22nd Parliament · 3rd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 1 1 a.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade a few questions. Is it true that Mr. McEwen, the Minister for Trade, recently made a strong plea for the inclusion of Russia in trade and commodity agreements? Is it true that he stated that what Australia did for one nation it did for all nations with which it had normal, friendly relations? Are our relations with Russia normal? Is it true that Mr. McEwen stated that Australia was not opposed to trade with Communist countries? Would his statement have any bearing on our relations with red China? Finally, was the president of the Monaro district branch of the Australian Primary Producers Union, Mr. O’Hare, correct in saying that the United States of America had requested no trading with red China?
– A long series of questions is not easy to answer. I think that the best I can do is to answer the questions in general terms. There has been a diversity of opinion about trade with red China. So far as we in Australia are concerned, we have made our position quite clear, in that we are willing and ready to trade so long as the trade is not in strategic materials. I think that that is now wellestablished policy. China is buying a good deal of wool from us. As to Russia, I am not so confident of being able to answer the honorable senator’s questions. My recollection is that I read a suggestion, made overseas by Mr. McEwen, that some attempt be made to persuade Russia to participate in trade and commodity agreements, but I should not like to present that ‘ as an authentic answer. I know that, when the recent collapse of tin prices occurred, the members of the tin council - I forget the number of nations concerned, but there were a great many of them - made representations to Russia asking whether she would join in the International Tin Agreement.
– I address a supplementary question to the Minister for National Development. Will he lay on the table of the Senate the list of strategic materials to which he referred a moment ago, so that we will know what they are?
– I know that there is a defined list o.f those materials, but I am not aware whether it is a public document, and whether it is available. However, if the honorable senator will place his question on the notice-paper, I shall find out the position and let him know.
– My question to the Minister for National Development is prompted by the following heading of an article in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ to-day -
Australian Mission Seeks Zinc, Lead Markets in China, Japan.
The article states, in part -
An Australian trade mission to the Far East will leave Sydney on the Delos late next month for Shanghai, Hong Kong and Japan.
The purpose of the mission is to try to develop markets for Australian products. I ask the Minister: Having regard to the state of the coal-mining industry, particularly in New South Wales, will he use his best offices with the proprietors of coal mines, and through the agency of the Joint Coal Board, to encourage them also to set out on a mission abroad in an endeavour to find overseas markets for our coal?
– I think that the report in to-day’s “ Sydney Morning Herald “ refers to a trade mission that is to leave for Japan and China towards the end of October. The coal-mining industry is represented on it. The chairman of the Joint Coal Board, Mr. Cochran, is a member of the trade mission. The coal-mining industry is to provide an exhibit and send samples. It is a joint effort with the Joint Coal Board which is of some significance and some importance because, as I suppose honorable senators are aware, we are at the present time doing fairly nice business indeed in coal with Japan. This is an effort to consolidate and improve that business.
– Has the attention of the Minister for National Development been directed to a statement in a Sydney weekly journal to the effect that the State Electricity Commission of Victoria has just produced a small quantity of motor spirit from brown coal at Morwell? Has the Minister any information on the cost of production? ls it correct to say that the anticipated production of petrol from, this source within three years is 80,000,000 gallons annually, or 40 per cent, of Australia’s consumption? Is it expected that the production economics involved are of such a nature as to enable a substantial saving in Australia’s dollar expenditure in the near future?
– I did read the report with some interest because about the same time I also read a report given to the Joint Coal Board in New South Wales by a group of specialists or scientists. That report expressed the view that it was not economically possible for Australia to produce motor spirit from coal at a price in any way comparable or competitive with that of motor spirit produced from crude oil. So, as I say, I read the report with a good deal of interest. It was an interesting document from a very responsible source, lt may be that the answer is that motor spirit is being produced as a by-product alongside other products, but it is for the Victorian Government and the Victorian Electricity Commission to follow it through.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. 1 point out that a seemingly grave injustice has been done to a member of the nursing profession in Hobart, who claims to have contracted a chest disease while in Government employment. She was instructed to resign and to undergo treatment. I am informed that her claim for compensation has been rejected. I sought particulars of the case through the office of the Minister for Repatriation who, as usual, was most interested and sympathetic. On being told that the matter was out of the hands of that department, I had inquiries made at the Treasury. Those inquiries confirmed that the claim had been rejected and that a legal appeal now might be contemplated. 1 should like to ask the Minister whether the Government upholds the former practice of giving the benefit of any doubt to claimants for repatriation benefits. Did the Repatriation Department, in accordance with normal practice, obtain an independent medical referee’s report on a claim by a Hobart nursing sister for compensation in respect of a chest disease suffered during her employment at the Repatriation General Hospital, Hobart? Was the independent medical referee’s report in favour of the claim? On the medical evidence, did the Repatriation Department recommend or approve acceptance of the claim? Has the claim since been rejected by Treasury direction? What is the medical standing in this field of the authority on whose recommendation the Treasury may have rejected this claim? If it is revealed that a medical authority holds that the claimant contracted pulmonary tuberculosis due to the nature of her duties at the Repatriation General Hospital, Hobart, then, in the interests of justice, will the Minister have this case reviewed, after an impartial tribunal of radiologists has examined and reported on the X-ray photographs taken of the claimant? I should like to state that I am prepared to give the Minister the name of the person privately.
– With respect to the honorable senator, I think he has asked a question that is impossible to answer. His question concerns a particular case, and no information has been made available about that case. I can only reply in general terms and say that I feel quite certain that the officers of the Repatriation Department, of the Treasury and of any other departments concerned have no interest in doing other than that which is right and proper.
– The Repatriation Department is all right.
– The other departments have no interest in doing other than that which is right and proper. If the details of the case are given to me, I shall send them to the Treasurer and request that he look at them personally.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy a question following on that asked by Senator Tangney of which notice was requested. I ask whether the Minister has read the statement made recently by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Selkirk, in which he said -
I found a very strong and healthy Australian Navy and people have every right to be proud of it.
– I did read the statement on the Royal Australian Navy made by the First Lord. 1 was particularly interested in his comment that Australia and Britain are dependent on the sea routes for their prosperity and safety. 1 feel sure that the tribute to the quality of our Navy by Lord Selkirk, who is so competent to express an opinion on that subject, will come as a breath of fresh air to the people of Australia.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army. I preface the question by stating that about eighteen months ago two men were seriously injured when they found a live shell on a former firing range about 5 miles east of Murray Bridge in South Australia. One man is still in hospital. I have been informed by Mr. Bywaters, the State member for Murray, South Australia, that on Monday of this week one of those men, who has to wear a surgical boot as a consequence of the accident, found another live shell about 120 feet from where the first accident took place. The shell has since been exploded by a demolition squad. I understand also that no compensation has yet been paid to those injured in the first explosion. In the interests of the safety of the people living in the area referred to, I ask the Minister to take immediate steps to ensure that any remaining shells will be searched for and rendered harmless.
– All I can do is assure the honorable senator that I shall pass his representations on to the Minister for the Army and leave it to him to say whether it is practicable to do anything more than has already been done.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows: - 1 and 2. The Minister for the Army advises me that he was correctly reported as saying that noAustralian troops would be sent to the Middle East in the present crisis. The Minister was also correctly reported in pointing out that Australia was part of the Seato and Anzus Pact Areas, and that Australia’s role was, therefore, planned for the South-East Asia area and our men were trained for jungle fighting. Any inference that membership of Seato and Anzus precluded the use of our troops other than in the Pacific Area is incorrect.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Audit Act - Finance - Supplementary Report of the Auditor-General upon other accounts, for the year 1957-58.
– I present the following report of the Public Accounts Committee: -
Forty-first Report- Expenditure from Advance to the Treasurer - Commonwealth Consolidated Revenue Fund for the year 1957-58.
This, the forty-first report submitted by the Public Accounts Committee since its inception less than six years ago, is the last report to be submitted by the third committee. It is perhaps fitting that, like the first report, it should deal with the Treasurer’s Advance and related matters, such as under-spending, to which your committee has directed so much attention from, time to time.
In this report, your committee focuses some attention upon the standard of departmental estimating and under-spending of the votes. The committee has done this because, frequently, it has discovered that excess expenditures met from the Treasurer’s Advance, and surpluses which have arisen in other votes - sometimes as a result of bad estimating - are related. But while the committee has found some serious faults in estimating, it considers that in general the standard has improved since it first commenced its operations in 1953.
There is one further comment I should like to make. This report has been presented to the Senate much earlier than those of previous years. That this has been achieved is due very much to the earlier date on which the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and the various departments were able to make available the relevant data and necessary explanations sought by the committee.
Ordered to be printed.
Motion (by Senator O’sullivan) agreed to -
That Government business take precedence of general business after 8 p.m. this sitting.
Bill presented by Senator O’sullivan, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The object of this short bill is to clarify the authority of chaplains to solemnize marriages under the Marriage (Overseas) Act 1955. Honorable senators will recall that this act authorizes certain marriages to be performed in countries that do not form part of the Queen’s Dominions. So far as marriages of servicemen are concerned, the act enables a marriage between parties, of whom one at least is a member of the defence force, to’ be solemnized in an overseas country by a chaplain. The act also validates certain marriages purported to be solemnized by chaplains in overseas countries between 3rd September, 1939, that is, the date of commencement of World War II., and 1st July. 1957, the date of commencement of Part III. of the act. “ Chaplain “ is at present defined by section 4 “ as a minister of religion who, at the time material for the purposes of this act - (a) is or was authorized by or under the law of a State or Territory of the Commonwealth to celebrate marriages in that State or Territory; and (b) is or was a member of the: defence force “. It. has been brought to notice that this, definition may be defective, as in some States and Territories a minister of religion registered as an authorized celebrant upon ceasing to reside in the particular State or Territory, is deregistered, and is therefore no longer a person “ authorized to celebrate marriages “.
This bill inserts a new and more appropriate definition of “ chaplain “, which will avoid the difficulties referred to. The authority of a chaplain to perform functions under the act will, under his definition, be dependent solely upon this appointment as a chaplain in the defence forces. Provisions have been included in the bill to validate marriages already performed by chaplains both in the 1939-57 period and in the period between, the date of commencement of Part III. of the principal act and the date of commencement of this bill.
There is nothing contentious in this measure, which is designed purely to remove the doubts referred to, and I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to extend for a further period the entitlement to preference in employment, which ex-servicemen of World War II., and certain others, have enjoyed under the Re-establishment and Employment Act. The Senate will recall that preference was originally granted for a period of seven years after the cessation of hostilities of World War II. This period ended on 2nd September, 1952. The legislation has already been extended on two occasions by bills introduced by this Government. The Government has decided to extend the legislation until 30th June, 1960. The operative provision in clause 3 of the bill will be ante-dated to 2nd September. 1958, which was the date of expiry of the existing provision. Clause 4 is designed to guard against any possible injustice arising from this retroactivity. T commend the bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Benn) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The Tradesmen’s Rights Regulation Act was enacted in 1946 to deal with the situation which resulted from the operation during the war of the agreements for the dilution of skilled labour made with the engineering and other unions concerned. There was, at the same time, the problem of the orderly introduction into trades where this dilution had occurred of those ex-servicemen who qualified for training under the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme. The act contained regulatory provisions giving to “ recognized tradesmen “, including ex-servicemen, a measure of preference in employment in the skilled trades to which the act applied. Provision was made for a system of central and local trades committees which had power, amongst other things, to issue certificates to those who satisfied the criteria of “ recognized tradesmen “ provided for in the legislation.
Primarily, the legislation was concerned with protecting the tradesmen who had given up something of their traditional status and position to aid the more effective prosecution of the war - to protect them after the war in a transition period that was expected to present special employment problems, and against the competition of the dilutees brought into the trade during the war. It was never intended that the legislation should operate indefinitely. The 1946 act was expressed to have the same life as the preference provision of the Reestablishment and Employment Act, which had somewhat similar protection objectives.
What happened in the post-war period was rather different from what had been anticipated. I mention two points only. First, all the feared unemployment of the post-war transition did not materialize. Secondly, we embarked on the massive migration programme, and that meant the arrival of many tradesmen. It was against this background that, when in 1952 the act was due to expire, the Parliament decided instead to extend it, but with some changes. Shortly, what was done was as follows: The rights of “recognized tradesmen “ were modified so as to restore greater freedom to the employer in relation to engagements and dismissals. The dilutees, or added tradesmen, who had worked as such for not less than seven years, were given tradesman’s status. Provision was made for the entry into the trades of Korea and Malaya veterans. But the most notable of the amendments was that which enabled the machinery of the act to be used for the assimilation of tradesmen migrants. The local trades committees were empowered to grant a “ recognized tradesman’s “ certificate to a migrant when they were satisfied that he had qualified in his own country for employment in one of the dilution trades and possessed the skill necessary for the performance in Australia of the work of a recognized tradesman.
Criteria were subsequently worked out by the central trades committees, in consultation with the Department of Labour and National Service, for the selection of migrant tradesmen abroad, including trade testing, which ensure that migrants will be accepted as tradesmen on arrival here. The problem was, of course, that in some overseas countries, tradesmen are trained differently from the normal Australian method of apprenticeship. The problem was to equate the methods used elsewhere to Australian methods. Throughout, the purpose was to avoid any lowering of our trade standards. By and large, the arrangements made have worked extraordinarily well. They have done much to allay the fears of governments of countries of emigration, and of the migrants themselves, as to their acceptance for work at their trades here, and have avoided obvious difficulties which could have arisen if some such arrangement had not been made.
The present machinery under the act is largely devoted to dealing with migrants. There are, of course, some veterans who are still being trained. In addition, arrangements were recently made by the central committees to extend tradesmen status to members of the Permanent Forces’ who receive trade training in the forces. We need to validate this, and I will return to it later.
There is one other general observation that I would like to make about this legislation. It is that, throughout, we have been able to get a high degree of co-operation between the Government, the employers’ organizations and the trade unions concerned, in the administration of the legislation, and of agreement about the provisions of the legislation as extended from time to time. Much the same spirit has been evident in the lengthy discussions the Department of Labour and National Service has been having with the parties as to what should be the future of this legislation. In this current case, there was finally only one point of real difference between the employers and the unions, and this the Government has resolved in a way which I hope will commend itself to all concerned.
I come now to what this bill proposes to do. In the first place, it proposes to continue the existing machinery of central and local committees which will have authority to issue tradesmen’s certificates in respect of those who satisfy the criteria provided for in the legislation. This will mean that it will be possible for the good work that is now being done, particularly in respect of the assimilation of migrant tradesmen, to continue. All parties have agreed that this machinery should be kept. There will be no time limit on. the operation of the provisions that are involved in this.
Secondly, the bill extends the range of people who can be given tradesmen’s certificates to cover’ those men in the Permanent Forces who have received trade training during their terms of service. This will confirm legislatively the practice which has been followed by the trades committees for some little time now.
The third main matter that the bill deals with is the matter of preference in engagement and dismissal, which, up till now, the legislation has given to “ recognized tradesmen “. As I remarked before, this preference was somewhat cut down in 1952. It was in relation to this preference point that there was disagreement between the employers and the unions in the recent discussions with the department. As I have said before, nobody disputes that it was not intended that the rights conferred by this legislation should run on indefinitely. After a good deal of discussion between the department and the employers and the unions it was agreed that, in future, the provisions of the act relating to preference to “ recognized tradesmen “ in engagement and dismissal should only operate in respect of those who were “ recognized tradesmen “ on the 2nd September last. But, on their side, the unions wanted this provision to run on indefinitely, whereas the employers said that it should terminate at the end of next year.
As is well known to the Senate, there has been a tendency in the past to associate decisions affecting the future of the preference provisions of the Re-establishment and Employment Act with decisions affecting the Tradesmen’s Rights Regulation Act. As the Government has now decided that the preference provisions of the reestablishment act will be extended until 30th June, 1 960, it has also decided that the preference given by the tradesmen’s rights act to tradesmen, in respect of engagement and dismissal, shall run on until the same date.
In short, what this means is that those who were “ recognized tradesmen “ on 2nd “September last will continue to have the preference that they enjoyed under the old tradesmen’s rights legislation, against all who are not “ recognized tradesmen “, until 30th June, 1960. Those who get tradesmen’s certificates after 2nd September. 1958, will not, however, have any rights to preference under this act. In other words, the situation for them from now on, and for all tradesmen as from 30th June, I960, will be precisely what it was before the dilution agreements were initiated in 1940. Nobody can justly complain that these proposals are unreasonable. The legislation conferring rights on tradesmen was originally limited to seven years. In fact, it will, for all practical purposes, have run for more than fifteen years.
There is one further point for which the bill provides. It relates to the powers of the central committee. In the first place, the bill makes clear that the central committees do have power to give the kind of directions to local committees that they have been accustomed to give. This is a confirmatory provision. In the second place, since the bill provides for continuing legislation, the Government has felt it desirable that there should be provisions which give the central committees power to cope with developing circumstances, rather than make it necessary for further amendments to be submitted to the Parliament from time to time. So, it is provided that a central committee may enlarge the categories of persons to whom tradesmen’s certificates may be granted.
I can illustrate the need for this in this way. Only quite recently, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) brought to the attention of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) the cases of a number of men in his electorate who have been working at a trade for very many years, but have not been given recognition as tradesmen because of the specific provisions of the legislation. Under the bill’s proposals, it will be possible for the relevant central committee to consider whether cases such as those brought up by the honorable member for Bendigo should be cases where tradesman’s certificates should be issued. I do not know whether the central committee will do so or not. We have entrusted the question of issuing tradesman’s certificates to committees which consist of representatives of the employers’ organizations and unions concerned, with a departmental chairman. These committees should, after all, be in the best position to deal with matters like this. It will be the employers and the unions, and they only, who determine whether tradesmen’s certificates should be granted to other classes of persons, because the bill provides that, in effect, the departmental chairman shall have no vote when such decisions are being taken. And since it is somewhat unusual - though I think the circumstances in this case make a perfect justification for it - for a bill to provide, in effect, for a body outside the Parliament to enlarge the scope of the legislation, the bill also provides that any decision of this sort of a central committee shall not be operative without the prior approval of the Minister. 1 only need to add that the bill also removes some redundant provisions from the present legislation, provides a minor extension of the grounds for giving tradesmen’s certificates in the boilermaking trades, which was asked for by the union and agreed to in the discussions I have referred to, and makes some minor amendments of a consequential nature. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Benn) adjourned.
– I move -
Thai the bill be now read a second time.
This bill contains the framework of a stabilization scheme for the Australian wheat industry for a third five-year period. The new plan will commence with the 1958-59 wheat season and will cover five wheat crops. Complementary legislation is to be passed by all States. The proposed new plan provided for in the bill is, in essentials, in line with the existing one. It has been negotiated with all State Ministers of Agriculture in the Australian Agricultural Council and with the select committee of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation representing the wheat-growing industry.
This bill will repeal the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act of 1954. It is thought better to have a new act rather than to make a large number of amendments to the earlier legislation. This will enable the plan to be outlined in a self-contained act and to be more easily understood. The main features of the plan on which the Commonwealth and State governments and the Australian Wheat Growers Federation have agreed are:
Export tax: A tax will be collected on wheat exported which will be equivalent to the excess of the returns from export sales over the guaranteed return. However, the maximum rate of export tax will be1s. 6d. per bushel.
Size of fund: The ceiling of the stabilization fund is estimated at £20,000,000; any excess beyond this figure will be returned to growers on the “ firstinfirstout “ principle.
Balance in present Wheat Stabilization Fund: The balance remaining in the fund at the termination of the present plan will be carried forward to the new plan as the nucleus of a new stabilization fund.
Use of the Stabilization Fund: When the average export realizations fall below the guaranteed return, the deficiency will be made up, first by drawing upon the stabilization fund, in respect of up to 100,000,000 bushels of wheat from each crop. When the fund is exhausted, the Commonwealth will meet its obligations under the guarantee.
These are the main features of the new plan. They follow closely those of the current stabilization scheme.
The wishes of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation have been substantially met in the new plan proposals. Following its original offer to the industry of a new stabilization plan, the Australian Agricultural Council, at the request of the federation, gave further consideration to two items related to the guaranteed return and the home consumption price. The first item was the use in the cost of production formula of a yield divisor of 15.5 bushels per acre. The federation considered that 14.8 bushels should be substituted. The federation’s second request was that a higher margin of profit should be included in the base home-consumption price to increase it above 14s. 6d. per bushel. The Australian Agricultural Council did not agree to either request.
At the request of the Australian Agricultural Council and the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, an industry survey was carried out by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. This survey revealed fundamental changes in the structure of the wheat-growing industry in recent years. Smaller and more selective acreages, the use of modern machinery and equipment, the increased application of fertilizers, the use of ley farming practices and wider rotations have been responsible for improved production results. The Agricultural Council considered that to take an average yield for the next five years below 15.5 bushels per acre would be unrealistic.
The cost of production formula has been liberalized in some important respects for the purpose of the new plan. The industry now receives the benefit of fair market values for land, improvements and stock, which results in a substantially higher allowance to the farmer for interest on the total capital value of his property. Previously, only security value was allowed for. In respect of depreciation, as in the previous formula, the rather generous assumption is made that farmers regularly replace their depreciable assets over time according to the rates of depreciation allowed. All such assumed additions to assets are valued at currently ruling prices. In practice, farmers frequently extend the life of such items as fences, buildings and dams considerably through continuing repairs and maintenance which are themselves allowed as annual costs. Thirdly, the owner-operator allowance has been raised to £1,040 per annum for 1958-59 and will be subject to adjustments beyond that date in accordance with arbitration wage decisions. Again, the labour of the farmer’s family is costed at award rates, whether or not the members of the family were in fact paid at such rates. Having regard to these and other items, it is fair to say that the guaranteed return is a fairly generous one.
The Agricultural Council declined to agree to the federation’s request for the inclusion of a higher profit margin in the home-consumption price. The council did agree, however, that it would examine the federation’s proposal again before the 1959-60 wheat season commences.
The select committee of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation has since accepted in its entirety the new stabilization plan provided in the bill. When advising its acceptance of the plan, the committee indicated that the federation did not require a ballot of growers, and requested that all governments should proceed to legislate for the plan as soon as possible. The State Ministers of Agriculture were unanimous in the view that wheat growers in their respective States were so anxious for stabilization to continue that there would be no point in conducting a poll. It is with this background of full support from all Australian governments and the wheat industry leaders that this bill is presented. It will preserve an efficient marketing organization and give the wheat growers of Australia confidence that they will get a fair return for the wheat they grow in the next five years. I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Flaherty) adjourned.
Sentaor PALTRIDGE (Western Australia - Minister for Shipping and Transport and Minister for Civil Aviation) [11.47] - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill covers a particular aspect of the new wheat industry stabilization arrangements. It is complementary to the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill 1958 and gives effect to the Commonwealth’s part of the new stabilization plan.
It is a requirement of the stabilization plan that in times when wheat export prices are high, growers will contribute moneys which will be used for the benefit of the industry when prices are low. These moneys will accumulate in a stabilization fund and will then be used to meet the guaranteed return on export wheat.If the fund proves inadequate the Commonwealth then has the responsibility of meeting the guarantee on export wheat to the extent that the fund is not sufficient to do so. The wheat-growing industry agreed to this principle some years ago and still regards the arrangement as a fair sharing of the risk by growers and the Commonwealth.
The bill imposes a charge on wheat exported from Australia. The charge will be paid to the extent that the export price exceeds the guaranteed price, but at no time can it be higher than the maximum rate of 1s. 6d. a bushel provided in the bill. This measure follows the lines of the 1954 act. It will apply to the 1958-59 wheat harvest and to the four crops that follow it. I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Flaherty) adjourned.
Senator SPOONER (New South Wales-
Minister for National Development) [11.49]. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In his Budget speech last month, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) outlined proposed amendments of the income tax law. These amendments are incorporated in the bill. Of particular interest to me and, I believe, to all honorable senators are provisions which will extend additional encouragement to the investment of Australian capital in any company searching for oil in Australia or Papua-New Guinea as its principal business. One-third of the calls paid on shares in these companies is at present deductible from the income of shareholders. Upon the discovery of oil in commercial quantities, the company may deduct from the sale price of the oil mined in Australia or in Papua-New Guinea, its capital expenditure on prospecting or mining the oil or on plant required for its treatment. Honorable senators will observe that this deduction assists a company only when payable quantities of oil have been mined by it.
In lieu of the allowances mentioned, deductions are to be provided in some circumstances for the full amount paid to those companies by shareholders as application money, allotment money or calls to be used for oil exploration. Shareholders will be entitled to the enlarged deductions where the company elects to forgo allowances for a corresponding amount of capital expenditure that would otherwise be deductible it it found oil in Australia or in Papua-New Guinea.
As indicated in the Budget speech, the new allowances will apply to capital subscribed on shares allotted after the date of Royal assent to the bill. The allowances will not, however, be extended to nonresident shareholders or to amounts paid by companies controlled from outside Australia. Should the appropriate election not be made by an oil exploration company, the present deduction allowed to shareholders of one-third of calls will be continued. In addition, the existing exemption of company profits required to recoup capital expenditure and dividends paid from those profits will be retained.
I turn now to proposals designed to assist the primary industries. First, it is proposed to continue for a further period of three years the special depreciation allow ance of 20 per cent, per annum which applies to plant and structural improvements used in the agricultural and pastoral industries. Under the existing legislation, this special allowance is due to terminate next year. As extended, it will apply toplant acquired and structural improvements constructed up to 30th June, 1962. Structural improvements in the course of construction at 30th June, 1962, and completed during the following income year will also qualify for the allowance.
It is also proposed to extend the special depreciation provisions to the fishing and pearling industries. The special allowance in relation to these industries will apply to plant acquired for use or installed ready for use after 30th June, 1958, and before 1st July, 1962. It will apply also to structural improvements used solely in the pearling industry, where these are constructed between the dates mentioned. Structural improvements . commenced before 30th June, 1962, and completed in the following income year will also be subject to the special allowance. The structural improvements qualifying for the special allowance in the pearling industry will include workshops, storage accommodation, and similar buildings used directly for the purposes of pearling operations. The allowance will also extend to housing provided for employees and tenants engaged in those operations, subject to depreciation being allowed on a maximum amount of £2,750 for each employee or tenant. Expenditure on housing in excess of this amount will be subject to depreciation at normal rates.
The bill also provides for the extension of the averaging system to individual taxpayers carrying on the business of fishing or pearling. Subject to some limitations, the rate of tax payable by these taxpayers will be determined by reference to the average of the taxable incomes of the current year and the preceding four years. The first income taken into account in applying the averaging provisions will be income of the current year 1958-59. Averaging will thus commence in assessments on income derived during the year 1959-60, unless this would be to the disadvantage of the taxpayer. As in the case of other primary producers, a taxpayer carrying on fishing or pearling
Operations may elect at any time to withdraw permanently from the averaging provisions.
The bill also removes an existing discrimination against certain primary producers engaged in rural development projects with a view to selling their land at a profit. These taxpayers, together with other primary producers, are entitled to deduct capital expenditure incurred in the course of developing their land. Deductible expenditure includes the cost of clearing, draining and preparing the land for agriculture or pasture, combating soil erosion and conserving water. Profits accruing to these primary producers from the sale of their land is assessable for income tax. In computing the profit, however, the law excludes any expenditure for which deductions have previously been allowed. In contrast, a primary producer who sells land not acquired for resale at a profit is not liable for tax on profit derived should he eventually sell his land. Moreover, development expenditure which has been deductible is not written back as assessable income even though it is reflected in an increased sale price of the land.
The amendment proposed in the bill will ensure that the benefit of the deductions is preserved in the cases now adversely affected. The amendment will apply in relation to land sold during 1958-59 and succeeding years. A further amendment will extend the allowances for developmental expenditure on rural land to expenditure incurred on land in the Territory of New Guinea. The present deduction applies to expenditure on land in the Territory of Papua and the amendment will remove the discrimination which, in the past, has existed in relation to developmental expenditure on land in the Territory of New Guinea. The new provision will apply to expenditure incurred during the current year 1958-59 and subsequent years.
Finally, the bill proposes amendments to the special zone allowances provided for residents in isolated areas and members of the defence force serving in certain overseas localities. A resident of zone A is at present entitled to a deduction of £180. For the income year 1958-59 and future years, this will be increased to £270 plus an amount equalling one-half the concessional deductions to which the taxpayer is entitled for the maintenance of dependants. Deductions on the same basis will be allowed to members of the defence force stationed ai declared localities outside Australia. In the case of a resident of zone B, the present deduction of £30 will be increased to £45 plus one-twelfth of the deductions allowable to the taxpayer in respect of the maintenance of dependants. Further explanations of the proposed amendments are provided in a memorandum that has been circulated with the bill which I now submit for the consideration of the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Flaherty > adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to declare the rates at which income tax and social services contribution shall be payable by individuals and companies for the current financial year 1958-59. For the reasons stated by the Treasurer in the course of his Budget speech on 5th August last, the Government does not intend making this year any tax concessions of a general character. Accordingly, the rates declared in this bill are the same as those enacted for the financial year 1957-58.
The proposed rates will be applicable to taxable incomes derived by companies during the 1957-58 income year. However, under the pay-as-you-earn system in operation, individual taxpayers are required t.o pay current tax out of current income, either by way of tax instalment deductions or provisional tax. Consequently the rates of tax proposed by the bill will apply to taxable incomes derived by individual taxpayers during the current 1958-59 income year. As the rates declared in this bill are the same as those discussed and adopted by the Parliament last year, there is no need for me to explain in detail the clauses of the bill. 1 commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Flaherty) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 24th September (vide page 613), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– When the Senate adjourned last night, I was giving a brief review of the social services that are at present available to the public and a short history of each of the benefits. I showed that, with the exception of two or three only, all the present social services had been initiated by Labour governments. I should like to revert to that subject for a moment, because in another place the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), in his speech on the motion for the second reading of the bil! there, stated that most of the improvements in social services had been brought about during the last few years. His actual words were -
This Government has decided to amend the act by introducing another new feature to the spectacular programme of social services, most of which has been written up in the last few years.
I give the Minister credit for the fact that, after the debate had proceeded in the other House and the real facts had been put to him, he did not insert those words in the second-reading speech made in the Senate. However, those words had already been broadcast. Therefore, I feel it incumbent upon me to remove any doubts that may be in the minds of some people with regard to the initiation of certain social service legislation.
It. is remarkable that, despite the last nine years of unbounded prosperity, about which we were told last night, there has been so little change in our social service legislation. One of the factors responsible for that unbounded prosperity is beyond the control of all mortals. I refer to the good seasons that we have enjoyed. Without detracting from the Government’s responsibility for the other factors, let me repeat that, despite this era of prosperity, there have been very few changes in social service benefits, many of which have declined in purchasing power over the years.
When dealing with social services,- it is idle to talk, in this or in any other chamber, only in terms of money. We all know that the only value of money is what we can buy with it. Purchasing power is the only things that counts. It would be fatal to be stranded on a desert island, even with a couple of million pounds in your purse, if you had no food, water or other means of subsistence. All the money in the world would not help you then. I think I am. being quite generous to the Government when I say that during the last nine years the purchasing power of the £1 has declined by at least 50 per cent. Probably the decline has been greater than that, but I am using that figure because I do not want to be unfair in my criticism.
Since 1948 the population of Australia has increased, mainly as a result of the immigration scheme - which was formulated originally by a Labour government. The machinery of the scheme was put intoworking order by Mr. Calwell, when he was the Minister for Immigration. Since thenthe scheme has been administered wisely and extended by his successors in office. Because of the immigration programme, and also because of natural increase, the population of Australia now is 25 per cent, greater than it was in 1948. It has risen from 8,000,000 to 10,000,000. When we are discussing the costs of the various social services, we must always remember that not only has our population increased, but also that the number of people of pensionable age has increased. I think a great deal more attention should be paid to the fact that the number of people of pensionable age is increasing at a greater rate than the number of people below that age.
I should like to commend Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin for the work she has done in investigating the problems of the aged. I think it would be an excellent idea if the Government were either to reconstitute the social security committee of former days, which went into all these social service problems, or, if it does not feel disposed to do that, to appoint a committee of women senators, as women have a special interest in social services. Of course the women senators are interested also in other national problems, but they have a very special interest in social service problems. I know that we could work quite amicably and perhaps give the Minister a little advice and1 help. The previous Minister for Social Services was a bachelor, and I think he was a bit scared of us, but I am quite certain that the present
Minister - a very ‘benign person, and a good friend of mine - would be able to cope with us. In any case, we could perhaps help him in dealing with a lot of his problems, particularly in regard to benefits which apply specifically to women and children. Honorable senators will find that the lot of women and children depending on social service benefits is particularly painful and hard. The maternity allowance has not been increased1 by one penny since this Government came into office. When we allow for the depreciated value of money, we ‘see that that allowance is worth only one-half of what it was when the Chifley Government brought down the last amendment to the act in 1947. One slight concession has been granted to mothers. The £5 advance against the maternity allowance before the birth of the child has been increased to £10. But that does not alter the total value of the maternity benefit. I remember only too well, as I am sure Senator McKenna also does, the mirth with which I was greeted in this chamber some years ago when I suggested the payment to expectant mothers of a certain amount before the expected date of birth of a child. At that time, many mothers found, before the birth of their children, that they needed specialist attention and the whole of the maternity allowance was eaten up in specialists’ fees. No act of Parliament has done so much to improve the health of expectant mothers as has the amendment which provided for the payment of an advance against the maternity allowance.
To support that assertion, I shall quote figures supplied to me by the matrons of several of the biggest maternity hospitals in Australia. As some of those matrons have been decorated by Her Majesty for the public service they have rendered, I do not think that they would go out of their way to give me false statistics on this matter. They told me that at the time we increased the maternity allowance and made provision for this advance, it was suddenly decided that 90 per cent, of the women attending clinics and hospitals found it necessary to obtain specialist attention. Specialist gynaecologists sprang up everywhere. General practitioners put up brass plates, paid the required registration fees and became specialists. Their charges ate up the whole of the maternity . allowance. In order to give an expectant mother a few shillings a week to buy a few extras for herself before the birth of her child, we introduced this system of making an advance against the maternity allowance. Immediately afterwards it was found that 90 per cent, of expectant mothers no longer required specialist attention. By one act of Parliament, by a simple stroke of the pen on the part of the Minister, we were able to improve the health of many expectant mothers in the community. Senator McKenna, who was the Minister in charge of this legislation at the time, will bear out what I say. The only concession this Government has given in relation to the maternity allowance over the last nine years has been to increase the original advance made before the birth of the child by £5, but there has been no increase at all in the actual benefit.
I come now to child endowment. Here, I give the Leader of the House in another place, Mr. Harold Holt, credit for having introduced a much needed reform in July, 1941, which provided for the payment of 5s. a week for every child, except the first, under the age of sixteen years. That sum was increased in 1945 by the Curtin Labour Government, to 7s. 6d. a week for the second child and subsequent children, lt was increased again by the Chifley Labour Government, in 1948, to 10s. a week for the second child and subsequent children. The Menzies Government then introduced a worth-while amendment. In June, 1950, it extended child endowment to the payment of 5s. a week for the first child under the age of sixteen years, but this Government has not increased the payment by Id. either in actual money, or in value, since the rates were last fixed by the Chifley Government in 1948.
There is another benefit that is not mentioned in any of the pamphlets issued by the Department of Social Services. I refer to the funeral benefit. I think it has been forgotten, because it has not been increased in any way since the Curtin Labour Government introduced, in June, 1943, the payment of a funeral benefit of £10.
The dates of introduction of these social services are both important and enlightening. This Government has much to say about the £273,000,000, or one-quarter of its Budget of over £1,000,000,000 which it is spending on social services, but I remind the members of the Government that at the time the Labour government introduced these various social service benefits it had to budget for terrific expenditure on war. We were engaged in total war at that time, and many thought that the government was going beyond what was expected of it in -.seeking to extend social service benefits during such a period. I remember the Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Curtin,pointing out that while the country must afford to spend all this money on war it had to be prepared to spend so much also on the post-war period to make this a better land for those who were returning from giving their time and offering their lives in defending it. I repeat, it was during & time of total war that these reforms were introduced, and, because they were introduced during a time of total war, the initial payments provided then appear now to be somewhat small, but in actual fact, they were quite in keeping with the then value of money.
The funeral benefit has not been increased. I suppose this Government thinks it does not matter, anyhow, because someone will bury a deceased person, eventually; -and, therefore, the Government considers that there is no need to worry about the payment of funeral benefit. That is a tragic -outlook. I do not know whether any honorable senators have ever seen a pauper’s funeral. I do not know whether they have attended a funeral which has been devoid of those elements of decency and respect that should accompany such a ceremony. I have attended such funerals, and I have been greatly upset by them. Realizing the -terrific cost of an ordinary funeral, we can understand that a pensioner is interred with little ceremony, even though he contributed to a funeral benefit fund and his entitlement is augmented by the Commonwealth funeral benefit of £10. Here, it is appropriate to stress that it is amazing to learn how often a pensioner will go without some small luxury - it may be only a second cup of tea - in order to be able to pay something to a funeral benefit fund. Pensioners have a terrific fear and dread of being buried as paupers. I do ask the Government to give very serious consideration to this matter. After all, the cost of increasing the funeral benefit would be negligible in comparison with the cost of the total social services programme.
When the Senate adjourned last night, 1 had been referring to unemployment and sickness benefits. 1 spoke about some of the difficulties we had to overcome when the legislation providing for these social services was brought before the Parliament in 1944. At that time, the Social Security Committee, of which both Senator Cooper and Senator Foll were very valued members, was investigating this matter. Those two honorable senators agreed that legislation should be introduced to provide for the introduction of unemployment and sickness benefits. But they found that, although they concurred in the report submitted by the committee, they were obliged, for party reasons, to vote against the legislation when it was brought before Parliament. The committee was disbanded eventually because the Opposition of the day was embarrassed when those of its members who had contributed to a unanimous report of the Social Security Committee were obliged, because of party considerations, to vote against the very legislation they had recommended. Those men were placed in a most invidious position. I remember only too well the night when legislation for the provision of unemployment and sickness benefits was discussed in this chamber. 1 remember how the Leader of the Opposition at that time objected strongly to the measure, claiming that to give a man 25s. a week would encourage idleness and malingering. I am pleased to see that the Government has now changed its attitude towards these benefits. Of the honorable senators who were then in opposition and apposed that legislation, none remains in this chamber. Senator Coo,er is still with us. but he was in favour of the proposal. He was placed in a very awkward position. His colleagues at that time said that when they came to power they would repeal the legislation, but it is still operative and I do not think any government would be game to repeal it now.
A very fine booklet was issued by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) some time ago, but I have discovered thai it is no longer in print, probably because it said too much. It gave the history of each of the social services, and I do not think the Government liked that very much. So when I opened a pamphlet recently issued by the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service to obtain some details, I found a blank page. I suppose that is only a printer’s error, but it is. indicative of what has been done - nothing! I obtained my copy of the pamphlet from the Library. The rehabilitation .service was introduced originally by Senator Fraser, who was Labour Minister for Health at that time. The service was considerably expanded by Senator McKenna, and has been continued by this Government. Yet the Minister, in his second-reading speech, gave credit to the Government for the establishment of this service.
I am grateful for the proposed amendments. I. with other lady senators on the Government side, have agitated for one of them for some time. I was very anxious that the rehabilitation service be extended to A-class widows before they joined the ranks of B-class widows so that they could obtain some form of training which would fit them to resume their place in the community when their children had reached an age which took them beyond the direct control of their mother. The Government, after some years of agitation, has seen the light. I do not begrudge credit where credit is due, so I thank the Minister, and the Government, for the proposed small amendment of the legislation.
A great deal has been said about the proposed liberalization of the means test, but very few pensioners will be affected. If will mean that only a few more people will enter the pension field. I am grateful that at least those few people will benefit However, when one considers the basic pensioner, who is our main concern, the 10s. a week supplementary rent allowance will be of some assistance. I am not in favour of the Government’s proposal on the one hand, with a great blare of trumpets, to liberalize the means test, and on the other hand, to introduce a new means test - a means test within a means test - to decide the class to which the pensioner belongs, the real down and outs or just the down and outs. This is the second occasion within the last three years that this Government has introduced a means test on pensions. In 1955 the act was amended, and those pensioners who received £2 a week above the pension were excluded from medical benefits.
We have heard a great deal about the pensioner medical service. I congratulate the Government, not on initiating the ser vice, hut on having the wit or the cunning - I had better not say what I really think - to coax the British Medical Association on side. This proposal was originated by a Labour government. In December, 1944, I was a member of the Social Security Committee which met members of the council of the B.M.A. in conference in the Senate committee room. 1 travelled from Western Australia with a couple of members of the council, one of whom left me in. no doubt of his attitude during the three days we were on the Nullabor Plains. This doctor told me that he had made a young man sell his lounge suite in order to pay the fees incurred for attendance on the man’s wife during a very complicated confinement. The doctor himself told me the story that when the lad went to him with a fairly large sum of money and said that he would pay the balance at so much a week, the doctor said, “ You have a lounge suite; you have this and that in your home. Do you think more of those than you do of your wife? Come back to me in a week. 1 want my fee.” The doctor himself told me that story. I have repeated it several times because I was appalled by it.
I think Senator McKenna will bear me out when I say that the older men of the profession opposed and hindered the Labour government in its attempt to introduce an adequate health scheme. The younger men who were in the services saw the value of a national health scheme. They appreciated the value of being able to attend patients without money and fees being mentioned. Numbers of young, very highly skilled medical men were quite willing to co-operate with the government of the day, but the older men were afraid of what might happen later. In any case, we all got on quite well at this conference - so we thought. We were the mugs. We were very pleased with ourselves on the Friday afternoon because, after three days sitting, an agreement had’ been drawn up. The secretary of the B.M.A. said he would return to Sydney for the week-end and come back to Canberra on the Monday for the signing of the document. We assembled here on Monday morning, but the representatives of the B.M.A. did not attend. We sat in the committeeroom for some time and thought that perhaps a mistake had been made in the timeof our meeting. Eventually the late Mr. Barnard, who was chairman of our committee, telephoned the head-quarters of the-
B.M.A. in Sydney, and was informed that the association was no longer interested. If Senator Cooper were here he would confirm my statement. I had come from Western Australia, and other members of the committee had come from other parts of Australia, but the B.M.A. did not attend because it was no longer interested. Those things are a matter of record.
The medical profession objected to our proposed pharmaceutical benefits because, first, the doctors were required to complete forms, which they said was trespassing on their privacy as citizens, and secondly, because they contended that the formulary, which was based on the British Pharma.coepia, embraced only about 90 per cent, of available drugs, and they wanted a free hand to prescribe all drugs. At that time, due to war conditions, a number of new drugs, which were hitherto untried, were coming on to the market, and the Government and the medical profession felt that those drugs should be tested first before they were placed on the free list. The Minister for Health at the time informed the medical profession of that fact. However, the profession regarded this as an unsuperable obstacle to the scheme.
Now, pensioners enjoy a free medical service and a free medicine scheme, while the rest of the community has a limited medical and pharmaceutical benefits scheme. I was ill recently, and my chemist bills amounted to approximately £40, but the total value of the free medicine I received was £1 5s. lid. I do not know how the present formula compares with that which was introduced by the Minister for Health in the Labour government, but I feel that the doctors used the limited formulary as a device originally to show that they would not co-operate with the Labour government.
I do not want my remarks to be taken as being an attack upon doctors as a whole or upon many individual doctors. No one has greater cause than I to thank the medical profession for what it has done. I have had many dealings with members of the profession - unfortunately, too many - but I much prefer to deal with them than with the undertakers. I would much rather be getting medical benefits than funeral benefits. The community owes to the doctors much more than it will ever be able to repay, because they give so much of their time and attention to people who are in necessitous circumstances. I have nothing but the greatest respect for the honoraries at the various hospitals. I do not think there is any other body of professional men or women in this or Tiny other country which gives so much voluntary service for the good of the community. But, as there are black sheep in the best of families, so there are black sheep in the medical profession who spoil things for their colleagues.
Last night, an honorable senator opposite referred, by way of interjection, to the Government’s hospitalization plans for pensioners. If I were a supporter of the Government, I would be very discreet and keep quiet about that matter, because when this Government assumed office everybody in the community, whether he was a pensioner or not, was entitled to free treatment in public hospital wards. I think it was the Curtin Government which first introduced that scheme, and that later the Chifley Government introduced amending legislation. That was not regarded as being an aspect of socialization or as being an effort on our part to make the community conform to a certain standard of medical conduct.
It was felt that no nation, particularly a young and growing nation like Australia, could afford to have a proportion of its work force ill when it could be engaged in productive employment. Apart altogether from the humane aspect of the matter, it was felt that the number of days and the number of lives that could be saved by early treatment would mean a great difference to Australia’s economic life. Before Labour assumed office, I was irked every time I walked up Murray-street in Perth and saw before the portals of the public hospital a big notice on which was printed “ For the indigent sick “. In case the indigent sick did not know what that meant, printed underneath were the words “ For the sick poor “. Apparently it was thought that the indigent were also illiterate. So, before a person entered that hospital, he had the brand of pauperism placed upon his forehead. At that time, there were only two classes of people in the community who were receiving the benefit of medical treatment - those who could afford to pay for it, and those who received it as a charity. In between, there was a vast mass of people who oftentimes could not afford to seek the’ best’ medical treatment.
It was for that reason that Labour introduced a scheme for the free hospitalization of all members of the community, not just for pensioners. The Government talks about what it has done for pensioners, but I could cite dozens of cases where pensioners were not admitted to public hospitals because there was no one who could be held responsible for the payment of charges in excess of the hospital benefit payment. If Labour is returned to office, 1 hope that one of the first reforms effected will be to restore the scheme that was in operation when this Government assumed office. It was introduced after a great deal of work had been done by Senator McKenna on behalf of the Australian Labour party and the people generally and after the Social Security Committee, having travelled the length and breadth of Australia, had inspected every kind of hospital, be it public, community or private, had investigated every kind of service that may be granted, and had reported back to the Parliament. Even though there is not specific provision for medical benefits in this measure, 1 thought it was only right, in view of the interjection that was Made last night, to point out to honorable senators opposite what the position was before many of them were elected to the Parliament or, in any case, before the Government assumed office in 1949.
I should like to say a word or two about a matter which is very dear to my heart, and in regard to which I am really conducting a crusade. I refer to the position of civilian widows. This is the second time that 1 have conducted a crusade of a kind. The first occasion was round about the time of the last war when I went flat out to get justice for Australian girls who had married overseas servicemen and who had been deserted by them. That crusade was brought to a successful conclusion; we were able to have the claims of these girls recognized. I am hopeful that the crusade upon which I have now embarked in an effort to obtain justice for civilian widows also will meet with some success.
A young widow without children may go back on to the commercial market and obtain a job, but a widow with young children cannot possibly do so. If she does, she neglects the most important task of all - that is, the care of her children and keeping them off the streets and out of the juvenile courts. In this age, juvenile delinquency is looming increasingly large upon the horizon. One of the main causes of it is lack of parental discipline in the home. When a mother has to go out to work there is no home supervision. It was a Labour government which first recognized the needs of widows and which introduced legislation to provide for a pension. It was not a very big pension, but it was a start. At that time, every penny that the country could afford was being diverted to the war effort.
Under this bill, widows will receive an extra 10s. a week if they comply with certain conditions. I refer particularly to the payment of rent. If the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) replies, perhaps he will say what the position is in regard to a widow who is buying a home. We all know the difficulty that has existed since World War II. in obtaining homes, particularly rental homes. A woman who has children and who is searching for lodgings is regarded as being worse than a criminal. Indeed, so bad did the position become in several States that State governments had to legislate to deal with people who advertised that houses would be let only to people without children. Quite often women have had to use the little bit of money they have had as a deposit on a house. But a woman in that position still has to pay off the house. Moreover, she must pay rates and taxes; she does not get a reduction because she is a widow. She has to have repair work done, and everyone knows how much it costs these days to carry out plumbing and other work on a house. If she can get an advance or overdraft from a bank she is lucky, because she is rarely able to offer the necessary security. I should like to know whether such a woman, who is not paying rent, but is paying off her house, is to be regarded as eligible for this benefit.
As soon as a dependent child turns sixteen the widowed mother will apparently lose £1 a week. In such circumstances, if she has only two children she will lose 10s. in child endowment, and the additional 10s. pension granted for the second dependent child. Thus, to begin with, her income will be down by £1. How will she stand if the child takes a job and contributes to his or her upkeep? Is she still to be regarded as having sole responsibility for maintaining the home? Is the child’s contribution towards keep, fares and so on to be regarded as a gift within the meaning of the act?
While we are talking about gifts I should like to say how pleased I am that gifts can now be given to dependants, without penalty, by brothers and sisters. I cannot help wondering whether the matter will be taken a step further, and whether such gifts will be regarded as being deductible for tax assessment purposes. We are not, of course, opposing the amendment; indeed, anything which will put even another 6d. in the pockets of those- who need it is very welcome. However, we do not want to see all Labour’s work in initiating social service legislation belittled1. One cannot put a price on these things, yet the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) said that his Government was spending £274,000,000 this year as against Labour’s expenditure of £81,000,000, which really should be £91,000,000, in 1948-49. A comparison of that kind is not valid, for it does not take into account the change in money values or the character or size of the social services population. I am not a first-class mathematician, but if one accepts the fact that in 1948-49 the £1 was worth twice what it is to-day, and then takes into account the fact that the population is one and a quarter times greater than it was then, one finds that the payments by the respective governments differ very little. If one multiplies £91,000,000 by two and eleven-twelfths - or, to make it easier, by three - one produces the figure £273,000,000. The pension population has increased, and the various amendments brought down by the Government have increased the money value of some of these benefits. When all factors are considered there is no increase at all.
– Immigration has not resulted in an increased pay-out for pensions.
– Some of the migrants have received social services. I have in mind, for instance, persons coming into this country from England and availing themselves of the reciprocal arrangement between the two countries. As the Minister said, in moving the second reading of the bill-
Amongst other types of special beneficiaries will be migrants awaiting naturalization who remain eligible for invalid pensions until their certificates of naturalization are granted.
In the last few years a great many migrants have, of course, become naturalized. I am not saying that that accounts for’ the whole of the increase in the recipients of social services. I have in mind also the natural increase and the changing nature of the age groups in the community. If Senator Hannaford will take those matters into consideration he will find that Labour’s spending on social services was very much akin to that of this Government.
I hope that the next step taken will be the preparation of consolidating legislation which will bring the act up to date and put the various matters in perspective. Although it is very late in the day, I urge whatever Minister for Social Services may be in office after the election to reconstitute the Social Security Committee, and I ask that the women members of the Parliament should, because of their special interest in this field, be given a little more representation on that committee than they had previously - though, of course, social services is not our only interest.
In conclusion, I ‘ should like to thank sincerely the staffs of the various branches of the Department of Social Services in the capital cities. Nothing is too much trouble to Mr. Humphreys and his staff in Perth. They fall over backwards to ensure that pensioners get the very maximum benefits that are available to them. I thank those gentlemen for their courtesy to me and also to those who visit them on much less happy missions. As I said last night, we regret very much the passing of the Director-General of Social Services, Mr. Rowe, who was a tower of strength to us during his years of association with the department. I hope that those who have worked with him will continue to bring a touch of humanity to the administration of social service legislation, and will continue to treat beneficiaries as being something more than mere numbers. Only in that way can the real purpose of social legislation, which is really to dispense Christian justice, be fulfilled.
– Like Senator Tangney, I wish to make it clear that we are not opposing this amendment of the Social Services Act, though one could say a great deal about the Government’s omissions in the field of social services. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), after moving the second reading of the bill, said -
This bill introduces a completely new type of assistance into the field of social services in Australia. Over the last nine years, the MenziesFadden Administration has demonstrated ils determination that “ freedom from want “ should be not merely an expression of hope but a reality . . .
It is rather ironical that the Minister should say that in introducing a measure which gives so very little to the needy of this country; indeed, it borders on the ridiculous. The Minister said further -
The main import of the bill before the Senate lies in the fact that in it the Government recognizes that there are groups of pensioners who have special needs.
He added that supplementary assistance, at the rate of 10s. a week, would therefore be granted to certain specified pensioners. It is on that matter that I should like to have something to say. First, a great number of people outside this Parliament were under the impression that the proposed supplementary increase of 10s. would have a far wider application than is obviously to be the case. I have been inundated with inquiries from people who believe themselves to be eligible for it, but subsequently learn that they are not. Apparently the increase is to be limited to a very small section of pensioners - first, the single pensioner who has to pay rent and has no income other than his pension; and, secondly, a married couple, only one of whom is a pensioner, when no other form of income is forthcoming. I would like to ask the Government whether it has considered the position of an old couple living in a cottage or small home. We must remember that such people have to pay rates and taxes, and also maintain their property.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.25 p.m.
– When the sitting was suspended, I was referring to the proposed special rent allowance of 10s. a week, and I had pointed out that it would affect only a small proportion of the pensioners of
Australia. I had referred to the position of a pensioner couple who had a small home and who had no other income than their respective pensions, and I was in the process of discussing their position. As we know, Mr. Deputy President, such people have to pay rates and taxes, and to meet the cost of maintenance of the home, such as the cost of painting, and so on. The fact is that pensioners who have to maintain a home which they own are actually worse off than pensioners who do not own their homes but who have to pay rent and who will be entitled to this 10s. a week increase. I believe that some consideration should have been given to the home-owners when the Government decided to assist at least one section of the people in receipt of age pensions.
I have noticed that when the members of another place have asked the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) which pensioners would be entitled to the 10s. a week rent allowance, and when he has been asked whether additional income of a few shillings a week would preclude pensioners from receiving the allowance, his replies have given no satisfaction at all to the honorable members who have been probing for information. It appears to me that the Minister is trying to create the impression that a certain number of people will be encompassed by this special grant of 10s. a week who, in fact, will not receive it at all. I believe that it is the duty of the Minister to give complete and accurate information about the pensioners who will benefit. I do not think that the allowance covers a sufficiently wide section of pensioners, and I believe that, in this respect, the Government has let the pensioners down.
Before I forget, I wish to refer to a statement made by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) towards the end of his second-reading speech. It is as follows: -
In 1948-49, the last full financial year of a Labour government, expenditure from the National Welfare Fund was less than £81,000,000.
That, of course, is not correct. The figure was about £91,000,000-
In 1958-59, expenditure from the fund is estimated to fall little short of £274,000,000 an increase of some £26,000,000 over the actual expenditure in 1957-58.
I am of the opinion that that statement was deliberately and dishonestly designed to portray a situation which just does not exist. For instance, when the Chifley Government went out of office in 1949, it is a well known fact that the amount of revenue that the Government was bringing in from the Australian community was many times less than the amount which is being taken from the people by this Government. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, very skilfully avoided reference to the fact that there has been an increase of approximately 25 per cent, in the population of this country since the 1949 Budget was presented by the Labour government of that day. As I have said, statements such as those made by the Minister are deliberately designed to mislead the Australian public and to give the impression that this Government is spending a far greater proportion of revenue on social services than did the Chifley Government in 1949. It is well known to anybody who has examined the mathematics of the situation that if expenditure had been maintained by this Government at the rate that existed before the Chifley Government went out of office in 1949, the amount required to equal the percentage achieved by the Chifley Government would be between £280,000,000 and £290,000,000 a year.
At the time that the Chifley Government left office, it was in the process of building a social service system. It had made great contributions to the social welfare of the country, and, in fact, it was prepared to make many more contributions. This Government has done no more than carry on the reforms which the Chifley Government instituted. The fact is that this Government dare not disturb the scheme commenced by the Chifley Government, because it is obvious, even to the MenziesFadden Administration, that the Australian people have approved of it and require the form of social security which the Labour government initiated. I feel that I must direct attention to the portions of the Minister’s second-reading speech to which I have referred because, I repeat, I think they were designed deliberately to mislead the Australian public.
I concede that the proposed allowance of 10s. a week will affect some of the pensioners of Australia and will help to improve their conditions, but as I have already said, the proposal is far too restrictive in its operation. The Government stands condemned for not having granted a general increase of pensions in this Budget, although everybody knows that such an increase was necessary, if for no other reason than the declining value of money since the last increase was given. Honorable senators who have anything to do with the pensioners’ leagues and associations throughout the country will know that such an increase was confidently expected. However, the pensioners were disillusioned and let down by the Government. I do not wish to be tediously repetitive, but I point out, as has often been stated before, that had the value of the pension paid under the Chifley Government been maintained by this Government, the pension would now be approximately £5 a week. That means that the pensioners, have been deprived of the difference between £5 a week and the present rate of pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week, through the failure of this Government to appreciate their need’s.
I come now to the question of the easing of the means test. Under this bill, thepermissible amount of property which pensioners may have is to be raised, in the case of a single pensioner, from £1,750 to- £2,250, and in the case of married couples, from £3,500 to £4,500. I commend the Government on taking this action. I believe that it is a step in the right direction, although I do not think that it goes far enough. In my view, the means test should be examined carefully each year and progressive alleviation should be effected every year.
I come now to a matter that the Government appears to have ignored completely. Admittedly, it has effected a material improvement by ameliorating the means test. However, as honorable senators on both sides know, if a pensioner has more than £209 in the bank, the rate of pension is affected. If my memory serves me aright, that provision has existed for about sever* or eight years. Having regard to the depreciated value of money to-day, the amount that a pensioner can have in the bank without affecting his pension should be from £500 to £600. While the Government, on the one hand, has increased the property limit, it has ignored the other end of the scale by not raising the amount of money that a pensioner may have in the bank without affecting , his pension to a figure that would be equivalent to-day, in view of the reduced value of money, to the value of £209 seven or eight years ago. I do not think that that argument can be refuted. I cannot remember the date when the last adjustment to that end of the pension scale was effected but, as I have said, 1 think it was about seven or eight years ago. It seems to me to be completely illogical to liberalize the property limit but to ignore the most needy section of pensioners - those who have only a few pounds in the bank. I urge the Government to consider this aspect of the’ matter with a view to making an appropriate adjustment.
I come now to the question of the wife allowance. Although pension rates have been increased from time to time, the amount of the wife allowance has remained static for about seven or eight years. If an increase of the pension rate is justifiable - and everybody agrees that it is - then it is equally justifiable to adjust the wife allowance to a figure commensurate with the increased rate of age and invalid pensions. It would be a most difficult matter for any supporter of the Government to justify the failure to increase the wife allowance in Budget after Budget. The Government should give urgent consideration to this matter. If it does not do so, the party to which I belong - the Australian Labour party - will give attention to it as soon as Labour is elected to form, the government of this country.
Senator Tangney has referred, quite rightly, to the inadequacy of the funeral benefit. The honorable senator pointed out that the benefit of £10 was fixed by the Chifley Labour Government at a time when £10 would purchase many more commodities than a similar amount will’ purchase to-day in view of the inflated currency. During the period of almost ten years that has elapsed since the amount of the funeral benefit was fixed by the Chifley Government, not the slightest increase has been made by the present Government. This is not the first occasion, of course, on which both Senator Tangney and I, as well as other Opposition senators, have directed attention to this grievous anomaly in our social services system. Although the Government’ has not challenged the justice of our claim, it simply has not done anything to correct the position. Apparently honorable senators on the Government side are content to allow the amount of funeral benefit to remain at £10, although they know in their hearts that this is an inadequate amount to be provided for the burial of pensioners who have no income other than their pensions. Again, I say to honorable senators opposite, that when Labour gains office it will give immediate consideration to increasing substantially the amount of funeral benefit, in order to bring it more into line with to-day’s costs.
Senator Tangney presented a very good case on behalf of the widows of this country, who are entitled to a greater measure of justice. I think that single women are deserving of far greater assistance than is being given to them. They are the lost legion in our community to-day, in respect of social service benefits. They have no husbands to protect them-
– You are bunging it on now!
– I am entitled to put my case as I wish. I contend that this section of women is not receiving the degree of consideration in respect of social service benefits that it is entitled to receive. I refer particularly to those who have not reached pensionable age, are not able to work, but are not certifiable as invalids. Women in that category are in a desperate position indeed. They are not given pensions automatically because they are women. Does the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), who is interjecting, suggest that they are?
– You are doing all the suggesting.
– I thought the Minister was doing it a moment ago, when he suggested that I was bunging it on. However, I am not going to be diverted from my subject by the inane remarks that are coming from the other side. I intend to continue my advocacy of a cause that I believe is worthy of advocating.
The Government has fallen down on its responsibility in the matter of child endowment. I commend the Government for making a certain adjustment in this field, but since making that gesture it has left this subject for consideration in the sweet by and by. The Government should adjust the rate of child endowment to bring it into line with increased costs, having regard to the decrease in the value of money.
– The honorable senator is overlooking the fact that his party opposed the introduction of endowment for the first child in every family.
– I have heard that argument before, lt is an old one. Senator Wedgwood should face the fact that if we reviewed social service benefits to see which, party had made the biggest improvements, the’ party she supports would run a bad last. There may be some feature in which the Government parties have effected an improvement, and initiated some reform, and I do not want to take the credit from them for doing so.
I want now to refer to a matter which I believe demands the urgent attention of the Government. I think that there should be a re-examination of the reciprocal agreement between Australia and Great Britain in relation to social services. Tn consequence of a conference that was held between the representatives of both countries, we were given to understand earlier this year that there would be an easing of certain provisions of the reciprocal agreement. The newspapers had a lot to say about the matter, and most sections of the community expected a very great improvement to be effected. Although some of the provisions were eased, in the main most of the anomalies in the agreement still exist. I think one of the most glaring anomalies is that an Australian-born citizen who has served in a theatre of war may receive a service pension - the equivalent of the age pension - on reaching 60 years of age, whereas a person who comes to Australia from Great Britain and who served in the British Expeditionary Force is not entitled to receive an age pension’ until he reaches 65 years of age, although he may have resided in this country for twenty or 30 years before attaining 60 years of age. When some Englishmen who have come to this country reach the age of 60 years, they apply for a pension, believing that because they are ex-servicemen - admittedly not of the Australian Army, but of the British Army - the applications will be granted. When they find that they are not entitled to a pension, they become very disappointed and disillusioned. It would not affect the economy of this country at all if some method were devised whereby ex-soldiers of the British Army, who had been in Australia for a certain period, became entitled to a pension. That phase of the reciprocal agreement ought to be examined with a view to eliminating a serious anomaly.
Another matter that is causing considerable trouble to people not born in this country, and which is going to cause more trouble in the future, is that many elderly people who have migrated to this country become a charge on their children when they ranch pensionable age, because they are not eligible for the age pension. According to the existing law, a migrant must reside in Australia for a period of twenty years before he can claim an age pension. Many of the people *.ho have come to this country under the immigration scheme during the last ten or twelve years have reached pensionable age. but they do not qualify for an age pension. My attention has been drawn- to dozens of cases of young people, struggling to maintain their own families, whose parents have become a charge upon them. That is an injustice which we should not perpetrate on people who emigrate to this country in good faith.
I know that it is said that these people are told, before they leave the country of their birth, just what conditions apply in regard to social services in- this country. I do not know whether the information is conveyed to them clearly, or whether they understand it properly. At any, rate, they are supposed to be given that information before they leave the country of their birth. Even so, I believe that the time has come, if we wish to continue to induce people to come here as new Australians and establish their homes here, for us to say that we shall no longer impose a twenty-year residential condition in regard to social services. Under the present system, mothers and fathers become charges on their children, who have to bring up their own children. This is a problem that must be faced. I suggest that one way to attack the, problem, even if it cannot be solved in one fell swoop, would be to shorten the period of residence in this country required for eligibility for a pension. If that is not done, we will have in our community thousands of disgruntled new Australians who see that when their parents reach pensionable age the Government has no concern for them. They will be disgruntled because they will have to keep their parents as well as maintain their own homes and care for their own children. I hope that the Government will give this matter urgent and serious consideration.
I do not intend to speak for much longer. I have dealt with what I consider to be some of the urgent needs of the people in respect of social services. I have dealt with the means test. I have commended the Government for raising the value of the property permitted to be held by a married couple from £3,500 to £4,500, and I have criticized the Government - with every degree of justification, I think - for leaving untouched the limit of £209 at the other end of the scale. Perhaps it could be argued that consideration ought to have been given to those at the bottom of the scale before giving consideration to the others. I have dealt with the position of single women in the community, with the case of migrants and with the reciprocal agreement between Australia and Great Britain. I have stated that pensioners generally are being let down as a consequence of the belief of the Liberal party that it can win the forthcoming election under arty circumstances. Honorable senators opposite should not lull themselves into a false sense of security and think they can continue their arrogant treatment of the Australian community. When they get out into the electorates and feel the cold winds of adversity which will start to blow around their ankles as a consequence of their failure to face up to the needs of the Australian community, they may take a different view altogether. Be that as it may, the pensioners will never get true justice until a Labour government occupies the Treasury benches of this Parliament.
Senator WORDSWORTH (Tasmania) [2.501. - First of all, I congratulate the Government on granting this special allowance of 10s. a week to pensioners who have to pay rent. It is a new departure, and the allowance will help tremendously a very large number of people. However, I think there is a certain amount of doubt in the minds of some people as to what is really meant. Apparently the Department of Social Services has prepared a form to be filled in by people who wish to claim this rent allowance. I am quite sure that I am right when I say that doubt exists in the minds of many people, because I have had quite a few people bring these forms to me, seeking information. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), in his second-reading speech, said -
Those eligible to receive this assistance will be pensioners who pay rent for the accommodation that constitutes their homes, and who have little or no means apart from their pensions.
There are people who have acquired homes for which they are still paying. The husband may be the only one who is drawing a pension, and the husband and wife between them have no other means. Such people will not get this allowance, because, theoretically, they own their own home, although, in fact, they do not own it. The fact that they are still paying it off makes their position far worse than if they were really paying rent.
The form 1 have mentioned refers to those who have little or no means apart from their pensions. People are coming to me and asking me to help them fill in these forms. They are in doubt as to whether they are entitled to receive the allowance if, although they are not paying rent, they have only very small means. Will the Minister issue an instruction which will clear up this doubt, which is causing grave concern to many people.
– I should like to make a few comments on this bill. With other honorable senators, I agree that it is pleasing to see any relief at all given in the field of social services, particularly to age pensioners. They are due for some consideration, and this 10s. allowance will, no doubt, be a help. However, I feel the Government has made a departure that is not a good one. It has imposed another means test on poor pensioners. This is the second time the Government has done that. At one time a person who was a pensioner was entitled to free medical attention or hospitalization, but then the Government imposed a means test and excluded a number of persons from those benefits merely because they were not pensioners prior to a certain date. That was a retrograde step, and I think the present step is also retrograde.
The 10s. a week allowance is to go to people paying rent, but there are many other people who are in need of help. A number of pensioners have come to my office in Perth, inquiring what can be done in their cases. They are people who own their own homes. Those homes are not elaborate; they are probably of wood or asbestos construction. These homes need a good deal of attention and maintenance. Further, these pensioners are required to pay rates. Many of them tell me they cannot pay the rates, that they let the debt mount as a charge against their property. I should say that it is costing people such as these more to live in their own homes than it would cost them to rent a room. Their position is indeed desperate and I cannot see the logic in the Government’s reasoning in wishing to impose a further means test on a pensioner who has already qualified for benefit. I cannot see why the Government seeks to discriminate by granting a supplementary pension of 10s. a week to one section only. There are many others who desperately need help.
For instance, I know of a case of a returned soldier from the first world war who is living in his own home with his wife. I know that in his case the payment of this additional 10s. would be warranted, it ever it were warranted. Perhaps the Government makes this grant as a sop, or looks upon the payment as conscience money paid to a portion of the 85 per cent, of pensioners who have no income other than their pension. We read in the press in the various States. that many pensioners are sleeping in the streets or seeking shelter in unused buildings. This action may be the Government’s answer to that problem.
I implore the Government to reconsider the matter very carefully. If the Government is not prepared to be generous enough to give this assistance to every age pensioner, then I plead with it to give the payment to those who have their own homes and who find the cost of maintenance too heavy. Many of these people are very old and probably need a little help in the home; whereas, if they were boarding, or staying with somebody else, at least there would be somebody nearby to help them.
I do not wish to go into all the ramifications of social services, but I do plead with the Government to do something for these people. On previous occasions, I have referred to the need for helping slowlearning children, and spastics, and here again I hope that something will be done by the Government in the near future.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I should like to ask one question about rehabilitation. The Minister has said that in removing this restriction it is not intended to accept short-term cases in which the disability is expected to last for less than 26 weeks. Does that mean that any one who has a disability that will last for less than 26 weeks is not eligible for rehabilitation?
– In accordance with the policy of my party in connexion with social services legislation, I bring forward an amendment that has been moved on behalf of the party on two former occasions. Clause 1 of the bill reads, in part - (1.) This Act may be cited as the Social Services Act 1958.
I move -
That clause 1 be postponed.
As an instruction to the Government -
That immediately on payment of present increases, provision should be made for the establishment of an independent tribunal to ascertain and inform the Parliament of a suitable amount which should be made payable for the comfort and needs of the various recipients of welfare payments.
I have spoken on this matter on several previous occasions in this place. My party believes that it is time that the subject of pensions was removed from the political arena. That is why I submit this amendment. We wish the question of pensions to be dealt with by an independent tribunal which will suggest rates that will give recipients a fair standard of living. We know that pensioners are not receiving sufficient to enable them to enjoy a reasonable state of health now. That may. be due to the practice of bringing the question of pensions before the Parliament. I believe that in future we shall have to look for some better method of providing for invalids and the aged.
Taxation of the individual in Australia has almost reached saturation point. I understand that economists say that 30 per cent, is as much individual taxation as the country can stand. The present rate of taxation on the individual is in the vicinity of 27 per cent. That being so, it is obvious that any future increase made to pensioners will be very small indeed, that the pension rates will never be such as will provide a reasonable standard for the recipient.
While we do not suggest a different method of paying pensions to invalids and the aged, we do submit that something must be done, and we hope that the method we are now suggesting will be effective. Under our suggestion, an independent tribunal will first deal with the subject, and the money will have to be provided in some way or other. My party believes that pensions should be paid for out of a national assurance scheme. I have spoken about that in the Senate before ana do not wish to go through all the ramifications of such a scheme now, but we do believe that it is the only way by which these people may be enabled to enjoy some measure of justice. As I have stated before, taxation will never give the pensioner what he really needs to live in comfort.
– But you will admit that some of them are quite all right, that only a certain proportion need help?
– There is quite a big section of pensioners who are not quite all right. I should say, also, that there are many others who have qualified for the pension by adopting devious means, and who probably should not be enjoying it, but that does not affect the position of the 70 per cent, or 80 per cent, of pensioners who are in need of help.
– Are you suggesting that people who are not entitled to it are receiving the pension?
– I should say that, by adopting various means, certain people have obtained the pension, although I admit that the means adopted are legitimate.
– But that applies only to a very small proportion.
– It would be a very small percentage. I bring forward this amendment in the hope that we shall be able to divorce pensions from politics. The subject of pensions will be mentioned at great length on the hustings during the forthcoming election campaign, both by my party and by other parties. The only way that we can see to remove this subject from the arena of political disputation is by means of the amendment I have proposed. I hope all honorable senators will give it earnest consideration.
– Which clause does the honorable senator propose should be postponed?
– Clause 1, short title and citation.
– You propose that only clause 1 should be postponed?
– Yes, as an instruction to the Government in the terms of my amendment.
Senator McKENNA (Tasmania - Leader of the Opposition [3.6]. - I regret that I was engaged on parliamentary business elsewhere when Senator Cole proposed this amendment which, I understand, is thai clause 1 be postponed. In itself, that is a perfectly innocuous amendment, but when it is proposed that the postponement of the clause should be taken as an instruction to the Government to set up an independent tribunal to ascertain and inform the Parliament of suitable amounts which should be paid for the comfort and needs of the various recipients of welfare payments, the amendment takes on a different aspect and becomes a matter of substance. I propose to address myself to the question of whether an independent tribunal is desirable. The first point that concerns me is the constitution of the proposed tribunal. I do not. know whether Senator Cole mentioned that matter.
– No. I shall leave it to the Government to set up a tribunal.
– So there is no proposal as to the constituent elements of the tribunal?
– I should regard its omission as a large gap in the proposal.
– I will accept an amendment to fill it.
– My mind would be influenced not by the kind of person who would be a member of the tribunal, but by the source from which that person would be drawn. At present we have a very competent and well-established Department of Social Services, which includes a research section and employs a number of social workers. An evaluation is continuously being made to ensure that Parliament’s purpose in providing a particular social service is being achieved in fact. The Government has available to it a great deal of informed and expert opinion on the effects of social service benefits. Who in the community is better equipped to assess such matters than the people in that department who make contact with the recipients of the benefits?
Apart from those people, various other persons and groups have ideas - the medical profession as a body for example - as to what ought to be done, and what new type of social service is required. The profession may not be prepared to recommend a level of benefits that should be paid in one field of social services, but it may indicate the respects in which the legislation should be improved. 1 am at a loss to know who would have some really special, useful knowledge of this subject not already known to the department. After all is said and done, this Parliament ultimately must accept the responsibility. Having regard to the fact that the officers of the department are in the closest touch with all sections of the community; know what is required in the matter of welfare at all levels, know popular opinion on the subject, and are in a position to assess the economic and financial aspects that are inseparably connected with a matter of this kind, the Parliament ought not to abdicate its responsibility and its duty in the way suggested.
During the last few years when entirely new benefits were being evaluated - medical benefits, the rehabilitation service, hospital benefits, pharmaceutical benefits and the rest - the Government had to decide, first, the form a benefit would take, secondly, the kind of benefit it would provide, and thirdly, the amount of money that would be involved. In my view, all of those matters involve political, executive and parliamentary decision. I cannot see that an independent tribunal, the composition of which is not before me, would be in any better position than the department and the Parliament to assess what ought to be done. Therefore I can see no particular virtue in the proposal.
The honorable senator reminds us that this Parliament is subject to all kinds of pressures, and he suggests that his proposed amendment is designed to remove those pressures. I do not think his proposal will achieve that objective because if it were adopted all the pressures would be diverted temporarily to the independent tribunal. The honorable senator is quite mistaken if he thinks that the activities of the pressure groups would not be directed to the Parliament if they felt that the recommendations of the tribunal did not adequately meet their viewpoint. I do not think any machinery can be devised to eliminate pressure from the Parliament which after all, has to make the ultimate decision.
It may well be that an economic purpose has to be achieved by means of a social welfare benefit. Child endowment is a case in point. It is common knowledge that child endowment was introduced at a time when some substantial change was being contemplated in the basic wage. Child endowment was introduced then more as an economic measure than as a matter of pure social welfare. In to-day’s circumstances, and in a time of depression, it might be found that the best way to give a stimulus to the economy would be to inject with high velocity money into the hands of the people. A government could well make the economic and political decision, for example, to step up child endowment as a stimulus to the economy. How would an independent tribunal view such a proposal? In the first place, the tribunal would not be competent to consider it because it would form part of the broad economics of the Commonwealth.
– I was not dealing with child endowment. I was dealing only with pensions.
– From my first reading of the proposal my impression was that a tribunal should operate in respect of all social welfare payments. The words of the proposed amendment are - . . to ascertain and inform the Parliament of a suitable amount which should be made payable for the comfort and needs of the various recipients of welfare payments.
The honorable senator has opened the widest possible field by his amendment which includes rehabilitation, child endowment, the whole gamut of repatriation services,
Commonwealth university scholarships, living away from home allowances and the rest, lt is quite obvious that the amendment would apply, not only to the whole range of social services properly contained in the Social Services Act, but also to health benefits, scholarships, and livingawayfromhome allowances. It embraces too big a field altogether. On a previous occasion 1 have heard Senator Cole move an amendment which, I think, was confined to age and invalid pensions. It was far more specific than this proposal.
– This is the same as the amendment I moved last year.
– Is it?’ Then my recollection is at fault. I should say that the proposal is too indefinite for me to support it. I could not support a proposal that the tribunal should have such sweeping scope as to investigate all the fields I have indicated, and I feel that the Labour party could not support it. I indicate that the party has not had an opportunity to consider the matter, because I was given notice of this proposed amendment only a few minutes ago. But I would take the personal responsibility of saying, on behalf of Opposition senators, that we would not be prepared to support a proposal in tha! form.
– Order! I point out that the committee has decided that the bill shall be taken as a whole. Senator Cole’s amendment, which seeks to have clause 1 postponed, places the committee in an invidious position. I extended him a little latitude and decided to allow him to move the amendment simply as a vehicle to permit debate upon the matter that he had in mind. I am not sure that he is strictly in order in moving the amendment. I emphasize that the committee had agreed to consider the bill as a whole.
– I rise to order. Because of your remarks, Mr. Temporary Chairman, I am inclined to the opinion that you are now called upon to make a positive decision as to whether the amendment is in order. lt is either in order or not in order. With due respect, I suggest that the committee is not in an invidious position.
Order! Will Senator Cole please indicate at what stage he moved his amendment on the last occasion, and whether it was similar to the amendment he has moved to-day?
– It was moved at the committee stage.
Had the committee decided to take the bill as a whole?
– No, it had1 not. On thai occasion, it was dealing with the bill clause by clause. The Opposition moved quite a number of amendments.
Order! If I am asked to give a ruling strictly in accordance with the Standing Orders, I should say that Senator Cole is not in order in moving the amendment. On the last occasion on which he moved a similar amendment, the bill was being dealt with clause by clause, the committee not having decided to take the bill as a whole. As I said earlier, I was allowing the honorable senator some latitude. Having been pressed to give a decision, I rule that the amendment is not in order.
– Discussing the bill as a whole, I suggest that it has one very serious defect. It perpetuates the manner in which the rates of pension are determined. Senator McKenna did not suggest an alternative to the present system of determining the payments, but indicated that he was not in favour of any suggestion that payments should be determined by an independent tribunal. Personally, I should think it would be an improvement to our whole social service system, if that were to be done.
Everything that Senator McKenna has said in opposition to the suggestion that payments should be determined by an independent tribunal is a very good argument against having independent tribunals to determine the salaries of members of Parliament, public servants, teachers, and a whole host of other people whose emoluments are determined in that way. If, as a member of Parliament, I am to have an independent tribunal to determine what my salary shall be, I am prepared to concede the same right to the pensioner. To a degree, our whole social service system falls down on the fact that payments are determined by a government that, admittedly, has to find the money but which makes its decision on the basis of figures contained in a book and not on the basis of the human interests that are involved. I have no doubt that members of the Cabinet are very humane. They may be very kindly men; but in many instances, although they may have the best feelings in their hearts, in making a decision on social service benefits they are influenced too much by the views of Treasury officials, economists, and all the other persons who do not look at such matters from the viewpoint of human feeling.
I do not think we will ever have satisfaction in the provision of social services until an independent body is appointed to determine what payments shall be made. I think it would be a good thing if that were to happen, because we would get rid of a lot of this pressure to which reference has been made and pensions and social services would be taken out of the realm of politics. Every one knows that there are pressure groups interested in all sections of social services. That state of affairs will exist while decisions on social service matters remain with the Cabinet. I am perfectly satisfied that if we place these matters in the hands of an independent body, the pensioners will get a much better deal than they are getting under the present system.
– Speaking to the bill as a whole, I suggest to Senator Cole and Senator McManus that their objections to the present method of determining ates of pension and other social service benefits could be overcome partially, if not completely, if the Parliament were to adopt the suggestion that I made this morning about reconstituting the Social Security Committee. If we could not have a committee that was representative of both houses of the Parliament, at least a Senate committee could be formed. From time to time, there is criticism of the number of days on which the Senate meets and the limited work that it does. I suggest quite respectfully to both honorable senators that, if a Senate committee were set up to deal with these problems, a lot of the difficulties could be swept away.
– Pressure would still be brought to bear on the Cabinet.
– lt would be not so much a question of pressure being brought to bear on the Cabinet, because the members of such a committee would be drawn from all parties in this chamber. Members could be drawn from the Government parties, from the Opposition, and from any other parties that happen to be sitting in this chamber. ‘ When all is said and done, we are responsible citizens and we have been charged by the people of this country to undertake certain duties. We are answerable to the people for what we do. An independent commission such as has been suggested would not have the responsibility to the people of this country that we as senators have. I venture to suggest that honorable senators have enough intelligence to be able to sort out these problems on a purely non-party basis. We have done so before. There is on the statute-book legislation which has been introduced as a result of members of all parties in both Houses having met around the table, having discussed the problems under consideration, and having gone out and discussed them with those who were most affected. If honorable senators wish to do so, they could carry out the necessary research and fit themselves to undertake such a task of investigation. We have the means to do it, we have the time to do it, and we have the will to do it. All we require is the power to do it.
– I merely rise to make one or two observations. I am aware that time is running short and that there is a lot of business before the Senate, but I should be grateful if the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) would favour us with his brief observations on the proposal submitted by Senator Cole, which apparently will not be taken to a decision here. I think that the honorable senator’s remarks have very much to commend them.
It is obvious from his opinion, from the opinion of Senator Tangney, and from our own individual experience, that pensions may be regarded as having moved into the political field. I should think that that is almost inescapable. To-day, there have been allegations from one side of the House or the other along those lines. From one side has come the suggestion that if the Government were not so sure of political re-election it would be more liberal towards the pensioners and, from the other, that the Opposition would doubtless be more liberal than the Government - but only in bidding for political honours. Obviously this bill is being discussed in a completely political atmosphere. Senator Cole’s proposal and the comments of Senator Tangney both confirm that fact and imply that some alternative method should be available. 1 do not take it that the fact that Parliament, in many fields of political and public activity, elects to continue to have its responsibilities discharged by appropriately constituted authorities, is in itself an abnegation of parliamentary responsibility. The creation by statute of bodies such as the Tariff Board and the Commonwealth Grants Commission merely indicates the inappropriateness of Parliament to discharge certain functions. We know that that is so because of our unfortunate experiences in the King’s Hall, where deputations of very worthy pensioners and others come in great numbers to put their cases personally before members and before the Ministry.
I would make this comment on Senator McKenna’ s submission: I cannot feel that in any circumstances any government should regard social security payments as being an economic weapon affecting the economic life of the community, one way or the other. I could not conceive a government approaching the payment of widows’ pensions or age pensions from the point of view of injecting credit into, or stimulating, the economy generally. It may operate in the negative sense. It might be necessary at some time to deny substantial justice to some sections of the community because of economic circumstances, but I believe that social security payments should be used to stimulate the economy as a last resort only.
Therefore, I think that although this is a new proposal it is at least worthy of consideration and of keeping in the minds of legislators - and the legislature. For that reason I should not like it to be summarily dismissed, and I ask the Minister to favour us with even brief comments on what would be his reaction to this proposal.
– We went through all this twelve months ago!
– It was discussed four years ago!
– That may be so. Whether the suggested amendment is in correct terms, or is too widely worded, is another matter. What is at issue is the principle which is embodied in it. It might not at this stage be acceptable to either of the major parties in the Parliament, but it may contain the germ of an excellent idea which might ultimately emerge as the means by which social security payments will be taken out of the grasp of direct political interference and put on a basis of social equity. The important consideration is, of course, the capacity of the Government and of appropriate authorities to pay. Therefore, while the suggested amendment is not to be submitted to a vote, I think that the idea is worth propounding, and is certainly worth the consideration of members of the Parliament during the recess.
.- I realize that honorable senators do not wish to have to return here tomorrow but I should like to spend a few minutes discussing Senator Tangney’s suggestion, which 1 believe to be very wise. 1 do not favour the amendment.
Order! There is no amendment before the Chair.
– I do not favour proceeding with the suggested amendment. I believe that we can have too many boards. I favour Senator Tangney’s suggestion for the revival nf the Social Security Committee because I believe that members of Parliament are specially fitted to deal with this matter. Almost every day of our lives people come to us about social services and we very quickly learn the anomalies that are present in the legislation. It would be advantageous if there were such a committee to bring pressure upon the Government when necessary. There is too much executice control to-day. More power should be placed in the hands of members of Parliament. If Senator Tangney’s suggestion were adopted all sides of the Parliament would be represented on the committee. Its members would be dealing with a subject with which they were well acquainted and, representing people and pensioners alike, they could bring appropriate pressure upon the Government to see that justice was done. It would not be at all necessary to set up a board.
– I feel that there is a good deal in the suggestion of Senator Cole, although I am not in favour of his proposed amendment in its present form. I do not think that we should interfere with the process of research into social services for which this Government has become almost famous during its term of office, but we should still be considering the possibility of introducing a national insurance scheme. Honorable senators would be less than generous if they did not acknowledge the wonderful progress in the social services field that has taken place under this Government. We are aware that certain sections of the community are still suffering badly, and the research being undertaken by the department is commendable in the highest degree.
The Minister is not ony seeking out pensioners who are suffering acutely, and offering them help, as in this bill; he is also trying to discover a way out for the people who are still hale and hearty at 65 years of age and capable of contributing further effort and experience for the good of this * country. It would be ungrateful of any one to reflect upon the work that the department is doing, or to say that this Government has not more than measured up to a wonderful standard of social services. I do hope that research will continue and that we will some day reach the Utopian stage which every one is trying to attain.
According to Senator Sandford, who last night bored us for a very long time, there is absolutely nothing right about the repatriation tribunals. If that very excellent set of tribunals is not satisfactory to honorable senators opposite, why do they suggest the setting up of further tribunals? Although the suggested amendment contains an element of merit, I would not be able to vote in support of it.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 18th September (vide page 432), on motion by Senator Paltridge-
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The purpose of this bill, which is to ratify an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States of New South Wales and Victoria in connection with the standardization of railway gauges between Albury and Melbourne, meets with the approval of the Opposition. We on this side of the chamber are glad to see that at last a stait has been made with the standardization of railway gauges. If ever we had a lesson in the stupidity of having a variety of gauges, we had one during World War II. It is to be hoped that this project will be the forerunner of the standardization of gauges throughout the Commonwealth. The Opposition offers no objection to the measure.
– I have something to say on this matter because I believe that the measure before us is one of the most important pieces of legislation that we have had before us for a very long time. Most honorable senators know that the subject of rail standardization has become somewhat of a special interest of mine since my arrival in this Parliament. I wish to commend wholeheartedly the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) and the Government for implementing this aspect of Government policy, because it means the commencement of rail standardization which, as we all know, is long overdue. Senator Wedgwood reminds me that I was a member of the famous Government members’ committee which investigated the subject of rail standardization and which gave a lot of consideration to the matter.
Naturally, the four States primarily involved are anxious to ensure that some measure of standardization is undertaken within their borders as soon as possible. Speaking as a South Australian, I do not begrudge Victoria the honour of being the first State to benefit from standardization.
The Wentworth committee took the view that it should set no order of priority in respect of the standardization of the line between Wodonga and Melbourne and that between Broken Hill and Adelaide. The committee decided to leave to the future the order of undertaking the works, believing that if one State were willing to adopt proposals more readily than another State, it should be given the first opportunity to commence the necessary work. Victoria was able to jump on the band wagon and get into the picture more readily than South Australia was and, consequently, Victoria has procured first priority in regard to rail standardization. I am sure that this work will be of tremendous benefit, not only to Victoria, but also to New South Wales. 1 am willing to concede that standardization of the line between Wodonga and Melbourne will confer an enormous benefit on the two States concerned, but because it will result in a more effective linking of the two largest cities of the Commonwealth, I should say that there is justification for the work having first priority.
My motive in speaking to this measure, which of course deals only with the standardization of a particular railway line, is to touch on one or two of the broader aspects of standardization. We all recognize that lack of rail standardization is one of the great national handicaps with which we in Australia are confronted. Rail standardization has been completely shirked by governments down the years because of the so-called magnitude of the task. Although the standardization of the rail systems of the various States would be a considerable task, I think that we want to get the picture in perspective. If we do, we shall appreciate that the task is not quite such a great task as many people imagine it to be. The task of standardizing the railway gauges ot America was of far greater magnitude than the task which confronts the people of Australia at the present time; yet America standardized its lines, throughout the whole of that vast country, in a very short time indeed. Where there is the will to carry out the task, and the financial capacity to do so, there should be no insuperable difficulties in bringing about rail standardization in Australia.
Inquiries in relation to this matter go back as far as the 1880’s. As long ago as 1920, a royal commission recommended that all railway lines be standardized at 4 ft. 8i in. We know that nothing was done to implement that recommendation, and we know, too, something of the difficulties that faced us during World War II. - when we had to perform the enormous task of moving large quantities of supplies and thousands of men from one part of Australia to another - because of the broken gauges. The well-known Clapp report provided further evidence on this subject. Although that was’ a splendid report, nothing was done to give effect to its recommendations. It was left to this Government, in the last year or two, to effect a measure of rail standardization. I want to make this exception. In 1949. an agreement was made between the Commonwealth and South Australia concerning railway standardization, and a certain amount of standardization has taken place in South Australia, although not standardization in the strict sense. There was an outmoded railway line of 3-ft. 6-in gauge in the south-east of the State from Wolseley to Mount Gambier, which was completely inadequate for the growing needs of that part of the State. Conversion to 4-ft. 8i-in. gauge would have put that line out on a limb. Under the 1949 agreement, this line was widened to the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. When complete rail standardization is undertaken, this line can be reduced to the standard gauge of 4 ft. 8i in. lt will be a relatively simple matter to carry out that work.
I should like very much to see the Adelaide to Broken Hill line converted to standard gauge. This matter is, of course, in the hands of the Government, which is looking at it seriously. The Government realizes the necessity to convert this line to standard gauge, and I am convinced that in due course that will be done.
I should like now to direct the attention of the Senate to an aspect of the 1949 agreement that is of great moment to the people of South Australia. I do not think I need commend the Minister any more or speak at length about the bill, because we are agreed that it is a splendid measure which will confer great benefits on New South Wales, Victoria and Australia as a whole. By Part IV. - Supplementary Provisions - of The Schedule to the Railway
Standardization (South Australia) Agreement Act 1949 it is provided that the Commonwealth shall undertake -
Clause 22 of the agreement provides -
The Commonwealth shall bear the cost of carrying out the works specified in the preceding clause.
I should like the Senate to know why that provision was inserted. Back in the early days when South Australia ceded the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth incurred a sacred obligation to convert the railway line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs to standard gauge, but nothing in that direction has been done.
– I beg the Minister’s pardon. 1 meant that nothing has been done apart from the construction of the Leigh Creek to Marree line, which has played a tremendous part in the development of the State. It has enabled coal to be brought from the Leigh Creek fields to Port Augusta, where most of the power for industry in the State is generated.
– That is a standardgauge railway?
– Yes, 4 ft. 81/2 in.
– Why has South Australia constructed another5-ft. 3-in. gauge line?
– It is evident that Senator O’Byrne is unaware of what South Australia is doing. AsI was saying, the Commonwealth has an obligation in relation to the Alice Springs line dating back to the time that South Australiaceded the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth. We know that eventually the standardization of that line will be undertaken. I am not suggesting that that work is of an urgent nature - I should like to see other railway lines constructed in South Australia first - but I merely remind the Senate of that obligation on the part of the Commonwealth, and I hope that I shall live to see the day that the agreement in this respect is implemented.
I shall not delay the Senate much longer, because I know how eager the Minister is to have the legislation passed. I congratulate him most sincerely on the splendid work that he has done since being appointed to his portfolio of Shipping and Transport, especially in relation to the Commonwealth Railways. The Commonwealth Railways themselves have provided a splendid service. The fact that the first stage of the standardization of rail gauges in Australia has been undertaken during the Minister’s period of office will redound to his credit.
.- Although the subject of the bill is not a controversial one, I do not think that the measure should slide through this chamber without some appreciation of what it means. I shall not add to the details that have been furnished by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge), a speaker from the other side, and Senator Hannaford. Suffice it for me to say that this is a most important bill; in the future, it will probably be regarded as one of the most important measures that has ever gone through this chamber. The people will probably forget most of what has been said in the Senate during this sessional period, but they will remember the passage of this bill. It ends a period of drift in which governments have considered many things and put them aside, and it signifies the beginning of a period of construction. The rebuilding of a large section of our railways to conform to standard gauge is a most necessary work in the interests of the future of this Commonwealth, and I rejoice that it is being undertaken with the hearty approval of both sides of the chamber. 1 want to say that it was almost done before this government came into office, as we discovered in our search. Another thing to be remembered is that the private members on both sides of the Parliament have played a very big part in bringing this bill forward. The drafting of the measure was preceded by search and research made by two committees, one from this side and one from the other side, and I wish therefore simply to record my approval of this very great measure - one of the greatest measures that this Government or any other government has brought forward. I want to congratulate the members of the two committees to which I refer - I happened to be a member of one of them - and in particular, I want to pay a great tribute to the honorable member for Mackellar in the House of Representatives (Mr. Wentworth). He is one of the most controversial figures in either chamber. Much of what he said is matter and food for argument. In this instance, there was very little room for argument. He presented a masterly report which summed up the views of the members of the committee. I wish, especially, to congratulate the Minister. Although I may criticize him privately or, at least, disagree with him, he is one of the most vigorous Ministers that this Government has produced. His administration of the Commonwealth Railways has been most praiseworthy. I congratulate the committees, comprised of members from both sides of the Parliament, and I congratulate the Government. I end by saying that I regard this project as the beginning of a very great era in railway construction, which, of course, is only one of the aspects of the period of nation building which we are in.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 23rd September (vide page 512), on motion by Senator Paltridge.
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill has two purposes. The first purpose is to provide for the raising of loan moneys amounting to £7,000,000, which, when added to the £4,330,000 representing re-payment of expenditure in previous years, makes a total of £11,330,000 for the whole scheme. The second purpose of the bill is to inform the people of Australia that war service land settlement is being wound up by this Government long before we have fully satisfied our debt to the ex-servicemen who desired to go on the land after their discharge from the forces.
– What did you say the total amount was?
– An amount of £7,000,000 is to be added to the £4,330,000 which represents repayment of expenditure for previous years, making a total of £1 1,330,000.
– For this year?
– For this year. New South Wales is to get £1,000,000; Victoria, £3,000,000; South Australia. £2,793,000; Western Australia, £3,120,000, and Tasmania, £2,417,000. We may perhaps derive some satisfaction from the knowledge that Western Australia, in proportion, is playing a bigger part in this scheme than any other State. However, 1 must say that the only way in which the States have been able to carry out the scheme has been by using money made available to them from the Commonwealth Government. It is along those lines that I wish to make my comments on this measure.
The Minister said that it is now thirteen years since the cessation of hostilities in the 1939-45 war, and that the goal is to substantially complete settlement during this year. I have figures which show what the situation has been through the years. It may be of interest to the Senate to know that 60,695 ex-servicemen indicated their desire to be settled on the land after the war. They were put through a test, and finally 39,981 were declared eligible for settlement. Of those declared eligible for settlement, only 8,301 have been actually settled so far. I understand the total will eventually reach 9,000. That means that 30,000 men who were classified as eligible will have to put out of their minds altogether the promise that was made to them that they would be settled on the land. They will have to give up believing that that promise will be honoured. Many excuses have been made for the fact that only just over 8,000 ex-servicemen have been given farms. If any honorable senator says that a wait of 13 years is not a fairly genuine reason for a man not wanting to go on with his application, he has a very vivid imagination. When they came out of the services, many of the applicants were relatively young men, in the prime of life, with an ambition to go on the land.
After all, there is no more noble calling than farming. It was one of man’s earliest activities. Unless farming continues and prospers, the basis of our economy and our society will break down. Those who realize the importance of farming and farm products to the economy of this country will understand the economic importance of this scheme. Wool prices have fallen, as have the prices of dairy products and wheat, and those falls are reflected throughout the community and the economic life of the country. Under this scheme, we had a great opportunity to unlock vast areas of land that have been tied up ever since the early, privileged settlers came here and were given huge grants of land. Even in Tasmania, large areas of land are being allowed to lie waste. Third generation owners are cultivating only enough land to provide, them with very handsome incomes. In some cases, they have settled relatives on portions of their land, but still vast areas are not being put to the best use.
This scheme presented an opportunity to the Commonwealth to unlock that land. In 1948, unfortunately, the ceiling was taken off the prices to be paid for land acquired by governments for the purposes of this scheme. Before then, the average price of land in Victoria was £11 an acre. Since then the price has trebled, and in many cases has quadrupled. ‘ These high prices have imposed a burden which settlers were not able to bear.
– Was not some land bought at 1942 values?
– Yes, up to 1948. In Victoria the 1942 value was £11 an acre. However, let me get back to the point with which I was dealing. The terrific increase in land values is an indication of the tragedy of inflation. We have consistently and repeatedly pointed out to members of the Government in this chamber, and to Government members in another place, that by allowing inflation to run riot the Government would destroy this great scheme. The country had gone through a period when the whole of its resources were co-ordinated and directed to a single purpose - that of conducting the war effort - and this Government had a responsibility so to arrange affairs that land values should continue after the war at the same level as obtained before the war. We know what happened to bond-holders after the war. People who invested their money in good faith during the war had every justification for expecting that when their bonds matured they would be worth as much intrinsically as their face value, but thos*: investors were literally robbed of their equity because of the depreciation in the value of money. Why, the man who steals from another’s pocket is imprisoned for six months, but his crime is as nothing compared with what this Government did to the bondholders by allowing inflation to run riot!
One of the main reasons why this scheme has had to be curtailed is the tremendous cost involved because of the inflated values of land. After all, a promise should be honoured, but apparently the Government does not think so for, out of 39,000 eligible applicants, only 9.000 will be placed on the land eventually.
The Minister mentioned that the purpose of the scheme was to ensure that there would not be a repetition of what happened to the settlers after the First World War. Unfortunately, that will happen again in many cases, although I do admit that, because of this well organized scheme, and because experience of the previous war service land settlement scheme gave us an appreciation of the need for allotting to each settler at least a living area, this scheme has been an outstanding success compared with the earlier one. Nevertheless, the Government stands condemned for the limited extent to which the scheme has been developed. Its purpose was to give exservicemen an opportunity to settle on the land and apply their skill to increasing the primary production of Australia. The need for increased primary products is as great to-day as ever before, but, unfortunately, statistics as contained in the Commonwealth “ Year-Book “ disclose that although between 8,000 and 9,000 extra farms have been opened up, the total number of farms in the Commonwealth has not increased since 1939. That may be due to various causes. Perhaps farmers are selling out to others who are increasing their holdings; perhaps there has been heavy migration from the land to the cities. 1 suggest that one of the most important duties of any government is to encourage decentralization. Since 1945, our numbers have been added to by natural increase and approximately 2,000,000 immigrants. Another matter to bear in mind is that youths of seventeen years of age who were too young to go to the war are now 30 years of age, and no opportunities are being provided for any of these extra citizens to engage in primary production. Unless a person has inherited a large sum of money, he has no hope of getting onto the land while the cost of properties is so high. The Government tells us continually that we must populate the country, that we must ensure that the Asian countries to the north have no justification for asserting that we are doing nothing to develop or populate our heritage. The figure discloses that although this organized plan has been responsible for placing 8,000 men on the land, the number of farms has not increased.
I believe that this scheme should not be abandoned. I believe that every eligible exserviceman who made application should be given the opportunity to go onto the land if he still wishes to do so, although many have become browned off because of the inordinate delay in dealing with their applications.
Here let me pay a compliment to the administrative side of the war service land settlement scheme. The officers have been working under the handicap of a very tight purse and, when we appreciate the difficulties confronting them through increasing land values, we must admit that what they have done under the circumstances does them great credit. It would be a great national calamity if the pool of brains and experience accumulated by this organization were dissipated by the winding up of the scheme. In that organization, we have the nucleus of something that could inspire the Australian people more than could any other project with the exception of the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme or perhaps the standardization of rail gauges. In this organization, we have the means of encouraging decentralization of population, the means of inducing people to go back to the land to increase our production and develop our great heritage. But the Government has no plans for giving people the opportunity to go on the land. Only those with a tremendous amount of capital will be able to take up land, for it costs anything between £25,000 and £30,000 to buy an adequate living area to-day.
I come now to something of great importance to us all. I refer to the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme. The great consideration here is who is to derive benefit from the expenditure of from £300,000.000 to £400,000,000 on this scheme which proposes to divert the waters now running east and to irrigate lands along the river Murray at the taxpayers’ expense. When the scheme is in operation, lands which were formerly dry and partly arid will be irrigated. Who is to benefit from all this?
– For a start, everybody who uses electricity in New South Wales will benefit.
– And every user in New South Wales will have to pay for that electricity, in the same way as the consumers are paying for it now. The point I want to make is that the water released under the scheme will be available free. Every one admits that water is our greatest asset, and every landholder along the banks of the river Murray will benefit at no extra expense to himself. Those people will have done nothing more than contribute by way of direct and indirect taxation, to consolidated revenue, just as every other taxpayer in Australia is doing. Those holders of riparian lands along the river Murray will be the sole beneficiaries from the expenditure of this vast sum of money. It has resulted already in increased land values. If a grazier has 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 acres of land close to the Murray or Mumimbidgee rivers and the water is coming through in a steady and regulated flow, guaranteed to be maintained in time of drought, what will be the impact on the the value of that land? It is practically impossible to calculate the increase in value that will follow. That water can change the area from pastoral or grazing land into a market garden; an area of intense cultivation; an orchard with vine crops and the like; or, alternatively, enable the number of sheep to the acre to be increased. The matter of land settlement in those areas should be reviewed to ensure that, in justice, many more people are allowed to share in the great advantages to be derived from the Snowy Mountains scheme.
Many of those areas will not be used to their fullest extent because the incentive to do so will be offset, first, by the increased taxes that will follow; secondly, by the amount of capital required to develop the area, because an inordinate time will elapse before the land will be fully developed; and thirdly, by an unwillingness on the part of some settlers to extend their cultivated areas. Many of the older settlers will probably say, “ As long as we make sufficient money to get along quietly and pay our way, we will not cultivate any more land “. That is a problem that faces us. Instead of placing before us a measure which proposes to wind up the land settlement scheme in June, 1959, the Government should say, “ This scheme is to be enlarged and extended until every one of the 39,000 men who were eligible and who have not been allotted a farm states in writing that he is not prepared to go on the land “. Until that is done, we will have failed to honour our promise to these ex-servicemen.
It is interesting to note that in a country the size of New Zealand, where a similar promise was made to ex-servicemen, about 13,000 men have been placed on the land. In the main, they have prospered, but, like most other primary producers, they are now experiencing difficulties. Unlike the thousands in Australia who have hung on like grim death in the vain hope that they will some day get a farm, only 500 New Zealand ex-servicemen have not been placed on the land. The New Zealand Government is. continuing its. scheme. By comparison, Australia does not stand in a very good, light in this matter.
I make the strongest appeal to the Government not to wind up this scheme. At the worst, we should integrate it in a national settlement scheme which will have the target of placing on the land annually a certain number of young skilled and experienced men, even those from other parts of the world. We have large areas of land in the Northern Territory. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) has given me permission to refer to the answer to a question he asked in the House of Representatives recently regarding this matter. The reply he received from the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) reads, in part -
The question of initiating war service land settlement in the Northern Territory was considered previously, but was rejected on the grounds that the Australian scheme was not designed to cater for extensive grazing holdings with high capitalization that are typical of the main primary industry of the Territory. It was considered that a loan scheme such as has now been established by the Lessees Loan Guarantee Act was more appropriate in the circumstances.
In my view, to wait for people with sufficient capital to go to the Northern Territory to carry out the necessary improvements, buy stock and set up camps, is to wait for people prepared to bury themselves with a large amount of capital who could quite easily live in greater comfort in the more settled areas. We have to attract the pioneer, the man who has brawn, brains and the spirit to overcome his difficulties, the man who knows that behind him is one who believes in him and his objective in opening up the Northern Territory. Before we can justify our external and internal policies they must be understood by the people of Australia.
We have a policy of a white Australia. I agree with it because of the economic implications involved, but we shall find it more and more difficult to explain our attitude to the rest of the world unless we do a job within our own country and put more people on the land, and by a policy of decentralization give incentive to people to settle over wider areas. Many factors are involved in this matter. We read in the press recently a statement showing the vulnerability of our major cities and what can be done to disperse our population in the event of a thermo-nuclear attack. One would think, if only from the viewpoint of co-ordinating our defence plan, that it would be part of Government policy to settle those areas more closely.
I regret, first, that we have not honoured our promise to the 39,000 ex-servicemen who have signified their intention and willingness to go on the land. Secondly, it is a tragic day when we announce in this Parliament that the war service land settlement scheme is to be wound up. In his second-reading speech Senator Paltridge, who represents the Minister for Primary Industry, said -
The goal is to substantially complete settlement during this year . . . Perhaps the best commendation of the scheme is that its pattern has been paralleled by legislation in two States in respect of normal closer settlement.
The Commonwealth Government is adopting again its easy, escapist habit of passing the buck to the States and then saying that the States are not carrying out their responsibilities.
We know that Australia is facing economic difficulties because of the increase in population. We know that the Commonwealth is the main taxing authority. We know that the Commonwealth has the right to levy taxes. We know that the Commonwealh has the right to authorize loans through the Australian Loan Council yet, :in practically every controversial matter effecting the responsibilities of the Commonwealth and the States, the Government takes refuge behind the statement, “ It is not our responsibility. It is a matter for the States.” The Australian people have suffered in the past as a result of that policy, and they will suffer in the future unless the Commonwealth Government adopts a different attitude. In concluding his speech, the Minister said -
Apart from the re-establishment of ex-servicemen that has been effected, the additional rural production: obtained from more intensive land use and the converting of virgin land to productive farms, has been, and will continue to be, a national asset.
I agree with that statement, without qualification. But how much more of a national asset would it have been if we had been able to multiply the number of settlers by four or five? Of how much more value would the scheme have been if we had subdivided many areas of land that are not being fully utilized?
A broader view must be taken at the federal level of the desirability of satisfying the need of basically rural people. When all is said and done, not very many of the people who came to this country in the early days were industrial people. By far the largest proportion of the early immigrants were associated with the land in one way or another; yet they have been more or less removed from it. That is a negative process. One of the greatest needs of this country is to have a vigorous land policy and to encourage people to go back to the soil, which forms the basis of our economy.
– I disagree with some of the remarks of Senator O’Byrne. I remind him of the two principal features of the war service land settlement scheme, which was introduced in 1945 by the Curtin Government. The first feature of the scheme was that it was to be based, not on the number of applicants, but on the amount of suitable land that was available for use on an economically productive basis. The second feature was that it was to be on a perpetual leasehold basis. We did not agree with that basis; but we backed the scheme because we thought that it was worth backing, and we carried on with it wholeheartedly when we assumed office in 1949. I think the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) referred to the Government’s responsibilities under the scheme as being great responsibilities of which it was proud. I think we have carried out our promises to the settlers. I disagree with my colleague from Tasmania, therefore, when he says that the Government stands condemned by the fact that 30,000 would-be settlers have not been able to obtain land. I do not think that statement is correct. I believe that in Tasmania and Victoria there would still be sufficient land available for those who still want to go on the land.
– They must have the patience of Job.
– Well, that is the position. This Government, I repeat, has carried out its promises. I disagree with Senator O’Byrne, particularly on that point.
The bill sets out that this year the Government is to spend £1 1,330,000 ort the scheme. Of that sum, Tasmania is to get £2,417,000. That is a very generous allocation for a small State, and I congratulate the Government upon making the payments that are necessary to develop land that we yet have not fully developed. As I said earlier, the war service land settlement scheme was inaugurated by the Curtin, Government in 1945. The then Opposition gladly lent its support to the scheme. We felt that it was a major undertaking of very great national importance, and that we were perfectly instilled in supporting it.
I shall confine my remarks to the position that, obtains in Tasmania. I have no direct knowledge of the position that obtains in other States, so I can only speak about th* position in Tasmania. Tasmania, of course, is one of the agent States, the others being Western Australia and South Australia. Those States are on an altogether different basis from the principal States, which are Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. I understand that the Commonwealth and the States have spent £160,000,000 on war service land settlement, Tasmania’s share being £13,250,000. Even Senator O’Byrne would not say that that sum of money should not have been spent in Tasmania. We admit that the cost of settling the men has been high, but nevertheless the scheme has been worth while and will be a very great asset to the State.
I should say that the record of settlement has been very good. As we look back over the history of the scheme, we can pick holes in it. There have been great disappointments and many difficulties. Most of the land that was taken up was virgin Crown land, and it required a lot of developing. We took many risks and carried out many experiments. There was no previous experience of any consequence to guide us. The development of the scheme was simply a matter of trial and error. However, because of the co-operation of the Federal Government, the States, probably the municipal authorities, and many of the farmers themselves, success has been achieved. The experience gained has been very valuable, and it will be of value in developing country that will not be used for war service land settlement.
I would say that the benefits to the States have been very great. That is true of Tas mania in particular. Only a limited amount of land is available in that State, but the country that has been developed under the war service land settlement scheme has been of great value in the boosting of Tasmania’s production. Altogether 415 men have been settled under the scheme. In addition to the increase in production, homes have been provided for these men and they have enjoyed happiness and prosperity.
As honorable senators know, the States are fully responsible for the various projects that are undertaken. They have to choose the land and submit it to the Commonwealth authorities for approval. If it is approved, they proceed to develop it. The States are responsible for the selection of applicants and for the administration and development of the properties.
– You said that 415 men had been settled in Tasmania. The Minister said that 340 had been settled.
– The number is 415.
– The figure supplied on 1 8th September was 340. That appears in “ Hansard “.
– That was the figure supplied to me, and I think it is authentic. The States are responsible for these areas and their only outlay is upon administrative costs. I understand that they pay two-fifths on the loss of the final assessment and the Commonwealth Government three-fifths. The Commonwealth, of course, supplies all the capital needed for the scheme, relieving the States of the task of finding it.
Some of the difficulties encountered during the operation of the scheme have been quite severe, though they have been typical of farming generally during that period. I refer to the shortage of skilled man-power, of plant, of equipment and of materials. Honorable senators may recall that for about eighteen months the State experienced one of the wettest periods in its history. That was also a great hurdle for the authorities to get over, and held up considerably the settling of applicants on their properties. The high cost of establishing settlers also had its effect. Some of the areas used have been, tremendously difficult to develop and failure to estimate the risks involved has cost the Commonwealth a great deal of money. The State is, of course, responsible for ploughing, clearing, burning off, seeding, fencing, drainage, and everything associated with the development of new country.
My figures show that 9,200 returned servicemen have been settled throughout the Commonwealth, and that Tasmania’s share of that number is 415. We have settled 94 single-unit farmers. These have been particularly successful. 1 think that only one allotment has been cancelled. One could say that they had been 99 per cent, successful.
Senator O’Byrne referred to the fact that the scheme would be discontinued after 1959, but I remind1 him that that is only the date after which no further land is to be acquired. It will probably take until 1961 or 1962 to clear and make ready ali of the land acquired up to that date. Major areas awaiting completion are Montagu, Flinders Island, King Island and Waterhouse. Tasmanians are familiar with areas which already have been settled, such as York House, Epping, Laurenny, WOOl.mers, Macquarie Estate, and Mawbanna, but they are doubtless not known to many honorable senators. 1 admit that there has been a long delay in the settlement of some blocks. I think that Senator O’Byrne is referring principally to Montagu, on the far north coast. The original intention was to clear 37,000 acres, but the difficulties encountered made it necessary to reduce the area to 6,000 acres, lt is a property which is of particular value to Tasmania and will prove very suitable for future settlement.
– The State governments should never have recommended it as a war service land settlement project.
– It is possible to develop these properties, but we have found out how it ought not to be done as well as how it ought to be done. The blocks at Montagu are of between 120 and 140 acres. They are dairying blocks, and are suitable for the growing of root crops. They represent some of the finest land in the State. The climate is good, though the soil is fairly boggy and heavy. An effort has been made to concentrate on the building of access roads, drains clearing, and so on. A foundation is being laid for closer settlement, or settlement by private enterprise, at some future date. I have mentioned the projects at King Island, Flinders Island and Waterhouse. None of these has yet been completed, and I think that it will be 1961 or 1962 before that happens.
Generally speaking, this scheme has been more successful than the scheme put into operation after World War I. We have gained much experience in the interim, but our success in Tasmania is in no small measure attributable to our adherence to the principle of not occupying a farm until it can support a family. Mistakes in abundance have been made, but very few of them have been made twice. I believe that those who have conducted the scheme have profited by the experience that they gained in the early stages. Properties had to be developed by trial and error, and experience is a very hard master. I agree with the suggestion that the Tasmanian experience should be recorded for use in connexion with future closer settlement schemes. I believe that it would be a pity to let that experience go to waste.
Tasmania did not repeat the mistakes made in New South Wales, and some other States. We did not compulsorily acquire land at 1942 valuations. Indeed, we did not acquire any estates compulsorily. Acquisition took place only after there had been a round-table conference between the parties, the Government, the Department of Agriculture and the owners. A reasonable value was placed on the properties and everything was settled amicably.
– They were acquired on just terms.
– That is so, on terms acceptable to the owners. In Tasmania a property cannot be acquired compulsorily, unless this course has first been agreed to by both Houses of the Parliament. Probably that is why it was not attempted. That is one way in which we differ from New South Wales - and it is a very great difference.
The Tasmanian scheme has been pursued on economic grounds. I believe that neglect to do this was one of .the reasons for the failure of the scheme operated after the First World War. I was one of the early settlers after that war. We were fortunate because the State took over the properties and revalued them. It cost Tasmania £850,000, but gave us the blocks at an economic value, and most of us were able to remain on them. One of the great virtues of the Tasmanian scheme has been the system of allotting blocks. Certain settlers from New South Wales and a few from Victoria - about 60 in all - settled in Tasmania. They were sore about the balloting system in those States, but seemed quite satisfied with the system in Tasmania. Most of them are doing well and are quite happy under the scheme that we have instituted in Tasmania. I trust that land settlement will be continued in a way that is satisfactory to the Commonwealth and the States. I hope that the Commonwealth will be generous and give the States the necessary money to do the job properly.
Finally, Mr. President, 1 want to say that the scheme, as carried out in Tasmania by both the Commonwealth and the State authorities, is a credit to all concerned. I think that it has been successful. The granting of freehold by this Government in 1950-51 has been one of the reasons for that success. A few settlers have failed, but they represent only a very small percentage of the total number of settlers. Taken all round. I think that war service land settlement in Tasmania has been a great success, and I compliment both the Commonwealth and the State on their cooperation. I support the bill.
– in reply - I do not wish to say more than a few words, but I think I should refer to some of the remarks made by Senator O’Byrne. The honorable senator made great point of the fact that although, as he said, there were originally some 30,000 applicants declared to be eligible, only 9,200 will be settled. He went on to say that the scheme will terminate next year. In point of fact, all developmental work going forward at that time will continue. It is true that no new developmental work will be undertaken, but there will be, and there will continue to be. additional settlers placed on holdings as the development in progress at the end of this year proceeds. 1 say, with great respect, that the honorable senator exaggerated the number of settlers remaining unsatisfied. He knows, as I know and every other returned service man knows, that at the end of the war it cost none of us anything to put our name dowa for a war service farm. Indeed, many servicemen did so, even though they had noserious intention at that time of going on the land. They put their names down in case, during the intervening years, they decided to do so.
– But the eligibility test cut them out.
– No. it did not. Many servicemen put their names downalthough they had no firm intention, at that time, of going on the land. As I stated in my second-reading speech, the position is that in Western Australia all applicants will be satisfactorily settled. I understand that there are some Tasmanian applicants who are not satisfied and that that position arises, in some cases at least, from the fact that settlers would not move to the island settlements, and the land made available there has been taken up by applicants from the mainland. In South Australia, there is some shortage of farms, but as I indicated in my second-reading speech, there is a big drive to take up the slack. As for New South Wales, the scheme is administered by the State entirely, as was pointed out by Senator Wardlaw. In Victoria, the position appears to be generally satisfactory.
In addition to the 9,200 ex-servicemen who will have been settled on the land under this scheme, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Commonwealth Government, under the Re-establishment and Employment Act, has made advances to no fewer than 14,313 ex-servicemen who wished to go farming on properties. When one considers, Mr. President, that the Commonwealth has spent no less than £66,683,000 in the agent States, one is able to grasp something of the magnitude and the success of this great scheme. I submit that the Commonwealth Government has played a full, and indeed a praiseworthy, part in carrying on this scheme, which has meant the settlement of so many ex-servicemen on the land and has added so much to the wealth of the country.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed (vide page 619), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition will not oppose this bill. Therefore, I do not propose to speak at any length. It will be recalled, Mr President, that at the end of World War II. the Reestablishment and Employment Act was introduced by the Commonwealth Government to provide for preference in employment for ex-servicemen. That legislation was given a certain life, and at the expiration of that period it was further extended. The object of the bill before us is to extend the legislation until 30th June next. There has been nothing of significance in connexion with the operation of the act, and therefore, as a party, we on this side of the chamber have no objection to raise to the bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed (vide page 621), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– It is not the intention of the Opposition to oppose this bill. During the period of World War II., there was an acute shortage of labour, especially in the skilled trades, and in the interests of national security it was essential to take steps to overcome this deficiency. As many of the recognized tradesmen had enlisted during the early years of the war, the shortage was so acute that men who had had any previous experience at all in certain trades had to be drafted into those trades.
For a period, dilution committees operated for the purpose of allowing men who had had just a brief period of trade training to be enlisted and allocated to various trades. It is well known, of course, that tradesmen - that is, men who served an apprenticeship of five or six years and perform their work efficiently - jealously protect their rights. Speaking from memory, I should say that legislation was necessary to cover the position. I had a good deal to do with this matter at the time, being the chairman of the dilution trades committee.
After the war, men who desired to be admitted to certain trades were provided with training under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme and allocated to employment. Consideration then had to be given to the rights of recognized tradesmen - those who had served an apprenticeship and had been employed in the trade over the years. Of course, with the passage of time, many of the dilutees have become so efficient in the respective trades that it is almost impossible to distinguish their work from that performed by recognized tradesmen.
I shall make a quick calculation to show how this system has operated since the end of the war. A man who commenced his apprenticeship as a boilermaker in 1945 would become a recognized tradesman by 1950. By 1955, another apprentice would have completed his training, and now there would be another apprentice in his third year. Therefore, the expedient that I have mentioned will expire eventually under its own force.
We endorse the scheme, which has been administered very smoothly and has given satisfaction. The Government plays only a very small part in the administration of the scheme, which is handled by the employers and the representatives of the unions under the guidance of departmental officers. In these circumstances, the Opposition give the measure its blessing.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 18th September (vide page 429), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The bill now before the Senate is one to approve the ratification by Australia of the Rome convention on damage caused by foreign aircraft to third parties on the surface. “ The surface “ is intended to mean on the surface of either the earth or the water. I should like at the outset to commend the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Paltridge) very warmly on his second-reading speech; it is complete and exceedingly clear. It made the task of reading and understanding both the bill and the very interesting agreement attached to it exceedingly easy. I should say that any one who read the secondreading speech would be exceedingly well informed even if he had not perused the agreement itself. It is not often that one is able unreservedly to pay such a tribute to a second-reading speech.
I found the whole concept of fascinating interest because this measure, in respect of the limited field of damage from an airline operator engaged in an international flight, codifies the law in relation to damage that may be caused during such flight to people down below. In one sense, it has not very wide application, for the reason that only rarely does an aeroplane engaged in international activity crash and cause damage on the surface of the earth. But it is a situation that does need to be guarded against because when it does occur the results are usually catastrophic. Immediately there is a claim for damages in respect of lives lost, injuries sustained by people, or loss of or damage to property, and the resultant claim upon the airline company involved could be calamitous. So two approaches have been made, to protect the people who may be affected from the air in such a case.
Absolute liability is cast upon the operator for whatever damage he does. The normal law in respect of things dropping from a height or from an aeroplane would be on the principle of res ipsa loquitur, as lawyers know it - the thing speaks for itself. If a thing falls out of a plane and hits someone on the head, the mere fact that it has fallen shows there is some element of negligence, but in that situation negligence would have to be proved. The convention signed at Rome in 1952 and ratified by 26 signatory States, including Australia, in October, 1953, has taken till now to come to the Parliament for formal ratification which will put it into effect. The signatures of five States were required before it really became operative, and accordingly, it came into force in 1957. Quite a number of countries are parties.
I have already indicated that the first purpose of the Rome convention was to impose absolute liability upon the operator of an international aircraft for damage done on the surface. The second thing was to have regard to the fact that they could not make that liability completely unlimited. lt would be a block to the operations of international airline operators if there were to be completely unlimited liability. Therefore, whilst any claimant who has suffered damage has to prove negligence against the operator, the extent of the operator’s liability has been limited - that is, his liability is limited in respect of one catastrophic accident. The liability for damage caused by a DC3 aircraft engaged on an international flight over a foreign country is limited to £131,600. In the case of a Douglas DC8, the limit would be £610,000. I think it is quite reasonable and proper that there should be some limitation of actual liability. In the event of damage occurring to life, limb and property at the one time, one-half of the total is set aside to satisfy claims in respect of loss of life or personal injury. To the extent that that one-half is not used, it is available to satisfy claims for damage to property.
The authority liable is not the signatory to this convention - the country or the nation concerned. It is the actual operator who becomes liable. There is a provision that any one of the nations which are contracting parties to this agreement may require foreign operators to insure so that they will be able, without drawing upon their own resources, to meet whatever liability may unhappily be incurred by them pursuant to the terms of the convention. There are adequate safeguards’ regarding the action that a State may take to ensure that an insurance company has financial stability, but there is no need for me to go into those details.
Steps are taken to ensure, as far as possible, that all claims will be met in the currency of the country where the damage was suffered. That is not an easy matter -to arrange where foreign countries are involved, but all possible steps have been taken to ensure that such will be the case.
The convention also provides where an action on a claim for damages is to be brought. It is to be brought in the country where the damage occurs. One can visualize that, arising out of a catastrophic happening, there would be claims for injury, loss of life and damage to property. It would be an intolerable inconvenience if each of the claimants were to begin an action in a different court. Accordingly, the convention provides that all actions arising out of the incident that caused the injuries will be consolidated in one action in one court.
– Where would the cause of action normally lie under private international law?
– I should say it would lie in the country where the accident occurred, and that there would be jurisdiction arising in the courts of that country in respect of injury done within its limits. That is preserved under this agreement. The actions are brought in the country where the damage occurs. The actions are consolidated, and the rules provide for the means by which they will be brought and heard together. It seem to me to be an eminently sensible arrangement.
Then we come to what is perhaps the most interesting phase of the convention. It has to do with how a judgment obtained in one country is to be enforced in another country. One can anticipate that quite frequently damage would be done in a country far from the head-quarters of the airline operator whose machine caused the damage. There would be very little use in recovering damages, say, in Australia against an operator in a foreign country if there were no machinery for enabling the judgment to be enforced. Up to date, there has been no success in international conventions seeking to establish a world-wide basis upon which judgments can be enforced, and the fact that that result has been, achieved in this convention is a very marked step forward. Apart from serving a very useful purpose in relation to this matter, it could be a beacon marking the way to future progress in the enforcement of judgments generally throughout the world. It is a very good model.
I have indicated that this convention relates solely to damage done whilst an. international air operator has a machine in flight.
Flight is defined as commencing from the beginning of the take-off and terminating at the end of the landing run at the point of destination. If damage is done to another aircraft which is in flight, no claim arises under this convention, which covers only damage occurring to people and things upon the surface. An action arising from a collision in the air is left to other law; <s not covered by this provision.
The convention which the bill proposes to ratify does not cover our own Australian international airlines while their aircraft are flying over Australia, as a part of their international activities, but the bill, in Part HI., bridges that gap. Quite apart from the convention and the obligations arising under it, the bill applies the convention rules to that portion of an Australian operator’s trip. I think I made it clear at the beginning that the indemnity given by the convention applies simply to international airlines flying over foreign countries. . Accordingly, our own international airlines flying over our country are not touched by the convention, but that matter is picked up in the bill and given specific application to our international air lines whilst they are operating in Australia.
Part III. goes one step further and makes the rules laid down by the convention applicable to foreign aircraft of a non-contracting State - in other words, a nation or a State which is not a party to the convention. The bill makes the rules of the convention applicable to their aircraft when flying over Australia.
It would, I think, be interesting to survey the position throughout Australia in a comparable way. The Minister has acknowledged that there is no Commonwealth law generally dealing with what happens when damage on the surface is caused by an Australian aircraft. I am happy that the Minister has announced that the Government contemplates addressing its mind to that matter. I trust that the Minister will address himself with his usual energy to that one additional task, and that before long, if not his government, then an Australian government will be presenting in this place a measure to fill that gap.
– Do you mean that this government is not an Australian government?
– No. When I used the word “ Australian “, I meant a government in a federal capacity, as distinct from a State capacity. I understand that two States some time ago adopted what is now Article I of the convention. In relation to aircraft flying over their own territories, they have imposed absolute liability for damage done. They have imposed no limit on the amount of the damages that may be recovered. It is just a quick ad hoc approach to ensure some protection, and those States have gone to the limit. I think that obtains in both Victoria and New South Wales.
We face the position that there is no adeqate code in Australia in relation to damage caused by our own domestic aircraft, apart from the very inadequate action taken in two States. It certainly is time that that problem was tackled. There were several matters that I thought could be better dealt with in committee, but as I have proceeded with them this far, I shall advert to them at this stage.
Chapter IV., Article 20, paragraph 7 of the agreement has this interesting provision relating to the enforcement of judgments -
The court to which application for execution is made may also refuse to issue execution if the judgment concerned is contrary to the public policy .of the State in which execution is requested.
That rather alarmed me at first. I felt that although one recovered judgment in, say, Australia, one would not be able to enforce it in another country where the operator resided and had the assets against which one was seeking execution, because of the fact that the court might declare that the public policy of the State, or of the court, denied the right to enforce execution. But, after discussion, and after thought, I concluded that this type of thing is aimed only at this position: There might be, for instance, a gambling den, unlawful in the place where the accident occurred, that was destroyed and the earnings of the proprietor might, in the circumstances, constitute a claim in damages, and, because of that destruction, there might be consequential loss of profits. There can be a different position in various nations, even on that issue of gambling. Suppose the Casino at Monte Carlo in Monaco were destroyed. It would be very much against public policy if the proprietors of that casino were not able to recover. In other places where gambling is completely prohibited or licensed, you will get very different results.
It occurred to me as an interesting thought to explore as a matter of research, what public policies are likely to be applied in different countries, and I can conceive of a situation where they would be quite diametrically opposed. However, that is a position that has to be faced, and the convention does, in fact, face it.
In Article 21 of the same chapter, there is a provision relating to limitation of liability; in other words, actions that may be brought for damage falling within the scope of the convention must be brought within two years from the happening. That provision proceeds to enable the court trying the case to extend that time up to three years in appropriate circumstances. At first, it occurred to me that that provision rather cut down the period that is allowed by our own statute of limitations, which, in cases of this type, allows a period of six years in which to bring the action, until it was pointed out to me that most of our public authorities in Australia - our railways, our airline operators, and so on - are delimited to periods of six months, and, in certain cases, three months. The various State statutes relating to actions against public authorities usually have a limitation period of approximately six months. So, on second thought, I feel that the limitation is not severe, and I think it reasonable that airline operators should know the extent of their liabilities within a reasonable time. Their viewpoint, too, has to be considered.
I feel that I cannot usefully add anything further at this stage, except to say that the convention is a very progressive step. I hope it will never have to be invoked in Australia, but, if, unfortunately, some catastrophe does occur, very useful machinery is available to enable those injured to seek proper redress.
I congratulate the Government upon ratifying the Rome Convention, and upon the presentation of the bill. I look forward to the Government’s extension of the principles of this convention to the domestic airlines at the earliest possible moment.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 18th September (vide page 435), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The measure now before the Senate is one which will authorize the payment of £30,400,000 to the States. This is really an extension of the income tax reimbursement grants to them.
On the formula which determines the amount to be paid from income tax collections to the States, it is estimated that the States are entitled to £174,600,000 this year. This special financial assistance grant of £30,400,000 will bring the total payment to £205,000,000. These special grantsand this is the highest of them in recent years - have been a regular feature of Australia’s budgets for very many years now.
It is true that the formula laid down in about 1946 or 1947 is very elastic. Under the formula, the payments to the States have risen from £45,000,000 to £174,000,000 this year, and have been supplemented, year by year, with grants. The grants for the past ten years are set out in the annexures to the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). They range from as low as £15,000,000 to as high as £33,000,000, the highest supplementary grant being paid in 1951-52, and the lowest, that of £15,000,000, being paid in 1955-56. It is interesting to note that, over the ten-year period, the special grants have worked out at an average of £21,900,000 a year. They have, of course, played a very significant part in the functions of the States. The States would have been in grave distress without these supplementary grants.
The supplementary grants can be justified on many grounds. They can be justified, I suggest, on the ground of the added strain imposed upon State budgets by reason of the immigration programme. That immediately imposes on the States the obligation to provide increased facilities in every way. Apart from that, there is the fact that the interest burden upon the States has grown enormously in the last nine years. On two occasions in this chamber, in another context, I have drawn attention to the fact that the interest bill of the States has grown by £56,’000,’000 a year from June, 1949, to June, 1958. When one looks at the matter superficially, one is inclined at first sight to say, “The Commonwealth has been really generous to the States “. But one has to remember that by reason of the way in which the Commonwealth has arranged finances, the States have to rely on loan money which imposes the burden - of which the Commonwealth is completely free - of repayment of principal and interest. The States are faced with the enormous burden of £56,000,000. When one remembers the obligations cast upon State governments as a result of increased population from natural causes, movement and immigration, and when one has regard to the terrific interest burden that has been added to the State budgets during recent years, one sees these grants in their proper perspective. The grant this year goes a little more than half-way towards covering the additional interest burdens that the States have to bear.
The particular grant we are now discussing is larger than that made last year; in fact, I think it is the second highest in the history of these supplementary grants. The opposition does not oppose it, but we would not complain if it were higher. I am certain that the States also would not complain. The Opposition supports the measure.
.- I wonder whether I would be regarded as an intruder if I took a few minutes to discuss this most important subject? It is clear that the stage has been reached at which the finance available to the States to enable them to carry out their ordinary governmental functions is determined by this Parliament. The States are subject to annual appropriation votes decided by the Commonwealth Government. This Senate should interest itself in the development of the situation in which the States now find themselves.
In 1900 the five colonies - Western Australia joined the federation later - were obtaining their revenues almost solely from excise and customs duties. Income tax was infinitesimal at that time. The States then had the fortitude, having regard to the exigencies of defence and free trade, to federate, which meant passing to the Commonwealth the exclusive jurisdiction over, and authority to raise customs and excise duties. The Premier of Tasmania then insisted that the States should be guaranteed a return of at least three-quarters of the customs and excise revenue. It is one of the ironies of history that for purely transitory political purposes the Premier of New South Wales exacted, as a compromise, a promise of the abandonment of that stipulation after ten years as the price for New South Wales joining the federation. At that time New South Wales and Victoria were divided on policies relating to tariff and external free trade. By following the false lead given by New South Wales, the States lost the constitutional guarantee that they previously held of a return of three-quarters of the customs and excise revenue. Since then, tremendous development has followed. When the ten-year period elapsed, this Parliament substituted for the provision for the return of three-quarters of the customs and excise revenue, a provision for payments to be made on a per capita basis. That system was maintained until the Financial Agreement of 1 928 was made. Having regard to the value of money and the inflation that has since taken place, the difference between the two systems is almost insignificant.
It is good to reflect that exactly the same course that was followed in relation to customs and excise revenue in 1910, intensified by the demands of the First World War, was adopted in 1 942 during the course of the Second World War, when, in order to obtain the maximum income tax yield to meet defence requirements, the uniform income tax measure was passed. In substance, although not in form, that measure meant the elimination of State access to the income tax field.
I have mentioned these matters because the dependence- of the States upon the federal Treasury for their essential supplies of money is often stated in the terms of a uniform income tax problem. It is not! The course taken in respect of income tax is parallel to the course taken in respect of the indirect taxes, customs and excise.
No useful purpose would be served by developing this theme further on this occa sion, but these matters of history show that an imbalance has arisen by a process of development, and power over finances has been transferred to the Commonwealth. It is incumbent upon every honorable senator to ponder very seriously upon the question as to whether the time has not arrived when the States should insist upon a constitutional guarantee of their proper share of the public revenues.
.- A measure of this description brings into focus the whole financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. We have spoken on many occasions about the effects of uniform taxation. The bill now before us is a direct result of the operation of that system. Any examination of Australia’s financial set-up must lead us to the opinion that the Commonwealth Government dominates the taxation field. lt appears that with the change in the financial structure in the Commonwealth, mentioned a moment ago by Senator Wright, there has been a corresponding change in the Commonwealth’s governmental functions. We now have a Minister for Trade and a Minister for Primary Industry. We ask ourselves how those portfolios came to be separated. At one stage during the period mentioned by Senator Wright those portfolios were not necessary. Because of the change in the tax structure and in the responsibilities of the Commonwealth Government, there must be a reservoir of funds in the Commonwealth Treasury all the time.
It was not very long ago that a committee examined the affairs of the Australian universities and found fiat they were in very poor condition indeed. Immediately that discovery was made, the Commonwealth Government was requested to make good the deficiency. It is interesting to note that this year the sum of £7,150,000 is to be made available from Consolidated Revenue to State universities. Prior to the introduction of uniform taxation, the administration of the universities was left entirely to the State governments; but somehow or other it seems to have become the responsibility of the Commonwealth to be deeply interested in the future of the universities.
A few years ago Dr. Stoller conducted an investigation into Australian mental hospitals. He found that they were very poorly administered, that they lacked sufficient bed accommodation and medical services, and that it would be necessary for some authority to spend millions of pounds to bring them up to the standard that was to be desired in civilized communities. Once again, it was the Commonwealth Government that had to come to the aid of the State governments and provide funds for capital expenditure and for the maintenance of those hospitals. This year, the sum of £1,500,000 is to be provided for that purpose.
When we examine the sums that are to be paid to the States, we find that this year £16,665,000 will be paid to the various authorities and industries within the States. I notice that the sum to be paid this year is £1,000,000 more than that paid last year. The subsidy that is to be paid for dairy products, and1 which will be for the benefit of those who are engaged in the dairying industry, is £13,500,000. A further sum of £26,000 is to be paid as a cellulose acetate flake bounty, £1,000,000 as a copper bounty, and £83,000, or approximately £18,000 more than was paid last year, as a cotton bounty. The flax fibre bounty will be £75,000; the gold-mining subsidy, £900,000; the rayon yarn bounty, £65,000; the sulphuric acid bounty, £836,000; and the tractor bounty, £180,000. As I said earlier, the total payment for bounties and subsidies will be £16,665,000.
Although it is believed by some that certain States are being deprived of revenue because of the operation of the uniform tax system, we must bear in mind the fact that, although the Commonwealth Government collects income tax from individuals and companies, it is paying out to the States millions of pounds for various purposes. If we examine the estimates for the various departments, we find that bounties are being paid without being disclosed and, perhaps, without being discussed at any time. Moreover, in addition to the bounties and the various other payments that I mentioned a while ago, three States this year will receive £19,500,000 under the States Grants Bill.
The question of the return to the States of their taxing rights has been discussed in this chamber. On various occasions, senators representing Victoria have advocated a return of taxing rights.
– And we will continue to advocate it.
– The present arrangement is not to the advantage of Victoria; that is admitted. But it is to the advantage of Queensland, which I represent. I propose to quote certain information on the subject, which will indicate the estimated relative taxable capacities of the States in the year 1951-52. If we take the weighted average of all States as being 100, we find that in New South Wales the figure for individuals was 96, and for companies 10b. The average for individuals and companies was 100. Evidently New South Wales is no better off under uniform taxation than it would be if it levied its own income tax. In Victoria, the average for individuals and companies was 113. Therefore, they are 13 per cent, worse off under the present system that they would be if Victoria had the right to tax.
The only other State to which I propose to refer is Queensland. If uniform taxation was abolished and taxing rights were restored to the States, the present income tax rates would have to be raised by at least 50 per cent. May I state for the information of the Senate that Queensland had practically no secondary industries until uniform taxation came into operation. 1 now propose to outline to the Senate what would be the effect on taxpayers if uniform taxation were abandoned. The report that I have before me reads -
The degree of complexity for company laxpayers under a dual system of Commonwealth and State company taxation would depend to a large extent on the basis adopted by the States for assessing companies’ incomes derived from more than one Slate or from overseas. At the present time companies deriving interstate or overseas income account for approximately 121 per cent, of total company tax returns and 50 per cent, of the total tax assessed to companies (as compared with a fraction of 1 per cent, of individual returns and about 5 per cent, of the total tax assessed to individuals).
If the States taxed companies according to their State of residence, a company would (as at present) lodge only one return, but if the States taxed companies on an “ origin “ basis, a company with interstate income would need to furnish with its return additional information dissecting its income as between States. To this extent the simplicity in regard to the preparation of returns now enjoyed by such companies under uniform taxation would be lost.
I think Senator Wade agrees in regard to the simplicity of operation of the uniform tax system.
– But we object to the principle very strongly.
– You may object to the principle, but you must adopt a national outlook in these matters. You get the benefit in other ways of a system that operates throughout the Commonwealth. Under the heading “ Effects on Taxpayers “, the report further states -
The great bulk of taxpayers are wage and salary earners deriving their income in one Stale only. For such taxpayers lack of uniformity in assessment laws would mean that instead of making two calculations based on one figure of taxable income, these taxpayers would make calculations based upon two different amounts of taxable income. A double column form would be involved and the extent to which concessional deductions varied would depend upon the degree of lack of uniformity in the assessment laws. The matter would, of course, become more complex if the Commonwealth or States imposed more than one type of tax on income.
I do not think any one will dispute that for a moment. It is interesting to note what the report goes on to state.
– You are not going to read the whole book, are you?
– We were off duty for a fortnight. Surely you do not want to hurry this measure through now. I do not care if we sit to-morrow and Saturday. I know that some honorable senators would like to subordinate the good conduct of the Senate to their personal convenience and leave for South Australia and Victoria, but on this occasion I do not propose to co-operate with them.
Sitting suspended from 5.46 to 8 p.m.
– 1 notice that the Minister for National Development, who is in charge of the bill, is not in the chamber. When he returns I propose to have something to say about an interjection which he made while I was. speaking before the suspension of the sitting.
Earlier, I was dealing with the question of uniform taxation and was about to refer to the formula under which the reimbursements to the States are made. I had not quite finished what I intended to say on that subject. I should like to refer further to the report from which I was quoting, especially that part of it which appears under the sub-heading, “ Commonwealth and States to assess and collect separately.”
It reads. -
Under such an arrangement a Government’s responsibility for deciding on the level and incidence of income tax would be coupled with direct responsibility for administration and collection. The practical difficulties involved in the States’ resuming their own income tax would, howeverbe increased considerably. The establishment and recruitment of staff for separate administering organizations would be more costly and would represent a major administrative problem which could scarcely be resolved satisfactorily in the early years of the scheme. Moreover, such arrangements would operate against simplicity and co-ordination of Commonwealth and State income taxes, with consequent disadvantages for both Governments and taxpayers.
I do not propose to quote further from the report, but would recommend a perusal of it to all honorable senators. They, like myself, will doubtless arrive at the conclusion that the form of taxation that we have in the Commonwealth to-day will remain. As long as we have a Commonwealth we will have uniform taxation.
The grant that is to be made under this bill is in addition to the amount to which the States are entitled under the formula. Some honorable senators may deduce, from the fact that an additional sum is to be granted to the States free of interest, that the formula has some defect or flaw. I want to assure them that it has no defect. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has held office for nine years and has never seen fit to have the formula amended in any way. I ‘aave not previously had an opportunity to refer to the right honorable gentleman’s period of service as Treasurer. I understand that he will retire at the end of this Parliament and I feel sure that all honorable members, whenever they meet him in the future, will be happy to do so for two reasons, first, because the stories which he tells are the equal to those of O. Henry; and secondly, because he is a typical North Queenslander - he is neither a snob nor a hypocrite. I will always be happy to meet him and have a chat with him. I go further and say that all honorable senators on this side of the chamber respect him because of the forthright manner in which he has dealt with every matter associated with his office. All we ask for in our dealings with the Government is forthrightness; we want neither humbug nor hypocrisy. For the reasons that I have given, we have always approved of Sir Arthur Fadden’s conduct. 1 want to go a little further in discussing the matter of tax reimbursement. It is certainly very important to the States, and the Commonwealth cannot fail to be interested, under the present financial structure, in the welfare of the States and in their endeavours to build up their economies. When all is said and done, the Commonwealth obtains its revenues from the people of the States, and must do everything that it possibly can to build up their tax potential. For instance, a grant is to be made for the purpose of improving the beef industry. That will be good for the State concerned. It will be good for those engaged in the industry, and the Commonwealth cannot fail to derive ultimate benefit therefrom.
As 1 mentioned before the suspension of the sitting, the Commonwealth pays bounties to industry, and to particular companies engaged in industry. Similarly, it pays bounties to States. It does not hold back the money that it receives, for it would gain nothing by doing that. It passes the money out to the States or elsewhere, and often gets the money back twofold.
Looking at the revenues collected by the Commonwealth for its own and for State purposes, I find that the income tax paid by individuals amounts to £465,000,000, and the tax paid by companies amounts to £210,000,000. Therefore the income from direct taxation amounts, in all, to £675,000,000. I ask honorable senators to keep in mind the fact that this year the Government expects to receive a total revenue of £1,321,000,000.
Turning now to the field of indirect taxation, I find that in customs duties the Commonwealth expects to collect £74,000,000; in excise, £231,000,000; in sales tax, £129,000,000; in pay-roll tax, £50,000,000; in estate duties, £40,000,000; and in gift duty, £2,000,000- £500,000,000 in all.
The income from direct and indirect taxation, taken together, amounts to £1,175,000,000, and it is from this sum that tax reimbursement grants are made. The States have to carry on. As I have said previously, the Commonwealth represents a partnership. Now and again, when there are Australian Loan Council meetings, and conferences between the States and the Commonwealth, a good deal of squabbling goes on. The States say that they are not receiving sufficient funds, and the Commonwealth says, in a paternal way, “ You are getting as much as we can afford to give you “. Notwithstanding all this, we remain a partnership.
As I have said, the Commonwealth pays out bounties, subsidies and other sums to an extent which is very difficult to assess. While the Estimates were under discussion I said that some day I would set myself the task of going right through them and ascertaining as far as I possibly could, the amount paid to the States both directly and indirectly. We know that the States must function. They still have their sovereign powers, and with them great obligations and responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is education. According to reports which we receive from time to time, the States are faced with considerable capital expenditure in respect of the establishment of primary schools. The finances of the universities throughout the Commonwealth dropped to a very low level and had to be restored, and the Commonwealth had also to provide assistance for mental hospitals. The position in relation to the primary schools is fast deteriorating, and I feel sure that before long it will become necessary for the Commonwealth to provide funds for their rehabilitation. I have very little more to say-
– Hear, hear!
– Mr. Deputy President, while I am speaking I have a right to express my point of view. The point I want to emphasize - I am sorry that Senator Spooner is not at present in the chamber to hear my remarks - is that no honorable senator should be made to feel while he is speaking that he is under pressure as far as time is concerned. Arrangements made between the leader of my party and the Government are not my concern, and I am not a party to them. I am not in the confidence of any one in respect of those arrangements and, if I am not informed of the arrangements beforehand I have no intention whatever of observing them. When I have anything to say about States grants - or any other matter - I will say it and I will exercise all of the right to which I am entitled under the Standing Orders of the Senate.
Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner, when I indicated my intention to quote a passage from a report on uniform income tax, the Minister for National Development made an, interjection to the effect that he hoped I was not going to quote the report in full. As time has gone on it has become apparent to honorable senators on this side that when any measure for which Senator Spooner is responsible is before the Senate, there is only one person’s convenience to be considered. That person is Senator Spooner.
– That is very unfair.
– I do not wish to be unfair to Senator Spooner, but was not he unfair to me? Suppose I had wished to quote extensively from this very important report on uniform taxation, which is signed by the Auditor-General of each State and by the officials of the Commonwealth Treasury. That matter is relative to the bill and I have every right to quote from the report. If it suited my purpose to quote the whole report I had a right to do so. No honorable senator has a right to make an interjection such as was made by Senator Spooner.
– He spoke jocularly. Why do you not take the interjection in the spirit in which it was made?
– It is true that the Minister had a smile on his face at the time, but one must have regard also to the honorable senator who makes the interjection. I do not accept it from Senator Spooner because I have no confidence in him; I do not trust him in respect of these matters. Honorable senators on this side enjoy speaking to bills that are under the control of three Ministers in this chamber because we know that we shall be treated courteously and receive proper replies to any substantial submissions that we make.
– Nobody could give you better answers than Senator Spooner does.
– I know the spirit in which he gives them, too.
– He is most generous in his answers to you.
– On the contrary, he is neither generous nor courteous. I referred a while ago to the Treasurer. We have always respected Sir Arthur Fadden because he is forthright and has never engaged in humbug. We have always known where we stood in any negotiations that we have had with him. But I am afraid the position is otherwise in relation to certain Ministers in this chamber.
I think I have said sufficient’ to indicate that the States are entitled to all the money they can get from the Commonwealth. They are not getting anything for nothing; the money is their’s. The Commonwealth has the money in custody and it has to pay some of it to the States.
– I rise for one purpose only, and that is to comment on Senator Wright’s remarks concerning Federal and State financial relations. In the main, I agree with his statements. But the honorable senator’s speech left one with the impression that he thought the solution that was put forward by the then Premier of Tasmania, Sir Edward Braddon, was the permanent solution, and that the fact that Sir George Reid prevented it from being adopted had led to the present impasse. I could not let that assertion pass in silence, because it is not true.
The Braddon solution was not a permanent solution, and Sir George Reid did a great service, not only to New South Wales but also to the Commonwealth as a whole, when he brought in the resolution which limited it to ten years. It was not the fault of New South Wales or of Sir George Reid that another solution was not adopted after that. Mr. Deakin proposed in 1910 that another solution should be adopted, but the Labour party, mainly by the influence of the late W. M. Hughes, prevented that from being written into the Constitution, but the position was covered by an act of Parliament, which was repealed during the First World War. Since then, we have had no permanent solution.
I disagree entirely with Senator Benn’s suggestion that the present financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States are satisfactory; they are completely unsatisfactory, and we must seek a solution. I hope that in the next Parliament, after the election, we will find one.
That is all I have to say because this is too important a matter to be made the subject of a scrappy debate at this stage of the measure with which we are dealing. I merely wanted to place on record the fact that it is not due to the guile of Sir George Reid or the selfishness of New South Wales that we have not at the present time a -satisfactory financial relationship between the States and the Commonwealth.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 23rd September (vide page 510), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Judging by the amount that is to be provided for housing under this bill, the Government becomes meaner and meaner as the years pass, in the provision of the sums that are necessary to construct houses for the homeless people of the Commonwealth. 1 propose to state the sums that have been made available to the States in 1956-57 and 1957-58, and the sum that it is proposed to make available in the present year. In L 956-57, £8,208,000 was provided for housing in New South Wales. In 1957-58, the figure was £8,360,000, and this year it is proposed to make available £7,980,000.
– Where did the honorable senator get his figures?
– I shall supply the figures and explain them in a moment. When I am doing so, I want the Senate to bear in mind that I am referring to the sums which will go into the funds of the house constructing authorities in the States, by whatever names they are known.
The sum of £7,600,000 was made available to Victoria in 1956-57, and a similar amount in 1957-58, but, this year, the housing authority in that State will have at its disposal only £6,850,000. Queensland, in 1956-57, had £2,090,000 to spend on housing, and £2,401,600 in 1957-58. This year, it will have only £2,201,150. South Australia is an exception, in that it is the only State which will have an increase this year. In 1956-57, it had £2,769,000, in 1957-58 it had £3,040,000, and this year it will have £3,325,000.
– They get value for their money in South Australia.
– I shall deal with that matter later and explain just what value we shall be getting. The sums that were made available and which went into the hands of the home constructing authorities sponsored by the State in Western Australia, were £2,280,000 in 1956-57 and £2,385,000 in 1957-58, while this year the figure will be £1,995,000. Tasmania, in 1956-57, had £1,576,000; in 1957-58, it had £1,570,250, and this year it will have only £1,519,000. As I have pointed out, there will be an increase this year in the case of South Australia, but the other States will have less money to spend on housing.
In the second-reading speech, which was delivered in this chamber when the bill was introduced, nothing was said by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) about a housing shortage. No figures were given. It was left to honorable senators to guess what the position was. If we wish to ascertain even vaguely what the housing situation is throughout the Commonwealth, we have to devote hours of our time to it. Another matter in respect of which the Minister failed to furnish informawas the important matter of the cost of constructing houses in the various States. An honorable senator from South Australia interjected a while ago, rather rudely, I thought, “ We give them value for their money in South Australia “. What in the name of goodness that had to do with the housing problem of the Commonwealth, I do not know. I make no reflection on any of the States. I feel sure that the housing authorities in all the States provide materials and a standard of housing commensurate with the money that is allotted to them for housing purposes.
I think that the cost of house construction in the various States is an essential matter to consider when we are dealing with the question of housing. The Commonwealth says to the States, in effect, “ We can make available to you this year only so much money for the construction of houses. It is just too bad that we cannot make any further sum available “. Of course, the States just have to accept that amount. We may read about the proceedings of the Australian Loan Council and the votes that are exercised by the States and the Commonwealth, but we know that in practical operation the Commonwealth Government. can say to the States, “It is impossible to raise any more funds for you for house construction. You either accept the amount or you go without altogether.” The States have to accept whatever the Commonwealth Government offers.
I have ascertained from records that the cost of house construction varies very little as between the States. The average cost of constructing a residence in New South Wales is approximately £3,313; in Victoria, it is £3,168; in Queensland, £3,056; in South Australia, £3,387; in Western Australia, £2,982; and in Tasmania, £2,925. In the Australian Capital Territory, it is £5,000. Those figures indicate to the Senate that there is very little difference in the cost of constructing a house in any of the States.
What does the Government propose to do about the housing shortage? First, I want to point out and emphasize that the Minister did not supply any reliable information about the shortage. It is left to us to guess what the position is. We know, from con- tacting applicants for houses, that the housing situation in the capital cities of the Commonwealth is pretty bad at the present time. As a matter of fact, there is no difference between the housing situation that exists now and that which existed five or six years ago, notwithstanding the fact that the demand for housing is something that accumulates. I can hear an honorable senator on the other side of the chamber trying to interject, but he comes from Western Australia, a State where the demand for houses is less than it is in any other State. I could take him to houses in Brisbane which, for many years, accommodated no more than one or two families but which to-day are occupied by four or even five families.
– That applies in every State.
– I agree, but it is accentuated in some of the cities. I understand that the housing position is very bad in the industrial cities of the Commonwealth, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, for a reason which is easily understood. We are bringing migrants here every year, and they must be accommodated in houses. They go to the industrial cities. They do not go out into the rural areas seeking em ployment. They go to the cities, and of course the housing situation in the cities is considerably worsened as a result.
I have made an assessment of the housing shortage in the various States. As there is no evidence on this subject in the Minister’s second-reading speech, my figures must of course be accepted. In New South Wales, the present shortage of houses is 40,000; in Victoria, it is 27,000; in Queensland, 6,000; and in the other three Stales, approximately 7,000, so that, roughly speaking, the total housing shortage is at present 80,000. A serious situation exists in the Commonwealth at the present time. The Government has been in power for the past nine years, and it could have made a name for itself. It could have functioned in a big way so far as housing is concerned. It could have spent even £100,000,000 per annum on providing houses in the States. It could have done that, not this year, but last year and the year before, when costs were lower.
– This Government has a magnificent record in the housing field.
– Senator Wade says that the Government has a magnificent housing record. That prompts me to ask: Why is there a housing shortage in Australia at all? We go back to the time when the war ended. No home construction had been carried out in Australia for seven or eight years, so, when the war ended, there wasa demand for houses. Ex-servicemen and others were getting married and looking for homes. The population was increasing, because we had embarked upon our immigration programme. There was a great clamour for homes right throughout Australia. The housing shortage has not been overcome yet. Indeed, I do not think the Government really proposes to try to reduce the housing lag in any substantial way.
Let me point to the condition of the Australian timber industry. At present, at least 120 or 130 timber mills are idle. They cannot get orders for timber for home construction or for anything else. The timber industry is of major importance to Australia. It employs approximately 34,000 people, and the value of the products of the industry is £100,000,000 per annum. An industry of that magnitude cannot be regarded as a minor industry. The timber industry is in a stagnant condition, due to the policy of the Government in regard to housing, but the Government takes the view that the money it is now making available for housing will tide the industry over its difficulties.
I want to deal next with the sum that has been made available and how it is to be allocated. The Commonwealth is not acting magnanimously, generously or charitably in making this money available to the States for housing. This is purely a sordid business transaction. The Commonwealth pays 1 per cent, interest on the money it obtains. On the money that it lends to the States, it receives 4 per cent, interest. The States, of course, have to reticulate that money as directed in a fascist way under the agreement.
– Yes, a fascist way. I use the word “ fascist “ deliberately. I say that the Commonwealth acts in a dictatorial way, because I remember what happened when the agreement was prepared. I remember that the attitude of the Commonwealth Government to the States was, “ Sign the agreement. Accept this or go without the funds.” Some States resisted and held out for as long as they possibly could, but they realized eventually that if they did not sign the agreement they would be left without funds.
Whose money is it that the Commonwealth is making available? When all is said and done, it is the people’s money that goes out in treasury-bills at 1 per cent. That rate of interest that the States have to pay the Commonwealth is fixed under the agreement, as are the sums which have to be made available by the States to building societies. This year, 30 per cent, of the sum allocated to the States has to be made available to building societies, and 5 per cent, of the total sum has to be devoted to providing houses for servicemen. When that money is deducted, it leaves the States with the sums I mentioned in. the earlier portion of my speech. The Government is not much concerned about the people, the citizens. It is not in its make-up to be concerned about the people, and the people do not expect much from it. We of the Opposition do not expect the Government to do much in this field, because it has never associated itself closely with the welfare of the people.
The rate of interest charged by the Government on money advanced to the States for a number of years was 3 per cent., but it was increased to 4 per cent. That entailed an increase of 10s. in the rents paid by the people occupying rented houses. Let honorable senators opposite give a satisfactory explanation of that.
– How much more have you got to say?
– I will deal with Granny Hannaford in a minute.
– I object to that. My title is Senator Hannaford.
– Order! An honorable senator has no right to refer to another honorable senator in that way.
-I have been in the Senate for nine years and I have not so far been asked to withdraw a remark, but if I have made a statement that is offensive to any honorable senator I willingly withdraw it, without any reservation. However, if an honorable senator interjects when I am speaking, he is disorderly, and I feel that under the Standing Orders I have a right to treat like with like. I am prepared to match any senator at any time. That is my attitude, Mr. President. I have taken a good deal in a good spirit without taking any objection.
– I rise on a point of order. I did not cast any reflection on Senator Benn. I admit that I interjected, but in the course of his remarks he referred to me as “ Granny Hannaford “. I object to being called Granny Hannaford. It is not the first time that that has been said, and I ask you, Sir, to ask Senator Benn to withdraw that remark.
– Order! Senator Benn has withdrawn the words “ Granny Hannaford “, but he has also given me some advice on how the Senate should be conducted. If the Opposition desires that there shall be no interjections, I will see to it that there will be none, but I direct the attention of the members of the Opposition to the fact that they interject as much as anybody else. If honorable senators do not want any interjections, I shall see that there shall be none from either side.
– I assure you, Mr. President, that the members of the Opposition have great confidence in you as President. We are satisfied with the manner in which you conduct the affairs of this chamber.
I mentioned a while ago that 5 per cent, of the moneys made available to the States must be devoted to the provision of homes for servicemen. On going through the Estimates the other day, I found that the Department of the Navy had spent £247,000 upon housing; that the Department of the Army had provided £440,945 for housing; and that the Department of Air had expended £447,963 on housing. Just how that fits in with the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement, I am not aware. I know that there are minor housing schemes operating throughout the Commonwealth. There is a scheme that operates on a £l-for-£l subsidy basis for the provision of homes for aged people. 1^ is an excellent scheme. I have seen some of the homes that have been provided under it. I agree with what is being done. I am fully aware that mistakes have been made by some of the State home-building authorities. In one suburb in Queensland, some hundreds of homes were constructed and, after a number of years, they were found to contain borers.
– They are not the only ones that contain borers.
– And they treated them in the same way as they would treat my twirpish friend from Western Australia. The Commonwealth’s contribution towards the costs of exterminating the borers in that instance is £150,000. I should say that it will cost the State of Queensland probably another £150,000, so that, in all, £300,000 will have to be spent to prevent the borers from picking up those houses and carrying them away to the Northern Territory. That is how bad the position was. The work of extermination has to be done very methodically. The houses have to be encased in a plastic envelope, then fumigated and left for two or three days. That had to be done in a whole suburb of houses.
– Take your time.
– I am not in any hurry. I do not care if we sit to-morrow, Saturday and Sunday, although I know that the Minister is greatly concerned.
– Not at all.
– - The members of the Australian Labour party believe that the family unit requires every possible consideration. We say that the basis of our society is the provision of a home for the family unit and that what is being done at the present time by the Government is merely following the orthodox and parsimonious method of doing nothing about the provision of houses for the people. We often hear, mention made of our living standards. We often hear our living standards compared with those of South-East Asia and other countries, but we members of the Australian Labour party say that unless there is a home for the family unit there is no such thing as a living standard at all. Without a home for the family unit, there is no basis upon which to establish a living standard.
I know that it is futile to ask that more money be made available for the construction of homes. I know that at this stage of the life of this Parliament it is not much good introducing that aspect, but I look forward to the time when there will not be any housing shortage in the Commonwealth. If economic conditions continue to deteriorate in the way they are at the present time, the great probability is that there will not be any housing shortage in Australia within the next two or three years simply because people will not be able to buy houses. Why, goodness me, how many people even to-day can set aside £2,000 or £3,000 for the purchase of a house? How many people can set aside even the deposit necessary to buy a house? If there are any who are fortunate enough to be able to pay the deposit upon the purchase of a house, they are then faced with the problem of maintaining payments to liquidate the principal and meet interest charges. The future is not at all bright for home-seekers. On that note, I conclude.
– I rise to support the passage of the Loan (Housing) Bill 1958, and at the outset must confess that I found it completely impossible to follow the argument adduced and the figures quoted by Senator Benn, who led for the Opposition. So difficult did I find it to follow him that I asked several honorable senators sitting around me whether we were both thinking about the same bill.
To illustrate how demonstrably inaccurate the figures Senator Benn quoted’ are, I need only read some early passages of the second-reading speech of the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), in which he said that the purpose of th; bill is the raising of funds of the order of £35,810,000. Senator Benn spoke about some figure of £20,000,000 and then quoted a series of State figures. This bill seeks approval to raise the sum of £35,810,000. If Senator Benn wants to talk about something altogether different, I do not suppose we can stop him, but at least we can ‘ bring the matter back to reality and discuss the bill before the Senate.
The bill before the Senate refers to the provision of £35,810,000. In his secondreading speech, the Minister said that this provision of £35,810,000 in 1958-59, for which approval is now being sought, represents an increase of £2,650,000 on last year’s allocation. If I understand the Queen’s English - and here I take all honorable senators present as witnesses to this fact - Senator Benn said there was to be a decrease. How in the name of fortune he works that out, I do not know! Perhaps there is a different sort of school in Queensland from what there is in most other States. The position is that this bill proposes to increase, not decrease, the amount available. Under the provisions of this bill, each State will receive an increase. For instance, New South Wales is to receive £12,000,000, which is an increase on its allocation last year. In the circumstances, I do not propose delaying the Senate by quoting all the figures, but they prove that there is to be an increase. One has only to be able to read the Queen’s English to appreciate that. The true position is outlined in the documents which are now before the Senate.
To give another example of how little Senator Benn knew about the bill, I refer to the question of the 5 per cent, for the provision of homes for members of the services. The fact is that this 5 per cent. for the provision of homes for the services is something additional to the £35,810,000. This Government will provide that 5 per cent, in addition to the sum referred to in the bill. I suggest that the whole tenor of the honorable senator’s speech indicates that he was either referring to another bill or he had not taken the trouble to read his brief.
We all understand that the Commonwealth is confronted1 with certain constitutional difficulties in connexion with providing money for housing. We know that the money in this instance, as has been the case over the years, has been made available under section 96 of the Constitution, which gives the Commonwealth power to make money available to the States. But the situation is very difficult. We know that in 1956 the Government found it necessary to introduce legislation enabling it to make money available to the States for housing. We know that under that legislation 20 per cent, of the sums to be provided for the States in the first two years after the promulgation of that act was to be spent on the provision of homes for private ownership and that after the first two years 30 per cent, of the total sum was to be provided for such purposes. These moneys were to be put into the home builders’ account, from which they were to be lent to the various co-operative building societies.
I should like to make one reference to home builders’ account loans. The money provided under this part of the agreement for home ownership purposes has been instrumental in making available more homes than did the money made available through normal housing commission channels in the various States. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, had this to say -
During 1957-58, 187 institutions received funds from the home builders’ account, and in that year a total of 2,367 new houses were commenced and a total of 2,925 were completed or purchased. The latter represents 22.5 per cent, of total completions of dwellings financed from agreement moneys.
In other words, 20 per cent, of the money allocated provided more than 20 per cent, of homes completed. That is apparent from even a cursory glance at the figures. By providing a certain amount of money to assist people to build homes for themselves, we are giving those people the opportunity to acquire an equity which, in effect, makes the money provided from Government sources far more effective than if the total cost of the home were provided through a housing commission. I look to the day when, by means of this measure, or some subsequent act, not merely 30 per cent, of the total will be allocated for home ownership, but some percentage far in excess of that, because I believe - as I think every honorable senator, including Senator Benn, also believes - that in the ultimate this Commonwealth will be far better off if every person who wants to own a home, as distinct from those people who are content to remain tenants, can do so. Senator Benn made some reference to housing generally. He said that the Minister, in his second-reading speech, did not mention the current position of housing. By saying that, the honorable senator indicates that he has not read the Minister’s second-reading speech.
SenatorBenn. - You tell me now!
– I propose to quote from the Minister’s speech.
– It makes pretty dreary reading.
– If the honorable senator can dish it out, he should be prepared to take it - Senator Toohey above all people. The Minister said -
In 1957-58, in all 74,333 dwellings were completed in Australia compared with 68,438 in 1956-57. This represents an increase of 8.6 per cent.
Those are not my figures, but the figures contained in the Minister’s second-reading speech. Not ten minutes ago the honorable senator, who had the responsibility of leading for the Opposition in this debate, said that there had not been any improvement in the housing position and that the Minister had made no reference to it. The Minister’s speech continues -
In 1957-58, the estimated total investment in new housing was £234,000,000 compared with £216,000,000 in 1956-57, representing an increase of 8.3 per cent. In 1957-58, the Commonwealth’s direct financial contribution to housing was almost £80,000,000 - an all-time record. The major components of this were war service homes £35,000,000 and housing agreement homes £33,160,000.
I shall show also that the statement that housing costs in all States are almost equal is not true. Again, I shall quote not my own figures, but the figures given by a person whom we can assume to be an authority on the matter. I refer to no less a person than the president of the Australian co-operative building society movement, who very recently gave evidence before the Public Works Committee. Senator O’Byrne, who sits on the other side of the chamber, is a member of the committee. He was present when the president of the building society movement gave evidence, and he can verify my statement. The evidence given proved that the building costs in New South Wales were out of all proportion to those in other States. He quoted the classic example of a standard house of some thirteen squares which he said could be built in South Australia and Western Australia at a cost of about £3,100, but for a house to be constructed in New South Wales to the same plan a tender price of £5,000 was submitted.
– Is it not a fact that the cheapest houses in Australia are built in Western Australia?
– I do not know whether the cheapest houses in the Commonwealth are built in Western Australia, but I suggest a very real reason exists why New South Wales is in the worst position for housing in Australia, whereas no such problem exists in South Australia and Western Australia. Practically half of Australia’s housing shortage is concentrated in New South Wales because a Labour government is in office in that State. I wish to inform the Senate of what happens in New South Wales–
– It will take a long time.
– It will take a long time but I think the time will be gainfully used. In March this year the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ referred to a proposed £10,000,000 housing project in New South Wales. The private organization that submitted the proposal for a group housing scheme was completely frustrated because one of the semi-governmental bodies, the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board, would not provide the necessary services so that construction could proceed. After all, £10,000,000 is a large sum of money to spend on housing. In fact, that amount is almost equal to the amount provided as a grant to one of the
States for a year. What would the government of another State have done in similar circumstances? One can imagine what would happen in South Australia if such an occasion arose. One would imagine that common sense and prudence would prompt the Premier to set somebody to work to clear the deck so that the project could proceed. One would imagine that the Premier would say, “ If one of my departments is causing trouble, let us have a look at the matter, clear the deck and see what we can do “. But action of that kind cannot be expected in New South Wales. The £10,000,000 project for the construction of a satellite town has died. No one knows what has happened to it. Without doubt, the organization that submitted the proposal was completely frustrated. One of the major troubles confronting New South Wales results from the activities of these semi-governmental bodies. The Government has made no effort to co-ordinate their activities and give the go-ahead signal to any organization interested in housing. Consequently, there is a great movement of capital from New South Wales to other States. That movement of capital is not restricted to housing, as we have learned to our sorrow. The housing problem is largely concentrated in New South Wales. If the housing problem can be solved in that State, as it has been in other States, we will be a much happier and stronger nation. I want to deal with the question of buiding costs in that State, because I think it has a bearing on the overall problem. I have already indicated that the cost of houses in New South Wales is out of all proportion to that of other States. There are some very good reasons why that is so, but I suggest that probably the most important one is constituted by the provisions of the Local Government Act and ordinances. The present building laws and ordinances were introduced in 1919; they have never been altered. We are trying now to build homes of 1958 standards under the provisions of a 1919 law. That is stupid, and everybody knows it is. It arises from the fact that New South Wales has a Labour government and from the fact that nothing has been done to bring the act and the ordinances up to date.
– How paltry one can be!
– That is the plain truth. Every one in the trade and every one who has applied his mind to the housing problem in New South Wales knows that to be so. The New South Wales law provides that ceilings must be of a certain height, but that height is out of all proportion to the height that is adopted in other States. Because of that one item alone, the cost of an ordinary cottage of between 10 and 12 squares is adversely affected to the order of £200 or £300.
– What is the ceiling height in New South Wales?
– New South Wales has a 9-ft. ceiling height, which places people in that State at a disadvantage compared with those in some of the other States. That provision was introduced prior to 1919, when there were certain problems that are not in existence to-day.
– What is the height in other States?
– In some of the States it is 8 feet. I have the figures in my notes, but I just cannot lay my hands on them at the moment. I can assure the honorable senator that it is a vexing question. The Commonwealth Experimental Building Station has conducted some research into the matter. As a matter of fact, I have before me now a document issued by the experimental station on that subject. A case has been presented to overcome the problem, but nobody seems to be doing anything about it. People are able to ascertain the reasons for these various problems, but nothing is ever done about them at a governmental level.
I think something could be done in regard to the construction of timber-framed homes. Experiments have proved that we could use materials that would enable us to save considerable sums of money, but those materials are not permitted in certain areas. The building laws of New South Wales ought to be altered to permit the use of certain roofing materials which would have the effect of bringing down the cost of homes in that State and, ultimately, of deriving a greater advantage from the money that is provided by the Commonwealth under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I have before me information which proves that the difference in the weight of a roof of light durable steel would be such that a builder would be able to effect a big alteration in the use of roofing timbers and thus save a considerable sum of money. The use of asbestos sheeting in the building of houses could be exploited to a larger degree. Certain local authorities in the city of Sydney have permitted the use of asbestos sheeting, which has had the effect of saving approximately £15 a square in the cost of a home. But the plain fact of the matter is that there has been no coordination beween the various local government authorities, and New South Wales has not enjoyed the benefit of the research that is being conducted by private enterprise and Commonwealth departments.
If the Local Government Act and ordinances of New South Wales could be brought up to date so that modern homes could be built under modern by-laws, a big saving could be effected. That, in turn, would mean that the money that is allocated to that State would go a lot further and would go a long way towards solving the housing problem in that State, just as it has been solved in other States. Concurrently with the bringing up to date of the building laws there should be a review of the landlord and tenant laws. The time when one would think of building a house for the purpose of letting it, as did our parents and grandfathers, has passed. At the present time, only a lunatic would build a home in New South Wales for rental purposes.
I now turn to the provisions of this measure which relate to the allocation of money for the erection or purchase of homes for private ownership. As I indicated earlier, a minimum of 30 per cent, of the funds that are to be made available must be allocated to building societies and other approved institutions. In other words, the Commonwealth gives the money to the States, and the States allocate it to the various building societies through allocations committees. I am convinced that the Commonwealth should have a representative on the allocations committees. I am not satisfied - I put it only at this level - with the judgment of the allocations committee in New South Wales. I have had my attention directed to some extraordinary happenings. It has been brought to my notice that a sum of £50,000 was allocated in one town where a building society group was being formed, but that no allocation was made to the next town where a building society already in existence had a long waiting list. The town to which the allocation was made did not have enough homeseekers to enable the money to be used.
– What constitutional power would the Commonwealth have?
– It would have power under section 96 of the Constitution, the relevant part of which reads - the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
– For any purpose.
– Yes, as it thinks fit. The Commonwealth is providing the money, and at least it should have a direct representative on the allocations committee of each State. I know the attitude of the Commonwealth is, “We are providing the funds. We do not want to be delving into the administration of this matter. That is a State responsibility “. But I think the Commonwealth should at least have an observer on the committee to make certain that the money is being allocated in the right way.
Despite what Senator Benn said, the position is, as the Minister for National Development indicated in his secondreading speech, that the housing situation is improving. But the trouble spot is still in New South Wales. If we could solve the problem in that State, we would be well on the way towards solving the overall housing problem. This year the Commonwealth is providing something like £80,000,000 for war service homes, for housing in its own territories and for houses built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. If the States, particularly New South Wales, were to make their full contribution, we would overcome the difficulty in a much shorter time. The money that is provided under the agreement is advanced to the States for a period of 53 years at a rate of interest which is 1 per cent, below the bank rate. Seeing that 30 per cent, of the money to be allocated is to be made available to building societies for the erection or purchase of homes for private ownership, and seeing that the societies lend money for periods from 22 to 28 years, it is obvious that the money available takes on the nature of a revolving fund. Consequently, portion of the money provided under the agreement will probably be used twice, and in the years to come the grant will be far greater than is now apparent. If the Government says, “ We are going to get £12,000,000, of which £3,500,000 will go to New South Wales for home-ownership construction “, the sum. will really be much more than that as the years go by. The money already in the fund will revolve over the 53-year period. The Government is to be congratulated on its whole housing record under this scheme. I look forward to the day when not 30 per cent., but something in excess of 50 per cent., of the sum provided is earmarked for home-ownership construction.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Spooner) read a fisrt time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time. The main purpose of this bill is to authorize the payment during the current financial year of special grants totalling £20,750,000 to South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The payment of these grants was recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission in its twenty-fifth report, which has now been tabled. The bill also authorizes the payment of advances to the claimant States in the early months of 1959-60, pending the authorization by the Parliament of the special grants for that year. A similar provision was included- as section 4 of the States Grants Act last year.
In. arriving, at the recommendations contained in its twenty-fifth report, the Grants Commission has continued to adhere to the general principle of financial need. The commission: has interpreted this principle tei mean that, provided the efforts made by a< claimant State to raise revenue and control expenditure are reasonable by comparison with the efforts made by the nonclaimant States, its special grant should be sufficient to enable it to function at a standard not appreciably below that of the nonclaimant States. Accordingly, the commission makes a detailed comparison of the Budgets of the claimant States with those of the non-claimant States and takes particular account of differences in levels of expenditure and in efforts to raise revenue.
Under the procedures at present followed by the commission, the special grants recommended each year are divided into two parts. One part is based upon the commission’s estimate of the States’ financial needs for the current financial year. This part is regarded by the commission as subject to final adjustment two years later when the commission has examined the audited Budget results of the States for that year. The other part of the grant represents the final adjustment of the special grant paid two years earlier, in this case of the grant paid in 1956-57. The grants recommended by the commission for payment this year are therefore made up as follows: -
In total, the special grants recommended for payment in 1958-59 are £1,250,000 greater than those paid to the claimant States last year. There is a reduction of £450,000 in the special grant recommended for payment to South Australia, and increases of £950,000 and £750,000, respectively, in those recommended for payment to Western Australia and Tasmania. All of these variations arise largely from changes in the magnitude of adjustments to’ special grants paid two years previously. Further details relating to the special grants’ are given in the commission’s report, which has been tabled. Although South Australia will receive a smaller special grant than in 1957-58, the total amount which it will receive by way of tax reimbursement and special grants will show an increase. The other two claimant States will, of course, be sharing in the increase in tax reimbursement grants in addition to receiving increased special grants.
The special grants recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission have been adopted on each occasion and the Government considers that the commission’s recommendations should be adopted again this year. I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator 0’Flaherty) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 623).
– The measure before the Senate is termed the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill 1958, but, in fact, relates to what is an orderly marketing scheme. It is a corollary of the Wheat Export Charge Bill 1958, and if you, Mr. President, and the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) have no objection, I shall refer to both jointly.
The stabilization plan which is being re-enacted under this legislation has been in operation now for two periods of five years - ten years in all - and has worked very well; so well in fact that I understand the Government had no trouble at all in getting the Australian wheat-growers to agree to its extension for another five years.
My mind goes back over a long period to the time when a few wheat-growers got together and began to talk about orderly marketing. Every one thought that we were mere dreamers. Later on, when plans were instituted for orderly marketing, we were belted all over the country for suggesting that something should be done along those lines in respect of wheat. Later still, when we altered the term a little and spoke about the “ stabilization “ of the wheat industry, we were told that it was entirely wrong to expect any government, State or Federal, to dip into the public coffers in order to guarantee prices as part of a stabilization plan. It .is very pleasing to me to know as I stand here to-night that the Liberal-Country party Government is following the lines that were advocated in earlier years by a few wheat-growers who were told that they were dreamers and extremists. Some of them were called socialists; there were no Communists at that time. I am very glad that the Government has stabilized the wheat industry. The bill provides that the home-consumption base price of wheat for 1958-59 shall be 14s. 6d. a bushel, bulk basis, f.o.r. ports. Provision is made for annual adjustments in the following years. For the second time in our history, a premium will be paid from export realizations on wheat grown in Western Australia and exported from that State, in recognition of the natural freight advantage enjoyed by Western Australia owing to its proximity to the principal overseas markets for wheat. The premium will be 3d. a bushel.
Freight on wheat to Tasmania has been considered, and provision has been made in the bill for a loading on the price of all wheat sold for consumption in Australia to the extent necessary to cover the cost of transporting the wheat from the mainland to Tasmania in each season during the operation of the five-year plan. Consequently, the consumers in Tasmania will be able to buy wheat at the mainland price.
The point I should like the Minister to consider is this: If it is practicable to establish a uniform home-consumption price of wheat throughout Australia in normal times, it should be practicable to maintain that price in any State during periods of drought, floods or other national disaster. I shall illustrate my meaning. Droughts occurred in New South Wales this year and in Queensland last year. The difficulties that arose were not caused by the farmers, but by an act of God. It was necessary for New South Wales to obtain wheat from other States and from Canada. It is interesting to note that wheat was evidently obtained from Canada more cheaply than from other States of Australia. I point out that a premium was charged on the wheat that was supplied to New South Wales in its time of need. I contend that the stabilization plan should go a little further and provide that a uniform price for wheat for home consumption should apply in cases such as the one I have mentioned in relation to New South Wales, and I hope that the Minister will consider this suggestion.
I want to mention only one other aspect of the matter. I understand from the Minister’s second-reading speech and from the provisions of some of the clauses of the bill that the cost-of-production formula has been altered. I should like the Minister to explain to me the new costofproduction formula that is to be applied. There has been no secrecy about the formula in the past, and I do not think for a moment that there is any need to hide it now. I do not think that the Minister wants to do that. If he has not the information readily available, I should be glad to receive it at a later date. On behalf of the Opposition, I am pleased to be able to say that both the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill 1958 and the Wheat Export Charge Bill 1958 have our blessing.
.- The Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill 1958 merits the support of all honorable senators. For that reason, and having in mind the lateness of the hour, I shall make brief references to only two major points. But before doing so, I wish to congratulate the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) on the clarity of his secondreading speech which, I believe, is something of a model on legislation of this kind.
The wheat stabilization plan in Australia is, I believe, the envy of many primary industries. The Government’s ready support of the new agreement and the introduction of this measure indicate that it realizes the worth of this plan to one of our major primary industries. Into this legislation has been written modern thinking in the light of the needs of the industry revealed during the period of five years that has just elapsed.
It is worthy of record that the Government has acepted in toto the recommendations that were made by the Australian Agricultural Council, one of which was that the cost of production should be fixed at 14s. 6d. per bushel. This figure was arrived at by the council after consultation with a select committee representing the growers.
It is on the yield divisor and the profit margin that I wish to comment. There is general satisfaction . in the industry that a home-consumption price of 14s. 6d. per bushel has been fixed. The method of ascertaining the yield divisor was one of the points of difference between the wheatgrowers’ representatives and the Australian Agricultural Council. There were differences of opinion, in relation not to the price finally decided upon, but to the method of assessing the average yield for the next five years. The council finally adopted, as the average yield for the next five years, the figure of 15.5 bushels per acre. Apparently, that was agreed upon after an examination of the position, but the growers would have preferred a set period of years to be taken as a permanent basis on which to ascertain the figure. It is interesting to note that the average yield for the last ten years was 16.5 bushels per acre, while for the last fifteen years it was 14.8 bushels, and for the last twenty years, 1.4.3 bushels. A cynic might well say, “ You are merely splitting straws when you suggest that the figure of 15.5 bushels is not in line with those averages.” But that is not the whole story. So much depends on the cost of production. It has been reliably ascertained that if the yield falls by one bushel per acre, the cost of production over the whole of the crop rises by 8d. a bushel. So I suggest, Mr. President, that it is vital to the stability of the industry that when you are assessing the cost of production you select a period of years that will give a true indication of yield.
The selection of the figure of 15.5 bushels per acre means that that is the average that must be achieved for the next five years, if the grower is to get back his actual cost of production. I suggest that he would be a very brave person who would attempt to forecast what the next five years will bring forth. It is to be hoped that such a yield will be achieved or even bettered, because that undoubtedly will be of great benefit to the industry.
– The average yield is tending to rise, because of better farming and other factors.
– That is so. I do not want to go into that part of the story now, although it is a most interesting one, because it could not be dealt with adequately in a few minutes. I imagine that the matters to which I have referred were some of the factors that persuaded the Australian Agri- cultural Council to fix the figure of 15.5 bushels per acre. The point I want to make is that, because of the influence of the cost of production on the economy of the industry, I believe that the industry will press for a fixed period of years to be taken as the basis of future costing.
The other point I wish to make relates to the need for a profit margin. The Australian Wheat Growers Federation is always striving for the recognition of such a need. The industry has looked with envy at the influence which the Tariff Board exercises in respect of our secondary industries. The Tariff Board is an independent institution which examines each industry on its merits, not only from the point of view of the needs of the industry, but also from that of the value of the industry to Australia. So that the people of Australia may appreciate the facts regarding costing and the need for a profit margin, I point out that it has been reliably and statistically proved that an increase of ls. 2d. per bushel in the- price of wheat adds only id. to the price of a 2-lb. loaf of bread, provided, of course, that the actual costs involved in the price of a bushel of wheat are the only costs that are taken into consideration.
The growers and their representatives suggest that, because of the vagaries of the seasons and the risks that they have to take in relation to droughts, floods and pests, a margin of profit is desirable and even necessary in order to make sure that the industry does not suffer lapses from time to time. On that issue, Sir, it is very pleasing to note that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), in his second-reading speech, went so far as to say that he believed that, in this respect, the industry had a point that was worthy of consideration and that he would, before the next harvest matured, give it some consideration. If he does so - and I believe he will - he will be considering a matter that the growers and their representatives regard as of great importance to their industry.
I believe that a better method of obtaining finality on the question of a yield divisor’, a profit margin, and1 other matters, could be devised. At this stage, I pay a tribute to the Australian Agricultural Council. I believe that it is doing a splendid job in the interests of Australia, but on these issues of national importance the discussions are not entirely free from political colour. In the deliberations of the council there is not that degree of independence that one finds in an organization such as the Tariff Board. I suggest that the Government should, at the first opportunity, consider setting tip machinery to effect, in respect of the primary industries of this country, the same influence that the Tariff Board exerts on the secondary industries.
We must appreciate that the wheat industry, since the implementation of orderly marketing, has contributed approximately £200,000 to the economy of the country, a contribution that it has been happy to make because stability has been achieved. In view of the great value of the industry to Australia, I believe that the establishment of an organization to do for the primary industries what the Tariff Board does for the secondary industries would be well worth while. Finally, I commend the Government for the readiness that it has shown to write into the legislation those desirable features that mean so much to the growers. I support the bill and congratulate the Government on. the way in which it has met the situation that we are discussing.
, at the manner in which this bill has been accepted on both sides of the chamber. Senator O’Flaherty asked me a specific question in relation to costing. The costing for the new plan comes from a re-survey of representative farms by the Division of Agricultural Economics. The survey was recommended by the Australian Agricultural Council and assisted by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Paltridge) proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
.- I should like, at this stage, to make one other point which is of vital importance to the industry. To-day, the wheat-growers are awaiting an announcement by the Government as to what the first advance will be. Wheat-growing areas in many parts of Australia suffered a major set-back last year, due to drought. It is an unfortunate fact that some of the growers are obliged to seek an early announcement so that they may be able to plan their financial arrangements for the coming harvest. I urge the Government to make the announcement as soon as it can do so.
– In reply - I can only advise the honorable senator at the moment that no recommendation has been received from the Wheat Board. I have no doubt that as soon as a recommendation is received, an announcement will be made.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed (vide page 623), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
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 give effect to the proposal announced by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in his Budget Speech to provide Commonwealth assistance to enable medical and hospital benefits to be paid to persons who cannot be insured at normal rates because of age, pre-existing illness or chronic illness. I am sure that it will assist the Senate to appreciate the value and- importance of this measure if I spend some little time in the first instance in explaining the problem which this bill is intended to meet.
The development of scientific medicine, which has taken place within recent years, has. made the. provision of medical services not only a very complex, but an extremely expensive process. It demands long training of practitioners, great hospital construction and maintenance, an extensive system: of laboratories and of X-ray facilities for diagnosis and treatment, and a great apparatus of research, not only for the use of clinical medicine, but for the production of the costly drugs which it uses, and the investigation of the sciences on which it is based. The result has been, not only a great improvement in medical efficiency, but a great and inevitable rise in cost. In consequence, no modern State is without some type- of national health service designed to ensure the availability of modern medical resources and benefits to its citizens.
It is important to realize, in this connexion, that there is no “ best “ national health scheme which can be applied universally, but that what each country requires is one suited to its own particular circumstances and its own national character. It is, of course, possible to learn from the experience of others, but an attempt to transpose the national health scheme of. one country to another will be just as fruitless as an attempt to transpose, without change, the, system of government from one country to another, ignoring the differences of character and circumstances which exist. In Australia we have adopted a system of Government-assisted voluntary health insurance, which, I believe, is particularly suited to our conditions, which are those of a growing and expanding nation making immense demands on its resources, both financial and physical, as it does so - a system, moreover, which is suited to the enterprising individuality of our national character.
Medical and hospital insurance is necessarily conducted, not only in Australia, but in other parts of the world, on an actuarial basis. This means that insurance funds insure their members only against what may be termed normal risks. No medical or insurance fund could survive for long if its business was conducted on any other footing. The premium for the normal risk of hospital or medical attention can be determined with reasonable accuracy and is within the means of most people in the community. There are, however, a number of risks associated with health for which a normal weekly payment cannot provide. The older members of the community are specially subject to these extra risks, which take the form of chronic and long-term illnesses and ailments in existence prior to the date of joining an insurance fund.
For the individual, these risks are extremely serious and it is generally agreed that a fully developed national scheme ought to provide adequately for them. The special problem that exists is that health insurance organizations cannot give an insurance cover for abnormally long illnesses, or for ailments which a member contracted before he joined the fund. If they were to attempt to do so, the premiums they charge to their normal risk contributors would have to be increased to an unreasonably high level. However, it is recognized by the insurance organizations, by the Government and, I believe, by all responsible people, that benefits ought to be paid in these cases. The Government’s task has been to find a mechanism which would enable benefits to be paid whilst at the same time preserving the principles of the voluntary scheme which has been such an outstanding success.
The solution which the Government proposes for this problem is contained in this bill. Briefly, the bill provides that medical and hospital insurance organizations will be invited to establish special accounts for the payment of benefits to the aged, to persons with pre-existing ailments and to the chronically ill. These accounts will be operated and maintained by the organizations themselves, but they will be guaranteed by the Commonwealth. Upon establishment of a special account an organization will credit to the special account the contributions of all members who attain the age of 65 years. These members will become entitled to benefits from the special account, regardless of the nature of the illness, the length of the illness or whether it was a condition from which they were, suffering at the time they joined the fund.. I need hardly emphasize what a tremendous boon this will be to members.
As a general rule, the organizations will retain, in their ordinary accounts, the contributions of persons who are under the age of 65 years and these persons will continue to receive benefits from the organizations’ ordinary account as they have always done. However, when a claim is made on a hospital or medical fund, and the claim is disallowed under the ordinary rules of the fund relating to pre-existing ailments, chronic illness or maximum benefits payable within a year, the organization will then transfer that contributor to the special Commonwealth-guaranteed account. When this transfer has been made the claim in question, and future claims from that contributor, will be paid from the special account. Thus contributors to medical and hospital insurance organizations will become entitled to payment of benefits, regardless of the nature of the illness, the length of the illness, or whether the medical condition was one which the contributor had at the time of joining the fund.
That, in broad terms, is the solution to this long-standing and difficult problem which the Government proposes in this bill. Its implementation will be in the hands of the medical and hospital insurance funds who are already providing a first class health service to more than six million insured persons and their dependants throughout Australia. For some time the Minister for Health and a number of senior officers of his department have been engaged in conducting detailed negotiations with the hospital and medical insurance funds about the implementation of this plan. The funds are in complete agreement with the principles of our proposals. The funds are no less anxious than the Government to arrange for the aged and chronically ill people in the community to be paid adequate benefits, and they may be relied on to co-operate with the Department of Health in the work of introducing this plan so that is operates smoothly, economically and in a manner that will give no cause for complaints from contributors. As to the details of this bill, I think it will suffice here if I explain in general terms what the detailed provisions are and later in the committee stages I will provide any further information that honorable senators may desire.
Clause 15 of the bill provides that a registered organization may establish a special account. The organization will be required to pay into that account the contributions of all contributors who are 65 years of age or over. Thereafter these contributors will receive their benefits from the special account. As regards contributors under 65 years of age, the organization will continue to follow its present practice until it receives a claim which could be excluded from benefit by its rules relating to chronic illness, pre-existing ailments or maximum benefits. Upon receipt of such a claim the organization will have an option. It may forego its right to disallow the claim, and pay the contributor his benefit. On the other hand, it may elect to transfer the contributor to the special account, in which case the claim will be paid from that account. This means that whichever course the organization takes, the benefit will be paid to the contributor.
The contributor himself will not have to do anything different from what he already does now. He will not have to apply for transfer to the special account nor will he have to take any action to secure entitlement to the new benefits provided for by this bill. All his new entitlements will be provided for him by his organization under the arrangement made with the Government.
The rate of contributions payable to an organization will not be changed by the operation of this bill. A contributor who is put into the special account will continue to pay the same rate of contribution that is payable by an ordinary contributor. In short, his entitlement to benefits will be substantially increased, but his rate of contribution will not be changed.
The benefits to be paid to persons whose claims are within the scope of pre-existing ailment, chronic illness or maximum benefit rules will be standard-rate benefits. In the case of hospital fund benefit, standard rate benefit is defined in this bill to be the rate of 16s. a day. In view of the fact that Commonwealth benefits of 20s. a day are payable under existing legislation, payment of the new standard rate benefit will result in the payment by the organization to the contributor of a total benefits equal to the normal public ward charge of 36s. a day.
In the case of medical fund benefit, the standard rate will be equal to the amount specified in the schedules to the National Health Act. Under existing legislation, contributors receive Commonwealth benefits of amounts specified in the schedules and the new proposals will thus result in payment of double the amounts in the schedules in all cases.
The other provisions in the bill may be described as machinery provisions, which are substantially in line with existing medical and hospital insurance fund practice. The objective of these provisions is to provide that, so far as practicable, a special account contributor will be on exactly the same footing in his organization as if he were an ordinary contributor.
It will be necessary to require some measure of uniformity as between special accounts regarding certain minor matters where the organizations themselves have not a uniform practice, for example, special account contributors will not be permitted to show a “ profit “ on their claims over and above the amount of the hospital charge. I think all will agree that this is reasonable remembering that deficits on the special accounts will be met by the Commonwealth.
The new benefits provided for by this bill will not be payable for accommodation provided at a benevolent home, convalescent home, home for aged persons, rest home or similar institution. The benefits provided under existing legislation are in most cases adequate to meet the cost of treatment provided at these homes. Existing benefits will, of course, be continued.
There will be a minimum waiting period of eight weeks from the time a new contributor joins an organization during which benefits will not be payable for hospital treatment or medical services, except in exceptional cases such as injuries resulting from accidents. This is a new condition in relation to Commonwealth medical benefits, but it is in line with the existing legislation in regard to Commonwealth additional hospital benefits, and it also conforms with the practice of insurance organizations in regard to payment of fund benefits. It would obviously be quite out of keeping with the insurance principle if people were permitted to collect benefits immediately if they had neglected to insure until the actual onset of an illness. Along with the other provisions of the special account plan, this condition will come into effect on 1st January next. It will not affect any contributor who insures before that date.
The benefits payable under the insurance plan provided for in the act are intended to assist individual persons to pay their hospital and medical accounts if they themselves have paid contributions to an insurance fund or if contributions have been paid on their behalf to an insurance fund by their employers. The benefits are not intended to be available to State government institutions, except in so far as bona fide charges made by the institution to its patients are wholly or partly met from benefits payable as a result of bona fide insurance membership undertaken by the individual patients of the institution. Clause 6 of. the bill is designed to put this inten-tion into effect. Any person already insured will continue to be regarded as a contributor.
The plan generally will apply to hospital treatment or medical services rendered after 1st January next. The plan has been arrived at after a most intensive study of all aspects of the problem. It is a good plan, and it provides generous new benefits to a large number of people who need them.
The Australian National Health Service is a fine example of co-operation between different elements of the community; between the Government and benefit organizations which operate on a voluntary basis and include the great friendly societies, which have played such a prominent part in our national life for so many years, the pharmaceutical profession, the medical profession and individual members of the community. It is a social service of the best type in that, by this partnership, it assists individuals to help themselves. It recognizes that all have a reponsibility in the State, individuals as well as government, and affords- them opportunities to discharge this responsibility.
Moreover, it preserves, better than any other system, the independence of the individual requiring medical attention and of the profession which provides it, both priceless national assets.
These amendments will provide a great advance in social service legislation by assisting those who, by reason of certaindisabilities, are at a disadvantage in securing the full benefits of the scheme and are, I believe, a very notable addition to the extremely fine record of this Government in the provision of social services in our country.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Flaherty’ adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 625).
– The bill under consideration is the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Bill 1958. Another measure to be discussed is the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Bill 1958. As these are cognate bills, I should like to relate my remarks to both of them for purposes of convenience and in order to save time.
At the outset let me thank the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), through the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), for the explanatory notes he circulated relating to both measures: They certainly help us greatly in understanding the purposes of these bills. The Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Bill. 1958 relates to methods of assessing, income tax. The Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Bill 1958 relates to the amount of: tax assessed by the methods covered by the other bill. In this case, some of the allowances that applied previously have been continued. There is, for instance, the matter of depreciation on plant and structural improvements used in primary production generally. The special depreciation provisions will also apply to the fishing and pearling industries.
– Hear, hear
– That may help my friend’ opposite who knows something about fishing’. I wish to direct the Minister’s attention to the fact that depreciation applies to structural buildings used by employees and share farmers on pastoral properties, but no provision is made for similar buildings erected for occupation by members of a partnership. I refer particularly to the family partnership of the father, perhaps the mother, and the sons of the family. Such a partnership probably arises when the father, realizing that he is getting older and that his sons have reached maturity, decides to take them into partnership with him. After the partnership agreement has been entered into, perhaps one of the sons marries, and, with the assistance of the other partners, erects a home for himself on the property. No depreciation allowance applies to that property because the young man is a partner and not an employee or a share farmer. I think that the Government should .take some action to clear up this anomaly which applies in every State. In some cases the daughters of the family .have been included in the partnership but, to all intents and purposes, the farm still remains the father’s property. I repeat, no provision exists for that partnership to obtain the depreciation allowance for buildings erected on the property simply because the young man concerned is a partner and not an employee. During a recent tour of the Riverina area of New South Wales, I met a farmer who had erected for his son a home costing between £2,000 and £3,000. When he submitted his income tax return he claimed the depreciation allowance but his claim was disallowed because his son is a partner and not an employee. The Minister should take some steps to help the kind of people to whom I have referred. I cannot see why they are not entitled .to the allowance. They are suffering a grave injustice. It seems anomalous that if a farmer’s sons are working the property on shares, the allowance may be claimed, but the moment a partnership is entered into, the partnership is not eligible to receive the allowance.
The measure before us proposes amendments to the special zone allowances, the zone A allowance being increased from £180 to £270, and the zone B allowance from £30 to £45. In addition, in the case of a resident ;of zone B, for income tax purposes .the present deduction of £30 will be increased to £45, plus one-twelfth of the deductions allowable to the taxpayer -in respect of the maintenance of dependants. If it is right and proper to increase the deductible amount, surely it is right to raise the primary amount at which income tax becomes payable. At present a person is liable to pay income tax when he earns £105 a year. If one’s income is £104, one is exempt from taxation; but if one’s income is £105, one pays a minimum tax of 10s. a year. Even though the tax rate may be Id. in the £1, the minimum levy is 10s. It is time that the Government took the value of money into consideration. The value of money has so declined that now £275 would be needed to buy what £100 bought seven years ago. If it is right to make provision for greater deductions because of the higher cost of living in certain areas, surely it is right to raise the initial exemption from £104 to the present-day equivalent in terms of purchasing power.
I do not intend to discuss all the details of the Government’s taxation proposals. The Opposition is sick and tired .of offering advice to the Government on taxation matters. Even though we have offered advice for a number of years, it has not been heeded. I do not think we should offer the Government any more advice. Instead, we shall go to the people and tell them about our taxation proposals.
– You will get nowhere.
-The people will be the judges. When I come back here after the next election, brother, you can slate me for all you are worth if our party is defeated. But you will get a slang-whanging if the Government is defeated.
I said that I did not want to discuss all the details of the Government’s proposals. But perhaps I should point out that in the past we have suggested that there should be a more equitable system of income taxation. We have suggested that people who are in the higher income brackets should pay a little more tax than they pay now so that the burden on people who are in the very low income bracket may be eased. We have suggested, too, a more equitable method of company taxation, but the suggestion has been rejected. I note that the Government is still imposing 6d. of the ls. in the £1 increase in company taxation that it imposed some time ago. It is ,a wonder the Government has not been hammered about that before now. Despite our efforts, we have not been able to persuade the Government to alter its attitude. We shall explain our more equitable income tax proposals to the electors, and place before them a better basis of exemption. I hope, too, that we shall be able to offer an extension of the depreciation allowance.
It will.be remembered that at one stage we provided a depreciation allowance of 40 per cent. This Government introduced a 20 per cent, allowance. The development that was achieved in the years when the 40 per cent, provision obtained was extraordinary. The rate of development was so fast that the Government reduced the allowance. If Labour is returned to office, a more generous depreciation allowance will be granted. I repeat that we shall explain our proposals to the electors and see whether they will then be satisfied with this Government’s proposals.
– You have tried that before.
– We have not. We tried to sway you. What happened in the past was entirely different from what I am suggesting now. You people introduced extraneous matters. I invite you to stand on your taxation proposals and compare them with ours. If I were allowed to bet, Mr. President, I would be willing to bet a couple of bob that a lot of other matters will be introduced into any consideration of our taxation proposals. Having made those comments, I offer no opposition to the bill; and I shall not offer any opposition to the cognate measure.
– I rise to support the bill. I congratulate the Government upon the imaginative alteration it seeks to make to the law. It is known, of course, that, because of the decline in wool prices and other circumstances which are beyond the control of the Government, it i9 not possible to make greater concessions than are contained in this measure. Because of the encouragement that will be given for greater primary production in particular, I am sure that the proposed concessions will lead to an increase of our export income.
The principal proposals in the bill are to operate for three years as from 1st July, 1959. I refer to the proposals regarding the special 20 per cent, depreciation allowance for plant and structural improvements used for agricultural and pastoral purposes. The increase in primary production and the greater efficiency that has been achieved since provision was first made for this allowance have been remarkable. The point I wish to stress is that for the first time the Government has introduced a 20 per cent, depreciation allowance for those who are engaged in the fishing industry. That is most important because, in the State which I have the honour to represent, many persons in that industry will benefit for the first time. I regret that the introduction of this relief has been so long delayed. The fishing industry has every claim to be regarded as a primary industry. Those who are engaged in it certainly take their lives in their hands in winning their harvest from the seas.
Also, for the first time, the averaging provisions will be applied to the fishing industry. I think that there is every reason why that should be done. It is a precarious industry, which has very good years and very poor years. Henceforth, the rate of tax which a fisherman will pay will be determined by his average income over the period for which averaging has been in force - in no case exceeding five yeas. The bill will be of great benefit to that branch of the industry which is doing so much to increase our export income. I refer to crayfishing, which now earns more than a million dollars a year for Australia - at a time when dollars are very badly needed.
I should like also to refer to the extraordinary bounty which has come the way of the pearling industry. Now that industry will be able to claim 20 per cent, depreciation on structural buildings. I feel that in the fishing industry depreciation should have been permitted, not only on plant, but also on such structures as small wharfs, jetties, and slipways such as must be erected by fishermen on the far-flung coasts of South Australia. In remote areas, where boat harbours erected at government expense are not available, the provision of such structures by the fisherman is essential. I should like the Minister for National Development to consider that matter with this departmental officers and to make it possible for depreciation to be claimed in respect of such structures. Many a fisherman has to erect them at considerable expense, and they are frequently subjected to severe buffeting by the seas. Therefore, a 20 per cent, depreciation allowance in respect of them appears most necessary.
I commend the Government upon the modicum of assistance that it has given to the taxpayer in this bill, but I should like the Minister to give me an answer on this matter of depreciation of structures. 1 join Senator O’Flaherty in directing attention to the increased zone allowance. It is a step in the right direction. Those who live in these isolated parts of Australia will appreciate the benefits conferred by this legislation, which I support most heartily.
– I shall not detain the Senate very long. I feel that much of the bill has been inspired by the visit of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to the north-west of Western Australia. It was hoped that his visit would have that result. I, too, am pleased to see that the fishing industry is, for the first time, to be classified as a primary industry. I know that Senator Kendall will be very happy also. Only the other day he deplored the fact that the fishing industry had not been so classified. We in Western Australia still regret very much that the proceeds of the sale of the Commonwealth’s whaling station were not reinvested in research into the Western Australian fishing industry, which has a huge potential and is not being fully exploited.
I notice that there are to be taxation rebates in respect of depreciation on buildings constructed by persons employed in the pearling industry. I do not imagine that many of the existing structures could depreciate much further. I have in mind especially those at Broome. I do not know how the buildings in the area where the Japanese and other pearlers live would stand a storm, or what value would be placed upon them at the present time. I hope that this bill will result in the disappearance of many of those eye-sores at Broome, and that decent accommodation will be provided by the few who control the industry. It is seasonal in character and does not employ many Australians. Those who work in the pearling industry of north-western Australia could do with very much better accommodation. I should like to make a special plea for Broome because I feel that if it is not allowed to pack up it could have a great future. If the pearling industry went the whole town would go with it, but it could become the gold-coast of Western Australia. It has beautiful beaches and could become a tourist resort. Some of the buildings in the pearling area - if I may so describe it - of Broome are a disgrace. If Senator McCallum could do so much in Canberra merely because a telephone exchange did not come up to his standards I should like to see what he could do after spending a couple of days in Broome. We have now in Canberra, a National Capital Development Commission, and if we sent the honorable senator to the north-west we might see some action there too.
I am pleased that this bill will give some measure of relief, however small, to the fishing industry. I know that the people of the north-west are very disappointed in the Budget. As I have said in speaking on other measures, we are grateful for the little that is provided, but a great deal more must be done if we are to draw more people to these remote areas and foster development. That is not possible with the few people there now.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
– Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed (vide page 625), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Senate adjourned at 10.32 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 25 September 1958, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1958/19580925_senate_22_s13/>.