23rd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
“PRINCESS OF TASMANIA”.
Senator BENN. - I direct a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. In view of the statement made by an officer of the Australian Shipbuilding Board that the “ Princess of Tasmania “ would be unstable if the engineer officers were accommodated in the usual place on the bridge deck, will the Minister provide, now that the ship has been subjected to stability tests, the actual stability figures for the ship, giving the metrocentric height and the calculated weight, and the effect on stability of such accommodation if constructed on the bridge deck?
Senator PALTRIDGE. - Senator Benn was good enough, late last week, to indicate his interest in this matter, and as it has technical aspects, I have had a short reply prepared. A study of the transcript of evidence before* Mr. Justice Foster will show that no officer of the Australian Shipbuilding Board stated that the “ Princess of Tasmania “ would be unstable in an undamaged condition if engineer officers were accommodated on the bridge deck. In fact, the chairman of the Australian Shipbuilding Board, Mr. H. P. Weymouth, while pointing out that many difficult problems were faced in the. design of the ship, stated categorically that it is quite incorrect to say that she is lacking in stability. It was necessary, however, to keep the top weight of the vessel down as far as possible, and particular attention was paid to ensure that an adequate margin of stability would be available should the ship suffer the misfortune of being damaged in collision.
Officers of the Australian Shipbuilding Board, therefore, did not favour the addition of engineer officers’ accommodation on the bridge deck level, not only because, of its effect in reducing stability in the event of the ship being ‘ damaged in a collision, but also because of the additional surface that would be exposed to the wind and which would make the berthing of the ship more difficult in adverse weather conditions. The actual stability obtained from an inclining test on the completed vessel gave figures very close to those which were estimated in the- design stage.
I am certain that the honorable senator will agree with the prudent and cautious policy of my officers, endorsed by Judge Foster in his judgment, and further, that he will agree that any inspection of this fine vessel will show that the engineer officers are comfortably and adequately accommodated in rooms that excel any previously provided in ships of this type throughout the world.
– Has the Minister representing the Attorney-General been informed of the emergency legislation passed by the Parliament of New South Wales to halt the activities of dishonest company promoters? Will the Minister consult with his colleague, the AttorneyGeneral, to ascertain whether it is possible to pass a uniform company law for Australia, which will protect the investor from the activities of these birds, or rather beasts, of prey?
– I have not seen the emergency legislation on this question passed by the New South Wales Parliament, but the question is very closely akin to one previously asked in this chamber by Senator Laught. I have obtained for Senator Laught and sent to him an answer to his- question and, perhaps, if I read that it will provide an exact answer to the question asked by Senator McCallum. The answer reads -
This matter is receiving’ attention at the present time uv two. ways. There are grave doubts as to what is the constitutional power that Parliament has with respect to corporations, and the Joint Committee on Constitutional Reform recommended in its report that section SI (xx.) of the Constitution be repealed’ and replaced by a new paragraph that would give Parliament a power over corporations sufficient to enable it to enact a uniform companies law applying throughout the Commonwealth.
In the meantime, the States have been taking steps to reduce their own. company law into a common form, and the Commonwealth has joined them in taking similar steps with respect to the company laws of its various Territories. A short while ago, a conference of Attorneys-General of the States was called by the Attorney-General of Victoria to discuss the problem. The conference, which was attended by the Commonwealth Solicitor-General, agreed unanimously that every endeavour should be made by each State and by the Commonwealth to agree upon a uniform law for adoption by each State and Territory of the Commonwealth.
There have since been a number of meetings of State and Commonwealth officers and there was a further meeting of State Attorneys-General in Brisbane in the first week in September. As a result of these meetings, I am hopeful that the Commonwealth and all the States will be able to agree upon a uniform modern company law for adoption by each State and Territory with only very few, if any, modifications of any substance.
I think that that supplies the answer to the question asked by Senator McCallum to-day.
– I direct to the Minister representing the Minister for Health a question with reference to the rising cost of hospital treatment, particularly in less populous areas where the hospitals are controlled by boards and honorary administrations. Is the Minister aware that many hospitals are being embarrassed by the fact that many patients not covered by the Government’s health and medical benefits and hospital benefits scheme are not able to pay for medical treatment and hospital accommodation received by them, thereby leaving large amounts outstanding and not paid in the hospital accounts. Is he aware that, in many instances, hospital administrations find it almost impossible to recover payment for treatment and accommodation given and that the hospitals, particularly those outside the metropolitan areas, are finding considerable difficulty in carrying on economically? Is the Minister aware that these amounts, when written off or not collected, plus the expense occasioned in endeavouring to recover the outstanding moneys, are forcing up the cost of hospital treatment for paying patients? Will he have an investigation made in respect of this matter in the various States and hospitals to ascertain whether a suitable system can be evolved to obviate this obvious deficiency in the Australian health services scheme, and make the information resulting from the investigation available to the Senate?
– I think it is a pity if a great number of people in Western Australia are not availing themselves of this low cost protection against sickness and hospital treatment under the present schemes. It would be reasonable to assume that most people would take advantage of them. In doing so, they would not only help themselves but they would also help the hospitals considerably. I will, of course, have to refer to my colleague, the Minister for Health, the honorable senator’s suggestion that an investigation should be held. Therefore, if Senator Cooke will place the relevant part of his question on the noticepaper, I will obtain an answer from my colleague, and I shall then duly report back to the Senate.
– I desire to direct a question to the Minister for National Development who, a fortnight ago, was good enough to give me some data relating to the effect of the lack of rain and snow last winter on the catchment area of’ the upper Murray. Can the Minister inform me whether the position has improved during the past fortnight and, if it has, to what extent?
– I am sorry that I do not carry in my mind all the figures that I gave to Senator Laught when he asked his previous question. I think, speaking from memory, that the storage in the Hume Weir was about 1,500,000 acre feet instead of the anticipated ordinary level of about 2,000,000 acre feet, and that this had resulted in a pretty serious situation which presaged water restrictions to irrigators and settlers throughout the Murray valley. I am glad to be able to tell Senator Laught that the situation has changed very materially indeed as a result of the heavy rains and snow-falls over the catchment area. The situation has changed so greatly that the River Murray Commission has cancelled the emergent meeting that it proposed to hold - I think it was to have been at the end of this week - and the present view of the commission is that, provided normal rains fall from now until the close of the year, the possibilities are that there will be no need to impose the severe restrictions that were previously contemplated. I hasten to add that although there has been this dramatic change as a result of the heavy rainfall just in the spot on the catchment area where it was needed, the River Murray Commission is watching the position closely and will consider holding a meeting at a fairly early date so that it can review all the available information to make certain that the existing opinion is correct.
– I desire to direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senator Poke, in a question which he was asked to place on the noticepaper, sought information about a handout to the press. My question relates to a similar matter. Is it not a fact that the pressmen in Parliament House representing the various newspapers throughout Australia enjoy, free, the use of the dining room and bar facilities provided at the taxpayer’s expense? Further, is it not a fact that the services of the staff which provides food for and waits upon pressmen in Parliament House is maintained at the taxpayers’ expense? Is it not also a fact that the staff in Parliament House which cleans up the dirty mess and gets rid of the smell left by some pressmen in and around the building is paid by the taxpayers?
– The Senate may be interested to note the honorable senator’s obvious knowledge of the extent to which the taxpayer bears expenses. Apart from making that comment I must ask for the question to be put on notice.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that Mr. Cahill, the Premier of New South Wales, has called a conference of all State tourist ministers on 22nd and 23rd October? If so, will the Prime Minister send a Cabinet Minister to represent him throughout the deliberations so that the Commonwealth Government will hear at first hand about the many aspects of the tourist industry which directly concern and affect Commonwealth administration?
– I am sorry to say that I had not noticed that Mr. Cahill was calling such a meeting. In those circumstances all I can say is that I will see that Senator Buttfield’s views on the matter are put before the Prime Minister.
” PRINCESS OF TASMANIA “.
– 1 ask the Minister t<_- Shipping and Transport a question. Because of the widespread acclaim that has been given to the Australian National Line on the entry of the “ Princess of Tasmania “ into the Bass Strait passenger trade with the consequent realization of the potential advantages to be gained by Tasmanian exporters to the mainland of perishable or refrigerated goods, will the Minister ascertain the maximum space available on each trip for loaded vehicles, with a view to an equitable allocation of space to the various organizations in Tasmania which wish to use the “ Princess of Tasmania “ pending the commissioning of the “ Bass Trader “?
– An investigation is, I understand, currently being undertaken by the Australian National Line in order to ascertain what space is available and to reach some decision as to how that space may be equitably employed. I know that the honorable senator is well aware that there is not a great deal of refrigerated accommodation, or facilities for refrigerated vehicles, on the “ Princess of Tasmania “. That is not her purpose. As the honorable senator very rightly indicates, when the “ Bass Trader “ is commissioned that deficiency should be overcome.
– Can the Minister for National Development inform the Senate what type of nuclear reactor was recently supplied by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to the Communist Chinese Government? Can he indicate the size of the reactor? Is it capable of producing fissionable materials?
– I have received information about this matter from the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, but I am sorry to say that I cannot recall it offhand. Therefore I must ask that the question be put on notice so that I can be accurate in my reply.
– I ask the Leader of the Government a question without notice. Has he read an article in this morning’s “ Sydney Morning Herald “ headed “ Big Take-over Revelations Shock Britain If he has he will know that this practice is leading to an abuse of the building society movement. Will the exposure have a worrying effect on many investors in this country? Have we any safeguards against such an event happening here?
– The building society movement in Australia, by and large, is constituted and operates in a different way from the building society movement in Great Britain. The great majority of building societies in Australia are terminating building societies. They obtain loans for specific purposes. The loan that they obtain and the way they use it are the subject of government guarantees so that, in relation to terminating building societies, I cannot see that there would be any possible chance of misuse of funds. Although the permanent building societies in Australia are making an extraordinarily valuable contribution to home building activities, they are not as great a force; they operate in different ways.
All these building societies in Australia are registered under various cooperative acts in the different States. Whilst it is difficult to insure against any fraud, because it is always difficult to catch the wrong-doer before he does his wrong deed, yet again the supervision and the liaison between the registries of the various movements in relation to permanent societies would make it very difficult indeed for a permanent building soicety in Australia to misuse funds. I conclude by saying that I should hope there would not be any lack of confidence in the building society movement in Australia as a result of what is alleged to have taken place in Great Britain.
– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport a question with reference to the annual, report of the Commonwealth .’Railways. Last .week he announced. that .the excess of earnings over working expenses represented a- profit of more than £1,000,000. Can the Minister inform the Senate of the source of the capitalization of these railways? Is it from loan funds or from Consolidated Revenue? Can he also explain in what way the .question of interest on capital funds for these operations has been treated in the accounts?
– I think that from previous reports and, indeed, from this report, the Senate will know that capital provision is made from both loan funds and from Consolidated Revenue. Interest is charged on that portion of the funds which has been provided from loan funds. Interest is not charged on that portion of the funds which has been provided from Consolidated Revenue. The honorable senator will be pleased to know that the question of capitalization will shortly be examined by an interdepartmental committee and decisions reached as to how this matter is to be treated in future.
– I understand that the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral has an answer to a question which I asked with regard to the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
– Part of the question which Senator Amour asked was a request for information as to legal advice given by the Attorney-General to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I have received a letter in reply from the Attorney-General and will read the relevant part of it in answer to Senator Amour’s question. It is as follows: -
When my department-
That is, the Attorney-General’s Department - gives advice to some other Department or instrumentality, it would not ordinarily be. proper for my Department or for me myself, to disclose details of the advice given. That is a matter more properly the subject of enquiry from the Minister or Department receiving the advice.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Repatriation. Has the Repatriation Department any system in operation by which an ex-serviceman who is entitled to medical and hospital treatment for war-caused disabilities can, while travelling, prove his right to this treatment, if his war-caused disabilities result in bis requiring .treatment while absent from his own State? If there is such a system, is its existence made widely known to exservicemen?
– There is a system in use in the Repatriation Department whereby ex-servicemen who are eligible for treatment for war-caused disabilities can receive treatment while .they are travelling. This matter was brought up some eight years ago, I think it was - it was at a time when I was Minister - and the .department and I went into it very thoroughly. We decided that the best way in which we could help an ex-serviceman who might require treatment while travelling was to issue him with a card. It was publicized very widely at the time that any ex-serviceman who intended to travel could obtain, from the branch of the Repatriation Department in the State in which he resided, a card containing his record of disabilities and stating whether or not he was entitled to treatment for other disabilities, as well as the normal identification details and his entitlements generally. That system has been used very considerably. All that an ex-serviceman has to do is to apply to the departmental office in his State, and the card is issued to him. However, I shall go into the matter and see whether we cannot publicize afresh the existence of this system, as it is probable that there is a new group of ex-servicemen whose members do not really know that they are entitled to this advantage. I will see what can be done in the matter of further publicity.
– My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has the Minister received notification that slaughtering operations connected with the meat export industry in Queensland will slacken considerably within the next two weeks at meat works in the area between Gladstone and Townsville, causing the unemployment of approximately 5,000 meat workers? Will the Minister confer with the acting
Treasurer and with the Government of Queensland to see whether some public works can be commenced in order to absorb the unemployed workers within the area ..affected?
– I have not noticed, nor received notification of, anything along the lines mentioned by “Senator Benn. I shall bring his remarks to the attention of the Minister responsible in order to see whether, in fact, those works are likely to close and whether the number of people claimed by him as likely to be out of employment will be put out of employment. As for public works in that area of Queensland, I remind the honorable senator that the starting of public works in that State is a matter for the Queensland Government to undertake with money provided by the Australian Loan Council.
– As the Minister for Health is himself a Queenslander, I should think that the honorable senator can be confident that this matter is receiving attention from the Department of Health. However, I have not the details, and if the honorable senator will place her question on notice I shall get the full details for her.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration inform the Senate whether the Government’s immigration policy makes provision for assisted passages for migrants from Germany? If it does so, can he indicate the correct procedure to be adopted to secure skilled tradesmen from Germany?
– Australia has a migration agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany, and assisted passages are given to German nationals and thendependants. These passages are financed under a four-way agreement between Australia, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Inter-Governmental Committee on European Migration and the migrant himself. With regard to procedure, it is provided that applications must be lodged with the local labour offices in West Germany. The successful applicants are selected by the Australian selection team in that country. The procedure provides for assisted pasages to be granted to skilled tradesmen and their dependants in accordance with arrangements agreed to by the two governments. On their arrival in Australia, these skilled tradesmen are cared for by the Commonwealth Employment Service.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer by stating that pastoralists in the Northern Territory can elect to write off, for taxation purposes, the whole of the money they spend on capital improvements for the development of their properties. In view of the urgent need for the rapid development of the north-west of Western Australia, will the Minister ask the Treasurer to give consideration to extending this benefit to pastoralists living north of the 26th parallel in Western Australia?
– The question involves a matter of policy. I will refer it to the Treasurer and ask him to examine the matter and supply what information he can to Senator Scott.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I wish to preface my question by saying that I appreciate his efforts, since he became the Leader of the Government in the Senate, to provide a full discussion of all bills and important matters affecting the stability and welfare of the Commonwealth, and I hope that he continues his endeavours. My question is: Will the Senate be sitting on Thursday of this week?
– I thank Senator Benn for his commendation. As usual, the sting is in the tail. I suggest to the honorable senator that he repeat the question to me after we have satisfactorily disposed of the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill and the Social Services Bill, which are the cause of our sitting to-day. If we do our duty correctly in relation to those two bills, I think we might be entitled to rise on Wednesday.
With reference to the forthcoming hearings for the granting of country television licences, can the Minister inform the Senate whether the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will conduct its inquiries in the localities affected, or whether the evidence will be taken in Sydney or Melbourne? Does the Minister agree that grave financial hardship would be imposed upon genuinely independent applicants if they had to take many witnesses to capital cities and maintain them there for the duration of a hearing?
The Postmaster-General has now furnished me with the following information in reply: -
The inquiry which the Australian Broadcasting Control Board is to make into applications received for the grant of licences for commercial television stations in the provincial and country areas will be held in Melbourne. Details of the arrangements for the inquiry and the procedure to be followed, together with information as to the order in which applications will be heard will be supplied to applicants as soon after the closing date for the receipt of applications as is practicable. In view of the number of applications likely to be involved, it has proved to be impracticable for the board to hold the inquiries into the applications in the various areas concerned.
– I preface my question to the Leader of the Government by mentioning that at a meeting which I attended recently at Coolangatta a speaker said that the export income derived from the output of secondary industry now amounted to approximately £120,000,000 per annum. Is this figure correct? If so, will the Leader of the Government make a statement in the
Senate showing the rapid development ot secondary industry, and the accompanying growth in the exportation of manufactured products?
– I shall do my best to comply with the honorable senator’s request. I think it might suffice if I obtain from my colleague, the Minister for Trade, an analysis of the extent to which manufactured products of various types; are being exported.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Postmaster-General has now supplied the following answers: -
Issue of Tax Certificates
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Postmaster-General has furnished me. with the following replies: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
– The Minister for Primary Industry has supplied the following answers: -
Interpolating an ^answer of my own on this particular point, I mention that I have spoken to Santa Gertrudis breeders themselves and they attribute the relative immunity of Zebu cattle to tick to the fine hide of these cattle compared with the shaggy hide of the cattle normally running in Northern Australia; to the fact, that, unlike other cattle, these cattle sweat freely, and this is not liked by the tick; and also to the fact that unlike other cattle these cattle are able to twitch their muscles, like a horse, and in that way to get rid of the tick. The Minister’s reply continues -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The Minister for Territories has now furnished the following reply:-
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The Minister for Social Services has supplied the following answers: -
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Gold-mining Industry Assistance Act - Fifth Annual Statement by the Minister concerning the operation of the Act, and payment of subsidy, for year 1958-59.
.- I move-
That the paper be printed.
I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with an amendment.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill amends the Social Services Act, in accordance with the Government’s decision announced in the Budget speech, to provide firstly for an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in the maximum rates of .age, invalid and widows’ pensions; and secondly to extend eligibility for age, invalid and widows’ pensions and maternity allowances to include all aboriginal natives, other than those who are nomadic or primitive, without any restriction as to race or degree of aboriginal blood, and subject to the same rates and conditions as those applying to other members of the community. Amendments are also included in the bill under which a clothing allowance, payable by the Repatriation Commission, will be exempted from the income means test applying to pensions and to unemployment and sickness benefits.
The general increase in pension rates for which this bill provides will be the seventh such increase since this Government first came to office in December, 1949. The maximum general rate of age and invalid pensions will be increased from £4 7s. 6d. to £4 1 5s. a week. A married couple both receiving these pensions will receive between them an increase of 15s. per week and their combined maximum pensions will be raised from £8 15s. to £9 10 a week. In the case of a class A widow - that is, a widow with one or more children under 16 years of age - the maximum general rate will be raised from £4 12s. 6d to £5 a week. Widows in others classes, comprising mostly class B widows - that is, widows of at least 50 years of age who have no children under 16 years - will have their maximum rate increased from £3 15s. to £4 2s. 6d. a week.
In assessing the full implications of the general increase in pensions to be authorized by this bill, there are a number of considerations which should be borne in mind. A general increase in pensions, of course, brings relief to those who are dependent, or mainly dependent, on their pensions, and that is the factor which has weighed most with the Government in its decision to concentrate most of the additional funds available for social services this year on a straightout increase in the rate of pension rather than on measures designed specifically to ease the means test.
But the increases in the maximum -rates of pensions for which ‘this bill provides will automatically raise the limits of income plus pension which are applied under the means test. Furthermore, when assessing the position . of .the pensioner who has little or no means apart from his pension, it is important to take into account the measures already taken by the Government in previous years to provide this class of pensioner with additional benefits over and above the general rate of pension.
Amending legislation last year ‘provided for supplementary assistance. <of 10s. a week to single .age and invalid pensioners, to widows, and to married age and invalid pensioners where only one is in receipt of a pension or allowance, who pay rent for their accommodation and who are deemed to be entirely dependent on their pensions. The bill will enable pensioners in this category to receive the new maximum pension, inclusive of the increase of 7s. 6d. a week, as well as to continue to receive their supplementary assistance of 10s. a week. Their total receipts by way of pension and supplementary assistance will thus be increased, in the case of age and invalid pensioners from £4 17s. 6d. to £5 5s. a week; in the case of class A widows with one child under sixteen years, from £5 2s. 6d. to £5 10s. a week; and, in the case of widow pensioners in the other classes, from £4 5s. to £4 12s. 6d. a week.
Additional assistance has also been made available under legislation introduced by this Government to pensioners with children. In the case of class A widows, invalid pensioners and permanently incapacitated age pensioners with two or more children, the maximum general rate of pension is increased by 10s. a week for each child after the first. Thus, when the maximum general rate is increased by a further 7s. 6d. a week under this bill, a class A widow with three children under sixteen years of age will have her pension increased from £5 12s. 6d. to £6 a week. An invalid pensioner with the same number of children will have his pension increased from £5 7s. 6d. to £5 15s. a week, and will also receive a child’s allowance of lis. 6d. a week, making his total pension payment £6 6s. 6d. ‘a week. To pensioners who pay rent and are otherwise qualified, supplementary assistance of 10s. a week is payable in addition to the amounts quoted. These amounts are, of course, still further supplemented by child endowment.
More than 600,000 age and invalid pensioners and 50,000 widow pensioners will receive the general increase of 7s. 6d. a week. There will be some new pensioners who are at present excluded from pension because their income equals or slightly exceeds the present limit of income plus pension; that is, £7 17s. 6d. a week in the case of a single person and £15 15s. a week in the case of a married couple. Single persons in this category will be brought within the pension field for the first time if their income is less than the new limit of £8 5s. a week. Married couples will be brought within the field if their combined income is less than £16 10s. a week.
To three other matters in the bill I call the attention of the Senate. As my colleague, the Minister for Repatriation has announced in his second-reading speech on the Repatriation Bill, a new benefit will be introduced as the result of that legislation. A clothing allowance, on a special scale, is to be provided towards meeting the cost of repair or replacement of clothing where there has been deterioration as the result of the use of an artificial limb or appliance or as the result of the use of oils, ointments or other substances used in the necessary treatment of an accepted war disability. Payments of clothing allowance received under the Repatriation Act will be exempt as income under the Social Services Act.
The increase in the general maximum rate of civil pension will bring with it a consequential increase in the portion of the pension paid to pensioner inmates of benevolent homes. At present age and invalid pensioners receive 30s. 6d. a week of their pensions and class B widow pensioners 27s. These amounts will be increased in both cases by 2s. 6d. a week. In addition, most of these pensioners receive, and will continue to receive, 10s. a week by way of supplementary assistance. The balance of the pension is payable to the authority conducting the home. These authorities will receive an additional 5s. a week for each pensioner inmate, bringing the amounts, where a maximum rate pension is payable, to £3 2s. a week if the inmate is an age or invalid pensioner and £2 13s. a week if the inmate is a class B widow pensioner.
A somewhat complicated provision of the Social Services Act is that which places a limit on the amount a blind war pensioner may receive by way of combined war and civil pensions. Civil pensions for the blind are not subject to the means test and the purpose of the provision is to ensure that special rate war pensioners who are not blind shall not be placed at a disadvantage as compared to those who are blind. The amendment made by this bill to the Social Services Act ensures that married blind war pensioners will not have their civil pensions reduced as a result of the increase in their war pension.
At this point I should like to amplify briefly the reference 1 have made to the extension of eligibility of aboriginal natives of Australia for social service benefits. Gone from the act will be those sections that, in general, required them to be exempt from the relevant State laws before they could become eligible to receive the appropriate benefit for which they were otherwise qualified. In this regard aboriginal natives, unless they are nomadic or primitive, will stand four-square with other Australians as far as eligibility is concerned. It is a proud moment for all of us that we should play a part in this great enterprise that is not only significant for the natives concerned but also of great national and international importance. I use the word “ enterprise “, not to describe a rash adventure, but in the best sense of the word. We know there are problems; we know there are risks of the misuse of pension and other benefit moneys; we know there are dangers that harm may be done as well as good. But we know also that no niggardly or hesitant approach would provide a solution. I am glad to say that all State governments have given to us their complete support. The State authorities, churches and other organizations conducting missions or settlements have joined with us wholeheartedly. Pastoralists and others sharing the responsibility in this field of welfare have offered their co-operation. We have discussed with them what we hope to accomplish and they have aided us with counsel and advice.
Where a native can, with advantage, handle the benefit to which he is entitled, that benefit will be paid directly to him. Where it appears that it may be misused, all or part of the pension or benefit payable in respect of the native will be paid to the mission, to a State or other authority, or to some other person, for the welfare of the native. We shall look at all times to the interests of the native, and in this we are assured of help and guidance from all responsible parties who have devoted in the past - and 1 am sure will continue to devote in the future - so much time to the noble purpose of aboriginal welfare.
I should like now to refer to two other amendments in the bill. The first provides for an amendment to sub-section (3.) of section 17 which protects the Department of Social Services from being required to produce the records of the department in court. The amendment, which will extend the protection to all the documents of the department which relate in any way to a claim for a pension or benefit, has become necessary because of a recent decision of the New South Wales Supreme Court to the effect that the protection from production in court applies only to two types of documents - claims and determinations of claims. Because of the vast amount of confidential information which comes into the hands of the department concerning the intimate domestic, financial and other circumstances of the people with whom the department has dealings, honorable senators will appreciate how important it is that the department should not have to reveal such information.
The second amendment concerns the definition of income for pension purposes in section 18 of the act. At present the section excludes from income payments by way of benefits from a friendly society or payments in respect of illness, infirmity or old age from any trade union. Some doubts have been expressed as to what benefits or payments would be included by the words used. It was never intended that the exclusion from income should apply to annuity payments. The capitalized value of an annuity has, since 1946, been disregarded for pension purposes. The amendment will remove any doubts in the matter and will strengthen and clarify the provisions of the act.
The increases in the general rates of pension will become payable from and including the first pension pay-day after the day on which the bill receives the royal assent. The provisions affecting aboriginal natives will come into operation from a date to be proclaimed. This has been done to enable the necessary administrative arrangements to be made with interested parties. The cost of the pension increases in this bill will be £12,700,000 in a full financial year and £9,525,000 in 1959-60. The cost of the proposals relating to aboriginal natives will be £1,000,000 in a full year and £500,000 in 1959-60. The total cost of the provisions in this bill will thus be £13,700,000 in a full year and £10,025,000 in 1959-60.
Mr. Deputy President, I think it will be appropriate at this juncture to refer to the mounting cost of social service payments. The facts which I desire to mention in this connexion should be of particular interest to those who may fear that the Government is spending too much on social services. In 1948-49, the last Budget year in which the Labour Government held office, expenditure on age, invalid and widows’ pensions was £46,100,000. This year, it will reach approximately £161,700,000, thus showing an increase of 251 per cent, since 1948-49. The total National Welfare Fund expenditure, inclusive of. health benefits, was £80,700,000 in 1948-49. This year, it will reach £300,800,000, the increase since 1948-49 thus being 273 per cent.
The total number of age, invalid and widow pensioners has grown from 450,000 in 1949 to the present total of over 650,000; so that it has increased since 1949 at an average rate of 20,000 a year. This means that every ls. a week increase in the pension rate now requires an additional expenditure of £1,690,000 a year, and this figure will, of course, grow progressively larger each year as the total number of pensioners increases. It is worth noting, too, that if the total number of pensioners continues to grow at the rate of 20,000 a year the pension bill will increase by over £4,000,000 a year even if no further increases or liberalizations are granted.
The money which is used to pay social service beneficiaries is not summoned out of the air. It must be paid over in hard cash by the taxpayer. The Government believes that it is the wish of the people of Australia that we should maintain social services at the highest level that our economy will permit having due regard to other commitments. Each year since 1949, the present Government has added, new features to our social service system, consistent with what we could afford at the time and always with a view to adding more when we could afford more. In the meantime, the growing prosperity which this country has enjoyed under this Government’s administration has enabled us to build up the necessary resources to meet the cost of maintaining a continually growing system of social services: The cumulative’ effect of this policy has been in evidence for some time.
Let me briefly recall to mind some of the more important improvements made by this Government. We have increased the rate of pension on six occasions apart from the present one. We have liberalized the pensions means test extensively, raising the income and property limits, exempting income derived from property and providing discretionary power to disregard the value pf property, in special circumstances. Free medical and pharmaceutical benefits have been, made available to eligible pensioners and their dependants. The value of these benefits is a. real addition to the rate of pension, but their true value : cannot, of course; be measured in terms of money. There is no doubt that the inability toprovide for their, own medical attention in times of illness was a matter of great distress to many of our elderly people. The comprehensive scheme which the Government, has provided is not only a cause of great satisfaction and comfort to those who are’ compelled by illness to avail themselves of these benefits; it also gives a sense of security to those at present in good health in the knowledge that medical attention and pharmaceutical benefits are available, to. them should, the need arise. The freedom from mental worry’ which this knowledge gives helps towards creating a contented period of retirement for many persons.
Legislation has been introduced enabling grants to be made to churches and recognized’ charitable bodies towards the capital costs of homes for aged persons. Honorable senators will be aware of the remarkable achievements that have- been possible as a: result of the Aged Persons Homes1 Act, a piece of legislation that has’ enabled– churches, charitable, returned’ ser vicemen’s and other organizations to provide greatly increased accommodation of a high standard for our aged people. In this regard, Mr. Deputy President, it seems fitting to mention here that during the last financial year 113 additional grants were approved involving nearly £2,240,000 of Commonwealth money, thereby enabling the provision of an additional 2,162 beds when the building programmes are completed. This will mean that accommodation has been provided with the assistance of this legislation for 7,000 of our older citizens. The Government’s- confidence in the continued successful achievements of this legislation is emphasized by the fact that this year the- appropriation for this item will be £2,000,000. Finally, Mr. Deputy President; I feel bound to say that while referring with justifiable pride to what has been’ achieved by. virtue of this act,’ the Government unreservedly acknowledges,, and iri addition expresses its utmost appreciation of; the outstanding community effort that, has made these ..achievements possible.
Additional- pension has been’ made available’^ to” invalids and ‘class’ A widows with two or more children. Supplementary assistance has - been made available to eligible pensioners’ who pay rent for their accommodation. Child endowment has been introduced for the first child. The rates of unemployment and sickness benefits have been substantially increased’ and the income test for these benefits has been liberalized:- The scope of the Commonwealth rehabilitation service has been widened’ to include new categories of persons- eligible to’ receive treatment- and training, the rates of the rehabilitation and training allowances have- been1 increased and’ ‘the conditions of eligibility for treatment” and training have been liberalized.’
You. will see, therefore, Mr. Deputy President, that- the- measures- in this bill will- carry on a tradition, of which this Government cad be justly proud. Their full significance becomes’ clear when we see’ them’ as part’ of an integral pattern of achievement which’ has’ been steadily taking shape since this Government first assumed office, and which, there is every justification. to1 believe;- will’ continue to develop still’ further in the years” during which it will continue to hold office. We could not do more; we would not wish to have done less.
Mr. Deputy President, I commend the bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Toohey) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 23rd September (vide page 746), on motion by Senator Sir Walter Cooper -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Mr. Deputy President, in resuming the debate on this measure, which the Government has presented as an amendment to the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-1956, I wish to discuss that phase of the legislation which, the Government claims, will give certain privileges and advantages to the people who use the postal facilities. The Government has stated that the cost of air mail letters will be reduced to a flat charge of 5d. per article, but it does not say very much about the general ground rate being increased by 2d. In comparison with the charges that are now in operation, the cost of an airmail letter will be reduced by 30 per cent. while the cost of ground mail, which constitutes the greater portion of letters handled by the Postmaster-General’s Department, will be increased by 40 per cent.
– How do you make that out?
– The honorable senator should work it out. It is quite simple. Although the Government has advanced many arguments to prove that it is necessary to increase charges to some extent, it cannot show by any means that it will not take another £17,000,000 a year from the people to provide a postal and telegraph service. These increased charges cannot be justified when one has regard to the accounts that were presented by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) not twelve months ago in which he showed a progressive balance of profit in many sections of his department. However, a loss is being recorded in the telegraph section. The
Opposition has placed before the Government repeatedly the- fact that the Government has made the cost of the telegraph service, as a popular medium of quick communication, almost prohibitive because the people cannot afford- to continue using it.
On the occasion on which the Government previously, by amendment, increased telegraph rates it claimed that the increases were justified because it had installed uptodate machinery - a kind of automation - that would cost less for servicing, entail less manual work by telegraphists, ana send telegrams at a much quicker rate. The result has been in accordance with the theory of diminishing returns. The people have failed to use the telegraph as a medium of communication to the extent that they would like; the up-to-date machinery is not being used at full pressure and, therefore, the telegraph section has shown a loss. But the Postmaster-General indicated in his report that was published nine months ago that the Postal Department was overtaking the loss at the rate of 50 per cent. per annum.
The telephone section made a profit of about £1,250,000. Yet the Government has claimed that it is necessary to impose further charges upon the people in order to maintain, develop and advance telephone services. In his speech the Minister said that there was a great amount of work to be done to improve services. There is He said that about 160,000 people Were waiting for telephone connexions, and that these outstanding applications had to be dealt with. That is quite right. But let me remind the Postmaster-General that he will have 160,000 additional contributors to an undertaking which, with its present contributors, is showing a really handsome profit. If such a position were presented to any other organization, a trading firm or the airways-, and if those bodies realized that their existing profits would be increased still further by contributions from an additional. 160,000 clients, they would regard their situation as much more advantageous than it was previously.
Let us analyse the Postmaster-General’s statement that he cannot make telephone connexions and provide extended services unless he has more money to spend. A reference to the Estimates that have been examined by the Auditor-General reveals that of the amount voted by this Parliament to the Postal Department, over £1,250,000 remained unexpended at the end of the last financial year. That does not seem to indicate that the Postmaster-General’s Department has been kept short of funds. Even without any additional moneys being made available this financial year, the department could spend the unexpended portion of last year’s estimates on development without embarrassment to the Government. It would appear that the Minister is not stating the true position in relation to that particular section of his department. Consequently, the Opposition has asserted, and quite justifiably, in my view, that this bill is, in effect, a taxing measure. In accordance with the policy followed by the Government in relation to other legislation, this bill is calculated not only to provide the money required for the normal Post Office services, but also other money which will be extracted from the people in the form of forced loans, and which, presumably, will be spent on capital works. The measure gives no guarantee that the money will be spent on capital works, and we know only that it will be paid into Consolidated Revenue. Let us assume, however, that the Government is honest in its suggestion that it will use the money for capital works. The Postmaster-General’s Department will then be charged interest on the money so provided, and this extra impost, of course, will have to be borne by the users of the Post Office. I believe it is unethical and morally wrong for a government to raise money in this manner and charge interest on it for the purpose of building up Consolidated Revenue, when the money is extracted in the first place from the same old source, the taxpayer, the wage-earner and the business and industrial fraternity. lt is quite idle to suggest that these extra charges being imposed on the users of our postal and telegraphic services will not find their way into the general cost structure of our economy. In the vast majority of cases they will. The distribution of mail is so closely tied in with our commercial life that the postal service is an integral part of our business and industrial activities. The ordinary citizen who writes a letter to a friend is usually in no great hurry to have it delivered, unless an emergency exists, and he will find that the cost of sending a letter will be increased to 5d. In that case the extra cost will be borne, and perhaps quite properly, by the people who use the service. But the Government cannot justify this measure in any way on the basis of the arguments it has put forward both in this chamber and in another place.
I believe the measure was conceived in haste. This is quite obvious, because the report of the Postmaster-General, which was printed in December last but was not in our hands until some months later, did not give the slighest indication that such a measure as this would be placed before us. That report, over the signature of the PostmasterGeneral, was addressed to the Governor-General and gave a very glowing picture of the position. Now we find this legislation dropped on us. The Government says that the matter has been fully investigated, but the Opposition, and, I believe, many members on the Government side, would like a full investigation of this m:alter before supporting any proposal to impose these extra postal charges on the people of Australia. Investigations may show that in some cases the increased charges are justifiable, but we believe that the measure has not been well thought out and is not well balanced, lt requires investigation.
As I have said previously in this chamber, the matter of government budgeting, and its relation to actual expenditure, should be closely examined by an independent committee. We have heard a good deal about the Public Accounts Committee. It has made some excellent and illuminating reports to this Senate and to the House of Representatives, but very little notice has been taken of those reports. It is quite unreasonable to expect even the most efficient committee to go into the accounts and affairs of a department of such magnitude as the Postmaster-General’s Department and to make a full and comprehensive report on the position.
The Opposition feels that this measure has been hastily conceived and that it is based on a wrong principle. In effect, it is an attempt to take from the people, by way of increased charges for essential services, extra money which will allegedly be used for capital works. It is just another way of taxing the Australian people and Australian industry.
.- Any legislation designed to make substantial increases in the charges of a public utility is always unpopular, but the transcendental importance of providing money for the expansion and development of the Post Office is difficult to challenge. Accordingly 1 support the bill, although with some misgivings as to whether the extra money that the Government will obtain as a result of it might not have been better sought in some other direction.
I notice that even my friend, Senator Cooke, concedes that there could be a necessity for an increase in charges. As he claims that there are 168,000 prospective subscribers awaiting telephones, and as the capital cost of each telephone is £300, a little bit of mental arithmetic will show him that there is an immediate requirement of £50,400,000 in this field alone.
– Not immediate; those telephones will not be installed for another five years.
– At all events, there is a capital requirement for the purchase of equipment and for labour charges in connexion with installation, to the extent that I have mentioned. The general expansion of the Australian community is really responsible for the unfortunate necessity to increase these charges.
– What is responsible for it?
– The expansion and increase of the Australian community, the development of our industrial and social contacts. We should consider for a moment the innumerable roles played by the Post Office in our community life in the middle of the 20th century, and compare that position with the very minor role that the Post Office played only a century ago. At the present time it is an integral part of modern life. If, for example, Canberra were cut off from postal facilities for one week, the whole picture of our lives and conduct here would be changed.
The Post Office is the biggest business in the country. In Australia, a vast continent sparsely populated, the Post Office has had a development very much different, from that which has occurred in older and more settled countries. While we cannot solve modern problems by copying old methods,
I do think some light can be shed on those problems by examining them in their historical context, looking at their background and following their development. We recall that the post offices, or the function of a post courier, developed originally from the King’s messengers. In early times only kings, ministers and important merchants were able to send messages by post from one to another. Herodotus, the ancient historian, has described the activities of these messengers in his time with particular reference to the Persian empire. In those days a post messenger might travel from a -friendly to a hostile country, and if the intelligence he conveyed, either by word of mouth or by scroll, was not pleasing to the ruler to whom it was delivered, he was very frequently punished on the spot. Sometimes he was beheaded. As a result, there was heavy mortality amongst couriers, and it is not difficult to imagine that the cost of postal services in ancient times was very considerable. Marco Polo introduced some form of cheaper development of couriers in China, and Montezuma did this in Mexico.
Coming to Britain, we find that Henry III. provided in his household budget for moneys to be paid to his household messengers - his couriers - and he described the part and importance that they had in his household establishment. Generally, under the Tudors and subsequent English and French kings, the duty of postmasters was to provide relays of horses for the King’s couriers. Very rapidly, the people who provided these services found that they could supplement their income by providing transport for some private people and also by carrying private correspondence.
From these humble beginnings, we move to the position in Britain in the early seventeenth century, and in France and Prussia, where some sort of private courier businesses had been established. In all these states, honorable senators - at least those on this side of the chamber - will be interested to know, the governments asserted a monopoly but were unable to enforce it until Rowland Hill’s penny postage scheme was introduced in 1839 or 1840. In 1680 a London merchant called Dockwra set up a local penny post in London and its suburbs. A Paris merchant followed suit about 80 years later.
In France, which followed Britain about eight years later in this matter, a similar private enterprise scheme was set up in Paris. Both services suffered the same fate: When they began to make money they were taken over by the state. In L830, Rowland Hill, the father of the modern post office, realized, prophetically, the future that awaited this great service. He was a schoolmaster who took an interest in the reform of the postal services of his time.
Rowland Hill who was not at that time in Parliament found that in London and its suburbs there were a large number pf independent penny postages. These were satisfactory enough for people who sent letters within the London area. But it cost ls. 3id. to send a single-sheet letter from London to Edinburgh and it was a most complicated and difficult business to ensure that the letter was . actually, delivered. The postage was collected at .the time of delivery and sometimes the recipient decided that .he would not pay the large fee involved. So the service was left lamenting - ls. 3id. down the drain which I suppose, in these days, would be the equivalent of about 15s. Honorable senators will, perhaps, be amused to know that members of both Houses of the British Parliament could frank letters free of charge for themselves and for all and sundry. Probably the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) is glad that that privilege was not drawn to the attention of the Richardson committee. In England, the forgery of a franking mark was regarded so seriously that it was made a capital offence.
In the first year after Rowland Hill’s scheme took effect, 6,000,000 letters and newspapers were delivered. Hill worked out his penny postage scheme in the mail coach era, and the mail coaches had to go through ,the.turbulent,period of Dick Turpin and his colleagues. ,But England was entering the era of the railroad and it is probable that the unbounded faith that the British people had in their railroads from 1837 to 1840 made such an immediate economic, success of Rowland Hill’s cheap postage scheme. Hill abolished franking and introduced adhesive stamps which had to be cut out with scissors. It was not until 1854 that perforations were introduced as the forerunner of the modern postage stamp.
In Australia, the development of our postal services was considerably different. The Commonwealth emerged from six individual States, and in the first instance, our postal services were controlled, naturally, by the six separate States. In Sydney, in 1809, Isaac Nichol was appointed a post courier to collect official mail from ships arriving from England for delivery to the Governor and government officials. Nichol had the entire job to himself. He visited every incoming ship and worked on the sorting and despatch of mail with the assistance of a couple of sorters in an old tin shed in George-street - which I understand has since been replaced.
As our explorers pushed back the frontiers, the mails were carried by cattle-men and by coaches, such as those of Cobb and Company. In a rather haphazard way, the development of Australia’s internal communications by post began. Between 1860 and 1870, after McDouall Stuart’s exploration of the interior, the overland telegraph was constructed from Darwin to Adelaide, a fantastic accomplishment for those days. Between 1860 and 1870, following Stuart’s exploration, the telegraph was constructed by Mr. Todd, an engineer who had been brought from England for the purpose. 1 think that Alice Springs was named after his wife.
In those days, postal officials risked their lives for the postal services. When I was in the Northern Territory two years ago I saw the grave of two postal officials who had been speared by the blacks whilst operating a form of repeater station somewhere near -Hatches Creek, about 1874 or 1876.
– They would have been State officials.
– Yes. But they were operating a postal service. From those scattered beginnings, Australia has developed the magnificent postal services which the Commonwealth now possesses. I do not want to suggest that the Post Office which we now have is perfect, that it cannot be bureaucratic, or that it has no defects. But I think this is a matter which we could more profitably explore .on a later and more appropriate occasion.
We are now faced, in Australia, with a monolithic structure in the Post Office; a structure which is responsible for very many factors in our daily lives. For some of us it acts as a banker. Sometimes the Post Office pays out social service benefits. It controls telecommunications; it runs the radio services of the nation; it virtually controls the technical side of the nation’s television; it co-operates in providing the nation’s meteorological services, although it is not responsible for them; and it performs a vast number of functions which were unknown to the people of Rowland Hill’s day.
We have been told by the Minister that, in the not-too-distant future, one of the directions in which expansion of postal and telephonic services will take place is in the direct dialling of trunk calls interstate, a matter requiring considerable development, research and technical work, in addition to great administrative tasks in relation to the allocation of the relevant numbers.
– That knowledge is available in other countries, and has been for years.
– Yes, but work has always to be done in regard to the application of overseas knowledge to local conditions. It will be appreciated that our problems are not those of the Bell Telephone or Western Electric people in the United States, because of the very much greater numbers -which they serve in an area which is only the same as that of this country.
As Senator Anderson pointed out in his speech to the Senate, very great expansion is going on in the Post Office at the moment. The sum of’ £3 9,400,000 has been provided for capital works, and that is a very substantial amount of money. I will not deny ! that the increases which -are being introduced to ‘meet these “charges are substantial. The proposed increase of 25 per cent, in the postage rate is very great. I do not think there is any sense in being mealymouthed about it. All I can say is that if we wish to .ensure that this great public utility will function as efficiently in the future as it has functioned in very many aspects in the past, there must be no denying to it the moneys which are necessary to ensure that expansion will continue to take place.
If we look at the accounts of the Post Office we shall -see that the only branch that shows a handsome profit straight off the cuff is the telephone branch. There are very heavy handling charges in other branches which make it impossible for them to earn a profit. I am informed that other departments for which the Post Office works, such as the Department of Social Services and the defence departments, in regard to the payment -of pensions, all are charged a certain sum for the provision of the services which the Post Office renders, but that it is not more than enough to cover the cost of providing those -services. In other words, a great deal of work is done in respect of which there would be no purpose in attempting to make a profit, because it would be simply a ‘matter of charging one Commonwealth department fees as against another department. These functions increase the heavy service and handling charges with which the Post Office has to cope. By that, I do not mean to suggest that a nationalized industry should not make a profit. I think that a reasonable profit is to be sought. I do not think that handsome profits should be sought, because that would mean that the consumer, in the case of a government monopoly, would be imposed .upon.’
Herbert Morrison, .the great Labour leader- in Britain, now Baron Morrison,, has said that even socialized enter-prises must be Tun at a profit. I feel sure ..that the authority of the new baron will .be .acceptable ‘to my friends opposite.
– It ought to be, because he is one of the greatest Labour men.
– I am glad to know that there is some concurrence in my remarks about Baron Morrison.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I had pointed out that one of the ironies of the present situation was that the necessity for the increase in charges had been brought about by the fact that the Government’s economic policy had been too successful, if 1 may use that expression, in relation to the matter. We have in Australia a buoyant economy. As Mr. Funston, of the New York Stock Exchange, said last Thursday, Australia is developing more rapidly than is the United States, and in a country in which development at that rate is taking place, there is, of course, a first-class demand for the facilities provided by the Postmaster-General’s Department. In addition to the normal demands which our community makes upon the Post Office, there are the demands that arise from a very heavy immigration programme. The arrival of migrants results in more normal telephone services, more trunkline telephone services, and more repeaters and other facilities being required. Migrants, of course, require overseas telecommunications much more than do nativeborn Australian residents.
The Post Office is continuously trying to provide in greater degree the technical services which are at its disposal. I do not think that we should forget that whilst, for example, the Australian Broadcasting Commission is responsible, in its administration, for the provision of national programmes, its technical engineering services are, in substance, provided by the Postal Department. In the technical field, I believe the radio engineers of the Australian Post Office, with whom I have had some contact, to be in world class and, for the facilities that are at their disposal, their work is second to none in the world. As we said in the recent debate on television, the quality of their work is reflected in the fact that Australian radio and television services, particularly the television services, are in the forefront of world development, and that, apart from colour television, the Australian television picture is better, technically, than any other in the world, except that of West
Germany. During the war I spent some time working as a naval officer with the Postal Department’s research laboratory, and I had the opportunity of investigating the thoroughness with which the postal engineers approach their problems.
It would be a tragedy if the boons which an efficient and technically well-developed postal service can bring to us were to be hamstrung by a lack of funds. In three years, postal traffic has risen by 20 per cent., but the staff required to handle that increased business has risen by only 8 per cent. In 1948, it took twelve hours’ labour to install a telephone. As a result of developments in efficiency, in 1958 the average time of installation was only 8.3 hours. I do not propose at this stage to go into the huge administration of the Post Office and the clerical work involved, but I may sum it up by giving one figure. One Melbourne contractor, who supplies paper forms to the Post Office, every year supplies enough paper to reach to San Francisco and back, a distance of 15,000 miles. This alone may give some idea of the enormous administrative task that faces the department.
On the other side, everything in the bill is not punitive from the user’s point of view. As in 1839 and 1840 the British government of the time and the British public pinned their faith in the developing railways, in a sense this Government is pinning its faith to the expanding airlines of 1959. In future airmail letters will be carried without the imposition of a surcharge, and it is expected that 200,000,000 more letters will be carried annually by airmail than was formerly the case, which means that 25 per cent, of all mails will be carried in this modern fashion. This should be a particular boon to Western Australia and Queensland and should even show advantages on the short-haul, quick-return route between Sydney and Melbourne. All other articles to be carried by air will be carried on payment of a surcharge equal to one-half of the present rate.
Turning to telephones, in future on trunk lines we shall pay only for what we use. Trunk calls will be metered, so that the actual time spent in conversation will be charged for. Hitherto, once the three pips have gone, we have had to pay for a full extension. In future, we shall pay only for the time we use. This, in one sense, will be a return to the user. For these reasons, 1 support the bill and trust that in future the Post Office will be able to continue to give the Commonwealth of Australia the magnificent service that it has given us in the last 50-odd years.
.- I am sure that the Senate was very grateful to Senator Hannan for tracing the history of postal services right from their inception in England and France. However, I suggest that he missed out very badly on one important point, in that he did not trace the history of the smoke signals that were used from time to time. His contribution to the debate was absolutely useless. The bill directly affects the people now living in Australia and those who will live here for a number of years to come, and I am sure that they are not a bit interested in the history of postal services throughout the world.
This bill represents one of the worst features of all the Budget proposals,- because it will hit at every section of the community, including the business section, transport services, age and invalid pensioners, and wage-earners. It will impose a penalty directly on the whole community and will affect the whole economy. Immediately the wages of workers are affected the Commonwealth’s economy is affected, lt is interesting to note that we were not told in the Minister’s second-reading speech all of the increases proposed to be made. The Minister said -
I will have more to say about executive action at a later stage of my speech - and to apply them from 1st October, 1959. Adjustments covered include charges for parcels and registered articles and commission on money orders.
In the main, the commission charged on money orders affects the wage-earners, who are the principal users of this service provided by the Post Office. Business people make most of their payments by cheque. They are not charged by the banks for cheque books, but pay only the amount of stamp duty that is imposed in respect of each cheque form.
The Post Office is a public utility. Broadly speaking, I believe, the people do not expect the revenue derived by a public utility to exceed to any great extent the expenditure on that utility. Even if the revenue did not exactly balance the expenditure of the Postal Department, I do not see that that should cause us any particular alarm because, as I have already said, there is no doubt whatsoever that the revenue derived by the department will gradually, increase.
I agree with Senator Hannan’s remarks about the excellence of the services performed by the Post Office which, I believe, to be one of the most efficient services in the Commonwealth of Australia. The honorable senator went to some lengths to point out - rather forcibly - that the efficient service that is provided by the Post Office is being achieved with a reduced staff. I feel that the fact that greater efficiency has been achieved by the Post Office with a reduced staff is an argument against the increased charges for which this bill makes provision, because obviously the costs of the Post Office have been lowered in consequence of the reduction of personnel.
I do not think that, by any stretch of our imagination, we can measure the facilities that are provided by the Post Office in terms of the cold, hard figures that are shown in the comprehensive document relating to the revenue and expenditure of the Postal Department that has been circulated. We must have regard to the part that the Post Office plays in the expansion of our economy. I think all honorable senators will agree that that is so.
The bill lifts the surcharge on airmail. I believe that, when this is done, a great deal more first-class mail matter will be carried by Ansett-A.N.A. In this way the Government, which is favorably disposed towards Ansett-A.N.A., will subsidize that company’s costs. I am convinced that, if this were not so, in the very near future a bill would be presented to this Parliament to enable a further subsidy to be granted to that airline. I believe that a disproportionate amount of revenue from the carriage of first-class mail matter will be derived by Ansett-A.N.A., to the detriment of TransAustralia Airlines.
I am particularly concerned about the quantity of first-class mail that will be carried between Tasmania and the mainland.
The majority of business people in Tasmania transact business with firms in Victoria, particularly those situated in Melbourne. First-class mail is carried by air from Tasmania to Melbourne without surcharge, but surcharge is applied when this mail is directed to destinations beyond Melbourne such as Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. I contend that the charge on. all letters posted by pensioners anywhere in Australia is being loaded to the extent of Id. in order to help to offset the the surcharge on airmail that is being removed to the advantage of the business community. In other words, it will cost the pensioners in Tasmania more to send letters to the other States, but the business people of Tas.mainia will gain the’ benefit of the removal of airmail surcharge on their business correspondence with firms beyond Melbourne.
The” Government’s- proposals do not m’ake sense to me, Mr. Deputy President. On the- one’ hand the Government is increasing pensions, while on the other hand it is increasing the postal’ charges that pensioners will have to pay, in order to subsidize an airline company which this Government particularly favours.
I direct attention to a variation that has been effected in relation’ to the telephone service. Quite recently, a penalty was imposed on the telephone subscribers in relation to person-to-person calls. Formerly, a telephone subscriber could book a persontoperson call to another’ subscriber within a certain radius or a certain charge area, and he would be’ called back by the exchange when the person to whom he wished to speak was available. . Under- the new system, unless.. a certain charge, call is. exceeded it is. necessary for the.-, subscriber, to ring the number two, three or four times . before getting into communication with the person- with whom he desires to speak. It will be conceded that, in business, it is desirable on occasions to speak to a particular, person. The department gains considerable revenue from these persontoperson calls,, and the subscriber is penalized.
There are many aspects of this matterthat. I could, mention, but I want now to advert to the Minister’s statement that it is proposed to effect certain increases of postal charges by amending the regulations, or by executive action. I” direct* my remarks particularly to executive action “.
During last week-end, a telephone subscriber in Hobart who had received a telephone account including the prepayment’ of rental up till February, 1960, called to see me about the matter. Even before the bill has been made law, that man has been asked to pay extra rent and has paid it. That is the kind of executive action indulged in by the Post Office. If, as the Minister has said, a number of adjustments are to be made by executive action, I do not know what will become of this Parliament. In effect, the Executive has superseded the Parliament and I do not know how long that position will be tolerated.
I want to say something about the recent increase in the basic wage as it effects the Postal Department. Several times during his second-reading speech the Minister said that the basic wage increase of 15s. a week, granted by the Arbitration Court, was one of the main reasons why approval was being sought to increase postal charges. For a number of years past, the Government has absorbed increases in the basic wage without seeking to increase postal charges. In my opinion the Government’s argument on this occasion is fictitious. I remind the Government that not- very long ago there was a “ work- to regulations “ strike in the Post Office. The workers were seeking better wages and conditions, but they bumped up against something which they could not handle and they had to continue to work for the wage that was then prescribed. The. conditions under which some of those people work leave much to be desired.
Quite recently I visited a mail handling room in Hobart and observed the conditions under which .the ‘men were working. They were deplorable.. Ventilation was particularly bad. The fire hazard was bad: The dust- nuisance was acute. The building., had– a saw-tooth type of roof with windows in the. saw-teeth. The sun beaming down on’ the employees made- conditions unbearable; so much so that on occasions some, men were unable- to withstand’ the- discomfort and fainted at’ their posts-. If those are. good, conditions for workers; 1< am afraid I have something to learn:
– To which establishment are you referring?
– The PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
– In which part of Hobart?
– In the mail room.
– Which- one?
– In the mail room on the- corner of Murray and’ Davey streets.
I am very concerned’ also about the effect’ that the increased postal charges will’ have on small* newspapers and periodicals, particularly church newspapers. Many denominations’ publish a newspaper or a newsletter in some form for their followers. The increase in postal chargeswill mean- that many of those publications will be seriously curtailed, if” they are not forced completely out of existence. Many publications that are: now produced weekly will . be produced monthly or quarterly in an effort to save postage costs: This is a very- serious matter.
I am also very- concerned” about the effect the increases- will have on- trade union journals. I have been- interested in industrial matters’- and trade unions- all my life. I do not like the prospect of the circulation of trade union journals- being curtailed. The Hobart Trades: Hall publishes a small periodical and I have- been informed that’ the cost of postage willi be trebled. I have not gone into the figures- myself and I’ cannot substantiate: that- opinion, but” I assumethat the. people responsible for the distribution of the journal! have made some research and some calculations, otherwise they would not have1 made such.- a statement: They are reliable people. The’ increased-‘ postal charges will mean.’ that this’ journal,’ which is published for trade unionists, will’ be’ issued less often and may even go out of existence altogether.
The small country newspapers - we have some of them in Tasmania - will have extreme difficulty in continuing to publish as they, have in the past. It may be Government policy to create .even greater monopolies of the large metropolitan newspapers. We know however that,, in the main; these newspapers are responsible for. attacks on federal members of Parliament Such attacks do not -come from the- small country newspapers.- These increased postal charges will have a serious effect on small country newspapers and will leave the way open” for the large metropolitan newspapers to continue with their attacks.
On one occasion Mr. Menzies said that the Government, was somewhat in the dark so far as. postal charges were concerned. On looking over the proposals contained in the bill, it is obvious that Mr. Menzies and some of his colleagues are in the dark on this issue. It is pleasing, to see that some Government supporters on the back benches have endeavoured to make Mr. Menzies and some of his Ministers see some light
This bill is- one of the worst, measures that we have had to deal- with arising out of the Budget. In his. second-reading speech the. Minister said that approximately 150,000,000 newspapers were posted annually and that the- Government was subsidizing -them to- the extent of about 5d. each,, which made a total concession of about £3,000,000. It is expected that under the new arrangement- revenue from firstclass mail matter will increase and will result in the Post Office making approximately £1,000;000.- Surely to goodness, £1,000,000 from. this, section of postal charges is quite a compensation .for the losses that might be incurred on secondclass mail matter.. I cannot do other than, oppose the measure. I trust that’ at the committee- stage.- we> shall prevail- upon the Government’ to- accept amendments which will give some relief from the charges proposed in the bm,
.- Mr. Deputy President, at this late stage in the second-reading;, debate I propose to speak briefly on some aspects of this bill, which is’ of particular interest to me, and. of course, to the. people - I’ represent. At the outset- 1” should like’ to1 say that my contact with the; managerial side of the Post Office has been very remote. It ha* been confined to- Tasmania’. But- although that contact has been: slight, the impressions I have gained, of the working of the Post Office in that State have- been good ones. I have found that the? people who are in charge of: the- Post. Office and guide its destinies are capable people, always ready and willing to adopt, new methods; and they have done a- particularly good job’ for Australia.. My contact- with them has been, in the main, in making representations about local matters affecting my constituents. In contrast to the picture (hat has depicted departmental officers as autocratic, overbearing bureaucrats, I have always had my representations treated with the courtesy and consideration which we expect. lt is all very fine, as some newspapers have done, to claim that postal charges in Australia are the highest in the world, and leave it at that. The area of Australia approximates that of the United States of America, but the population of the United States is about 160,000,000 as against 10,000,000 in Australia. Therefore, it seems to be perfectly logical to conclude that the difficulties associated with postal services in the United States would be very much slighter than those experienced in Australia. Great Britain has a concentrated population in a small area and because of that fact provides no basis of comparison with Australia. Neither does New Zealand, which also has a fairly good concentration of population. I was very interested to read in a New Zealand newspaper a report of the budget that was recently presented to the House of Represenatives in that country. It stated that the New Zealand Government proposed to spend £6,300,000 on capital works in respect of telephonic and telegraphic services. New Zealand has about one-fifth of the population of Australia and the value of its money is much higher than ours, but when we place its estimated expenditure of £6,300,000 alongside our proposed expenditure of £39,000,000 on capital works for the Post Office in Australia, our provision appears to be very moderate indeed.
Much has been said during the course of this debate to the effect that but for the increases in the basic wage, much of which had to be met by increased postal charges, we would probably not be considering this measure to-day. I am not much impressed by the argument that had the increase in postal charges followed the increase in the basic wage or in the “C” series index, instead of the new postage rate being 5d. it would be nearer 7d. It seems obvious to me that had the economy of this country remained stable, then, with the advent of new techniques and methods for handling mail, despatching telegrams and providing telephonic services, instead of debating a measure to increase postal charges, we probably would now be debating one for their reduction. This shows how the modicum of inflation which this country has suffered permeates into every corner oi the economy and effects every individual. So, I am not greatly impressed by the argument that all increases in these charges hinge upon increases in the basic wage and the consequent extra costs that have to be met by the Postal Department.
I believe that a few years ago every telegram was despatched by the Post Office at a loss and the more telegrams that were sent the greater was the loss incurred. It was only by the adoption of new methods of handling telegrams that an economic balance was restored and eventually a profit made from the telegraphic service. I think it can be rightly said that every government over a considerable period of years has adopted the policy of making the Post Office stand on its own feet and meet its working expenses. The Labour government which was in office prior to the present Administration, I think, followed that policy. In 1949, the honorable member for Melbourne in another place (Mr. Calwell) introduced a measure in the House of Representatives similar to this bill and said that equity demanded that the Post Office should pay its way and not be a drag upon Consolidated Revenue. I think that in the past both sides of politics have, by their actions, their policies, their administrative methods, shown that they agree that that is the right and proper course to follow. But it is when you get beyond that, it is when you come to the provision of money for capital works, that there can be difference of opinion.
I believe that, in normal circumstances, the Postal Department should pay its way, and should provide sufficient revenue to make interest and sinking fund payments in respect of the money invested in it. But the conditions are not normal when it comes to raising money for capital works. We know that for several years past loans raised by the Australian Loan Council have been insufficient to meet the demand for public works for the expansion of various utilities. Most of the loans raised have gone to the State governments. lt was pointed out in this chamber some time ago that over the past ten years the public debt of the States has doubled. May I say that over that period the public debt of Tasmania has quadrupled? I take some solace from the fact that although Tasmania’s public debt has increased at a greater rate than the public debt of any other State, that fact has been to a large degree brought about by the investment of money in hydro-electricity works.
– There is a good return from them.
– That is what I say, Mr. Deputy President. There is always this about it, that hydro-electricity in Tasmania is revenue-producing. At the same time, the people of Tasmania have to pay the bills for hydro-electricity. They have to make interest and sinking fund payments, and eventually they have to redeem the money invested in hydro-electricity projects. The statement of the Leader of the Government (Senator Spooner) in this chamber the other day about the Tasmanian Hydroelectric Commission investing some of its revenue in capital works for itself is a new one on me, because my recollection of the Hydro-electric Commission from my period in State politics is that it was nearly always in trouble with the Tasmanian AuditorGeneral because it did not make sufficient provision, or quick enough provision, for depreciation or for sinking fund. It has been so hard-pressed to find money to exploit the hydro-electricity resources in that State that it did, I think, on two occasions, seek permission from the Loan Council to raise independent loans - that is, loans outside the Loan Council - and, I believe, with a great deal of success. From 1947 to 1956 Tasmania, according to figures taken out by the Electricity Supply Association of Australia, expended £190 per head of population on the provision of electricity. The next highest per capita expenditure on electricity is only about one-third of that - Victoria’s, with £50 per head. New South Wales spent £43 per head, and the remaining States less than that.
During the course of this debate mention has been made of the fact that the present Government has provided from Consolidated Revenue capital for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme. I have no quarrel whatsoever with that scheme; but 1 have heard many a vitriolic speech in the Tasmanian Parliament on the fact that the Commonwealth Parliament had provided, out of Consolidated Revenue, capital for the Snowy Mountains scheme, while the development of Tasmania’s hydro-electricity resources imposed a burden upon the people of Tasmania. I believe that the Snowy Mountains scheme was implemented by the Chifley Government. However that may be, I repeat that there is a mighty difference between providing money for capital works that are revenueproducing and providing money for those that are not. In the present case, of course, the Post Office is probably the biggest business in Australia, and is revenue-producing.
– Not necessarily always.
– Of course, that depends entirely upon the charges imposed, and whether they meet the cost of the services provided. So far as the provision of money for capital works goes, let me point out that while there has been insufficient loan money to go around, the States have been bearing an increased burden because of the Commonwealth Government’s immigration policy. The immigration policy of the Government has been effective, and it is a vital policy which simply has to go on if we are to continue to exist as a nation. But a lot of its cost has been borne by the States in the form of the provision of non-productive capital works - new roads, new schools, new hospitals, additional health facilities and all those things that are consequent upon an increase in population such as we have had in recent years.
I go back, Mr. Deputy President, to repeat that I feel uneasy about the financing of capital works from Consolidated Revenue. I believe that the Commonwealth is placing itself in the position of a moneylender. It is able to lend money without having to meet any of the cost of producing that money. The only cost it meets is the cost of collecting the money. Consider the position that the States are in so far as capital works are concerned. They have to find interest and sinking fund payments in respect of their capital works. And so they should; I have no quarrel with that. But when I envisage the full potentialities of the Commonwealth Government’s adopting a policy which will continue - because the precedent will become so firmly established that it may be difficult to abandon the policy - I look askance at it. If we are to make a set and fixed policy of finding money for capital works out of revenue, every possible . avenue should be exploited to try to find a way in which the real investor - that is, the public who pay the taxes and find the money - will have some benefit accruing from their investment in works such as the Post Office. I feel that this chamber is somewhat in the dark in regard to this measure. It has been stated that the additional profit shown by the Post Office after this measure has been implemented will be £11,000.000 for this year, and £17.000,000 for a full year. I regard with a good deal of foreboding the statement made by the Treasurer ‘(Mr. Harold Holt) in :his Budget speech that a committee will be set up to determine in precise terms what constitutes the capital of the Post Office, regarded as a business undertaking, and what annual return upon it the Post Office should reasonably be required to seek. I do not know a lot about these matters, because this is fresh territory to me, but that seems to me to indicate that interest willee charged on the money that has been taken from Consolidated Revenue and invested in the Post Office. The Treasurer went on to say -
In the meantime, however, it is . clear beyond doubt that, since capital expenditure on the Post Office must continue to increase, the earnings of the Post Office should also be increased, not merely to meet the cost of its day-to-day services, but to provide something by way of return on the additional capital.
He was referring to the additional money which will be invested in the Post Office, money taken from Consolidated Revenue. As I have said, as far as. this measure is concerned the Senate is -somewhat in the dark. We .do not -know .whether the additional £11,000,000 that will be earned this year is to be used for Post Office capital works. We do not know whether it is to be used to pay interest on money which will be invested out of Consolidated Revenue. It is a matter for regret. that the committee which it was proposed to set up some years ago - I think .Senator “Wright said the proposal was- made five years- ago - is still -in the offing. It has not- yet been set up, so far as I am aware. It is a great pity that it was not set-up some time ago to -investigate all these matters -thoroughly and bring them into the light of day, so that this House could know just what - is involved in these increases of postal charges.
I admit that loan raisings have failed to meet the demands of the expansion that has taken place in this country over the last few years. Loans have failed to provide sufficient money to finance this expansion, with the result that the Commonwealth, perforce, has had to turn to Consolidated Revenue in order to make up the leeway. The Government has broken new ground. This policy, in the hands of a .government that might use it to the full, could be a very dangerous weapon inasmuch as the savings of the ordinary men and women could be confiscated to .pay for capital works in this country.
I conclude by repeating that every possible avenue should be searched to find some way by which those people who, perforce, .invest their money in capital works in this Commonwealth may ‘be enabled to receive something in return for their compulsory investment. I. support the measure. It is a measure, that is contingent upon the Budget. “Senator Aylett. - You have ruined a good -speech by that statement.
– I may have ruined a good speech, but I know quite well that if anything happened to this Government, some of the fears I have expressed during this speech could well become realities, especially if a government composed of members of the party on the other side of the chamber occupied the Treasury bench.
– One of the healthy features of this debate is that it has demonstrated that in the Liberal Party and the Country Party there is free speech. More than a half of the members of the Government parties have criticized the Government’s legislation. They criticized it to such an extent that the original legislation had .to be taken back to the party ‘room to be altered. It has ‘been denied ‘in this chamber that there was any alteration’, or- that there Were two bills, but ; that might ‘ be a denial based on a technical point. I know’ ‘that the rank and file members of the Government parties took the bit in their teeth, went back to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and. said that the legislation had to be altered..
– That is democracy at work. You would not know very much about it.
– I am glad that there is democracy on the other side, because if we are to have true democracy, we must have it in all parties. I am glad that we have a little democracy on the other side.
– They never vote against their parties.
– That is true. They do not vote against the Government.
– That is not correct.
– Sometimes they do, but sometimes they walk out when a vote is to be taken. That happens in another place.
I sometimes listen to Senator Wright; who is probably the most important faction leader on the other side. He makes some colossal’ speeches. There is no doubt about that. I was very impressed by the speech made by Senator Lillico. But the point is that Wright talks like that, and then votes differently.
– Knowing all the time that it is inevitable that he should submit to the contumely of your commentary.
– I think it is good that we can talk like that in this chamber. I am not going to say anything profound about this great Post Office of ours, because quite* obviously I am not competent to do so. I have before me a list of the people - a half of them have been knighted and all are engineers of extraordinary talent - who are in charge of this magnificent socialist enterprise. This Government intends to investigate them. It intends to set up a committee to investigate these people.
– Do you oppose that?
– No, I am in favour of it.
– -Then why go crook about it?
– I am just pointing something out. I do not know who is going to do the investigating, but to me that is a serious attack upon the administration of the Post Office. The Postmaster-General says, first, that his organization is beyond reproach and, then, that he must set up a committee of inquiry!
The Post Office is said to be completely mechanized, but its operating costs are going up. That is worth looking into. According to the arguments used by the Government, costs should be coming down, but they are not. That is perfectly obvious to any one. No investigation is needed to establish that as a fact. The Government urges industry to go in for automation to reduce costs, but it is not producing that result in the Post Office. That may not be a very profound statement, but it is certainly one with which the man in the street would agree; it is plain common sense. One need not be an engineer or an economist to understand what is happening.
The newspapers enjoy wonderful facilities as a result of the services granted by the Post Office and the co-operation extended by the Parliament. I assure Government supporters, who seems anxious to interject, that what I have to say has nothing to do with the question asked this morning about the. space occupied by press representatives in the precincts of - the Parliament. I am referring to the service that the newspapers give. I say advisedly that they simply do not give this Senate a service at all. I havebeen a member of the Parliament for only a short time, but I can recognize men of ability when I see arid hear them. On both sides of this chamber we have men of ability who deal impartially with the problems of this country - but their utterances are not reported, in the press. The best - or, at any rate, the most - publicity that we have had for a long time was the publicity we got when about 300 pressmen were outside the door of this chamber with Senator Aylett. It takes something like that to get us publicity.
– It is a pretty costly method:
– That is the sort of service that the Senate gets from the newspapers. The other day thirteen or fourteen honorable senators went to Tasmania on the- “ Princess of Tasmania “.
Senator- Aylett: - And another bunch went up to the Gold Coast.
– Honorable senators again got great publicity, but this is a house of review which attempts to put the views of the States. Senator Lillico, who spoke before me, was clearly doing that. Such speeches should be reported, and I think that the Senate is entitled to ask the press to give better service to the Parliament, it is pleasing to note that the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ is now giving about three pages of publicity to proceedings in the Parliament.
– It is not very good publicity.
– It might not always be good, but the important thing is to get publicity. The other day the general manager of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ was in Canberra investigating this very question of trying to step up the news on Parliament. After all, if these people believe in democracy they should remember that Parliament is the venue of democracy, and is entitled to the right sort of publicity. If Senator McKenna, Senator Spooner, Senator Wright or any one else makes the speech of the moment, that speech is entitled to its place in the national newspapers, but often that does not happen. We are entitled to say to the newspapers, “ We give you these services. What are you doing about it? Don’t you think you ought to give Parliament a better go? “ I hope that the Government will look at that possibility. I am not, of course, speaking about pressmen - the people who earn their living by their pen. T myself am a journalist.
– Nor are you speaking about the Post Office.
– The .Post Office is involved. It provides certain facilities for the press.
– At a very cheap rate.
– That is so.
I want now to make one or two other general observations about the Postal Department. If you go to New South Wales - and I have in mind especially the north coast - and visit areas that have been represented by a good old Australian Country Party Minister you will find post offices fit for Martin-place - with no one in them. The post offices in many country towns are mansions.
– Where are they situated?
– I could name many. Two examples are those at Byron Bay and Tweed Heads. If one looks at the post offices in the metropolitan area of Sydney one sees a different picture. One sees, each Thursday, pensioners lined up in poky post offices, and on hot days almost ready to faint from lack of facilities. In the country one finds beautiful buildings, with few people in them. That constitutes a criticism of the Post Office administration, inasmuch as those areas have not the population to warrant such vast expenditure.
– That is decentralization.
– It is not. Decentralization is another thing altogether. I do not, of course, deny that the people in those localities should have adequate post offices.
– Government supporters should have a look at the post office at Murwillumbah, which was represented by a former Postmaster-General who was a member of the Australian Country Party.
– The position that I have described is general throughout rural New South Wales.
I would also like to refer to the matter of telephone tapping. Two years ago we of the Australian Labour Party went through a little of the bother that members of the Australian Country Party are experiencing now. Every second time I picked up the telephone I found that it was either officially or unofficially tapped. I would not complain about that so much if I thought that the telephones of S.P. bookmakers telephones were tapped also, but these gentlemen carry on with rare abandon. If this Government believes in democracy, and I think that, broadly, it does, it ought to have a look at this practice and see that it does not occur again. It is very, very wrong. Freedom of expression is one of our great liberties. We ought to be able to express our views freely over the telephone - indeed, anywhere we choose.
Another thing that interests me is why the magnificent Post Office organization - and it is magnificent - cannot restore the clock on the General Post Office in Martinplace, Sydney. It is no longer possible to meet a friend under the clock in Martinplace. 1 have been told that it is not for romantic or sentimental considerations that the clock has not been restored to its position. An engineering problem has arisen; probably the structure will no longer stand the weight of the clock.
Another matter that appears to my uninformed mind to be a serious defect in Post Office administration relates to the housing project at Dundas, not far from where I live. There, a magnificent housing -scheme has been established by the excellent Labour government of New South Wales. Although something like 3,000 houses have been built so far, no public telephone service has been provided. I inspected the whole area three weeks ago. I think I beat Senator Anderson to the punch in connexion with this matter. He may have visited the area, but I certainly have inspected it. I mention, in passing, that Senator Anderson, Granny Smith apples and I come from Eastwood! On my inspection, I found that in an area with something like 3,000 houses there are only two street telephones. To me, that appears to be bad planning. If there are to be 3,000 houses in an area, the phone service should be provided almost as quickly as the houses are erected.
– Why not put them there before?
– It should be possible to have a street telephone service for emergencies. I am not referring now to private telephones because I realize there are difficulties in the way of installing them; my complaint is that there are not enough street telephones. The Minister has promised to give the matter early attention, and I am happy that my work has had that result.
– Did you say “ street phones “ or “ S.P. phones “?
– I was speaking of street phones.
– The S.P. bookies have got phones.
– They get them first. They have first priority. I should like now to refer to the proposed new postal rates for union publications.
– What did you say?
– I am speaking about the proposed new postal rate for the smaller newspapers. I think that the reduction of this rate should be even greater than is proposed. A number of unions are in serious bother about the postage on their journals.
– Were they not in bother in 1949?
– I do wish that my friend opposite would forget 1949 for a moment.
– That was the last time Labour was in office, and Labour put the rate up by 108 per cent. then.
– That is so, but charges are getting progressively higher, and I emphasize that most of these small publications to which I refer are issued free. I submit that we must not do anything that will hinder union leaders in getting their message before the people in a social democracy such as this. It is difficult enough to get the message across as it is. Why, it is hard enough at present to get people even to read their papers! One of the greatest difficulties to-day is to get the workers to read, and a government that does anything to make that task more difficult is not acting in the interests of Australia or Australian democracy. The Government should attempt to do a little more to help the unions and the churches in the distribution of their journals.
There is something else that I cannot understand about the Post Office organization. At the top we have a magnificent array of talent. We have the PostmasterGeneral’s head-quarters administration, and the State postal administrations, and not one of the officers engaged in that work is without letters of some kind after his name. Half of them have been knighted, and they form a magnificent array. It seems that the workers are the secondary members of the organization.
– They are the members of the Third and Fourth Divisions.
– They are not looked upon as members of the First Division, but they must be of the First Division in efficiency when the service is run as well as it is. I have always been horrified at the thought that .the masses of the workers who keep the postal services of Australia running so efficiently are ‘not looked upon as First Division workers. In -actual fact, they must be first divisioners when the service is so efficient. The -Government should give some consideration to that point. These workers may not have First Division status as officers of the general public ‘service, :but something ought to .be done to improve their lot.
Not :so ‘many years -ago I - saw the postal workers engaged during .’the –Christmas rush drinking their morning and afternoon !<tea out of kerosene tins behind the counters of the Sydney General Post Office. I am not exaggerating when I say that, and I hope that this is not happening to-day. I am not suggesting that it is, but that was the situation I found when ‘I made an inspection.
– Have you never had beer out of a bucket?
– Some people would drink beer out of anything. I am speaking now of what was happening in a Government department. These employees had no canteen facilities and I do not think that is proper treatment of a great body of workers who are .giving such splendid .service to the community.
There appears to be one great weakness in the Government’s case for increased charges. The Government says that because wages and costs are increasing charges must also increase.
– That is reasonable.
– But it is a complete negation of the propaganda the Government uses when dealing with private enterprise. The Government tells industry that if it mechanizes and adopts modern methods of production costs will be reduced. If the Government cannot put this policy into operation in the Post Office, it has no right to suggest to those who are running the mining and steel industries, for example, what they should do. The Government says to these people, “ Mechanize and get your costs down “. If it is logical to argue in that way with private enterprise, then it is equally logical .to say to .the Post Office, “ Mechanize and get your costs down”. We know that costs are being reduced in many industries by the introduc tion of mechanization and automation, and, in view of this fact, it seems anomalous that costs should continue to rise in the Post “Office. I , shall support the .proposed amendment, and I oppose the Government’s proposals.
. - in reply - I have listened with great interest to the speeches that have been delivered during this debate. There seems to be a great diversity of opinion as to .exactly what should be done about -.the increases proposed for certain Post Office services. I have been most interested to hear the suggestions for improvements.
First, I should like to correct Senator Poke’s statement to the effect that until quite recently person-to-person telephone calls could be made without extra charge. I am not sure whether Senator Poke was aware of what he was saying, but almost everybody would know that persontoperson calls have been available for very many years ‘and that an extra charge has been ‘made for this service.
I assure Senator Ormonde that Sydney has not been left out of plans for the construction of -new buildings. Money is not being spent only on country people. The White Paper issued by the PostmasterGeneral in August shows that approval has been given for the expenditure of £4,200,000 on a mail exchange in Sydney. When money is spent in capital cities, apparently it is spent in big lumps. I note also that -the department has a -proposal for a new mail exchange in Roma-street, Brisbane, and plans are under consideration for the construction of new buildings in almost every capital city. I think that perhaps the capital cities have a fair share of the money available for the construction of postal buildings.
I 4urn now to -the bill. The suggestion was made that the Post Office was not being fully remunerated for work it did for certain Commonwealth departments, and information was sought as to the departments receiving services from the Post Office. The work being done by the Post Office includes the -payment of pensions, child endowment,” Navy, Army and Air Force allotments, the handling of war service homes repayments, the issue of federal taxation and State .duty stamps, the collection of customs duty on parcels and the handling of Commonwealth .savings bank transactions.
The department has stated .that the commission charged by it is based sometimes on the volume -of (transactions but more often on their value. The .amount earned in 1-957-58 was £1,150,000, which was an increase of £87,300 on the amount received in 1956-57. The rates of commission have not been changed for a number of years, but the department has not lost and is not losing on the transactions because of their higher average value. In addition, improved practices and procedures have enabled “the Post Office to carry out the work more economically. The -department ‘points out that it would be futile to charge rates to other departments1 ‘for work done on their behalf which would return a handsome profit, for this would simply mean that whilst Consolidated Revenue would benefit to a greater extent from Post Office receipts, expenditure by the other departments would be correspondingly increased. The Post Office is getting a reasonable profit and is satisfied that the amount it is receiving covers its expenditure on this work.
It was also suggested that the Post Office is not receiving sufficient from the Defence forces. At the present time, it is receiving some £288,500 from the Defence departments for services provided to the armed forces at low concessional rates. It was said that the Auditor-General had apparently come across this by chance and that, as a result, the matter had now been adjusted. The facts are that the Post Office has always been aware of the nature and extent of this concession, but it is only recently that, by Government decision, it has been decided that the Post Office should be reimbursed from the votes of the Defence departments to the extent of the concessions given to the Services.
It is quite true, as Senator McKenna said, that for the ten years from 1939 to 1948 the Post Office made an overall profit each year and that from 1949 to 1958 it made an overall profit on only four occasions. However, the turnover during this latter period was considerably higher than the turnover -in the former period. The earnings were very much higher and the actual business of the Postmaster-General’s
Department had improved considerably, but, of course, the cost of running the department had ‘ also increased by a large amount each year. This bears out the fact that the Government, during those ten years, endeavoured to ensure that the cost of postal services to the people would not increase at a high rate. This meant that the whole cost of these services was not covered. It was, to a very large extent, due to the efficiency of the department in the past five or six years that a profit was made. The profit last year was just over £4,000,000.
The Post Office is really a trading undertaking. It is not being run at a loss and there is no reason why it should be run at a loss. Most of the work of the Post Office concerns the commercial community, which should be able to pay for the services that it receives. The user should pay for the use of the facilities of the Post Office. I do not say that the Post Office should show a very big profit, but it should be entitled to make some profit at least on a turnover which -last year was £928,000,000 - almost £1,000,000,000. It has an earning capacity of £96,767,757 a year. Those are very big figures, and only a very big commercial undertaking can show so large a turn-over and earnings.
Let us go a step further and have a look at the success achieved in the various branches of the Post Office in providing additional services over the last ten years. The Telephone Branch is a very important section of the service. Senator Cameron said that, during the early post-war years, the government of the day had been faced with the problem of overcoming a serious lag in services resulting from the war. I may say that there is still a lag in the provision of telephone facilities, but it is nothing like as great as was the lag that existed when this Government took office. During the past four years, the number of deferred applications has been reduced from 86,000 to 41,000. In the four years up to and including the financial year 1948-49, the number of telephones increased by 157,000. In the last four years, the number of telephones installed has increased by 320,000 - an increase more than twice as great. In the four years up to and including 1948-49, only eighteen rural automatic exchanges were installed. In the past four years, 350 such exchanges have been installed. These figures indicate a great increase in the number of installations of telephone services and rural automatic exchanges. This has entailed great cost to the Postmaster-General’s Department, but the additional facilities have been of great benefit not only to commercial houses but also to the people generally. Trunk line facilities, also, have been greatly improved. Whereas, at one time, long delays occurred, it is now possible to get through from Canberra to Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane within a very few minutes of dialling the exchange.
It is interesting to note that telephone installations have lagged behind the demand in other countries, too. At 30th June, 1950, there was a lag of 160,216 in the United Kingdom. At 31st March, 1959, there Was a lag of approximately 32,000 installations in New Zealand. At 31st March, 1958, the lag in the Union of South Africa totalled 33,700. So we can see that Australia is not alone in experiencing a lag in the provision of telephone facilities. One of the reasons, of course, may be that more people want telephones, because they are better able to afford them now than they were ten or fifteen years ago. They find a telephone a great help and a great convenience in the home, and they are quite willing to pay the high cost involved. Table 34, at page 43 of the “ Financial and Statistical Bulletin “ of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for the year ended 30th June, 1958, indicates that, in 1949, there was a total of 1,028,134 telephones connected to the various kinds of exchanges in Australia. In 1958, the number had increased to 1,936,960 - almost 1,000,000 more. The total in 1949 represented 13 for every 100 persons, and the figure for 1958 represented 19.67 for every 100 persons. I suppose that the current figure represents at least 20 for every 100 persons.
It has been said, during this debate, that not a great deal has been done in recent years to improve and extend Post Office facilities. Over the three years up to and including the financial year 1948-49 - the one immediately before this Government came to office - the gross connexions of telephones totalled 187,787, whereas the number for the last three years was about 413,000. As I have already pointed out, in the four financial years up to and including 1948-49, eighteen rural automatic exchanges were installed, and 350 exchanges of this kind have been installed in the last four years. In the four years up to and including the financial year 1948-49, 787 additional trunk-line channels were made available, and, in the last four financial years, 4,115 have been made available. So I think honorable senators can readily see the tremendous expansion that has occurred in all sections of the telephone service.
It has been said that the proposed higher charges for telephones will treat country subscribers harshly. I do not think that this statement is substantiated by an examination of the rates proposed. Increases in country rentals will range from 5s. to £2 12s. 6d. a year, and increases in metropolitan rentals from £2 to £4 a year. Country subscribers, however, will benefit by the greatly extended areas within which they may make local calls instead of having to make trunk-line calls. For calls between adjacent local zones, they will pay 4d., the same as the local call fee in the cities. Noi only are country subscribers being subjected to increases less than those being imposed upon city subscribers, but also they are being given the benefit of a local call fee within certain zones for which they are at present required to pay a trunk-line fee. This will make a very great difference to them. People who live in the country will receive great benefit from the proposal to abolish extra mileage fees on departmental lines exceeding a radial distance of 2 miles from the local exchange.
One honorable senator, referring to the difficulty of carrying a large number of pennies to meet the cost of telephone calls from public telephones, has suggested that a metal disc could be sold to the public at a cost of 4d. and that these metal discs could be used in public telephones. I have referred the honorable senator’s suggestion to officers of the Postal Department who have informed me that two types of coin collecting devices are at present installed in public telephone booths. One will take pennies only. That device is installed in public telephones from which only local calls may be made. The second is a multicoin collecting device which will accept shillings, sixpences and pennies. This device is installed in public telephone booths from which trunk line as well as local calls may be made. Neither of these devices could be adjusted to accept a metal token, and it would be extremely costly to manufacture a new type of coin collecting device and to install one at each of the existing 22,000 public telephones that are spread throughout the Commonwealth. At first glance the suggestion seemed to have some merit, but when it was analysed by the departmental experts it did not appear to be of much use.
Criticism has been levelled at the charge that is being made for installing a telephone. However, no change has been made in that charge, which remains at £10. When one considers in detail the cost involved in installing a telephone, one sees that a large amount of money is involved. The exchange equipment costs £56; underground cables and aerial wires cost £198; the equipment in the subscriber’s premises costs £20, and proportion of building costs amount to £16. These figures, which include labour and material costs, amount to £290. To install a telephone is not merely a matter of running a wire from the nearest post to the subscriber’s premises. Labour, materials and a general share in the total capital cost of the telephone system also are involved. I have been informed by officers of the department that as a result of the recent adjustment in the basic wage it is estimated that the cost of installing a telephone in a subscriber’s home will rise to £300. A large amount of money is invested in every telephone that is installed, and the greater the number of telephones that are installed the greater the cost to the department.
I have been informed also by officers of the Postal Department that for the year 1957-58 the total maintenance cost on telephones amounted to £21,000,000 or an average of £16 per exchange line, which means per telephone. Operating and management costs amounted to £16,000,000 or £12 per exchange line, and depreciation amounted to £9,000,000 or £7 per exchange line. The total maintenance, operation and depreciation charges amounted to £35 per telephone. Honorable senators will see that installations and maintenance on telephones represent an enormous amount of money but, in comparison, the subscriber contributes a very small amount.
– What has been the trend of those costs over the last few years?
– Costs have been rising each year.
– What steps are taken to keep them within economical limits?
– I understand that the department has installed the most economical working plant that it is possible to obtain. It has followed up new inventions and has applied the most efficient methods in the world. In addition, the department has utilized its own knowledge of working conditions. I understand that costs in Australia compare very favorably with those in any country in the world.
I have mentioned the costs associated with telephones because the telephone section is the most costly in the Postal Department, but this is inevitable if we are to keep up with modern practice and complete fully the automatic dialling system that has been commenced whereby we will be able, not only to dial a number in our own district but also to dial direct from, say, Brisbane to Perth, without experiencing the waiting time that has been involved in our call being passed on step by step from exchange to exchange. I am sure that most people in Australia would prefer to have an efficient postal system, and especially an efficient telephone system, even though higher charges were involved, rather than put up with an out-of-date system that cost less but that wasted a good deal of time in connecting numbers.
Honorable senators have commented about the postal services. I should like to refer briefly to the proposed abolition of the surcharge on airmail letters. When one considers the vast area of this country, one must realize the great necessity for and the great advantage of an airmail service. Previously an airmail letter cost 7d. Even at that price millions of airmail letters have been posted because people have been aware of the great advantages associated with airmail, both to the sender and to the receiver. It is proposed now to abolish the surcharge of 3d., and airmail letters will be carried for 5d. I disagree with those honorable senators who have said that the
Government’s proposal will be of no advantage to Australia. I cannot imagine how any one can say that abolishing a surcharge of 3d. on an airmail letter will not be of advantage to country people.
– I do not think that that was said.
– I think it was, becauseI made a note of it at the time. I have lived in the back country practically all my life and I know that airmail will still go to the railhead by car or truck.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
Suspension of Standing Orders.
Motion (by Senator Willesee) put -
That so much of Standing Order No. 407a be suspended as would prevent the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) speaking in reply for more than 30 minutes.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - There being present an absolute majority of the whole number of senators, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
– I thank the Senate. I should like to refer to a very important matter that has been raised by a number of honorable senators, some of whom are in favour of the proposed committee to investigate Post Office commercial accounts, and some of whom think that it is futile. It was on 11th August that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) informed us in his Budget speech that this committee would be formed. He said, amongst other things - and I quote these remarks, of course, out of context -
There is room for difference of opinion as to what the true capitalization of the Post Office should be in accounting terms, and so that the Government may have the best advice on that and other outstanding questions, we have recently decided to appoint a committee of competent outside people to study and report upon the basis on which the commercial accounts of the Post Office should be prepared.
Without giving any definite official information, I am quite sure in my own mind that this committee will be appointed. It is not an easy matter to decide offhand its terms of reference or to find suitable people to appoint as members of it. These matters require a good deal of consideration, and much thought must be given particularly to the terms of reference.
Referring again to the increase in charges for. postal services, most: honorable senators will, I believe, agree with me that it is eminently fairthat users of a bigcommercial undertaking such as the Post Office should pay, to a certain extent, for the facilities that are made available to them. I do not believe that they should pay the full amount. Capital works will require an expenditure of £39,400,000 in the 1959-60 Budget year, and I do not think anybody would suggest that the Post Office should find the whole of that amount from its own resources. I do feel, however, that it should provide some of this money from its own resources, and that is why this provision has been inserted in the bill before us. The amount suggested for this year, to be provided by the Post Office itself, is, I think, £10,000,000, and the amount in a full year is £16,200,000. These amounts fall far short of requirements, and if we consider that point when looking at these charges I do not think we could say that the people are being called upon to meet excessive charges for such excellent facilities as are provided by the Post Office.
Question put -
That thebill be now read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The Deputy President - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority…. . ….. 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (First Schedule).
– I take the opportunity afforded by the debate on this clause to address a few remarks to the committee. The Government seeks to impose, by means of the first schedule, additional rates in respect of postal charges, for a number of purposes. The Government tells us that the first of these is to eliminate a loss showing in the overall Post Office accounts, and in those of the postal section in particular. The Government tells us that the second purpose is to make a contribution towards capital funds needed for further extensions of the Post Office. I want to return to the theme that the Post Office, being a great public utility with no competitor and no prospect of dissolution, should carry on its functions for the benefit of the people of Australia at actual cost. It ought not to be used to make a profit. It ought not to be used to provide in its charges for future capital expansion.
One might argue that the great bulk of these postal charges is paid by industry and commerce, and that the burden of making the Post Office at least pay should fall on the users of the postal facilities. That argument entirely overlooks an important fact: Whilst I agree with the proposition that the great bulk of charges are paid by commerce and industry, commerce and industry are able to pass the charges on, with the addition of the usual percentage of profit, in higher prices. In the final analysis, the people of Australia pay the whole of the postal charges. Certainly, commerce and industry pay in the first instance, but in the end, it is the people of Australia who pay.
I cannot imagine any activity - and no Commonwealth activity in particular - which would have a more universal application and benefit to the people of this country, whether they be users of the Post Office directly, or taxpayers, or infants, or adults, than the services provided by the Post Office. Either directly or indirectly those services affect every person in the community. Those facilities are for the benefit of all, and 1 repeat that in the final analysis it is the people of Australia who pay the charges.
I start with that proposition. We are faced with the difficulty, as a Parliament, that we look at two sets of accounts in relation to the Post Office. The first is the statement of receipts and expenditure under which the Post Office, in truth, operates. The whole of the receipts go into Consolidated Revenue and the whole of the payments are appropriated from that source. There is no trust fund and nothing like commercial accounts. On the other hand, we pick up the Financial and Statistical Bulletin of the Postmaster-General, and we find a set of accounts which, to any observer, coming uninformed to the matter, must give an entirely false impression.I am thinking of a competent critic who might come from abroad and pick up either the Financial and Statistical Bulletin or the annual report of the Postmaster-General. He would say, looking at the balance-sheet, that this concern is doing very well. It has reserves of £70,000,000.
– Where do you get that figure?
– From table 1 of the Financial and Statistical Bulletin. There is £70,000,000 representing accumulated profits of the Post Office, down the years, in an accumulation account. Secondly, there is a series of provisions for reserves amounting to £65.000,000. The indication to the casual observer would be that this was a very competent concern, making vast profits, and putting away to reserve large sums for particular purposes, and doing exceedingly well.
These figures, on the face of the balance sheet put before the nation, amount to reserves of more than £135,000,000. In fact, they are almost £136,000,000. The plain truth is that they do not exist. The whole of the moneys ever collected by the Post Office have been paid to the Government whether they included profits or whether they did not. All moneys they have paid in, when they included profits, have been ear-marked, not for the purposes of these particular reserves, but for all the general purposes of the Commonwealth of Australia, whether for Commonwealth capital works, for social services, or anything else.
The definition of a reserve, as I understand it, is the substraction from profits of a specific amount which is put aside for a particular purpose, whatever that purpose may be, and which is then either invested in the business or is invested in readily realizable securities to be available for the contingency against which they have been created.
– Which of the assets on the other side are false if your argument is true?
– I do not say that any of them are false. I just say that the picture is completely unreal. These reserves are created without there being any specific assets at all in relation to them.
– The assets are set down on the other side of the page and they equal the liabilities including the £136,000,000 to which you referred. So which of these assets stated to exist do not exist?
– If the honorable senator will take the assets as facts, as I do, and then the reserves and other liabilities, he will find that the difference is at the head of the liability column in the capital.
– Quite so.
– I say to the honorable senator that there are certainly no specific assets involved and none is false in relation to that.
– But the assets equate the net liability to the Treasury plus the reserves that you mention.
– That is right. I do not suggest for a moment that there are assets that are false. I do not suggest that but I do say this: The balance-sheet shows reserves as being created, but these in fact, have not one penny of them, whether invested in the Post Office or outside. They simply do not exist.
Let us assume that the Post Office were to say to-morrow, “We will not approach the Government for money for our future development. We will draw on our accumulated profits.” Could it go to an account? Could it find an asset upon which it could realize?
– If the Post Office is a commercial undertaking why could it not issue debentures on its fixed assets totalling £399,000,000?
– That is a hypothetical proposition. If it were a commercial body, it would have to go to the market and raise capital or it would have to issue debentures, or finally it would have to call upon reserves which, in fact, existed. The truth is that there is not a penny in these reserves. They are completely notional. The honorable senator shakes his head but I cannot disagree with him more emphatically than I do. The reserves are completely notional and fictional. The truth is that the moneys are not ear-marked for any purpose. Every penny that has ever been handled has been paid into Consolidated Revenue. Accordingly, the reserves do not exist.
I argue, for the purpose of my case, that there should be no profit made at all. It has been put in this place that a fair apportionment ought to be made between the users of the Post Office and the taxpayer. I think that they are exactly the same people in this case. All users are taxpayers because they would be income earners and the only person who does not have to pay income tax is the person on less than £105 per annum.
– But taxpayers are not users in the same proportion.
– Not in the first instance. But, ultimately, the cost is spread over the whole community. I say that that proposition is completely incontrovertible. I venture to say that the Minister will not differ with me when I say that these reserve accounts are entirely notional. They do not exist at all and they could not be called upon to provide one penny for the Post Office.
Having argued the proposition that there should be no profit in the Post Office, I come to the question of the profits as disclosed. I find that there are three matters to which I want to make reference. One is the provision for superannuation in the accounts for the year under review - 1957-58. There is a reference to it in the report of the Minister. At page 5, he stated -
The overall profit of £4 million was recorded after providing £4,306,682 for Superannuation (£2.5 million greater than cash payments to former employees) . . .
In other words, the Government has required the Post Office to reimburse it the amount that it was called upon to pay during 1957-58 by way of superannuation to former employees of the Post Office, and it has said to the Post Office, “ In addition, we want you to debit yourselves with an additional £2,500,000, in accordance with an actuarial calculation that takes account of a liability accruing all down the years “.
It is interesting to note the origin of that new provision. In 1942, when there was a Labour Government in office, section 80b was inserted in the Superannuation Act, the effect of which was to provide that where an approved authority - it had to be named under a regulation - had payments made by the Government in respect of its superannuated employees, that authority had to reimburse the Commonwealth. In 1955, the present Government made an addendum to that provision and prescribed that, in addition to that payment to reimburse actual amounts paid by the Commonwealth, the Treasurer could enter into an arrangement with an approved authority so that amounts that would relate to the actuarial contingent liability should also be charged against the approved authority. That development under this Government came about in this way: In 1953-54, the Auditor-General, in paragraph 39 of his report, stated -
Section 80b of the Superannuation Act 1902- 1954 provides that an approved authority shall pay to the Commonwealth the amount paid by the Commonwealth to the Superannuation Fund or the Provident Account in respect of any pension or other benefit payable under the Act to an employee of the authority.
Payments by the Commonwealth are not made until the accrued liability becomes due and generally this may be deferred for many years. Certain authorities of the Commonwealth have not that degree of permanency associated with the Public Service and therefore my predecessor took up with the Treasury in November, 1950, the question whether all authorities should make annual provision for the actuarial liability.
Although the Treasury replied in March, 1951, that action was being taken to secure an amendment of section 80b under which approved authorities would pay the accrued liability periodically, no such amendment has yet been promulgated.
That was in 1953-54. I invite the attention of the committee particularly to the reason given by the Auditor-General for suggesting that certain authorities should not only reimburse the Commonwealth the amount paid in each year, but should also pay to the Commonwealth an amount equivalent to the difference between that and the actuarial calculation. He based that argument upon the fact that there was not the same degree of permanence in the existence of those authorities as there is in departments of the Public Service. I say at once that that points to a clear exception in favour of the Post Office.
The committee may recall that when the 1955 bill was before this Parliament, the Australian Labour Party approved the principles that it enunciated. I find that I spoke during the debate and supported the principles of the 1955 legislation, but I asked the Minister whether it was competent for the authority to refuse to enter into an agreement.
– Order. The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– Will the Minister explain what will happen in the future in regard to overseas mails, not only those going to Canada, the United States of America and other countries, but also those going to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea? I can find no mention of this matter either in the second-reading speech or in the schedule to the bill. Are we to take it that, since the matter is not mentioned, the position will remain as it is at present?
– If no other honorable senator wishes to speak, I should appreciate the opportunity to complete discussion of the points that I was making a little while ago.
– I should prefer the honorable senator to proceed. I want to follow him.
– I had reached the stage at which I was arguing that the Post Office was a clear exception to the case that the Auditor-General had in mind. The
Auditor-General pointed to certain authorities because he saw no high degree of permanence about them. He was thinking, perhaps, of organizations such as TransAustralia Airlines, and the Australian National Line, a shipping line which was sold and later re-established. He was thinking also, perhaps, of what might happen with Qantas Empire Airways Limited. I can imagine quite a number of activities which conceivably could depend for their existence on the whim of a government. One government might favour their establishment, and another government their demolition. We have had quite a few examples of that kind of thing.
I think that the Auditor-General was quite right in directing attention to that matter and in asking, in the case of an authority that conceivably could come to an end, thereby precipitating enormous superannuation payments if people had to be retrenched and so on, that the contingent actuarial liability should be provided from year to year. But I should say that the Post Office is as permanent as the Commonwealth itself. When the Post Office falls down, the Commonwealth will fall down, and vice versa. Does anybody seriously suggest that any Australian government would ever bring the Post Office to an end? If it is all right for the Commonwealth, in relation to ordinary Commonwealth departments, to make a contribution, not to the full actuarial limit year by year, but only to the extent required to meet the immediate superannuation liabilities of the year, why then is not that principle applied in the Post Office, where the same high degree of permanency exists?
– Is not the answer that if you did not do it, you would get an incorrect trading result?
– I would suggest not. The honorable senator opens up a question which has to be faced - and I hope that the committee that is to be established will face it. Are we to put the Post Office on the basis for which I contend, or on a truly commercial basis? It has to be one or the other. At the moment, it is neither. It is not clear cut.
– Whether it is a commercial undertaking or not, you must surely ‘ aim at getting an accurate result. To leave1 out the actuarial liability would be equivalent to leaving out the depreciation charge, would it not?
– If that is correct, and if the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) feels strongly on that point, all I can say is that it is a grave impeachment of his own Government that, year by year, it makes provision only for the actual payments for the year and certainly does npt create the slightest reserve for the actuarial liability. The reason for that, of course, is plain. You may get waves in this matter. Due to a heavy influx at a particular time, a lot of people may go out at the one stage. But the point is that the liability year by year will be met by a continuing and an expanding Commonwealth. There is no need for the Commonwealth to create a vast reserve, to create a trust fund to meet the actuarial liability. I say that from this point of view there is not the faintest difference between a concern like the Post Office and a department like the Attorney-General’s Department.
– The vast difference surely is that budgets are prepared on a cash basis. With a Budget, there is no attempt to determine profit or loss, but this is an attempt to determine profit or loss, and it would be inaccurate not to bring in the true liability.
– The honorable senator should carry the analogy one step further. If it is right for anybody involved’ in superannuation payments all the time to make provision for the actuarial limit of the contribution, then it is obligatory on the Government to create a trust fund year by year - not only to pay what is involved in a year, but to make up the difference between that and the actuarial calculation. The Commonwealth does not do that for all its instrumentalities, and my argument is that what is sauce for the Commonwealth in one particular should be sauce for such a permanent institution as the Post Office’. T subscribe to the view that it is a commercial principle. I do not object to its application to a concern that, may be ephemeral, and may pass out of existence,, to prevent a heavy liability on the Budget in one year. I am with the Minister on the principle’ but I also go with the Government in the view - and it is completely clear - that as long as the Commonwealth lasts, as long as there is a Commonwealth, it will always be able to meet its liabilities. It would be wiser if trust funds were created out of the annual appropriation, equal to the difference between the actual payment and the actuarially calculated liability, but that has not been done. Why single out the Post Office, which is as permanent a department as one could find in the Commonwealth, and put it in a different category from ordinary departments?
All I am leading to is that in my view the £4,000,000 profit disclosed does not show the position accurately to the ordinary observer. In the circumstances that I have outlined, one ought to add to that over £2,500,000. I take the other point that if that is done because the Post Office is a commercial concern, why is that commercial outlook not carried a little further to the charges that the Post Office makes for all the work it does for about fifteen or sixteen other instrumentalities? I am informed by administrative officers of the department that they just cover costs in recovering £1,100,000 from the various departments for that work. The Minister cannot have it both ways. If he wants to have the Postal Department on a truly commercial basis, let us have an actuarial calculation, but also let the department make a profit on the enormous and complex business it handles for other departments and other Commonwealth instrumentalities. Instead of the Postal Department being paid £1,000,000 out of the £253,000,000 it handles for other departments each year, which amounts to less than one-half per cent., surely the Minister must agree that it is entitled to be reimbursed for that work also on a commercial basis and is entitled to make a profit on it. If we are to have commercial accounts, let the whole undertaking be truly commercial.
I do not think it is unreasonable to argue that the Post Office is entitled to charge a fee of at least 2£ per cent, on the money it handles for other departments. If it received that return in the year that we are now reviewing, the latest year for which accounts are available, it would receive £6,000,000 instead of £1,000,000 and its disclosed profit would be increased from £4,000,000 to £9,000,000. On the argument I have advanced in relation to superannuation, its profit would be increased by another £2,500,000.
There is room for argument as to whether or not the amount over-provided in the year for depreciation is too much. Personally, I think it is too much. There are two views on the question. I think that a substantial proportion of the £1,700,000 that has been over-provided for depreciation and equalization should be added to the disclosed profit. One reason we object to all this lies in the basic viewpoint that I put earlier. We think the Post Office should try to break even, that it should not suffer a loss and should not make a profit. It is giving benefits, direct and indirect, to everybody in the community. We think that a commercial base should not be constituted, but if it is and the Government throws its weight behind that, let the undertaking be truly commercial. The Minister must agree that my argument cannot be refuted. If the Post Office is to be on a strictly commercial base, there can be no justification for making it do at cost all the work that it does for other departments. What commercial concern in Australia would undertake to act, at cost, as agent for some sixteen departments? It would, of course, make a charge, and clearly the profit of the Post Office is understated to the extent that some reasonable charge is not allocated for this purpose in these accounts.
I should welcome the appointment of a committee in which I would have confidence to look into this whole question of accounts. It would be better to establish the Post Office completely as a commercial concern than to have the present confusion. I think Senator Laught pointed to the fact that, whilst the cost of operating the Post Office had increased by 50 per cent, since 1953-54 the charge for the services it rendered to other departments had increased by only 20 per cent. I do not know whether it is legitimate to draw a conclusion from those figures, but they are impressive to hear.
I have some other matters to put at a later stage, but I should like to leave my argument on three propositions: First, the Post Office should not make a profit but should operate at cost. Secondly, there is no justification for drawing a line of distinction between users of the Post Office and taxpayers generally. Thirdly, a true consideration of the figures for 1957-58 that are now before us would show that the profits earned by the Post Office were very much more than the £4,000,000 disclosed, and therefore, on a proper consideration of the matter, there is no justification for the proposed increases.
.- Before the Minister replies to this argument, I want to notice briefly what the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has said, because I for one take some objection to his brandishing the Financial and Statistical Bulletin of the Post Office and its annual report and saying, “ These are misleading documents “. I have never yet perused a set of financial accounts more revealing and, from the point of view of cost checking, more capable of standing up to examination. I do not pretend to approach them with any skill whatever. I approach them as a plain, blunt man. The table to which he refers sets forth on one side the fixed assets, stores, sundry debtors, accrued earnings for service rendered, prepayments, moneys held in trust, and money order account, totalling £448,889,949, of which fixed assets represent £399,436,945. On the other side we find equated the liabilities, the first of which are the funds provided by the Treasury for assets, £409,208,555. After taking into account the Stores and Services Trust Account Advance and the accumulated excess of receipts over funds for working, the net liability to the Treasury is £298,983,200. Then are taken into account two items of reserves, which Senator McKenna criticized as being non-existent and which amount to £70,127,106 and £65,861,187, making a total of nearly £136,000,000. When other sundry items are taken into account, a perfectly balancing figure of £448,889,949 is arrived at. If to anybody, including accountants, that is not a factual statement that the assets which balance with those liabilities do in fact exist and therefore exist for appropriated credit of the reserve accounts which the Leader of the Opposition said do not exist, I shall not again believe accounts. I regard that as a direct statement that there exist physical assets to the value of £399,436,945, which are avail able to satisfy those reserve accounts totalling nearly £136,000,000 to which the honorable senator referred.
The only other comment I make upon Senator McKenna’s contribution relates to superannuation. It is a matter for tears to find anybody, especially a man of the responsibility and experience of the Leader of the Opposition, standing in this place and saying that it is wrong for this undertaking to provide not merely for the cash payment made each year to its former employees who are drawing superannuation but also the actuarially determined amount for contingent liability on this account. Out of this year’s earnings of the undertaking we will be providing by way of reserve to meet the liability that is accruing, say in ten years’ time, for an extra 2,000 superannuants, based on an increased rate of payment. For the Leader of the Opposition, with his accountancy experience, to deny the truth of that method of approaching the accounts indicates to me that the Opposition would drive this country headlong to irresponsible accounting and ultimate bankruptcy or uncontrolled inflation.
I want now to address one or two remarks to the actual schedule. I direct the attention of the committee to the fact that, in the first place, the only item in the Budget with which this bill actually deals is an item concerning rates of postage. It does not deal with telephones, nor with telegraphs - although that is a diminishing item. I want to be informed further in relation to the amount of £17,800,000 that was referred to by Mr. Harold Holt in his Budget speech. He said that that amount would be provided in this financial year by increased postal, telephone and telegraph charges. I ask the Minister to give me a specific statement as to how much of that sum is to be levied per medium of this bill, because the remainder will depend upon regulations that will be issued, I understand, as soon as this bill is passed. Those regulations, of course, will be subject to the scrutiny of, and possibly disallowance by either House. It seems to me anomalous that a budget of the Post Office that is relied upon to produce an extra £17,800,000 should foe in a double form. First, the postal rates are determined by a bill debated by Parliament. Secondly, the other charges - I suspect they will yield by far the major part of the increased revenue - are to be levied by regulations signed at the Minister’s desk in some office and appearing in the “ Gazette “. Regulations should not be made to bear such a budgetary burden and matters of great financial import. I am still simple-minded enough to think that £17,800,000 is a fairly considerable amount. I hope that before many more suns have set the legislation in regard to the Post Office will be put in a proper form so that its whole budget will be freely debated in public in both Houses of the Parliament.
I wish to touch briefly on one other matter. I seek clarification by the Minister of a certain statement in the Treasurer’s Budget speech. After referring to the fact that the true capitalization of the Post Office is a matter requiring delicate analysis, he stated -
The Government has not yet constituted the committee. I pause there to say to the Minister, through you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that I am not quite happy about this statement. The terms of reference of this committee are taking a long time to think out, and the selection of the appropriate persons to appoint as a committee will, to my way of thinking, take an even longer time. The Government should be able to state the problem to such a committee within 48 hours. After all the thought that has been given to it by the skilled management of the Post Office, it should not take so long to recommend three persons to form a committee. The committee might need two months to consider the problem and submit its recommendations. But the matter, evidently, is much more complicated than that and the state of affairs is much more unreal than even I, with my remote contact with the world, would have thought. So I do protest a little, quite moderately and with great respect, against the suggestion that the terms of reference for this committee will take a long time to think out and yet a longer time before they are considered by the appropriate men. I should think that we ought to know the result within three months after a purposeful approach to the problem.
I shall now leave the question of thecapitalization of the Post Office. The next passage in the Budget speech to which I direct attention is this passage -
In the meantime, however, it is clear beyond doubt that, since capital expenditure on the Post Office must continue to increase, the earnings of the Post Office should also be increased, not merely to meet the cost of its day-to-day services-
But this is the ambiguous statement from the oracle - but to provide something by way of return on the additional capital.
It may be that the true meaning of those words is the intention to provide something by way of return of the additional capital, but the word in the Budget speech is “ on “ and I say, through you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, to the Minister that I hope that on this occasion these things do not turn on such nice distinctions. Reading the passage as a return “ on “ capital, I have believed, as have many members of another place, that the words indicate an intention on the part of the Government to charge an interest return on capital. It has been suggested as late as to-day that that may be not the proper interpretation, and that what is intended is that we will start levying to produce a surplus this year by way of post and telephone charges of something like £10,000,000 or £11,000,000 before arriving at the ordinary profit and, therefore, will expect a surplus of earnings over expenditure at the end of next year of something of the order - taking this year’s actual profit not to be less than the profit in 1958- of £14,000,000 in all.
The proposal to which this bill is giving expression should not be a matter to be decided in the future. The decision should be made now and recorded here. Are we providing that huge surplus so as to create a credit for interest on the notional capital expenditure in the Post Office? Or is that surplus being provided so as to obviate the necessity next year to provide in the Budget a sum of about £39,000,000 for capital expenditure? Is the provision for capital expenditure to be reduced by that means to an amount of the order of £25,000,000? In that case, it would be a reduction of capital expenditure to be estimated in the future. As I say, most of us have interpreted this as interest on capital put into the Post Office. I feel that we should have this information before this bill is passed through the committee.
– Before the Minister speaks I should like to reply under two headings to Senator Wright’s comments. First, I can understand his difficulties in looking at this balance-sheet and asking where the corresponding assets are for the reserves totalling £135,000,000 shown in the liabilities column. That is a fair accounting question and I said that I could not point to the assets. But the answer to his problem lies in the top figure, as I told him before. Let me particularize it more. If he adds £70,000,000 in the accumulation account and the £65,000,000 in reserves, he reaches a figure of £135,000,000. He asks where are the assets for that. I say that they are nonexistent.
– You are attributing the problem to me. It is your problem I think.
– It is not my problem. My problem is to convince Senator Wright, and to answer his question.
– That is fair enough.
– If the honorable senator will go to the first item on the liabilities side of the balance-sheet, under the heading “ Funds provided “ he will see the entry “For Assets, £409,208,555”. Then there is an adjustment of about £16,000,000 which brings the total to approximately £425,000,000. The next entry is “ Less - Accumulated excess of Receipts over Funds for Working “. If that amount were not deducted, the balancesheet would not balance.
– Of course it would not.
– Of course not. Let me explain where the £135,000,000 has gone. That amount is put in as I have indicated, but the amount of £126,000,000 is taken out. Otherwise how could it balance? The difference between £126,000,000 and £135,000,000 will represent the accumulated differences between outstandings, year by year, that are taken account of in this document and not in the Treasury accounts. I refer the honorable senator on the latter point-
– Do you not agree that the accounts state the assets only at cost?
– They do.
– Do you not agree that if the assets were revalued they would be hugely in excess of costs?
– Yes. I agree with these two propositions.
– Do you still assert that any part of the reserves is non-existent in value?
– I do. What the honorable senator cannot understand is a simple accounting proposition. If you put a figure in here and take it out there, the entry is negative. It is as simple as that. If the figure stood alone, Senator Wright’s problem would arise, but the Government has been careful to put in the deduction of £126,000,000. That is the same thing, minus the various small adjustments year by year. It is put in and taken out on the one side, otherwise the miracle of balancing without a balance would have been achieved. I invite Senator Wright to see where the figure on which he is concentrating and against which he claims assets lie, has been carefully removed to the tune of £126,000,000 from the liabilities side.
– Which only means that so much of the original capital borrowed from the Treasury to buy those assets has been paid back, and you are £126,000,000 to the good.
– Let me ask the
Minister a simple question. Will he please tell us in what the money in the Accumulation Account and in the reserves, together totalling £135,000,000, is invested, if it is invested at all. Is it available to be utilized by the Post Office to-day? The answer, of course, is that it is not. All of it has been paid to the Treasury, and it has been dissipated in the general purposes of the Commonwealth.
Senator Wright has joined issue with me on another matter. He sought to take me to task for my alleged statement that it was wrong that provision should be made for the actuarial equivalent of superannuation. He did not do me justice. What I said was that I appreciated that principle and that I applied it in the case of an institution that lacked permanence and that might go out of existence. I did not affirm the proposition that Senator Wright attributed to me at all. 1 thought that I had made it clear to the committee that I would apply the principle in the proper case; that I did not consider for the reasons I gave that the Post Office was a proper case, and that I thought I was supported in that view by the Auditor-General, who pointed to the lack of permanence of some activities. I have argued that you could not find a more permanent institution than the Post Office.
I should like to add something to Senator Wright’s remarks about asking the users of the Post Office to pay some contribution towards capital expansion. I have already said that I am opposed to that proposal, and I am supported in that view by the Herbert Committee, which inquired into the electricity supply industry in England. The cases are very analogous - electricity there, postal services here. The committee dealt very specifically with the point now at issue and in this regard I support Senator Wright. In paragraph 342 of its report the committee states - . . to use prices charged to the consumers as a device for raising capital for expansion is to impose compulsory saving on electricity users; to make them pay, so to speak, a tax in proportion to their electricity consumption, so that the community may build up the electricity industry for the benefit of future consumers. To make present consumers subsidize in this way the capital requirements of future consumers would, in our judgment, be quite inequitable.
But also, we believe it would lead to inefficiency. In our opinion, the electricity supply industry should wherever practicable have to face the same kind of problems that other industries face, and in particular it ought to have to light for its capital by going to the market.
– Who were the members of that committee?
– I cannot say offhand, but I have identified the committee to the honorable senator.
– By inference then, the committee said that interest should be charged on capital.
– Interest on capital - yes, I agree with that. That is a proper charge where it is paid, but I do not accede to the proposition that when the Commonwealth gets money interest free, it should compel a non-competitive concern like the Post Office to pay interest on that money.
– You cannot contrast the statement of the Herbert Committee with your present argument.
– It depends. Here is the confusion between us and it will remain until we make up our minds whether the Post Office is to be run as I claim it should be run. That is, whether it is to«be run as a non-profit making enterprise or as a commercial undertaking. If it had raised its capital in the ordinary way, as it would have done if the loan market had held and we had not been troubled with inflation, it would then have had to pay interest on it, I would have had no objection to that. If we decide that the Post Office is to be run on a commercial basis and moneys are borrowed for it, of course I would agree that interest must be taken into calculation. But if the Commonwealth is providing capital moneys for the Post Office out of revenue - and I object to that procedure - I claim that as the Post Office has no competitor it is completely wrong to be charging interest against the capital account. I think I answer the Minister in that way. I have put my views to the Senate so often on this subject that I do not think it is necessary for me to pursue it any further. But in conclusion, I ask the Minister: Has the Post Office any reserves of any kind at its disposal which it can draw upon, whether accumulation of profits or particular reserves? I know the answer in advance, but I should like to hear it from the Minister-
– Would the Minister be good enough to inform the committee of the sources from which certain capital expenditure was incurred for the year 1957-58. According to the Postmaster-General’s report for that year the sum expended on telephone and exchange services was £22,598,140, on trunk line services £5,999,886 and on telegraphs and miscellaneous services £1,399,712, a total of £29,997,738. The amount spent on further buildings was £3,942,552 and on sites and properties £370,265, making a total, together with the previous total, of £34,310,555. From what sources were those funds drawn and how are they accounted for in the accounts? Were they taken from Consolidated Revenue or elsewhere?
[5.7]. - I am quite sure that all honorable senators have enjoyed this very interesting debate. I feel loath to buy into it, but still, I suppose i must. In reply to the main question of whether the Post Office has any reserves that it can use, the answer is “ No “. lt has no reserves. Everything is paid over to Consolidated Revenue with the exception of the amounts that are used for the purchase or replacement of motor vehicles or other replacements of that kind. These amounts are incorporated in the Post Office Stores and Services Trust Account. All moneys that come into the Post Office in the course of its trading are paid into Consolidated Revenue. However, I am informed by officers of the department that because the Post Office is looked upon as a business undertaking it must show, for the information of its shareholders, that is the people of Australia, a balance-sheet on commercial lines. Such a balance-sheet must include a statement of reserves even if those reserves or the money represented by them has been paid over; but the money paid over is placed in Consolidated Revenue and I suggest that is a better security than if it were placed in a bank. The money is probably used for other purposes. The Commonwealth Government, in common with all governments, naturally uses the money in one way or another. It does not allow it to lie idle. If the money is needed, the Commonwealth finds it again.
I disagree with the honorable senator who said that these higher charges are being passed on to the community through the users of the postal services. In commercial life in Australia - a free enterprise system - 1 think it is correct to say that the costs which cannot be absorbed might be passed on to the community; but as we have tremendous competition in most free undertakings, I should say that the percentage of costs that would be passed on would only be that amount which competition cannot take up. However, I am certain that in a very keen competitive community the bulk of the extra costs would not be passed on. A proportion would be, but not all of them.
Superannuation charges have been thoroughly discussed. According to departmental information, since the inception of the Post Office’s commercial accounts in 1912-13, the superannuation charge has been on a liability basis instead of on the basis of cash payments to retired contributors. This principle has been observed over a long period. Whether it is right or wrong I, personally, am not in a position to say.
asked about the new postal rates to Papua and New Guinea. I am informed that these will be similar to the local rates and adjusted along the same lines. The surcharge on airmail letters will be abolished as will be done in Australia. Overseas rates will be increased, but the charge for aerogrammes will not be raised.
asked about the charges to be covered by the bill and those that would be covered by regulations. The charges covered by the bill are expected to bring in additional revenue, in a full year, of £3,950,000. That would mean that the remainder of the £16,000,000 would be covered by regulations. In this financial year, 1959-60, about £2,900,000 will be covered by the bill, and this would leave the remainder of the £7,200,000 to be covered by regulations.
– That is for the remainder of this year?
– In this year the amount to be covered by the bill will be £2,900,000.
– I should like to ask the Minister several questions of a practical nature. I feel that a number of the addresses given this afternoon, although of considerable importance, were of a theoretical nature, and hard to follow. Is it a fact that, for one month the postage on airmail letters will be 8d.? In other words, will the cost of sending an airmail letter rise from 7d. to 8d. for the duration of one month and, after that month has expired, will the cost drop to 5d.? If that is so, I ask the Minister: Why should it be so? Would it not be more practical and less confusing not to raise for one month the cost of sending an airmail letter? Would it not be better to retain the current rate for that month and then, according to the most commendable plan of the Government, drop the rate to 5d.? This proposal by the Government was very puzzling when it was presented to me, and I should like the Minister to give some explanation of it. I ask him to consider whether what I believe to be quite a stupid arrangement could be abandoned at this stage.
– I want to comment briefly on one or two matters. I thank the Minister for his reply on the question of reserves. He clearly established that the reserve accounts have no assets against them that are available to the Post Office.
– That is not my understanding of what he said. I will reply on that.
– That is plainly what I understood him to say. He indicated that the Post Office had not available, in the reserves shown in the balance-sheet, any moneys upon which it could call if it wanted to do so.
– Not reserves in cash.
– Or in assets.
– In physical assets - stones, bricks and buildings.
– Does the Minister say that there are physical assets or not?
– There are buildings.
– And they are probably shown at one-half of their original cost.
– I understood from the Minister as he spoke earlier that there was nothing available to the Post Office for use from its reserve accounts - that there was nothing upon which it could draw to meet the purposes for which, obviously, the reserves had been put aside.
– You cannot draw upon a huge building, in the sense that it is a physical asset, unless you sell it.
– The Minister indicated that the Post Office was a business undertaking. I put to him that it is not fair treatment of the Post Office to require it to subsidize airlines in the carriage of mails. That is a matter of Government policy. It is not fair to carry out the Government’s policy of helping publications and their dissemination by asking the Post Office to carry the publications at far less than cost. The Post Office is receiving a lid. per unit instead of 6d. per unit, which is the actual cost. If the Post Office is a business undertaking, surely it should make an appropriate charge to the people concerned or receive a subsidy from the Government to enable the lower charge to be made.
Why should the Post Office accounts bear a heavy loss in respect of bulk posting when it is a Government decision that that loss should be incurred? All governments have made that decision. It has been a matter of public policy that publications should be freely disseminated in the interest of knowledge. Surely the Post Office, if it is to be treated as a business undertaking and put on a commercial basis, ought to be reimbursed by way of a clear-cut subsidy for any losses it makes as a result of this aspect of Government policy. That would be the honest way, and the country would know what it was spending to achieve this social purpose. If the Post Office is to be treated as a business undertaking, it should be paid adequately for the work it does for other departments. I am afraid I cannot agree with the Minister that industry and commerce will absorb most of these costs. It is my personal belief that the majority of the costs will, in fact, be passed on.
I should like the committee to appreciate the weight of the burden which the superannuation charge imposed upon the Post Office in 1957-58. The committee will recall that a total of £4,500,000 was charged against profits for the year, that £2,000,000 was paid out and that £2,500,000 was deemed to be a part of the actuarial liability. It is interesting to look at the Treasurer’s financial statement for the year ended on 30th June, 1959, and see that the total amount paid by the Commonwealth in respect of all its employees - including Post Office personnel - to the superannuation fund for superannuation accounts was £4,200,000 in 1957-58. The amount paid for the provident fund was £588,000 only. The total amount paid to the superannuation and provident funds for the whole of the Public Service of Australia was £4,700,000, of which the Post Office put in £4,500,000. Does that seem to be a fair deal for the. Post Office?
– Is that true?
– That is completely true.
– The two figures are not related.
– It shows the magnitude of the burden the Post Office is carrying.
– It shows that one part of the Government’s activities is dealt with on one basis and another part on another basis.
– The net result is that £4,500,000 has been taken from the Post Office by the Government and put into general revenue.
– You do not dispute that the £4,500,000 is a reasonable charge?
– At the moment I am not talking about the reasonableness or otherwise of the charge. I thought I had left that behind me a while ago. I am pointing to the magnitude of the burden the Post Office carries.
– The point is whether it is equitable or not.
– I am putting it into proper perspective. I am pointing out that the Post Office is required to find £4,500,000 in one year, and that the Commonwealth is required to find, for all its employees, £4,700,000 at the most, in the same year. I agree that the matters are not strictly related one to the other. I thought we had dealt with the principle of each during the debate. I am mentioning this now - I thought I had made this quite plain - merely to show the magnitude of the contribution under this head that is being made by the Post Office. I am not equating the amounts or relating them.
– I take it that the Leader of the Opposition does not dispute the actuarial accuracy of the figures.
– I hope that my contribution to the debate will not make confusion worse confounded. I start by saying that I think there is some confusion on the part of those who have taken part in the debate of two terms - “ reserve fund “ and “reserves”. When the term “reserve fund” is used, it is usually accompanied by an investment of moneys in assets to meet liabilities. That is the meaning of the term “fund”. There is shown on the liabilities side of the balancesheet, the amount of the reserve fund, and the other side of the balance-sheet shows specific assets appropriated under another heading. That has not been the procedure adopted with the Post Office. Obviously, that would be a meaningless procedure to adopt with the Post Office, because usually reserve funds are invested in trustee securities. If, in the case of the Post Office, you created a reserve fund, you would invest that reserve fund in Commonwealth loans. As the Commonwealth owns the Post Office and has responsibility for the Post Office, it seems to me that there would be no point in taking funds out of the Post Office, investing them in Commonwealth loans and holding them there until they were wanted.
The other term is “ a reserve “. Usually amounts taken to reserve are invested in the business. That is what has been done in this case: The reserves created have been regarded as invested in the business of the Post Office. Investment in a business can take two forms. It can increase the assets - be used to build more post offices - or reduce liabilities. You get the same result if you make an investment within the assets of the business: You either add to the volume of assets or reduce the liabilities.
– Is interest paid on that?
– I am afraid that the honorable senator’s interjection is not relevant to the problem that I am trying to describe. I repeat, you invest either in additional assets or in reducing liabilities. That is what has been done on this occasion. The balance-sheet shows that payments have been made in reduction of liabilities, and that there has been increased investment in assets. Therefore, the reserve in this balance-sheet is intact. It is represented by increased assets and reduced liabilities. The owner of this business is the Commonwealth Government, which has a running account with the Post Office. It advances money to the Post Office, and receives money back from the Post Office. Therefore, if there is a demand, money is available. Also, very large resources are shown on the balance-sheet. What is more likely, they would be shown as made available by the owner of the business - the Commonwealth Government - as an additional advance in the current account.
– This has been a very interesting debate, but I should be very grateful if the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) would answer the question that I put to him in relation to the expenditure of £34,310,555 on capital works for the year 1957-58. We have heard an argument between two very knowledgeable senators concerning interest on the reserve account. The Leader of the Government (Senator Spooner) has told us that there is no reserve fund - though he has not made it as clear as all that. He said, however, that there is a reserve account, and in it there are many millions, standing to the credit of the Post Office. If one approaches this matter on commercial lines one sees that if the Commonwealth Government has invested that money - whether in reducing liabilities or in a reserve fund - it is entitled to earn interest thereon. If it is badly handled there may even be a loss. Is the Minister arguing that merely because the money is in the form of a reserve account - not a fund - and thus available from time to time, it has no earning value when not being used for Post Office purposes? Conversely, is the Minister suggesting that money earned by the Post Office, transferred to Consolidated Revenue, and then appropriated for capital works should be subject to interest charges? To my mind, that is the simple issue involved.
– Are you going down on your hands and knees begging the Government to charge the Post Office interest on £300,000,000, which it owes to the Commonwealth? It is the same principle.
– I am not begging for anything. I merely want to know what the true position is, and both the Leader of the Government and the Minister for Repatriation have, by their submissions, confused the issue considerably. The Leader of the Government sought questions of fact. The question that I put to him is based on the capital works figures in his report. A satisfactory answer would at least clear up what has been done and indicate where the moneys came from; how they were appropriated; whether the Post Office earned anything from them; whether they were drawn from reserves, and, if so, how such reserves were built up. The Leader of the Government says that the reserves are in Consolidated Revenue and have no earning power.
It is a different story when moneys are used from sources which, most likely, have benefited from Post Office earnings over the years. Such earnings go into Consolidated Revenue and are called reserves, but then they are taken out of Consolidated Revenue and applied to some use in the Post Office. At what stage does the Government say that the Post Office should get the commercial advantage of using its reserves? Or does it say that the Post Office shall have a loan from the Commonwealth out of Consolidated Revenue? What is good on one side should be good on the other.
Senator Sir WALTER COOPER (Queensland - Minister for Repatriation) [5.32]. - In reply to Senator Laught, I would mention that for one month the charge for airmail letters will remain at 8d. It will then drop to 5d. It would be impracticable to introduce the new scheme as from 1st October. Neither the airlines nor the Post Office could do it.
– In the meantime the customer is to pay?
– That is so. If it could be done in any other way it would be.
Senator McKenna said that as the Post Office was a commercial undertaking it would be better for it not to subsidize services. I would point out that frequently particular departments of large commercial undertakings operate at a loss.
– They would not continue at a loss for very long.
Often a department will run at a loss, but that loss will be made up from the profit on another department. The overall result of trading, rather than the results achieved by particular departments, is scrutinized. If the overall trading shows a loss that is a bad state of affairs. One expects it to show a profit. The Post Office is run on similar lines.
All subsidies to airlines are now paid by the Department of Civil Aviation. When the new airmail scheme comes into operation payments to airlines will be at a much lower rate per pound of mail carried than at present.
All I can say in reply to Senator Cooke is that in recent years all money used to finance the capital works of the Post Office has been provided from Commonwealth revenue.
– I should like to ask the Minister whether the amount provided from Consolidated Revenue affects reserves in any way, and whether there has been any charge for the money so utilized.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.37 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed (vide page 759).
– The Senate has before it a bill which has for its purpose the amending of certain sections of the Social Services Act. The bill proposes that age, invalid and widows’ pensions shall be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, and that detribalized or nonnomadic aborigines will be embraced within the confines of social services. Ten pages are taken to deal with the few amendments that I have mentioned. It sets out also to regularize payments from a trade union, superannuation fund or annuity, but it does not alter the existing situation at all, because income from these sources is already regarded as income for the purposes of social service legislation.
We are becoming accustomed in this Senate, Mr. President, to Ministers bringing in bills covering dozens of pages which we find, after we have waded through them, mean very little indeed. The Government now seems to have adopted the practice of using the introduction of these bills for the purpose of self-eulogy and to try to give the Australian public the impression that its term of office has produced many beneficial results.
– So it has.
– It has not, and as I deal with the bill I will establish quite definitely that any use by the Government of these bills for the purpose of self-eulogy is completely unjustified. On behalf of the Opposition, I move the following amendment: -
Leave out all words after “ That “, insert - “ the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to take effect as from the first pension pay day in July, 1959 “.
It will be noticed that the Opposition has not specified what the rates should be. What we ask the Government to do is to pay to pensioners a fair and reasonable portion of the national income. We contend that that is not being done at present and that justice is being denied to the most deserving section of the community. If the Government wishes to accept this amendment, we will be very happy indeed to go into the question of specifying what the rates should be. I hope that some change of heart will move the Government to accept our amendment.
In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) said that in 1948-49, the last budget year that a Labour government held office, the amount expended on age, invalid and widows’ pensions was £46,100,000 and that this year it will reach approximately £161,700,000, thus showing an increase of 251 per cent, since 1948-49. That serves to illustrate my point that the Government has become accustomed in recent years to using bills of this character for propaganda purposes. I do not suggest that the Minister or his advisers deliberately set out to create the impression that the Liberal-Country Party Government of 1959 was really paying approximately 251 per cent, more in social services than did the Labour Government in 1949, but I do say that the figures are completely misleading. A very different picture is portrayed if the proportion of £46,100,000 to the national income in 1949 is compared with the proportion of present expenditure to the present national income. This Government has not increased the percentage of the national income that is applied to the payment of social services; indeed, a lower percentage of the national income is applied to social services now than was applied 20 years ago in 1939.
– How does it apply on a per capita basis? Our population has increased by 2,000,000.
– Of course, that is not stated, and the document is completely misleading. I shall be kind enough to accept the view that there was no intent to deceive in the propaganda contained in the Minister’s second-reading speech.
Having pointed out the misleading terms of this document, 1 want to deal with some of the anomalies that undoubtedly exist in the social service structure to-day. The Minister said specifically that we were going through a period of great prosperity, that the national income had increased and that that justified an increase of 7s. 6d. in age and invalid pensions. If the prosperity the Government is so fond of boasting about is so evident, and if the economy is as buoyant as the Government says it is, then the increase of 7s. 6d. a week to this unfortunate section of the community is very miserable indeed and reflects no credit on the Government. We have said before in this chamber - we will continue to repeat it at every available opportunity - that if the pension bore the same relation to the basic wage now as it did in the days of the Chifley Government, this increase would have had to be far greater than it is. No one can deny that. We say that the pension should be no less a proportion of the basic wage than it was when the Chifley Labour Government was in office in 1948-49.
If the Government is prepared to accept our amendment, and even if it is not, we ask that the payment of the pension increase be backdated to the first pension pay day in July. We have become accustomed in recent years to debate social service measures at length. There may be some justification for this if all points of view are to be put before the Senate, but nevertheless the pensioners should not be penalized because of the delay caused by these debates. It is not asking too much, therefore, to seek to have the increased rates of pension applied as from the first pension pay day in July.
We are pleased that at last the Government has seen fit to include aborigines and part-aborigines within the social service structure. It may be recalled that the Australian Labour Party pressed strenuously for consideration for these people in the Budget of 1958, but we received little or no encouragement from the Government when we stated our views. Nevertheless, one must say that some credit is reflected on the Government because, even at this late hour, it has been prepared to provide for these unfortunate people within the social service structure.
– Why did not the
Labour Government provide for them when it had an opportunity?
– Now the honorable senator is getting back to the old story of what the present Government parties would have done and what Labour should have done. I remind him and his colleagues on the Government side of the Senate, Mr. President, that when the Chifley Government vacated office in 1949 it was in the process of building up the social service structure. It had dealt with a number of problems and had removed many injustices, and it had on the agenda many other injustices which it intended to remove. All that the present Government parties did when they took office was to take charge of something for which the Labour Government had laid the foundations. All that this Government did was to continue what Labour had begun.
– The honorable senator is too modest.
– I am just stating the facts, and the political history of this country establishes that they are the facts.
– What the honorable senator believes to be the facts.
– Surely Government senators do not wish me to expose the sorry social service record of the present Government parties. Honorable senators opposite know that it was a Labour government which initiated the recognition on a substantial scale of the social service problem in this country. As I said a moment ago, all that this Government did was to come in and continue the structure which had been established by a government which, perhaps, had more consideration for the under-privileged sections of the community than this Government and its predecessors of the same political colour have ever had.
I come now to the problems of the widows in this country, Mr. President. Admittedly, this bill will give certain relief to these unfortunate people. But it does not go far enough. 1 think that, however much our points of view in respect of social services may conflict, it will be conceded that the people who need most assistance from governments to-day are the widows, and, in particular, those with children, lt is rather ironical to read, in the Government’s statement of the conditions attaching to social services, that a widow may have a certain income in addition to the pension, and that a widow with three children may earn sufficient income to give her, together with the pension, about £12 a week. I think that every honorable senator will agree that, although it is theoretically possible for widows with three children to supplement their pension in order to receive a total income of £12 a week, it is physically impossible for them to look after their children and continue at a job. It is mere window dressing for the Government to try to establish that these benefits are open to the widows of Australia when, in fact, they are not available to them at all.
I say that we ought to be bending our thoughts to every possible means of assisting this very deserving section of the community. If the Government really wanted to help the widows, and, as I have said, particularly those with children, it should give some attention to that forgotten factor in social services - child endowment. Widows with children would have been very materially helped if this social service benefit had been increased, but, apparently, the Government has completely forgotten about child endowment. Indeed, in the official documents that we have before us, and in the speeches made in the Senate by Government senators, there has been little or no reference to child endowment. This subject appears to have been very conveniently shelved by the Government.
I want to deal now with what I consider to be some anomalies in our social service structure. I do not think that anybody will disagree with me when I say that, whenever pensions are increased, other anomalies are created in the process. I am sure that every honorable senator present this evening will agree with me that this measure, which will in some respects improve the position of people who depend on pensions, will, in the process, create further anomalies in the Social Services Act: I have in mind particularly an aspect which I believe has been almost entirely neglected over the last ten years. I refer to the property limit. The pension of a single pensioner is reduced by £1 for every £10 by which his property, whether in cash or other assets, exceeds £200, up to a limit of £2,250, above which no pension is payable. Although the upper limit has been raised on several occasions in the last ten years, the lower limit of £200 has remained untouched. In my view, this constitutes one of the greatest injustices done to pensioners to-day. If it was right for the Parliament to increase the upper limit from £1,750 to £2,250 in 1958, raising the lower limit would be no more than just. This anomaly must be corrected. So long as it remains, it will be a blot on this Government’s social service record.
There is another glaring anomaly in respect of the upper limit, also. A person who has property worth exactly £2,250 will be entitled, when this bill becomes law, to a pension of about 30s. a fortnight, whereas a pensioner with property totalling £2,252 receives nothing.
– He loses his pension just like that.
– Yes. That is completely and utterly absurd. I suggest to the Government, in good faith, that it would remove a glaring anomaly in the social service structure if it allowed the pension to be reduced by £1 for every £10 of property, even beyond the limit of £2,250. If this were done, the pension would disappear entirely only if the value of the property totalled £2,670. The difference of a few shillings a week in respect of each pensioner would not cost the Government too much. Surely every honorable senator present this evening will agree that it is an utter absurdity for a pensioner with property of £2,250 to receive a pension of about 30s. a fortnight while a pensioner whose property is worth even £1 more receives absolutely nothing.
I turn now to a feature of our social service scheme which is a very sore point with many pensioners - the supplementary rent allowance of 10s. a week for certain pensioners, which was introduced by this Government twelve months ago with a fanfare of trumpets, as it were. We were led to believe in the early stages of the debate that this was going to be of widespread benefit to people in receipt of age pensions; but we found out, after the Government had very grudgingly given us the full information regarding it, that only about 15 per cent, of the pensioners would receive any benefit as a consequence of that act. In fact, it would be a generous estimate to say that 15 per cent, would derive any benefit from the measure which, as I said, was accompanied by a fanfare of trumpets on the part of the Government.
The people who do benefit from this provision - and many people do not know of their entitlement to the benefit, because very little action is taken to advise them of it - are single pensioners living alone and paying rent, or married couples one of whom is a pensioner. And, of course, for anybody to benefit he or she must have no income or property of any kind whatsoever. I suggest to the Senate, Mr. Acting Deputy President, that the position of a person who has no income and has to pay rent is no different from the position of a pensioner, whether male, female, widow or widower, who has a little cottage and has to pay maintenance and upkeep charges on it. Such people, undeniably, are in a difficult position in trying to keep their last remaining possession - a home, something to which they are entitled by every concept of decent thought. No increase is given to that class, and apparently no increase to them is being considered. I repeat that if justification existed for giving an increase of 10s. a week to the single pensioner paying rent, then there is every justification for extending the same benefit to those elderly widows and widowers who have nothing left but a roof over their heads - in many instances a meagre one - who have to pay rates and taxes and. as a consequence, live in deplorable conditions on the pensions they receive. I hope that some members of the Government who can be moved by humanitarian appeals will, during this Budget session, recognize the justice of that assertion on my part and do something to assist those unfortunate people.
Another glaring anomaly, Sir, is the position regarding the wife’s allowance. It has stood at £1 15s. for some considerable time. Surely it is a matter of simple logic that if there is justification for increasing by 7s. 6d. a week the age, invalid, and widow’s pensions, which is explained at such great length in the document before us, there is equal justification for increasing the wife’s allowance. A wife who has to look after an invalid pensioner must, of necessity, remain at home. Her earning capacity is completely gone. So we are asking two people to live on considerably less than the combined pensions of a pensioner couple. I think that this is something that must be faced by this Government, and properly examined.
I have mentioned the property limit under the means test. I believe some consideration ought to have been given by the Government to a further relaxation of the means test. We might all agree or disagree as to whether the means test can be abolished in one fell swoop; personally, I feel it ought to be progressively relaxed. In fact, I believe that not one single Budget year should pass by without the Government, whatever its political colour, lifting the burden to some degree on people who have been thrifty all their lives. The Government should say that it will give them a little better opportunity than they have had in the past.
Surely if there was justification in raising the ceiling limit as it applied to a married pensioner couple from £4,500 to £5,000 no great damage to the economy would have emerged from raising from £2,200 to £2,500 or £2,750 the limit as it applies to people who at the moment are being penalized by the application of the means test and who are, in the main, people who have given this country great service. They are people who have been thrifty all their lives, who have asked for nothing, who have applied themselves diligently to their tasks in industry, the public service and other fields. They have bought their security, and have paid for it in advance. In the declining years of their lives, when they reach pensionable age and retire, a savage penalty is imposed on them because of the thrift that they have shown through the years, and the sacrifices that they have made by denying themselves things that they otherwise could have had. In their declining years they find that the effort they put into accumulating something for their old age has been wasted because of the lack of recognition by an ungrateful government of the worth of that effort. I hope that in the Budget next year we will see a change of heart regarding this matter, because we have to reach a stage in this country, some day, when the means test will disappear. As I said, the best way to get rid of the means test is perhaps the gentlest way to get rid of it - by having some progressive relaxation of it year after year, or some progressive increase in the upper limit of money, assets, or property that prospective pensioners may have.
I come now to what I consider is another very difficult proposition in the pensions field. It deals with older people of nonBritish birth who come to this country, perhaps accompanying their children, and sometimes through immigration channels. Such people have to be in this country for twenty years before they qualify for a pension. I am not suggesting that the representatives of this country overseas mislead these people into the belief that they can enjoy the same pension privileges as naturalborn Australians, or British-born people who come here. Perhaps they are told that those privileges will not be extended to them until the residential qualification has been met. In all probability they are told. Nevertheless, I feel that people who want to bring their parents out of countries which have had such unfortunate histories as some of the countries of Europe have had, perhaps overlook that matter for, a while. In their burning desire to bring their people to a new land and a new life they are prepared to take a chance. But they find, after the parents have come here, that when the parents reach pensionable age they are in trouble. The children themselves then have to keep the aged people, and thus reduce their own standard of living immeasurably. I do not know how many people would be in that particular category, but I have a very great conviction that it would cost this country very little to give to those unforunate elderly people, who have gone through all sorts of troubles and vicissitudes in their own countries, the advantage of some reduction of this twenty years’ qualifying period. What would it matter if it cost the Government £1,000,000? lt would assist immeasurably a number of people who are seeking to make this country their own, and it would take away a lot of the distress and worry associated with the early days of their assimilation into the Australian way of life.
I know that this problem is not new, and I also know that we are going to have recurring trouble in respect of it. I think the time is approaching when, at the very least, we must recognize that that twenty years’ qualification period confers an injustice on a section of the community, and consider a reduction of it.
Now I turn to another position which causes great distress among people in receipt of age pensions. I refer to the position of old people who own their homes and, as a consequence of illness, have to leave their homes and either live with their children or go into institutions. The Social Services Act provides that immediately that event takes place the capital value of such a person’s home is taken into consideration for pension purposes, and in many instances pension entitlement disappears altogether. I believe that we should have some provision in our social service laws that if people over a certain age are forced to leave their homes as a result of illness their pension rights will not disappear. There would not be a great number of people in that category, but the people who are in it are suffering great distress as a result of the existing law. I think it can be truly said that these old people need a pension even more, in many cases, when they are forced to leave their homes, because they either become dependent upon their children, on the one hand, or they have to pay fees as inmates of a home, on the other hand.
– Can they not let their homes?
– In some cases that may be possible, and in some States it may be possible. But if such a person owns a home - and it need not be a palace - he has his own possessions and personal effects in it, and in many cases it is not, in my opinion, just and proper for us to ask a person in such circumstances to let his home. In any case, there is nothing to prevent pensioners from letting portions of their homes even while they are still living in them. It is true that they can obtain some income in that way. However, it seems to me completely unjust that one pensioner who remains hale and hearty can live in his home indefinitely and continue to enjoy the pension entitlement, while another who becomes ill and incurs many more commitments is caused great distress through having to leave his home. Great comfort would be given to many of our older citizens if the Government were to say to them, “If you fall into ill health in your declining years and have to leave your home, your pensions will not be affected “. I suggest that the extra amount involved in extending this benefit would be very small indeed, while the good that would flow from it would be tremendous. 1 hope the Government will give serious consideration to this matter.
My time has almost expired, Mr. Deputy President, and I shall mention just one other matter in closing. I have a belief, which has been greatly intensified during the last twelve months, that in many cases people who are entitled to social service payments are not aware of their entitlements. I think honorable senators on both sides of this chamber, if they are doing their work and meeting their constituents - and 1 am sure they are - have seen innumerable cases of people who own certain property or have certain assets and who believe that because of this they have no entitlement to any pension at all. I have known of married couples who have had assets to the value of a meagre £1,000 and who entertained the unshakable belief that they were thus prohibited from getting a pension of any kind. I am confident that all honorable senators have come across similar cases. In my social service work in my own State I have, during the last eighteen months or so, met an astounding number of people who have been unaware of their rights in the social service field.
I believe the Government has a duty to find some way of acquainting these people of their rights under our legislation. I know that the branches of the Department of Social Services in the various States have available leaflets of different kinds, dealing with age, invalid and widows’ pensions, with pharmaceutical benefits and with other social service benefits. These publications, however, do not have a wide circulation. It must be remembered that people who have reached the age of 65 years are not so keenly perceptive as they were when younger, and for this reason are less likely to become acquainted of their rights under the social services legislation. I believe the time has arrived when the Government should accept the responsibility of making these people aware of their entitlements. If it is right that a person should receive a pension, it is equally right for that person to be told exactly what his entitlements are. When we find so many people without a proper appreciation of their rights, I believe that we have some obligation in the matter, and that we should ensure that these people are acquainted of their rights.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, Mr. Deputy President, I believe that throughout the whole field of social services there are many anomalies and a terrific amount of injustice, which should be brought to the notice of members of this Parliament from time to time. Some of the anomalies that I have pointed out to the Senate to-night are worthy of correction and should receive the most serious consideration. The amendment proposed by the Opposition provides us with an opportunity of correcting some of these injustices and giving the pensioners of this country a measure of justice that they have not received in the past.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland) [8.36]. - I rise to support the hill and to oppose the amendment moved bv the Opposition. I was rather amazed at the argument put forward by an Opposition supporter who talked about a share of the national income. I am quite certain that pension payments have never been equated to the national income. In any case, as is well known, the national income rises and falls. Would the Opposition wish to have social service benefits rising and falling in line with the national income? I cannot believe that this would be a satisfactory procedure. 1 was also rather astounded at certain remarks made by Senator Toohey, who quite obviously is under a wrong impression with regard to property exemptions. He said that the property exemption has not been increased for ten years.
– I referred to the minimum amount of £200. I did not say that the ceiling amount had not been increased.
– Then let me inform the honorable senator that the exemption amount was increased from £100 to £150 in 1953, and then to £200 in 1954. It is possible that I misunderstood the honorable senator, but I believe I heard him correctly, and it is obvious that he did not give the correct position. Let me direct attention to another comment he made, when he said that pension rates had not been increased to any substantial degree since the Labour government was last in office. Let me inform him that the pension rate has been increased by £2 12s. 6d. a week, or by 123.5 per cent., since the Labour Government was in office in December, 1949. These facts, I believe, fully refute the honorable senator’s arguments as to the consideration given by various governments to social service benefits.
Let me at this stage pay a tribute to the Department of Social Services and all those men and women who work in it. I believe that the needs of the individual persons are of paramount importance to those who work in the various sections of the department. All of us who work in the field of social services realize the tremendous value of the assistance given by the officers of the department, who have shown a good deal of sympathetic feeling for the needs of persons concerned. The Department of Social Services is not a cold organization. lt is composed of people having a keen realization of the needs of others.
– I think we can all agree with that.
-I am quite certain that every person in this chamber will agree.
The bill before the House has been Introduced for the purpose of increasing the maximum rates of age, invalid and widows’ pensions by 7s. 6d. a week, and of providing that the aboriginal natives of Australia, other than those who are nomadic or primitive, shall be eligible for pensions and maternity allowances at the same rates and conditions as apply to other members of the community. The bill also provides that the clothing allowance payable by the Repatriation Commission shall be exempted from the income means test applying to pensions and to unemployment and sickness benefits. I am sure that all honorable senators will agree that those are points which show this Government’s very real appreciation of the needs of the people. We are glad that ‘an increase has been made in pension payments. Of course, we would always like to see it greater than it is, but we know that this Government has a sense of responsibility not only to the person to whom the pension payment is being made but also to the general economic position. We can well remind ourselves of these things.
This legislation which will entitle Australian aborigines to receive these benefits is of great historic importance because this is the first time that legislation for that purpose has been introduced. I know well that there has been a great deal of co-operation and discussion between Commonwealth and State governments which has resulted in this legislation which will be of tremendous assistance to our native people.
It is rather disturbing to hear the constant criticism by Opposition senators to the effect that this Government has not considered the needs of the people in the social services field, that it has not done this or that, so for a moment I should like to mention some of the things that it has done because I believe that there has never been a government in Australia which has done so much as this Government has done in the field of social services. This Government has given not only pensions but also services and care. Surely those are things that mean a great deal for the people. It was this Government which first introduced that excellent piece of legislation known as the Homes for Aged Persons Act because it realized, as no government before it realized, that the work being done by church and charitable organizations could not be done so successfully by any other section of the community, and that if this work were to continue and be of the maximum benefit for the greatest number of people, then those excellent organizations which were carrying on this most magnificent work were worthy of assistance. Realizing the needs of the people, what did the Government do? In the first instance, it introduced legislation by which the Commonwealth contributed to these organizations on a £l-for-£l basis. However, appreciating the importance of the work and seeing how it had developed, the Government introduced amending legislation by which it now contributes on a £2-for-£l basis. What story does that tell the people of Australia? It tells the story that already £5,963,965 has been contributed in this way and that over 7,000 more beds are available for aged persons, which means that they may now spend the rest of their lives happily, comfortably and well cared for in the homes that have been provided for them.
One of the greatest fears in old age is loneliness and a feeling of insecurity. But in the housing centres that have been provided, loneliness and insecurity have been eliminated because our aged citizens can live in association with others of their own generation. The speed of life has been slowed down for them and they are under the care of trained people, with the result that the fear of being ill and uncared for, the fear of being alone and the fear of being lonely are no longer uppermost in their minds. If this Government had done nothing else, it would have done something for Australia by this legislation for which it would have been remembered for all time. But is has done much more than that. It has realized the need to increase pension payments and has recognized the problem that faces single people living alone who have no income other than their pension. It has therefore introduced a supplementary pension of 10s. to assist those people to whom I have referred. This assistance has been of tremendous importance to the pensioners who have received it.
Senator Toohey has referred to the means test. I remind honorable senators that this Government already has liberalized the means test on many occasions with the result that more people are now receiving a pension and many who previously received a pension now receive a greater payment. But I know that I speak for many people when I say that we would like to see the means test liberalized still further, lt is important that the means test should be reviewed constantly in order that more people may qualify for pension benefits. Last week the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), when discussing this matter in another place, stated -
I therefore propose to have this problem, and those problems allied to it, very carefully examined by the Government well before the preparation of the next Budget.
Surely that statement by the Prime Minister shows the Government’s realization of the need for further and continued review ot the means test, and further and continued consideration of the fact that those who are thrifty and those who are endeavouring to save a little, should benefit in their old age to the same degree as those who have not been thrifty. This matter, which is of tremendous importance, should be considered before the preparation of the next Budget.
Let me remind the Senate also that this Government has done a great deal for our aged people by providing free medical treatment for those persons eligible to receive it, and also free pharmaceutical benefits and life-saving drugs. All these things have done a great deal to take away from aged people the fear of illness and the fear that they might not be able to procure those things which are necessary for the improvement of their health and wellbeing. Do not these benefits show that this Government is fully appreciative of the problems which confront our aged citizens?
I was interested to hear Senator Toohey refer to those people who have come to live in this country and who are not yet eligible to receive social service benefits. Although we have a reciprocal agreement with the United Kingdom and New Zealand, there are many people who have come to live among us who have served a lengthy residential period, but are not eligible to receive the benefits. At times, this restriction is harsh in its application and I hope that at some future date the Government will review it in an endeavour to overcome the difficulty.
– The honorable senator is on my side now.
– Just for a moment. I think we all agree on that particular problem.
I was very impressed by the statement of the Minister when referring to our aborigines. He spoke of facing up to this new problem and said, “ We see dangers, and we see problems, but we do not believe that the way to overcome dangers and problems is to refuse to face them “. That is the attitude that we must adopt in planning our social services in the future, particularly as they affect our aged citizens. The whole pattern of the expectation of life is changing as a result of modern science and medical care. The expectation of life has increased greatly and it is imperative, therefore, that we approach this problem with a new and broader outlook. If medical science gives our aged citizens more years of life, then surely it is our responsibility - yours and mine - the responsibility of governments, organizations and citizens generally to ensure that those added years of life are indeed years of happiness, dignity and security.
I should like to read to honorable senators an article in a publication which I have received which deals with the approach of Unesco to this subject of geriatrics. The article states -
The general problems of ageing are well discussed by Dr. R. E. Tunbridge, Professor of Medicine at the University of Leeds, who specializes in geriatrics. He was chairman of the organizing committee of the Third International Gerontolological Congress, and is active in the efforts of the World Health Organization and Unesco.
I do hope that we will see fit to have Australia represented at this international gerontology congress which I believe could be of untold value in our whole future work in social services. The article continues -
Dr. Tunbridge calls attention to the enormous increase to life expectancy as a result’ of advances in medical science.
Then it goes on -
Ageing therefore has scientific, economic, social and political significance for the community as well as for the individual and - with all its ramifications - justifies consideration as a major biological problem of the second half of the 20th century . . .
The article continues, speaking of Dr. Tunbridge -
He indicates the world-wide interest in problems of ageing, particularly in regard to loneliness, insecurity, and lack of funds for adequate care.
I believe that the time has come when, as a government and a people, we have to have a whole new approach to this challenge which has surely been given to us at this point of history. I am delighted at the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that all these matters will be carefully examined before the preparation of the next budget. May I suggest to the Government that, in making such an examination, it should call a Commonwealth conference of church and charitable organizations, and of governmental and non-governmental bodies. By calling together the people who are really working on this great problem, I believe that we could get the best possible information to assist us in our approach to the problems that arise in connexion with our aged citizens in the field of social services.
I believe that we have to look at this matter from three or four points. First of all, always, there is the matter of finance. The next point concerns persons who need hospital care. On that I have spoken before. I believe that we should use this great new science of gerontology and use the services of those people who have specialized in the field of geriatrics as they have been used in other countries. They have been used in Victoria and use is now beginning to be made of them in my 0W State. With the assistance of the geriatrician, the specialized trained sister, the dietician, the physiotherapist, and all those who make up the team which helps the aged, ailing people who once could look forward only to months and months in a hospital bed can now become ambulant and, in many cases, live in their own homes. Surely, this is a movement in which we can assist.
I have spoken on housing for the aged. May I add a further suggestion to which T should also like the Government to give consideration? I believe that this Government is well known, not only for giving necessary things in this great field of social services, but also for giving the extra things which mean so much. For that reason, I would like the Government to consider the problem of the aged sick person who, having spent a period of time in the hospital, could go home, if his home were near enough, and be cared for by his wife, pending further specialized treatment in hospital. Unfortunately, this is not always possible because, particularly in Queensland, which is a State of scattered settlement, the hospital may be many miles from the patient’s home and, consequently, he has to remain in hospital for a very much greater period than would otherwise be necessary, and so occupies a bed which could be made available to some one else. 1 would like to see some scheme considered whereby we could assist church or charitable organizations or hospitals to help these people. I do not know the best way to do it. It would need to be discussed carefully. Perhaps housing could be provided in association with base hospitals and the patient could live there between periods of treatment in the hospital until fully recovered.
– We have such places in Victoria.
– I am very glad to hear that. As each patient leaves, the accommodation would be available for the next one. I have talked about this problem for a long time. A few days ago I received a book entitled a “ Survey of Services Available to the Chronic Sick and Elderly “, issued by the Ministry of Health in London. It tells of a scheme which has been set up in England and it says -
The value of Homes for the Aged Sick, ten of which had been established during 1950-54 in the London area by the King Edward’s Hospital Fund for London, had been clearly recognized; 2,000 patients had passed through these ten Homes, with a total of 325 beds . . . their object was to enable the patient to continue his treatment outside the hospital precincts prior to discharge home.
Surely that quotation - and there are others - proves the tremendous importance of such a scheme. I hope that, at some time, we shall see that become universal in connexion with our very big hospitals.
May I also speak of the need which I feel is so important for domiciliary services? I believe that this is another way in which we can have a new approach to the problems of our aged persons. This Government has already shown an appreciation of the need for care for our aged persons in their own homes. It is this Government that has given a special grant to our home nursing services. This means, of course, that more people can have the care and attention of those very fine women, the members of our home nursing services, who go into the home to care for patients. It is a wonderful thing for an elderly sick person to know that the sister will be coming to provide special medical care. The patient has the feeling that there is somebody who knows his condition and who will be able to advise him if he feels that his condition is deteriorating. That has been a very important step by this Government. Surely it shows very well that this Government appreciates the problems and needs of our elder citizens. I would like to see consideration given to further help for domiciliary services for aged persons within their own homes.
Because my time is drawing to a close, let me sum up in these few words: Mr. Acting Deputy President, I believe that I can contradict every comment by the Opposition to the effect that this Government has disregarded the needs of those who require special benefits in the field of social services. This is a government, surely, which has constantly concerned itself with the needs of every section of the community. This is a government which, I believe, has most constantly been aware that if we do not care for all sections of our community the nation loses so very much. What have we done? Not only have we seen that pension benefits have been provided; we have provided other necessary services such as housing, assistance in home nursing, and assistance in the medical field, all of which have been of tremendous importance.
To-day, while I speak, men and women are benefiting, both in homes for the aged and through the specialist care which I believe means so very much to them. I ask, however, that when the Government again considers these things, as I know it will do, it will take up the challenge of this new approach to the aged; an approach which has been made by other countries; an approach which fully realizes and appreciates the need for added years to be filled with dignity, happiness and security for our elder citizens. It is important that these people should not merely exist waiting for the added years to pass, but should enjoy them as much as possible.
Dr. J. H. Sheldon, M.P., F.R.C.P., Director of Medicine and Senior Physician,
Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton, England, when speaking in connexion with old people’s welfare councils, used words which express the thought behind my suggestion to the Government that it call a Commonwealth conference of those people, who, in both governmental and non-governmental spheres, are doing such wonderful work in the field of social services. Dr. Sheldon said -
Our resources are few, the targets to be attacked arc many. And that, means that there must be no waste of effort. You can only avoid waste of effort if you have co-ordination of effort, and that means that you must have some means of co-ordinating on a completely friendly basis, all the services - religious, voluntary and official - which are available for old people.
It is only by the kind of co-ordination to which Dr. Sheldon referred that we in this country can provide services for our senior citizens of which Australia may be proud. If we do that, we shall play a part in the care of those who need social services which, I believe, will be recognized and remarked upon by other countries that are striving towards this same goal of ensuring for those who need care the very best possible care, and for those who need help the very best possible help.
It is my very great pleasure to support this bill and to pay my tribute to the Department of Social Services and to all those who work so hard in this very wide field. I also want to pay tribute to this Government which, ever since it has been in office, has recognized the needs of the people. At all times it has had a very real sense of responsibility in the light of the economic situation, as well as a very real sense of responsibility to those who need its care. The Government, for the first time in the history of this great Commonwealth, has recognized the needs of the Australian aboriginal. This is a very great piece of legislation, Sir. Indeed, this is an historic occasion. I conclude by asking that the matters that I have suggested need further consideration be considered by the Government in due course.
T9.3J. - Once again we have before this chamber the very controversial subject of social services, and we see again social service legislation being introduced by this Go vernment.. The supporters of the Government probably know as well, as do other people in the. country that the increases of pensions, which it is proposed to give to the pensioners, whether they be invalid, age or widow pensioners, are of a niggardly amount. Australia can be ashamed of the amount of the increases on this occasion. We know that the country is in a prosperous state. All the courts and tribunals to which the workers go for increased margins and so on, emphasize the fact that Australia has never been in a more prosperous position. Yet all we can do in this social service legislation is to provide for a mere pittance for the people who really deserve our care.
For very many years in certain countries overseas it has been the responsibility of the younger generation to look after the older generation. We seem to have passed through the period when that was done in this country; to-day, such care is provided by means of grants from the Government. We, the wage earners of this country, the younger generation, should be prepared, even if it entails some slight sacrifice on our part, to see that the old, the invalid and the widowed are given a fair deal. Time and again in this chamber I have heard supporters of the Australian Labour Party get to their feet and say, “ Look what we did. You are not doing as well as we did.”
– You were with them then.
– I have never been in the chamber when the Australian Labour Party has had the opportunity to raise pensions. Otherwise, the attitude of that party might have been different. Then, from the other side of the chamber, we hear honorable senators say, “ Oh, we are doing as well as you did”, and they quote figures for this and figures for that, percentages and so on. But that kind of thing does not help those who need pensions and those who need help. It is about time that this Government, or any government that may succeed it, took a new look at the pension schemes throughout Australia.
Under our present pension schemes, justice will never be given to the pensioners, whatever political party is in power, and it is time that the people appreciated that fact. If the Australian Labour Party came to office to-morrow, because of the peculiar monetary set-up of this country, the pensioners would be just as badly off as they are to-day.
– What would happen to them under a Democratic Labour Party government?
– By the time I have finished, the honorable senator may understand that if there were a Democratic Labour Party government the pensioners would get decent pensions.
– The poor old pensioners are going to have to wait a long time for that.
– 1 was going to say something very nasty to Senator Aylett, but I shall not do so. 1 was intrigued, Mr. Deputy President, by the amendment proposed by the Australian Labour Party. In four Budget sessions now 1 have been trying to have adopted proposals of the same kind. I have done so at the committee stage of the various social services bills that have been before the Senate, and I have always been opposed by the Opposition. However, the amendment that has been drafted by the Opposition on this occasion appears practically to fulfil the objective that we have had in mind for quite a long time, but which, as I have said, has been opposed by the Australian Labour Party. So, I will have very great pleasure in supporting the amendment.
– They have beaten you to the draw.
– I do not know that they have. I am not too sure what they are doing.
We of the Democratic Labour Party have asked for years now for the subject of pensions to be taken out of the party political field, but we have not been successful. We shall try once again during the committee stage of this bill to see whether we can do that. Of course, the only way in which pensions can be removed from politics is by accepting the proposition that we bring forward, that an independent tribunal should be established to study the needs of pensioners, and that it should then be left to this Parliament to implement the committee’s findings.
– You would then get it back into the field of politics.
– Not at all. We did that with our own salaries and pensions. Why could we not do the same thing with other pensions? It has been said that in the past I have not stated specifically the nature of the committee which I suggested should be appointed. I will say now that the committee should be similar to the Richardson committee. Pensioners might well be quite satisfied with the findings of such a committee if it followed the same lines as were followed by the Richardson committee in dealing with salaries, allowances and pensions of members of Parliament.
– Do you not think they are worth it?
– I think we are worth it, and I think the pensioners, too, are worth it. We are fighting throughout to ensure that pensions are taken out of politics, and in the committee stage I hope that honorable senators will support our move. In the present set-up of social services, there are two anomalies about which I wish to speak to-night. One is in the position whereby a pensioner who receives more than £208 a year in addition to his pension is not given free hospital treatment or free medicines. That is a very, very severe restriction. I believe that the Government introduced that provision at the instigation of the British Medical Association. A retired railwayman, for instance, who may have contributed for ten units of superannuation and be receiving £214 10s. a year, plus a full pension, is deprived of free hospital treatment and free medicines. That is a matter which should be examined carefully by the Government. I know of one person in my own town of Devonport who had to undergo an operation costing several hundred pounds. Because he was receiving, in superannuation which he could not reduce, £6 a year more than the limit under this provision, he had to pay from his own pocket all of that money for the operation.
Another anomaly that should be considered relates to the invalid pensioner. To qualify for a pension, he must have an 85 per cent, disability. Some invalid pensioners are capable of earning up to £3 10s. a week, which is the additional income allowed to an age pensioner, but if they do earn such an amount they may be in trouble and have their pensions taken from them. 1 understand that they are strictly not entitled to earn anything and are required to live on their pensions alone, but that the department, in its wisdom, closes its eyes to their earning up to 25s. or 30s. a week. However, as soon as their additional incomes are found to exceed that amount they are in trouble. One may ask how a person with an 85 per cent, disability can earn as much as that. There are many jobs, including those of a clerical or otherwise sedentary nature, wherein they can quite easily earn £3 10s. a week. I know of instances of persons who have earned such an amount, upon being found out being threatened with the loss of their pensions. I believe that if a person who has been certified by a doctor as being 85 per cent, disabled can earn up to £3 10s. a week he should be allowed to do so. That amount is not very much in the present scheme of things, with the very high salaries that are payable. The invalid pensioner should not be penalized because of trying to improve his position a little by earning a few shillings a week, as it were, on the side. I should like the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) to ask his colleague, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) to look into that aspect.
I have said that irrespective of whatever Government comes to power, the position of a social service pensioner will not improve under the present set-up. It has been said that to be on the safe side a Government’s social services expenditure should not exceed 30 per cent, of the national income, and we are approaching that percentage now. How is it possible to spend hundreds of millions of pounds more on social services and keep the country solvent? That is the question that has to be faced. I think we shall have to do that in the not far distant future, mainly because the health of the nation is improving to such an extent that whereas we used to regard old age as being in the fifties and sixties, we now regard it as being in the seventies and eighties. We shall have more and more people qualifying for social services. I believe that there is only one way in which we can give justice to pensioners and keep the country solvent, namely, by introducing a compulsory national insurance scheme whereby a person will, from the time he starts to earn, prepare for his old age and for any sickness that he may suffer. This proposal, which I have made before, has never been very well received in this chamber, but even the people outside this Parliament are now beginning to realize that in order to provide justice for pensioners such a scheme must be brought into being. We could start with a voluntary insurance scheme, which would do away with the necessity for a means test. The introduction of such a scheme would, I hope, result in the realization that a compulsory national insurance scheme provides the answer to the problem of justice for pensioners.
Senaor Kendall. - You said that we had reached the limit in taxation. This would result in the imposition of another tax.
– There would not be another tax.
– I do not know how that would be so. It involves the paying out of money.
– Government supporters now say that the medical benefits scheme is a wonderful scheme. All right - that is a tax as well! It is not taken into the general scheme of taxation at all. It is a contribution that you are making to your own welfare and getting recompense for it. The same thing is done in respect of age and invalid pensions if a national insurance scheme is instituted. That is a part of the Government’s policy. A Liberal Party - Australian Country Party government even introduced legislation into this chamber in 1938 or 1939 for that purpose and the bill was passed, but governments supported by honorable senators opposite above never had the courage to give effect to such a measure. In the ..not far distant future this Government will be forced to implement that policy. We say that before the Government can give justice to the pensioners it will have to bring in a scheme of that kind otherwise, as the years go by, now and again it will give them an additional pittance to try to keep them quiet, and they will be used by the candidates of the Democratic Labour Party, the Liberal Party, the Labour Party and the Country Party for political purposes on the hustings at election time. If the Government were to introduce a voluntary national insurance scheme, as we have suggested, that would be done away with. I say: Get pensions out of politics and do not trade on the misery of these people!
– Has your party worked out all the details?
– We have worked out all the details of a voluntary national insurance scheme from beginning to end. I hope to have an opportunity one of these days to bring the scheme to this Parliament, but I prefer this Government to take it up so that it will have a chance of being introduced. I would sooner forfeit any kudos that might attach to my introducing the scheme and see the Government parties introduce it, because only those parties in this Parliament have the numbers to bring it into effect. If I introduced the scheme, J would be accused of telling the Government what to do, and the proposal would be defeated.
– What amount of contribution would be payable under the scheme you envisage?
– I do not wish to go into the whole scheme at present, because it would take a considerable time for me to do so; nor do I want to do it off-hand, because I need to have all the particulars before me in order to explain it carefully to the Senate.
Under this Government’s social service scheme, the pensioners are being treated in a niggardly manner. They are not getting the best that can be given to them by this country. As honorable senators on both sides of the chamber know, the pensioners could be given a little more than they are to be granted. For so long as the Government does not give them more, it will leave itself open to attack by the Opposition. I believe that if our slogan, “ Take pensions out of politics “ were adopted, the pensioners would get a decent deal in the future.
We support the amendment that has been moved by Senator Toohey, which is very close to a proposal that we have been trying to have approved by this Parliament for the last three of four years. I am very pleased to see that the Labour Party is gradually coming our way, and I hope that its members will support the amendments that we shall move at the committee stage.
I am sorry, Mr. Acting Deputy President, that despite the prosperous condition of the country this bill does not give a fair deal to the people who need it. Consequently, I shall oppose the motion for the second reading of the measure and I shall also oppose the bill in committee.
– Senator Cole has just given us the best example of keeping pensions in politics. However, I believe that, in approaching a consideration of social service legislation, we should weigh what are the Government’s responsibilities and its problems. It is well to remind ourselves that, in this financial year, it is estimated that the cost of providing social service benefits and administering the Department of Social Services will be £242,000,000, or almost one-fifth of the estimate of the nation’s income - £1,319,000,000.
As we know, the principal parts of this bill provides for an increase of age and invalid pensions by 7s. 6d. a week. Taking into account the additional number of people that will become pensioners in this year, we find that the added cost to revenue will be £21,000,000. As the Government bears the responsibility of administering the nation’s affairs, it must consider every factor in relation to both revenue and expenditure. It must take into consideration its overall national commitments and it must continue to plan the development of the nation so as to increase its prosperity. There are indications that Australia is developing rapidly, and this country will remain prosperous for so long as there is wise administration by the central government.
Before becoming critical about this matter of age and invalid pensions, we should remind ourselves that the Government has a responsibility to provide repatriation services. Under the repatriation legislation that was passed by this chamber last week, in this financial year the Government will expend about £137,000.000 on war and repatriation services. That is a lot of money. If it were decided further to increase social service benefits, so involving the expenditure of more money, similar increases would have to be made in repatriation benefits, thus adding to the Government’s commitments.
Another point that has to be kept in mind is that the number of persons becoming entitled to benefits under the social service legislation is increasing. Senator Cole dealt briefly with this aspect of the matter, but it is interesting to recall, as the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) reminded us in his second-reading speech, that there are now 650,000 recipients of social service benefits, compared with 450,000 in 1949. It is obvious that the number will increase each year.
– Does not the honorable senator think that we should have a national insurance scheme to deal with this problem?
– If Senator McManus will allow me to follow the trend of my own thoughts, he will find that I shall deal with that suggestion in due time. There are so many ways in which benefits can be provided to a number of types of deserving people throughout Australia. In addition to age and invalid pensions, the Government provides sickness and unemployment benefits. I congratulate the Government on providing at last, under the social service legislation, for assistance to be given to the Australian aborigines. I believe that we should have a deal that is as fair as possible to everybody - not only those who are to receive, but also those who are to provide, because whatever is given to the Australian people by the Government must in the long run come from the people. The Government cannot manufacture money to pay these benefits. The Australian electorate has to provide. As we have a population of only 10,000,000 in this vast continent of ours, social service benefits are a costly but nevertheless worth-while contribution to the welfare of the Australian people.
I am not a believer in the welfare state. That is why I would be against my friends in the Opposition if I got into a hot debate with them on this subject. I believe that this and similar legislation should, in the interests of Australians, encourage thrift. We should see that the nation pays what it can afford to those who need assistance, but we should also encourage a policy of seeing that the younger generation bears its responsibilities. That is where I differ with Senator Cole. I understood him to say that the young people used to bear their responsibilities but now they do not and so the nation must provide. That is a wrong outlook. We should do all we can to encourage the younger people to bear their responsibilities, as Senator Cole rightly said they had done to a very large degree in the past. The younger people should be taught to be thankful for what has been done for them in shaping their careers. If they have been taught to be thankful they will also have learned to be unselfish. II. we can breed a nation of unselfish people we will become stronger than we are to-day.
I referred earlier to the problems confronting the Government. I remind honorable senators that every increase of ls. a week in pensions costs revenue £1,650,000. To this must be added the cost of increased repatriation payments. I have not heard any mention to-night of child endowment, but at times one hears the view expressed that child endowment should be increased. This, too, is a great problem for a government, because an increase in child endowment of ls. a week would cost revenue £8,000,000. But an increase of ls. a week would not help one family in Australia to-day. I think that something should be done about child endowment. I believe that the basis on which it was introduced was a good one, but times and conditions have changed. Child endowment is paid in respect of every child under 16 years of age but these payments mean nothing to the welfare of many families. Many families are wealthy and prosperous but on the other hand many families would benefit greatly from an increase of child endowment. I think that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) should inquire into child endowment to see whether it is right that it should be paid to all families irrespective of means when those who are in greatest need can receive no increase.
With regard to the Government’s past record, I think it is fair to say that it has never used social service or repatriation benefits as election bait. I cannot recall any election policy speech in which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) ever made a specific promise to increase these benefits. The Australian people have come to realize’ that this Government, if returned to office, will provide by way of social, service and other benefits the best that it can, taking into account the state of the economy. So when this legislation is passed through the Senate it will mark the seventh direct increase in payments to the recipients of these benefits. In addition to the increases that have been granted the Government has widened the scope of assistance available to those who need it. I refer, of course, to medical and hospital benefits and to the 10s. special supplementary allowance granted to certain pensioners. In the last financial year more than 70,000 pensioners received the extra allowance. The Government also introduced a most enlightened piece of legislation providing homes for the aged. Something like £6,000,000 has been provided by the Government by way of special grants for homes for the aged. 1 know that in the principal towns in Tasmania additional accommodation is being provided for aged people as a result of this legislation.
So rauch for this Government’s record - past and present. I want now to turn briefly to the future, because the future holds grave responsibilities tor the Government and the Parliament. Sensible and practical suggestions should come from both sides of the Parliament on matters such as social services. Earlier I referred to the ever-growing number of age pensioners. To-day some 513,000 persons receive the age pension - about 5 per cent, of our population. I am informed that about 50 per cent, of people who are eligible on account of age receive pensions. Apart from seeing what greater benefits we can give these people in the future, I believe that a serious examination must be made of the other 50 per cent, who do not come within the scope of this legislation.
– The number of people in receipt of pensions is approximately 650,000.
– That number of 650,000 embraces all pensioners. Age pensioners alone number 513,000 as at 30th June last, the date on which we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the payment of pensions in this country.
A great deal of thought must be given to this problem of social service benefits, and I believe that the problem can only be dealt with in the National Parliament. There are several possibilities. We could ease the means test. That would bring more people within the scope of the legislation. We could abolish the means test. That would bring everybody within the ambit of social service benefits.
We could have a compulsory superannuation or insurance scheme, but although this would help a great deal it would handicap many. I have read a great deal about these three subjects which I have just mentioned, and I am sure that most honorable senators have done likewise, but I believe the clearest assessment of all that reading is that many well-informed people have very divided views as to what is best for the people concerned and for the Australian nation as a whole. 1 was delighted to read the Prime Minister’s statement in another place that he would set up a well qualified body to begin an inquiry straight away, not necessarily associated with the Budget or with the planning for the next Budget. I hope that those responsible will pass on the recommendations which Dame Annabelle Rankin made earlier this evening that this committee should include not only departmental and political representatives, but also representatives of the great church and charitable organizations throughout Australia which are now doing such an excellent job in the wide field of community service. Their advice to the departmental representatives would be more than worth while. It is the person who actually works among the people who receive social service benefits, or among those who just miss getting them, who knows best what they need. Such persons can help the departmental and Government representatives to recommend to the Government what is the best policy to follow.
I was sorry that Senator Cole did not enlarge a little more on his voluntary insurance scheme. I cannot, see how that would, help. If it is voluntary, the thriftless would not take part; the thrifty would. The weakness in the suggestion is that the thriftless would get the benefits that the thrifty would be getting also. Senator McManus seems to be very eager to speak this evening; perhaps he may be able to enlarge on some of his leader’s views on this voluntary insurance scheme. In spite of the fact that there are very divided views on these three possible policies, I favour the gradual lifting of the means test; but 1 do not favour its abolition, at least not for many years to come.
– But you just advocated the means test for child endowment.
– 1 advocated it for an aspect of child endowment. The honorable senator should not indulge in his usual misrepresentation. He will have his opportunity to express his views. I still believe that the liberalizing of the means test is the best policy for the Government to follow; it will encourage thrift, as it has done already. The Government should go further in this direction year by year. Thrifty people are solid people of the kind who have built Australia, lt is obvious that the Government has not brought into this legislation any one of the three points to which I have referred. The Minister in his second-reading speech said -
A general increase in pensions of course brings relief to those who are dependent, or mainly dependent, on their pension and that is the factor which weighed most with the Government in its decision to concentrate most of the funds available for social services this year in a straightout increase in the rate of pension.
The Government has made that one policy point and in some respects has cleaned up the legislation. It has also provided other smaller benefits and has brought the aborigines within the scope of this legislation. I am grateful to the Government and honour it for what it has done, but I sincerely believe that there must be an earnest appraisal of the whole situation in respect of the bigger policy issue of the means test or an insurance scheme. I believe that the Government is fully aware of the fact that in a period of inflation, be it great as it was some years ago, gradual as it was later and slight as it is now, people on fixed incomes . and superannuation benefit are the “ new poor “ in Australia. That is how Dr. Evatt described them, and I could not agree with him more. These people need the earnest, unbiased attention of both Parliament and Government in an effort to find ways and means of giving them more help.
I will not deal at great length with the amendment now before the Senate moved by Senator Toohey. He asks that this legislation should be withdrawn and redrafted. This kind of amendment from the Opposition is becoming nauseating. Honorable senators opposite criticize legislation and move an amendment of this sort. If it were carried it would bring dishonour and no credit to the Senate because it would delay the payment of the increased benefits which this measure will provide.
– It would backdate the payments.
– The honorable senator suggests that the operation of the measure would be backdated. I believe that the recipients of social service benefits want the Parliament to get on with the job and give them what it has promised without further delay. They do not want to be left without payment or in a state of uncertainty as to what they will receive. I have been shocked to find the Australian Democratic Labour Party supporting the amendment; it should be immediately rejected.
– You did not delay about accepting increases in parliamentary salaries.
– If Senator McManus wants to bring up the question of parliamentary salaries, I think he is showing a more than usual childish attitude and one that does neither him nor this Parliament any good. The total cost of the increases in parliamentary salaries will be £180,000 a year, but an increase of ls. in the pension would cost the nation £1,560,000 a year. As 1 have said in the streets of Hobart and at various meetings, people cannot compare politicians’ salaries and allowances with the rights which the nation should provide under its social service legislation. The honorable senator makes these silly interjections and they raise doubts in the minds of other honorable senators as to his sincerity. I do not want to be misunderstood, but I repeat that the salaries and allowances of parliamentarians bear no relationship to social service benefits. I believe that in this measure the Government has done well, but I do not think it has done all that it should have done. However, judging by the Government’s record and in view of the recent promise of the Prime Minister. I have enough faith to believe that the Government will continue to do what it considers the nation can afford for those who come within the ambit of out social service legislation. For that reason I support the bill.
– 1 support the amendment moved by Senator Toohey on behalf of the Australian Labour Party Opposition. The amendment reads -
Leave out all words after “ bill “, insert - “ be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs and representing a fair and reasonable share of the national income, such rates to take effect as from the first pension pay day in July, 1959.”
The purposes of the amendment are, I think, clear. Broadly speaking, they are to enable the Government to consider the points brought out during the debate in both this chamber and another place, to allow effect to be given to the criticisms and views expressed by ordinary members, and, by providing for retrospective payment of the increases, to prevent any loss to pensioners as a result of any delay in passing the bill. One would have thought that such an amendment would have obtained the support of any member here or in another place who thought that there were anomalies or injustices of any kind in the bill that we are discussing. However, such support was not forthcoming in the other place. I propose, with your permission, Mr. President, to read the reply that was given by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) when he spoke to the amendment, similar in terms to this one, that was moved by the Australian Labour Party in the other place. The Minister said -
I must go through the normal processes of a Minister in charge of a bill of this kind and indicate to the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) that the amendment that he has proposed is not acceptable. It is rejected in the full knowledge of the historic fact that it is the responsibility of a member of the Opposition to propose an amendment along the lines of the amendment now before us. No one knows better than the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, no one knows better than every informed member of the Opposition, that such an amendment would be unacceptable to any responsible government.
The Minister availed himself of an oft-used but transparently obvious device to avoid answering arguments presented in debate, regardless of whether those arguments have any validity. If any tactical advantage were obtained from using such a subterfuge or device in the past, it certainly failed in its purpose on that occasion. Such an attitude on the part of the Minister makes a sham and a mockery of debate. He said, in effect, that whatever was said during the debate in this chamber or in another place, regardless of whether it had any merit, it would not have any effect, because the Government had decided that, irrespective of the opposition voiced against the bill and irrespective of the anomalies or injustices that were shown to exist, it would use its numbers to pass the bill in the form in which it was presented. Most of the members of the Government parties have themselves voiced criticisms of certain aspects of the bill that we are debating, so it must follow that the Government does not intend to take any notice of the objections that have been raised by its supporters in the Parliament.
I read with considerable interest every speech made on this bill by members of the Government parties in another place. With the exception of Ministers, each of them expressed in some degree criticism of certain phases of the bill. Some of the criticisms were directed at minor matters, but, generally speaking, all the so-called back-benchers accepted the fact that therewere anomalies and injustices in the bill. In reading the report of the debate in the other House, I came to the conclusion that I could disregard the introductory remarksof each speaker from the Government parties, because in almost every case hedevoted the beginning of his speech to criticizing the contribution made by the speaker who had preceded him, generally for the reason that that speaker had said things that he -himself proposed to say. I can recall one instance of a Government member congratulating a new member of the AustralianLabour Party for the contribution that he had made and then going on to say that he regretted that the Opposition member had shown socialistic tendencies in his speech. However, the critic then proceeded’ to adopt and to elaborate the majority of the points that had been made by the member he had criticized for showing socialistictendencies.
As I have said, if there is no purpose in members of the Parliament criticizing a bill’ and pointing to anomalies that they believe- to exist, the whole system of parliamentary debate becomes a sham and a mockery. That is the case if a Minister says that it is traditional for the Opposition to oppose legislation, but that no responsible government will take any notice of such opposition and will pass the bill in the form in which it has been introduced.
I think it is incontrovertible that ordinary members of the Parliament, no matter to which political party they belong, come into closer contact than do Ministers with people who are in receipt of social service benefits or who are claimants for such benefits. Because of that, I believe that contributions by so-called back-benchers to a debate such as this have great validity and value. Ordinary members are continually receiving correspondence from or interviewing people who come up against the anomalies that exist in this type of legislation. I have yet to hear or read that any member of this Parliament would be prepared to say that this bill contains no anomalies.
It is incontestible that during the last ten years the purchasing power of money has continually decreased. This has aggravated the effect of the inconsistencies in the social service legislation. For that reason alone, I think that the amendment moved by Senator Toohey on behalf of the Australian Labour Party should receive the consideration of the back-bench senators on the other side of this chamber. Without unduly bringing up the so-called differences of opinion within the ranks of Government supporters - which has received a great deal of publicity in the press - I could perhaps say that at least a percentage of those honorable senators were not satisfied with this bill, as introduced. Some Government supporters, both here and in another place, have given their reasons for disagreeing with certain clauses, but have then proceeded to vote in favour of them. If they wished to display any sincerity they had an opportunity to seize on the amendment which came from the Opposition and ensure that at least certain anomalies were removed from the bill. They could also have ensured that the beneficiaries would not suffer from the short delay occasioned by re-drafting.
– How would you reconcile the additional cost with the actual Budget figures?
– I think that every one will agree that if the amendment were accepted in its broadest sense a complete re-allocation of this country’s public finances would be necessary. I could understand its rejection on that ground by the Government. I have never thought it possible to alter one item of a budget without disturbing the overall intent. However, the withdrawal of the proposal to reduce income tax by 5 per cent, would have gone some of the way towards meeting any additional cost. We feel that the slight tax reduction proposed will be of service to people with large incomes only - those least entitled to help. It is true that even this course would not enable Labour’s proposition to be carried out in full, but if Government back-benchers were sincere they could ensure the redrafting of the bill if only to remove anomalies, such as were pointed out in another place. Still further anomalies will no doubt be revealed by succeeding speakers from the other side of the chamber.
Any action which removed three anomalies, in particular, would be well worth while. I can vouch for the importance of the anomalies to which Senator Toohey referred, because I am acquainted with the people concerned. If time permits, I will give a further illustration that is very close to my family. It is still possible for Government supporters to remove anomalies without adding to the basic expenditure on pensions proposed in the bill. The Government members social services committee, which has been so much publicized in the press, could consider what has been said by honorable members and honorable senators and bring back, in a couple of days, a re-drafted bill that might be more acceptable. If necessary, a further amendment could be moved to wipe out any problem as to retrospectivity to 1st July.
– We accepted an assurance that these matters would be examined before the next Budget was drafted.
– I read that in the press, but one cannot always believe that these things will come to pass. Senator Marriott said something very similar in his speech also. That is an easy way of passing off one’s obligation, but I have no doubt that Senator Pearson will know personally a number of people who are adversely; affected. Such cases can be multiplied hundreds of times over in other electorates: and States. Why should an injustice be continued for twelve months, when it could be cured in two or three days - a week at the most? The promise to fix things up next year takes no account of the misery that people must suffer in the meantime. These injustices could, in the main, be cured without in any way affecting the overall Budget position of the Government. We would then have removed anomalies that we all agree- do exist.
Senator- Pearson; - One cannot clear up all the anomalies in one year.
– That is true, but there is sufficient general agreement as to many of them to make their immediate solution feasible. It could be done at no great cost, and would not upset the economic balance of the Budget. Most important of all, it would lend sincerity to the remarks of Government supporters, both here, and in another place. At present,, no one could be blamed for thinking that certain, honorable members and honorable senators were giving lip service only, to the cause - complaining loudly of anomalies but later voting in favour of their continuance. Let me make it clear that. I am not pleading, that the proposed amendment be accepted in its entirety; I am pointing out that there is enough merit in it to move those honorable, senators opposite who believe that an anomaly could arise under the measure as now drafted to devise some means of overcoming the difficulty.
Then there, is. the wider question as it. relates to this chamber. Before I was elected to the Senate, I read with interest an address by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) in answer to criticism that was being directed by certain sections of the press against the Senate. They were suggesting, in effect, that the Senate was a. useless encumbrance on the body politic in Australia. I believe that it is- still possible for this chamber to take a different attitude to the bill from that adopted in another place1. I believe that the Senate should’ liVe up to the highstandards described by Senator Spooner.
I- emphasize here that I am. not criticizing, him. for. what he said. Altruistic motives, apart, I do believe that what he said was. true. I think that if there is justification! for- adopting a different attitude from that taken up by another place, then, instead of evading the issue, the Senate should, prove that it is not a useless encumbrance, lt should adopt that attitude. It has been whispered that this bill must be agreed to and- receive the Royal Assent by a certain date. I shall say no more about that. I do not know what delay would be entailed if my suggestion were adopted, but if after hearing the debate, honorable senators opposite feel that the Government perhaps has not given sufficient attention toanomalies that we know exist they shouldtake action to amend the measure in order to remove those anomalies and injustices. The date- on- which it is now proposed the increased rates will be payable should remain unchanged, even though the passage of the bill is delayed because of the need, to redraft it.
Senator Marriott said that’ he had’ not* heard’ any reference- to child endowment during the- debate. If I may, I should like to state a few views on that subject. It’ was suggested during the debate in another place that child endowment is linked withthe Arbitration Commission’s consideration of the basic wage. It is true that the basic wage determination in- 1941 depended’ upon whether or not child endowment’ was introduced and certainly whether it was to be payable- for the first child.. I think it is correct to say that the reason for not paying endowment, for the. first child originally was that at least one. of the Arbitration Court judges had gone, on record as saying, that, in his opinion, the basic wage, which then existed was based on the needs, of a. man, wife and one child only. In those circumstances, I think, it is logical to argue that upon the next review of the basic wage the court would have increased the amount payable had. not the government of. the day introduced endowment for. the second and subsequent children. In my view, the same position existed when the Labour Government did nott introduce legislation to provide, endowment, for. the first child. Lam supported.ini my belief , that at; that time. the. court, recognized’ the basic, wage- as. being the: wage. necessary to meet the needs of a man, wife and one child by the fact that a number of the awards then issued by the court contained provision that should child endowment become payable for the first child the awards would be reviewed immediately in the light of the altered circumstance.
No longer does the Arbitration Commission consider its basic wage determination to be the needs wage of a man, wife and one child. It has been stated over and over again that the commission now lays down the basis upon which argument will be presented to it, and if advocates on either side seek to present argument on points other than those laid down by the commission they will not be heard, and what they say will have no effect on the final determination. The commission now states that its function is to set an economic wage based on the ability of industry to pay.
The Prime Minister has suggested that there is some doubt as to what attitude the Arbitration Commission would take towards any increase in child endowment if it were granted. In my view, there is no barrier whatever to the Government’s clearing up that doubt. I have not the slightest doubt that the Government could say to the commission that it would accept the responsibility for giving justice to large families in the community, by taking care of the endowment requirements for all children. The commission then would be required to fix only a basic wage to meet the needs of a man and wife.
Senator Cole has stated that we owe an obligation to the large families, and I agree with him. I repeat that once it was made clear that the Government would accept responsibility for the child endowment, all doubt would be removed. The lower basic wage that would follow through basing it on the needs of a man and wife would obviously mean lower costs to industry. In view of those lower costs, the Government would be justified in imposing on industry a tax to reimburse the Government for the added cost of taking some of the responsibility from the shoulders of industry.
– I oppose the amendment, which seeks to have the bill withdrawn and redrafted to provide rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs. Recently, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court increased the basic wage by 15s. a week. The bill gives an increase of 7s. 6d. a week to a pensioner. This means that a married couple will receive 15s. a week extra, which is the same amount as the Arbitration Court saw fit to award.
– To a single man!
– I am led to believe that the basic wage takes care of a man, his wife and his children. It also contains prosperity loadings. The increase in pension rates, therefore, is the same as the increase in the basic wage which, I repeat, is assessed on the needs of a man, his wife and his children.
I shall deal now with the cost to the nation of increases in social service payments. Revenue from taxation is estimated at £1,204,000,000, and payments from the National Welfare Fund this year will be £300,000,000 or 25 per cent, of the total revenue from taxation. If we add to that the expenditure of £66.000,000 on repatriation benefits, the total is some 30 per cent, of the revenue from taxation. These figures can also be related to the taxation revenue from individuals and companies, which is expected this year to be £664,000,000. The £300,000,000 from the National Welfare Fund and the £66,000,000 for repatriation benefits is equal to 55 per cent, of the total amount collected in taxes from individuals and companies. That is a big load to ask the taxpayers to bear. This is not a question of what the Government can afford to pay but of what the poor unfortunate taxpayer can afford to pay.
– Do you mean that pensions should be reduced?
– No, I am not saying that at all. I will develop my argument. There are only about 4,000,000 taxpayers in Australia. They are called upon to contribute to pensions for 1,330,784 people or approximately oneeight of the total population. So, only 40 per cent, of the people, who are taxpayers, are asked to pay pensions to 12i per cent, of the total population.
I think that one of the finest contributions of this Government in the field of social services is its payment of £5,600,000 for homes for aged persons. This, with the pensioner medical services and free pharmaceutical benefits which cover about 90 per cent, of pensioners, has been a real help to these people.
I agree with the proposition which was put forward by Government supporters in another place and which has been spoken of in this chamber. I refer to the proposal to remove the property means test, which at present at £2,250 for a single person and £4,500 for a married couple. The present formula provides that £1 will be deducted from the base pension for every £10 by which property exceeds £200. If this were changed to a deduction of £1 for every £20 of excess property, the present penalty on thrift would be substantially removed. I shall give three examples. The first is of a person with £2,500 worth of property apart from permissible property, such as his home, his furniture, car, personal effects and life insurance policies to a surrender value of £750- If the proposal I have referred to were adopted, a person with this property would receive a pension of £132 and an income of £125 if his £2,500 were invested at 5 per cent. This may seem a low rate of interest, but it is considered an appropriate rate for safe investments. His total income would then be £257.
The second example concerns a person with £1,000 in excess of the allowable items. He would receive a pension of £207 and an income of £50 from his investment, which would give him a total income of £257. The third example relates to a person with £700. He would receive a pension of £222 and £35 from the investment of his savings, which would give him a total income of £257. All those with savings up to £5,150 would receive some pension and would not be penalized for their thrift.
The cost of this proposal has, I believe, been estimated at £2,500,000, but much of that would come back to the Government over the years through death duties and in other ways. But this expenditure would remove the need for the bewildering procedure that these very thrifty aged persons are forced to follow at present if they want to qualify for a pension. They buy, perhaps, unnecessary furniture or a better motor car, or adopt other means of dissipating the savings of a lifetime to qualify for a pension. I was told that recently some 400 widows left on a ship from Fremantle on a trip abroad in order to dissipate some of their savings and so qualify for a pension. Good luck to them! It is wonderful that they can go on an overseas trip, but the principle which has forced them to do so is most undesirable. I understand that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Cabinet have agreed to look at the proposition I have mentioned. If the Government would liberalize the means test along these lines, I am sure it would receive the acclamation of every one who has considered this problem.
I congratulate the Government on the extension of social service benefits to the natives of this country. Many hysterical statements have been made in the past about the best method of dealing with our natives and their assimilation. In that field, this Government has taken positive action, which will be acclaimed throughout the free world. I remind the Opposition that the Government did not indicate, during the recent general election campaign, that it was going to do this. It did not try to use this proposal as election bait. It has taken action to put it into effect only when the legal difficulties which I believe existed previously could be overcome and when the country’s economy could stand the cost. Something that the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) said, in his second-reading speech, will bear repeating. His words were -
We know there are problems; we know there are risks of the misuse of pension and other benefit moneys; we know there are dangers that harm may be done as well as good. But we know also that no niggardly or hesitant approach would provide a solution.
Many anomalies will creep into the scheme for extending these benefits to aborigines. Those who administer the scheme will meet considerable difficulty in finding out which aborigines are qualified by age, because I am led to believe that there are very few records for many of these people. It will be difficult to overcome one problem - that of identifying how many children belong to a particular couple and how much duplication occurs in the registration of children for child endowment. The Minister has indicated that problems exist, and apparently he is quite confident that they can be overcome.
The realm of social services will always be a contentious one, Sir. lt is a most uphappy thing that -it becomes, too often, a political football. I find myself in agreement with an earlier speaker this evening who said that our outlook is tending to become that of a people who are completely dominated by the welfare state. I well remember the depression years and their effect on agriculture, with which I am closely associated. When my father and his associates struck bad times, they said, “ That is too bad. We shall tighten our belts and carry on.” I am afraid that, to-day, whenever anybody in the community strikes trouble he says, “ What will the Government do for me? “ This attitude tends to breed a race of milk-sops who will no longer tighten their belts and do what they can for themselves. Instead, they want to know what the Government will do for them. We must realize that the people are :the government and that any government has at its command only the moneys that it gets from its people. It is a shame that .we are always asking for more without realizing who will have to provide it, and that we should let social services, in particular, descend into the realm of carping criticism of governments for not ‘handing out more. A government can hand out only what it can get, and only what the economy .of the country can stand.
I oppose the amendment, Sir, and support the bill.
:- Mr. Acting ‘Deputy President, I support the amendment proposed by” Senator Toohey on behalf of the Opposition. That amendment requests that the measure be withdrawn and redrafted in order that justice may be done in this very contentious matter, Senator Branson mentioned the plight of those who were engaged .in agriculture during the depression years and contrasted their attitude with what he termed the tendency on the part of the people to-day to ask the government for more. He said that we are fast becoming a welfare state. That criticism has not been directed only at people dependent on social services. I recall ‘that, in years gone by, a Minister for Commerce, who was a member of a forerunner of the ‘Liberal -Party of Australia, described farmers, and especially those engaged in the wheat industry, as a race of mendicants at a time when there .was plenty of food in Australia and when many people did not have the wherewithal to buy the commodities -marketed ‘by primary producers. That was that Minister’s conception of the economic conditions which existed at the time.
Senator Branson also discussed the problem of where the money to pay for social services is to come from. The line of thought that he followed has permeated the minds of honorable senators belonging to the present Government parties throughout the history of those parties. When the introduction df social services in this country was first suggested, members of the forerunners of those parties threw up their hands in horror and said, “ Where is .the money to .come from? Are we to ask the taxpayers to pay the cost of giving pensions to people who have squandered their earnings and have engaged in all sorts of debauchery? “ That was the sort of thing that was said, and that is indicative of the attitude of members of the present Government parties throughout the years. They talk constantly of the evils of the welfare state and of the clamour for more. The fact is, Mr. Acting Deputy President, that the present Government, has. been forced to support a programme of social services because the people of Australia believe in social services and the Government dare not refuse to support a social -service programme. But the Government supports such a programme in a most niggardly fashion, and raises all sorts of excuses for not improving social services.
– That remark is contrary to the honorable senator’s usual charity.
– The honorable senator and his colleagues -in the Government parties deplore the increase of the number of people in receipt of social service benefits. Have they . ever thought of ensuring that social services are no longer made the plaything of politics? Not on your life. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), in his Budget speech, spoke in glowing terms of the conditions of Australia’s economy and its vast expansion over the years. ‘He said that company profits were increasing, that share prices on ‘the stock exchange .were firm and that everything was going along -merrily. Yet more and more of our people depend on social services for their welfare. We speak of a married couple having combined assets of £4,500 and a -single ‘pensioner having assets of £2,250 being able to get pensions. Why, Mt. Mr Deputy President, it is not many years ago that a married couple who had that amount, or a single man who had £2;000, was in a state of affluence, and would neither be eligible for a pension nor think of -applying for one. That is an indication of the position into which we have drifted as a result of ten years of office of the present Government. Then they talk about the welfare state!
This evening Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin spoke of the wonderful work the Government had done in the social services field, claiming for the Government practically all the credit for the introduction of social service benefits. Let me remind honorable senators on the Government side that they are content to accept things as they are and make no effort to get away from a system of society which still creates age pensioners. When a Labour government came into office late in 1941, after years of rule hy Liberal and Country Party governments, it found it very necessary to introduce social service provisions. Our friends on the other side state with pride that a government of their political colour introduced age pensions in the early years of federation. That is true, and we have never denied that it was an anti-Labour government under Mr. Alfred Deakin that introduced pensions into the federal sphere. We recollect, however, the reason why he did so. He did it for the plums of office. He did it so that his government could remain on the Treasury bench, and in introducing the measure he yielded to the push that was exerted on him by the Labour Party at that time. But what has happened since?
I have in my hand the latest available report of the Department of Social Services. It is for the year 1958. Referring to charts which it contains the report says, on its first page -
Chart .No. 1 shows expenditure on social sei’ vices per head of population at three-yearly intervals since the year 1939-40. In that year, Commonwealth social services were limited to age and invalid pensions and to maternity allowances.
The maternity allowance, of course, was introduced by the first Fisher Government. The report continues -
Since (hen, many social security measures ‘have been -introduced, e.g., child endowment in 1941 . . .
That was at the end of the Liberal Government’s term of office, under conditions mentioned by the last speaker on this side of the House. Child endowment was introduced in order to prevent the Commonwealth Arbitration Court from increasing the basic wage. The then Liberal Government thought that it would choose the lesser of two evils, so it introduced child endowment to prevent the honorable judges from increasing the basic wage.
The report of the Department of Social Services to which I referred states that other social security measures introduced were the widow’s pension in 1942, allowances to invalid pensioners’ wives in 1943-
– Were you not forced to bring them in?
– Yes, because of the .rotten economic conditions that the Liberal Government left as a legacy to the Labour Party the benefits were introduced in 1943. The funeral benefit was also introduced in 1943, and unemployment and sickness benefits in 1945. The Commonwealth rehabilitation service was introduced in 1948. The report states -
All of these changes are reflected in the chart, as are the many amendments to the law easing eligibility conditions and increasing the rates of the various benefits.
That shows the true foundation of social services in this country - laid by a Labour government! There is only one .new social service for which the present Government can claim credit, and that is the one mentioned by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin - grants for the purpose of building homes for the aged. Nobody growls about them. In :fact, we support them, and undoubtedly had we remained in office that scheme would ‘have been brought in years ago. We would not have waited as long to bring it in as did honorable senators opposite and the Government they support.
I remind you, Mr. Acting Deputy President, that the new social services that I have mentioned, which were introduced by a Labour government, were introduced either in the war years or in the immediate post-war years, when the Chifley £1 was really £1. To-day I heard an honorable senator say that the shilling now has only one-twelfth of the value it had in the years of which I am speaking. So, if honorable senators supporting the Government, who attempt to take great credit for the amount of money that is involved in paying increased social services, will just remember that under this Government the shilling is the equivalent of one penny in former years, they will realize that they have not got very far at all.
Another point that amused me to-night was the plea made by Senator Toohey, when speaking to his amendment, for honorable senators on the other side of the chamber to support it on humane grounds. I do not know whether Senator Toohey expected any results from that plea, but there is one thing that has struck me both in connexion with the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1959 and this measure. Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin may take note of this. In respect of both those measures the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was forced by his own backbenchers to yield ground. To-night Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin said how proud and pleased she was that the Prime Minister had condescended in another place to deliver a speech on the important question of the means test. How proud she was! But why did the Prime Minister come into the debate? He came into it to quell a rebellion among the rank and file of his party. He got frightened. He thought that eventually they might vote for the Opposition’s proposals, and so the right honorable gentleman had to come to the rescue of his Government. He did so, and he made a nice speech, as he can. Nobody can take away from the Prime Minister credit for his ability to make a nice speech. On this occasion he promised that this matter would be taken into consideration. He turned round impressively, as we know he can, to the back benches, and gave their occupants a nice lecture, arid the promise, “We are going to look into this matter “. We have been waiting for a long time for this Government to look into many things. It promised to look into the question of restoring value to the £1. lt promised to do many other things, but we are still waiting for it to do them. The trusting back-benchers on the opposite side will be waiting, 1 am afraid, for quite a long time for their desires to be fulfilled. I know that quite a number of back-benchers of the Liberal Party are eager for the Government to do something more for the less fortunate sections of the community. They realize the great injury that has been done to countless thousands of our people because of the breakdown of our economy, which has put them in the position of having to apply for pensions. They want to see justice done to these people, and they would like the Government to be more generous than it has been in the past.
It has been obvious throughout the important debates that have taken place on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill and on the Social Services Bill that the Government has become arrogant. Senator Spooner said in this chamber a few weeks ago, “ We are here for keeps “. This shows that the small number of members of the Government parties who, as Ministers, happen to be enjoying the comforts and emoluments of office, have become very arrogant, and have forgotten that it is the rank and file standing behind them who have made it possible for them to enjoy their present positions. Who ever heard of a responsible Minister, after introducing a Budget and intimating that certain increased charges were to be levied, climbing down and amending his Budget on no fewer than two occasions because of the many protests that were made? Do the back benchers opposite have no say in their caucus? Do the Ministers not take them into their confidence and tell them what they propose? If they do, then there must be many dumb members of that caucus. Why is ‘ it that they have allowed these measures to be introduced, and then have stood up here and expressed, for public consumption, their complete abhorrence of the measures? What about the Government members’ social services committee that is in revolt? Did its members have no say in the caucus? If they did, then evidently the Minister browbeat them and failed to listen to them. Let me say to honorable senators opposite, Mr. President, that the statement made by Senator Spooner in the outburst I have referred to, to the effect that this Government is here for keeps, may not be as accurate as he thinks it is. I remember the defeat of another Liberal government as a result of the revolt of its followers.
There are many other matters on which I would like to speak, but as the time for the adjournment of the Senate is drawing nigh I would ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Spooner) agreed to -
That theSenate, at its rising, adjourn till to-morrow at 2.30 p.m.
Motion (by Senator Spooner) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I take the opportunity, Mr. President, to express, on my own behalf and on behalf of my colleagues on this side of the Senate who accompanied me, my thanks to the Australian National Line for its invitation to travel on the new ship, the “ Princess of Tasmania “, on its inaugural trip to Tasmania. I desire to extend my thanks for the generous hospitality bestowed on every one on that occasion. I would like to thank the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) for the part he played in at least supporting, if not, indeed, in initiating the invitation to the proceedings.
The occasion was a memorable one. To hear and see the children who assembled at the mouth of the river at Devonport to see the ship come in was unforgettable. It was a day that Tasmania will long remember. I hope that the Minister will take note of the fact that the occasion was so well received, and that he will not rest on his laurels, but will ensure that the next obvious step is taken to complete what I might call the golden circle. Those who go across to Devonport and proceed by means of their own cars to Hobart may then take advantage of a similar shipping service between Hobart and Sydney, which will then complete the golden circle. While I give due credit to the Minister for the splendid development that has taken place, and tor the further improvement that will follow the commissioning of the new cargo carrier, I do trust that he will keep his eye on the need for the other service that I have mentioned, and I hope that the pressure that is being exerted on the Minister by all Tasmanian members of Parliament of all political parties, will one day achieve success.
[10.57). - I can assure the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) that I will be delighted to convey to the chairman of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission and his fellow commissioners the expressions of appreciation that the honorable senator has uttered this evening. As he has said, it was a notable occasion, and the enthusiasm with which the vessel was greeted in Tasmania was certainly not lost on me. My colleague, Senator Gorton, asks me by way of interjection, “What about the Navy? “ I will take the opportunity now of expressing the thanks of the commission and my own thanks, to the Minister and to the Navy for making available “ Quiberon “ as an escort vessel. The presence of this vessel added greatly to the impressiveness of the occasion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 September 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1959/19590928_senate_23_s15/>.