong to assume that the Government was even in danger of suffering financial loss. The security that it held more than covered its contingent commitment.
The question asked by Senator Byrne is of importance for the future rather than for the past. It was, “Are we now satisfied that A.N.A. is efficiently conducted and is meeting the provision written into the agreement? “ The answer is, “ Yes “. The further answer is that this provision continues to apply to A.N.A. and that if, at any time, A.N.A. defaults in this regard the Commonwealth has deliberately placed itself in a position to take whatever action might be necessary.
It may be of further interest to the Senate if, without forecasting the details, I say that a supplementary civil aviation agreement, signed jointly by the Commonwealth and all interested operators, will form an annexure to legislation that will shortly be placed before the Parliament.
.- One or two things ought to be said by way of- a challenge to the Minister on his own statement. First, he said that A.N.A.’s inefficiency had been revealed in the kind of plane that it had purchased. As one who has been associated with commercial aviation in Queensland ever since the early days, I say that in purchasing planes one considers the safety factor as of far more importance than the economics of performance. If the Minister contends that A.N.A. made a mistake in buying the DC6 instead of the Viscount, let me remind him that it is recognized that, from the safety point of view, the DC6 is miles ahead of the Viscount.
– Why don’t you wipe out T.A.A. altogether?
– I know what I am talking about. This is a country of vast distances though Senator Kennelly, living in a pocket-handkerchief State, might not be aware of the fact. Those of us who come from the more spacious areas realize how important is range in Australian aviation. We need planes with a long-range performance. That the Viscount has not the ideal range for this country is well known. I ask honorable senators from Western Australia, who fly home each week-end, how often a Viscount comes down to refuel. Moreover, there have been certain incidents in which Viscounts have been concerned. What we need is a plane that can travel long distances without refuelling. The Viscount was built, originally, for short hops in Europe. The DC6 is a long-distance plane and, as a consequence, offers greater flying safety.
If one leaves Brisbane for Sydney one may find that the Mascot airport is closed. The pilot must take the plane on to Melbourne, and he may then find that Melbourne airport is closed. He may then have to go on to Adelaide, or even Perth. That is where the additional safety provided by longrange performance becomes apparent. I assure honorable senators that one often finds airport after airport closed. In north Queensland there has been a great deal of discussion about the Viscount which landed in Cairns with fuel in its tanks for only about five minutes’ flight.
I invite honorable senators to ascertain which type of plane is giving real value to the people of this country. They will learn that the Viscount is giving all the worry in the matter of metal fatigue. On one occasion a Viscount was sent out with a cracked wing but, according to the evidence in my possession, the fault was noticed by a cleaner. On a number of occasions, Viscounts have burst a whole set of tyres on landing - a very dangerous matter. I make no apology for the fact that A.N.A. bought DC6 aircraft because, in a country like ours, it is a far better aeroplane than the Viscount. Each type of plane uses a different kind of fuel. It is not to the credit of the Government that it took so long to equalize the cost factor in the fuel consumption of T.A.A. and A.N.A. Only now is the Government giving some measure of equality, and placing a tax on the fuel used by T.A.A.
A.N.A. showed great vision in developing the air routes of this country. I can recall when Captain Holyman was laughed at for providing a twice-daily service between capitals. To him must go most of the credit for building up our internal airlines. A.N.A. set an example for the rest of the world to follow. Until T.A.A. entered the field A.NA. was a very profitable concern. I do not believe this country has a sufficiently large population to support two major airlines profitably on internal routes. That fact should be given more consideration. It is very easy for this Government to say that T.A.A. welcomes competition. There is no doubt which airline has been spoon fed. I remind honorable senators that T.A.A., the spoon-fed baby of a socialist government, suffered losses for several years. It cut fares in order to undermine A.N.A., and it is to the credit of that company that it was the first organization in the Commonwealth to stand up against the socialist policy of the Australian Labour party. This Government could have done a lot more to help A.N.A. Under the agreement government business was to have been shared by the two airlines, but very largely it went to T.A.A.
I challenge the Government and honorific senators opposite on their suggestion that A.N.A. was mistaken in buying DC6 aircraft. I believe that it made the right choice. During the war A.N.A. ‘s modern aircraft were of enormous assistance to this country. They carried troops out to the islands, and in other ways did great work )ti a time of emergency. All these things have been forgotten. We ought not to forget that men like Captain Holyman blazed the trail that T.A.A. followed.
I do not agree that people need always be carried around this country by air. It is very like a government running its own motor coach service. I felt that I could not allow this nonsense from our socialist friends opposite to pass without comment. I know that they hate A.N.A. The Government sometimes forgets that A.N.A. was the first organization in Australia to stand up to the socialists.
.- I regret that Senator Byrne has raised this subject on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate without, I think, good reason, because the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) had said that he would present a comprehensive statement on the subject and also present a bill that would provide honorable senators with an opportunity for a debate. It has been suggested that the statement by the Minister contained an implication of inefficient management by Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited because he said the management of that company should be reminded of its responsibility for efficient management. I think there is no doubt that the terms of the statutory agreement under which A.N.A. promised economical and reasonable management of its operations have been complied with, because the company sold its equity for over £3,000,000, the purchaser accepting responsibility for the discharge of the debt to the Government. That shows that the company is in a position to discharge its debt.
I rose because I was not prepared to allow to pass without comment statements that we cannot take a beating, implying that we represent private enterprise which has been beaten by government enterprise. Neither am I prepared to sit silent while the criticism offered by the Minister in the statement he made the other day is written up, so to speak, by the Opposition. I shall reserve my opinion on this subject until all the facts have been put before us and we are able to deal with the matter fairly. We would not be able to deal with it fairly to-night, in the absence of the information that should be provided to us in comprehensive documentary form. We cannot discuss the matter fairly until that information has been supplied and considered by people who have some knowledge of the business obligations which govern such undertakings.
I do not propose to say anything to-night about the curious philosophy that seems to be able to combine the principle that trade in the community should be carried on primarily by private enterprise and the principle that private enterprise should be financed with government loans to enable it to compete with government enterprise. That is a curious facet of political philosophy which will be debated, thoughtfully, I hope, on an appropriate occasion. As I have said, this is not the occasion to indulge in criticism or disparagement of the business activities of A.N.A. It is not fair to proceed ex parte in the absence of the defendant.
– I agree with Senator Wright that the appropriate occasion to debate this matter will be when the bill mentioned by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) is placed before the Senate. I do not believe that the question asked by Senator Byrne was out of order, and I think the answer given by the Minister quite fitting. If the matter had remained there, there would have been no need for any one to get excited. The Minister gave an assurance that, as far as the Government was concerned, the conditions under which the loan was made to Australian National Airways were quite in order. Of course, there is really no need to say that I and other honorable senators on this side of the chamber were opposed to the granting of the loan.
Senator Wood’s angry tirade of abuse against an airline owned by the people of Australia, an airline which he knows is giving the best service to the people, was, to say the least, remarkable. I think he mentioned that he was interested in airlines. He has a perfect right to be” interested in airlines. If he had an interest in A.N.A., he took a business risk, along with a number of others. If, in taking that risk, he burnt his fingers financially, I can understand the reason for his outburst. He told the people of this nation, in effect, not to fly in TransAustralia Airlines aircraft, although the pepole’s money is invested in that airline. In other words, he told us that the best thing to do is to allow the people’s money to go down the drain.
Senator Wood may be opposed to government enterprise or to the people of the nation owning or controlling any public utility, but when a public utility owned by the people is managed in such a way as to help in the development of the country, he should not get up in the Senate and attempt to do it real harm. Nothing can do an airline more harm than to infer that its services are not safe. I do not wish to say any more. I have no intention to keep the Senate any longer at this hour. I will be delighted when the bill mentioned by the Minister is introduced, because the debate on it will put a little life into a place that is not very lively during most of its sitting hours.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.59 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 10 October 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1957/19571010_senate_22_s11/>.