23rd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Can the Minister for National Development inform me of the result of inquiries which he stated that he would make into the possibility of supplying honorable senators with copies of an address delivered by Mr. Christian, the head of the Land Research Section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, to the conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, in which Mr. Christian is said to have declared that waste land in northern Australia could be developed to produce agricultural crops worth £50,000,000 a year?
– In conformity with the promise that I gave Senator McManus, I got in touch with Mr. Christian and I have received from him a supply of copies of the address that he gave. That supply is with my private secretary, and a copy will be made available, on request to him, to any honorable senator who .would like to obtain one. I refrained from tabling the copies of the address or distributing them in the Senate, because as I .understand it, this was an address given by Mr. Christian to a scientific association in his .private capacity. Therefore, the -views expressed in it are his private views. For that reason, instead of distributing copies publicly, I thought it was more appropriate to make them available in a semi-official way.
– I address a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. At the second annual convention of the Australian National Travel Association, held at the end of last week in Queensland, and to which I was invited, a delegate directed the attention of the conference to the -case of passengers proposing to travel by the Trans-Australia Railway being unable to make a return booking at the time of making the outward booking. This statement caused amazement among delegates but virtually went unchallenged. If -the position is as stated, will the Minister cause the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to examine the position with .his own staff and the State commissioners whose staffs make most of ;the bookings, with a view to improving the system by guaranteeing, where possible, a return booking when the customer wants it? May I invite the attention of the Minister to the ease with which air carriers, from any of their major offices in Australia, can .usually guarantee on the spot return reservations up to many months ahead?
– Many bookings on the Trans-Australia Railway system are originated by other systems; that is, a person may book in either Brisbane or Sydney for a journey to Perth. .1 understand that in the past there has been some confusion in connexion with that particular type of booking. I had understood from the Railways Commissioner, however, that -the matter had been rectified and that that particular inconvenience was not now being caused to travellers by train. But in view of the fact that the matter was again raised quite recently at the important conference which the honorable senator has mentioned, I shall refer the question to the. commissioner and find out the exact position.
– Can the Leader of the Government give the Senate any progress report on the Treasurer’s negotiations for overseas loans, and can he say whether any loan money has been obtained for the Mount Isa railway project?
– I regret that I am unable to give any progress report. I do not think that one will be available until Mr. Holt’s return in a couple of weeks’ time.
– Has the Minister for Customs and Excise seen in the daily press a report that at the halfyearly meeting of the Australian Wheatgrowers’ Federation delegates decided that a royal commission should be appointed to inquire into the supply and price of spare parts for farm machinery? If the Minister has seen the report, will he tell the Senate what action he has taken? If no action has been taken, does the Minister intend to investigate the complaints put forward by the federation?
– Yes, I have seen the report to which the honorable senator refers. I fully realize the urgent need, particularly in outlying States, to have readily available to primary producers a full supply of parts for agricultural machinery, and to have them available as cheaply as possible. But the position is that many of these parts are made in Australia and do not come within the jurisdiction of the Department of Customs and Excise at any time. The prices at which they are sold is a matter for the Premier of the State concerned. Prices control is a matter that comes under State jurisdiction and not under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Parliament.
– I ask a question that is supplementary to that which has just been asked. Will the Minister say whether these farm machinery parts are produced by firms enjoying the protection of tariffs and import licensing, and will he make an investigation accordingly?
– I would say “Yes”. Some parts for farm machinery are made overseas, and the Australian industry is certainly manufacturing behind the wall of tariff protection. I shall give some thought to that aspect of the matter.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade whether he has noted that question No. 1 on the notice-paper standing in the name of Senator Hendrickson, has been there since 12th August last. It would appear to me that most of the information required ought to be lying in the Department of Trade. Will the Minister suggest to the Minister for Trade that if he is unable to give a full reply to the question, he furnish an interim reply containing answers to those parts which can be answered readily and furnish the full reply when he has the other information available?
– I have noticed that this question has been on the notice-paper for some time. Indeed, a couple of days ago I read the question carefully because I was concerned at its being so long unanswered. When I read it, I came to the conclusion that it was really a difficult question to answer. I thought that it was almost a question that should not have been asked. An examination of it will disclose that the preparation of an answer to it necessitates the obtaining of a tremendous amount of statistical information. I hope that when the question is answered - as it will be - the information supplied will be used to an extent sufficient to justify the substantial amount of work involved in preparing the reply.
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade a question. In view of the fact that the whole import licensing system is not the subject of detailed statutory provision, will he consider making an annual report to Parliament on the operation of this system and so provide a factual report of any abnormalities or irregularities encountered by the administration during the year? Such a report would provide a proper basis for parliamentary debate once a year.
– I can only say in reply to the honorable senator that I shall convey his suggestion to the Minister for Trade. I know of no existing arrangement under which an annual report on import licensing is submitted. I should think it would be practicable to submit one, but I shall speak to Mr. McEwen and get his reaction to the proposal.
– Has the Minister for Repatriation seen a letter apearing in to-day’s issue of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ over the signature of Mr. G. Roberts, of Parramatta, in which reference is made to the onus-of-proof provisions of the Repatriation Act? The last paragraph of that letter reads -
Even production of medical evidence that the appellant’s disability could have been caused by or aggravated by war service, or that the disability was probably so-caused or aggravated, avails the appellant nothing; if there is any doubt at all, the appeal is disallowed.
The point I want to make relates to the last sentence which reads -
The Legal Aid Bureau can confirm this.
Since Mr. Roberts has named the Legal Aid Bureau as an authority, I ask the Minister whether he has ever received from it any statement to the effect that the onusofproof provisions are operating unfairly to ex-servicemen. If the answer is “ No “, will he confer with the Attorney-General with a view to obtaining from the Legal
Aid Bureau a clear statement which will, in plain language, reassure ex-servicemen that these provisions of the act are operating as Parliament intended them to do?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable senator refers, but I do say that I have had very little correspondence - I will not go so far as to say I have had no correspondence - from outside people with relation to section 47 of the Repatriation Act, dealing with benefit of the doubt and onus-of-proof. Of course, there are bound to be some persons who are discontented and who think - I express it in the Australian way - that they are not getting a fair deal. This matter was dealt with some years ago at the annual conference of the returned servicemen’s league, held in Brisbane, and. at which eight districts were represented. The eight districts concerned are the six States, Papua and New Guinea and the Australian Capital Territory. When this matter was brought up at the conference, only one of the eight district delegates questioned the way in which the tribunals and the commission were applying the onusofproof provisions. Seven of the delegates were quite satisfied that the provisions were being applied satisfactorily.
The branches of the Legal Service Bureau in the various States, on the application of ex-servicemen, provide advocates to represent them before the tribunals. I doubt whether it would be of any great benefit to ask the Legal Service Bureau whether the tribunals are carrying out their functions properly. As most people know, the tribunals are completely independent bodies. They are each comprised of three exservicemen, one of whom is appointed from a panel of names sent in by returned soldiers’ organizations which have federal affiliations. From that panel of names I have, over the years, selected a member for each tribunal. The other two members of each tribunal are also returned soldiers.
I could ask the Attorney-General to give some information about the thoughts of the Legal Service Bureau on this matter, but t remind the Senate that I obtained a clearcut opinion from a former Attorney-General, Senator Spicer, and that that opinion was subsequently sent out to all the tribunals. Following that, each one of the tribunals wrote to me intimating that it was applying the onus-o£-proof provisions - the provisions contained in section 47 of the act - in the way in which, the Attorney-General had stated that they should be applied. However, I shall think the matter over and see whether anything should be done to bring it to the notice of the present Attorney-General and obtain his advice.
– Has the Minister for the Navy noticed in the morning press a. report of an interview with a permanent American Navy officer concerning the prevalence of red submarines in the oceans adjacent to our country? In view of this fact, and of Australia’s extensive coastline, will the Minister review previous decisions that have been made against the. establishment of an efficient coast-guard service and consider favorably the institution of such a service as an aid to our defence force?
– I have not noticed in’ this morning’s press any particular reference by a particular American naval officer to the prevalence of red submarinesin Australian: waters although,, of course,, the seas are open- to all submarines. Provided they do not encroach within the three miles limit, they are perfectly entitled to go about their normal business - subject to- that limitation. I do not. believe there has ever been a previous decision against an efficient coast-guard service, but. I’ assure the honorable senator that the business of trying to provide effective anti-submarine protection is regarded by the Royal Australian Navy as its’ prime business in its attempt to contribute to Australia’s defence.
– I; desire to ask the. Minister- for the Navy a question that is. supplementary to the one that, was asked by Senator Robertson. Can, he say whether, it is a, fact that the American. Governmentis sending some of its naval personnel, to make an examination of the oceans surrounding Australia? If this is a fact, what type of equipment will they use, and will the- information that they obtain be available to the Australian Government?
– I cannot answer a part of the question with certitude because I do> not know - I have not yet heard - whether the American Navy is in fact sending some of, its; personnel - I presume the honorable senator refers to oceanographers and hydrographers - to Australia; but I assure him that if they do come to this country the information obtained by them will be available to the Australian Government. Because of the1 rather extensive effort that has been put in by the Government on. oceanography and hydrography,, the information obtained by t’ - United Kingdom, the United States of America and Australia is virtually interchangeable.
– I. desire to ask the Minister representing the Treasurer a question without notice. By way of pre-face, I should like to explain that certain, vehicles known as estate vans are, with the approval of the federal sales tax authorities, being marketed’ as commercial vehicles at the 16f per cent’, sales tax rate. If one of these vehicles is subsequently converted’ by its owner to a station wagon, the owner is called upon to pay’ sales tax at the rate of 30 per cent, on the conversion cost. My question is:- Is it correct, as reported in the Adelaide “ Advertiser “ on 2nd- September, that the Treasurer proposes to introduce amending legislation designed to stop what- was called! the; evasion of sales tax that has occurred through* estate vans being subject to sales tax at. the commercial, rate whilst* station wagons are classified as* passenger vehicles?’ If the report is correct; will the Minister, ascertain- whether it is a fact, that: the additional sales tax. becomes - payable only when the. estate van is converted to a station wagon?
– Yes, it is intended that legislation such as that suggested by the. honorable senator will be introduced. However; the precise form and terms of the legislation are under consideration, and I am therefore unable- to say anything further about the. matter at the moment.
– My question is directed to the Minister for National Development. In view of the nice profit shown in the latest report of the Australian Aluminium Production,- Commission, is the
Minister yet in a position to make a statement as to how soon the production of the plant could be doubled, and as to when it can be developed to the point of fabricating aluminium? Can the Minister tell us something of the future of the aluminium industry in Tasmania?
– I agree that it is a nice profit, to the extent, .that any profit is nice, but to say that a net profit of £160,000 - without any charge for income tax, or for interest on capital of the order of £11,000,000 - is a. handsome profit would be over-stating the position. It is a good thing to find that the Bell Bay undertaking has been able to trade profitably, however small that profit may be.
– It is not an economic plant at the moment, so far as productive capacity is concerned?
– I think .that that is a fair statement. We have reached an agreement with the Tasmanian Government under which the size of the plant will be increased from a productive capacity of 10,000 or 11,000 tons a year to a capacity of about 18,000 tons a year. We are cooperating, with the Tasmanian Government to test out the possibility of encouraging private investment, so that we may lift the level of production a stage further from 18,000 tons per annum to 28,500 tons per annum. That seems to be. about the production that would be needed to make it an efficient, economical, plant. Beyond that I shall’ not go-
– Are you in a position to enlarge upon your statement as to the. outside interest that you are encouraging?
– No. I should not like to discuss that.
– No statements have been made about that?
– A’ number have been made. There is- no secrecy about it. It has been going on since Sir Robert Cosgrove was Premier, but I am not prepared to make any statement on it.
– Would the Leader of the Government be good enough to tell us whether the profit of the commission has been arrived at after payment of pay-roll tax, or is the.commission exempt therefrom?
– I am afraid that 1 do not know, offhand.
– My question; which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, relates to the’ shipment of lambs on the “ Delfino “. Is it not a fact that a further consignment of some 28,000 lambs is to be shipped to the United States of America by the “ Delfino “ next month?
– I- have not yet been able to obtain any information as to the truth or otherwise of this suggestion. I ask the honorable senator to put the question on notice:
– I preface a question to the Minister, for National Development by saying that for some time now Australian producers of lead and zinc have been working, on a restricted basis because the world supply of those metals has outgrown demand. Can the Minister say whether a survey has been made of future world requirements, which would guide the Australian industry in finding out exactly how it stands? If a survey has not been made, would it be possible for the Government to conduct such a survey, so that those engaged in the industry might know their position?
– There is a great deal of statistical information available on this matter. At. the present time there is under consideration a proposal that an international statistical study group be established, of which Australia would be a member. The current quarterly issue of the magazine published by the Bureau of Mineral Resources contains an editorial which, discusses the pros and cons of the matter and gives, I am sure, a lot of the information that Senator Scott seeks. I am sorry to say that I have not yet had a chance to read the editorial. It so happened that it came on my table after lunch today. However, there is a great deal of statistical information on this subject and also a great deal, of knowledge about it, but of course the art of the exercise is to interpret correctly the statistical knowledge, and on that opinions vary.
– I address a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. It relates to the fact that the annual report of the Silverton Tramway Company, which appeared in to-day’s press, contained among other things a statement to the effect that it was considered undesirable to broaden the gauge of the railway between Port Pirie and Broken Hill. Has the Minister seen the report, and is he prepared to say whether such an opinion will have any effect on the Government’s present intention regarding that railway?
– I have not yet had an opportunity to see the report released by the Silverton Tramway Company, but I have seen a report, which was prepared for the company some months ago, in which this problem of broadening the gauge was discussed and a conclusion drawn similar to that contained in the report released this morning. Obviously, the broadening of the Silverton Tramway Company’s section of the line would in fact have a bearing on the project as it applied to the line between Port Pirie and Cockburn.
“PRINCESS OF TASMANIA.”
– In view of the intense interest that has been aroused by the now famous ship “ Princess of Tasmania “, can the Minister for Shipping and Transport say whether the initial voyage of the ship to Tasmania was satisfactory ana whether the vessel’s performance was up to expectations?
– Yes, I can say with great certainty that the initial trip was very satisfactory and that the ship performed beyond specifications. The new features incorporated, such as the stabilizers and the bow propellor, were of great interest to shipping people who were aboard and. indeed, proved to be most effective.
asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
For what periods and on what routes has the vessel “ Slevik “ been engaged in the Australian coastal trade?
– The following answers are now supplied: -
– by leave - I am sure that the Senate will be pleased to learn that negotiations in Bangkok in May and June and in Kuala Lumpur in June and July resulted in agreement being reached on the terms of permanent air transport agreements between Australia and Thailand and Australia and Malaya. The agreement with Malaya is being signed this morning in Kuala Lumpur by the Australian High Commissioner to Malaya, Mr. T. K. Critchley, and the Malayan Acting Minister of Transport, Dato Suleiman.
Qantas, the Australian international airline, started operations through Kuala Lumpur on its service to London in June last year under a temporary authorization kindly granted by the Malayan Government. The new agreement grants the Australian airline permanent rights at Kuala Lumpur and Penang on services from Australia through a number of intermediate points to other parts of the world including, of course, the United Kingdom. In return, Malaya is accorded rights in Australia at Darwin and Perth. The agreement with Thailand was initialled in Bangkok on 19th June, 1959, by the leader of the Thai delegation, Mr. S. Devahastin, the chairman of the Thai Civil Aeronautics Board, and by Mr. R. F. Felgenhaur, the Assistant Director of International Relations in my Department of Civil Aviation, who led the Australian delegations on these negotiations. It is expected that this agreement will be signed formally in the near future. Qantas first introduced calls into Bangkok on its service to London in 1953. Since then, Qantas has operated through Thailand under a temporary authorization kindly issued by the Thai Government.
The agreement will accord the Australian airline permanent rights at Bangkok on services from Australia. The Thai airline will similarly be accorded in Australia rights at Darwin and Sydney.
I should like to emphasize the value which the Australian Government places on these agreements between Australia and two of its close neighbours in South-East Asia. We see the agreements as a substantial expression of the goodwill existing between our respective countries and we are confident that they will assist the achievement of the common aims of Australia and the two countries concerned.
Debate resumed from 28th September (vide page 817), on motion by Senator Henry -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator Toohey had moved by way of amendment -
Leave out all words after “ That “, insert “ the bill be 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, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine “.
.- In continuation of the remarks I was making last evening, I should like to say that the more one looks at the Budget speech, and especially that portion dealing with social services, the more strongly is one fortified in the belief that this bill should be withdrawn and brought more into line with the economic conditions existing to-day. I say that especially in view of .the fact that one part of the amendment provides that the increased payments should be made retrospective. If that provision were not in the amendment, one could appreciate the desire of the Government to get the measure through rapidly, in which aim it would have the whole-hearted support of the Opposition. If that provision were not in the amendment, the Opposition would desire to have the bill made law quickly, in order that the meagre increases in the emoluments of recipients of social service benefits might be granted to them as soon as possible. However, the Government has intimated that it is not prepared to accept this amendment or to review the position. So far as .the Government is concerned, the last word has been spoken. It is not under any consideration prepared to agree, whether by the force of argument or by the revolt of its own followers, to increase in any way the amounts that it has allocated for this purpose in the Budget.
However, before 1 become more critical of the Government and its attitude towards this very important question of social services, which seems likely to remain with us for some time and to grow in importance as the years go by, I say that there are one or two aspects of the proposals with which I and all other members of the Opposition will readily agree. We are pleased that at long last, after this Government has been in existence for ten years, in peace and with buoyancy in every sector df our economy, the Government has decided to bring the original owners of this country, the aborigines, within the ambit of social services. I appreciate that very much and I know that the provision will be administered in a careful manner. However, there is one aspect about which I must appear to be a little inquisitive. It is suggested that the bulk of the money for this purpose will be paid to missions and other organizations which have the care of aborigines, and that a certain amount will be paid to individual aborigines if they comply with conditions laid down. I am wondering how that provision will be administered and what proportion of the total amount available will “be allocated to these organizations. If the full amount is allocated, will it be applied pro rata, according to the judgment of the persons charged with the responsibility? We appreciate that at last a start has been made in this direction. In this financial year this extension will mean the expenditure of £1,000,000 which will not be a great drain on the revenues of this country that are derived as a result of the growth of civilization, if we may so term it, since the aborigines were the sole occupants of this country.
Another aspect, which is very pleasing indeed to me and to other Opposition senators, is the grant for the provision of homes for the aged. I suggested last night that if we had remained in office, legislation for this purpose would have been in operation very much earlier. However, 1 am pleased that the Government has made a start on ‘this matter. I appreciated very much the sentiments expressed last evening by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin. I know that she is very interested in this work, just as I am. I take a very active interest in the matter and I am pleased that the Government is making money available for this purpose. I hope that as a result of further development of this branch of social services governments of ‘the future will be finding more and more money for the purpose. My view of ideal conditions for the aged is shared by ‘the chairman of the Victorian Hospitals and ! Charities Commission, Dr. Lindell, who has recently returned from a ‘trip abroad. He believes that we should extend the provision to include homes .that are not institutional. His idea is that we should get our elderly citizens as far as possible away from institutions. He realizes, as do others who are engaged in this work, that many of our elderly citizens are compelled to .enter institutions simply because, generally speaking, no facilities exist for them to have homes of their .own.
In certain parts of Victoria, community homes, which are not of an institutional type, have been built. I have in mind a very fine settlement of this kind at Bairnsdale. Recently, a lady left a bequest for the establishment of such homes close to Kyneton, a few miles from Castlemaine, where I reside. The idea is beginning to spread. Such an arrangement appears to be ideal. We should encourage the building of homes for elderly citizens in proximity to one another, where it will be possible to keep a watchful eye on the old people and where they will get away from the routine of an institution, wherein a bell is rung for them to get up in the morning, another bell is rung at breakfast time, and others at .lunch time and supper time .and the time for them to retire. If, as a result of the money made available by the Government, we ;can extend the .provision of these homes, .then something will be done for the benefit of our elderly citizens.
I notice that a grant is being made for the provision of home-help “to elderly citizens. I should like to see this work increased. At the .present time, the money made available to the State governments for payment to the various organizations carrying out this work is insufficient. Because of the small amounts made available, this work. has been neglected in many ways. Because of limited funds, we have not been able to do for the elderly citizens all ‘that we should like to do for them. Again, because of limited funds, these organizations find ‘it difficult to employ welfare workers to go into the homes of our elderly citizens and to go among them. I should ‘like the -responsible Minister to give further consideration to these -people by increasing the amount to be made available for that purpose. So much for what I look upon as the three good points. Excellent work has been done, and I hope ‘that funds will be made available to increase these activities in the future.
I come now to one or two other points relating to the Budget. I have looked in vain. under the social services section, for any reference to child endowment. This subject ‘has been ‘mentioned by other honorable senators on ‘this side. It is to be regretted that there is no mention of any proposed increase in this very important social service. It appears that the Government has decided quietly to forget that there is such a thing as child endowment despite the fact that at times honorable senators opposite who support the Government have been most vocal in claiming credit for the introduction by their government of child endowment. What has happened to those honorable senators? Are they beginning to look upon this item as an unwanted child? Are they forgetting all about it? Do they not appreciate the present position?
– The last time we brought down an amendment you voted against it. We do not want that to happen again. You were here at the time.
– Why does not the Government do something to make it worth while? We would be with the Government /if it did something worth while. The Government has refused to acknowledge the need for increasing child endowment. It has decided that child endowment shall stand at the present figure. I emphasize that children eat, that they wear clothes, that they must be fed and maintained. Yet, despite the depreciation in the value of our money, nothing is said in the Budget about this matter!
– Tell us why you voted against it last time.
– Because the Government would not make it 10s.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order!
– My leader has anticipated me. I was going to emphasize that we opposed it because of the miserable attitude adopted by the Government towards this very important matter. Of course, that has been characteristic of the Government right through the ages. Look at the Government’s generosity when dealing with widows’ pensions, for instance! We are told that a widow with one or more children will now receive the magnificent sum of £5 a week and that all other widows will be able to receive ‘the magnificent sum of £4 2s. 6d. a week because of the Government’s -generosity in ‘its present Budget. ‘I ‘know that on the Government side ‘there are many honorable senators who, if they were free to express themselves, ‘would deplore the miserable pittance to be granted to widows by the Government. I know that they know in their own hearts that a woman who has been bereft of her bread-winner and who has one or more children ‘to maintain cannot manage on ‘the miserable pittance of £5 a week, especially if she is required to pay rent.
It is idle to suggest that such a widow can supplement her income by going out to work. Surely honorable senators opposite know - I know they do know it - that a widow placed in such a position is unable to .go out and earn anything to -supplement her income. When in necessitous circumstances she might be forced to work, “but the .interests of the children demand that the ‘mother be in .the home giving them much needed. care, lt is ‘in the interests of the children that the mother should be at home waiting for them when ,they -return from school, if they are of school age, instead of the children returning ‘to an empty house -because the mother is forced to go >out to work in an effort to supplement the miserable ‘allowance paid to her. In -such conditions, can we wonder why -we have growing delinquency amongst those of our youth who are bereft of parental care? And this pittance is ‘handed out to these .widows as ‘though it were something great! T should say that the present Government will be in office for at least the next twelve months and I ask those honorable senators opposite who ‘have their social services committee and who I know are prodding the Government in an effort to induce it to show a little more consideration for our children, to continue their efforts, to continue the work that threatened to develop into open revolt in another place only a few nights ago. I urge them to carry on that good work because I am confident they know only too well that the Government is not doing the fair thing by a section of the community which is deserving of much more consideration.
As I know that the Government wishes to have this bill passed speedily, and as 1 know that other honorable senators wish to speak to it, I shall not delay the Senate much longer. I want to say that, together with my colleagues on this side, I endorse what has been said in appreciation of the administration of the Department of Social Services. The officers of that department are doing a magnificent job, and it would be of great benefit if we could have from them an account of their experience of the various anomalies that arise in the administration of our acts. I know that honorable senators opposite receive, just as we do, many letters from their constituents pointing at anomalies that arise from certain interpretations of the act. One of the most important directions in which anomalies occur is the supplementary rent allowance of 10s. a week about which the Government has made such a great play. The Treasurer, in another place, and the Minister, in his statement here, said that they were surprised that so few people had applied for this additional concession. They did not tell us in their statements how many applications have been refused.’ Many recipients of social service pensions thought that they came within the ambit of this con:cessional allowance and that at least a little relief would be granted to them, but when they applied for the allowance, their applications, to their astonishment, were refused, because of some small amount of income that they had in addition to their pensions. Those are the kind of anomalies that need to be removed from the act. If the Minister for Social Services were prepared to give due consideration to the recommendations of the responsible officers who are administering this act, I feel quite sure that we would have a different bill before us to-day. The anomalies would have been removed from the legislation.
I say again to Government senators that when they attend their party meetings they should bring forcibly before the Minister the anomalies that exist in the social services legislation. Let them make sure that they have their say, and let them see to it that the majority opinion prevails. If they do that, I feel quite sure that when next a bill of this nature is brought before the Senate we will hear an entirely different story. Having said that, I intimate that I will vote for the amendment that has been moved.
– I rise to support the proposals contained in the bill and to oppose the amendment. One of the purposes of the bill is to increase pensions by 7s. 6d. a week for unmarried persons, widows or widowers, and by 15s. a week for married couples. These increases will bring the pensions up to £4 15s. a week for single persons and up to £9 10s. a week for married couples. These amounts are in addition to the permissible income of £3 10s. a week in the case of single persons, and £7 in the case of married couples. The total income of a single pensioner may now be £8 5s. a week, and that of a married couple may be £16 10s. a week. Judged by the standards in any part of the world. I think this is a very generous gesture to our elderly people.
It is about 50 years since the age and invalid pension was introduced in Australia. At that time, the pension was only 10s. a week, and the total annual cost to the community was £1,500,000. It must be remembered that all money for social services has to be raised by taxes, and that the amount that can be paid out is limited by the capacity of the people to pay. This Government is anxious to meet as many as possible of the demands made on it, within those bounds. In addition to raising the pension rate, it has provided many new services and concessions. The means test has been liberalized, in regard to income and property, and tens of thousands more pensioners have become eligible to participate in the social service scheme.
Opposition senators have mentioned child endowment. It is obvious in this case, as in others, that they have no idea of the cost of the proposals which emanate from them. The cost of child endowment has already been touched on during this debate. I think Senator Marriott said that an increase of child endowment by one shilling would cost the country £8,000,000 per annum. That is a lot of money. It must be remembered that children under sixteen years of age comprise one-third of our population. There are about 3,300,000 of them. I would think that any increase of child endowment by less than 5s. a week would be useless to the average family, which is in a particularly good position to-day, generally speaking. Even an increase of 5s. would cost the country £40,000,000. Honorable senators opposite may say that that is not a very big sum, but they do not have to find the money to foot the bill.
The amendment is not acceptable to the Government, particularly as we do not think the Opposition is sincere in moving it. We think that probably the Opposition is anxious to hold up this measure. If it can inconvenience the Government by doing so, it will naturally try to do so. The Government is anxious, of course, to put the measure through as quickly as possible, so as to make the additional money available to the pensioners at the earliest possible date.
Honorable senators opposite have suggested that the Government should increase pensions so that they will be equivalent to the basic wage. I have heard that suggestion made from time to time by honorable senators opposite and their supporters elsewhere. They do not seem to realize that that would cost the country £330,000,000 a year. That again, of course, is not a large sum if you do not have to find the money. If the Government were to follow partly the advice of the >Opposition - it has given a lot of advice to-day - and raise pensions to an amount equal to one-half of the basic wage, that would cost the country £91,000,000. I can see, and I am sure everybody else in the country can see, too, what would happen if we adopted the Opposition’s suggestion. It would simply cause chaos throughout the country. We would no longer have any solid basis upon which to work in regard to a basic wage.
The extra taxes that would have to be imposed to enable us to give effect to the generous ideas put forward by the Oppo sition would, of course, fall on the workers themselves. Taking into consideration the condition of the country and the means ai the disposal of the Government during the period it has been in office - the decade since 1949 - I think it has done a particularly good job. Judged by any standards at all, I think that the Government has reason to be proud of its record. During that period of ten years it has raised the basic pension rate seven times, and in addition to raising the basic pension rate it has, in each Budget it has presented, eased the qualifications for eligibility for a pension. The number of pensioners has increased at the rate of 20,000 a year from 1949. Senator Henty mentioned in his second-reading speech that in 1949 the number of persons receiving a pension was 450,000, whereas to-day the number is 650,000. There is a very big problem for the Government to tackle in that regard alone, but it has not hesitated to increase the basic pension rate or to liberalize the means test. I have no criticism of the basic pension rate. I think it is very generous. The country can afford to pay it and I think that every honorable senator - on this side of the chamber, at least - is in favour of it.
I should like to mention some of the additional benefits that seem to escape the notice of our friends opposite. I refer particularly to medical, hospital and pharmaceutical benefits. There has been a very steep rise in the cost of pharmaceutical benefits since 1949. Speaking from memory, I think the cost of pharmaceutical benefits provided in 1950-51 was about £3,000,000-‘ It rose to £18,000,000 in 1957- 58, and this year the cost will be about £24,000,000. The average cost per head of population in ,1950-51 was 15s. 4d., whilst this year the average cost will be 32s. 8d. per head of population. I am glad that at least one provision of the measure before us meets with the approval of the Opposition. 1 refer, of course, to the provision of benefits for aborigines. They have been getting certain social service benefits for many years, but they have not been eligible to receive the maternity allowance and pensions. Both those benefits will be available to them as a result of this legislation. For that reason alone, I hope that the Opposition will support the bill in its entirety. ne
The Minister mentioned in his secondreading speech that £300,800,000 will be expended from the National Welfare Fund on social services this year. That is 25 per cent, of Commonwealth income. That amount, when added to the expected expenditure of £87,485,000 on war and repatriation benefits, indicates the huge amount of money that the Government has to find for these purposes.
I should like to remind the Opposition that in 1949 the pension rate was £2 2s. 6d. a. week. I think that honorable senators opposite are well aware of that fact. If the pension were related to the C series index which measures the cost of living, it would now be £3 19s. 8d. a week. Therefore, on the basis of proportion to the C series index, the pension is well ahead. This bill increases pensions to £4 15s. a week. It has been, very truly said that God helps those who help themselves, but the Government helps those who- will not or cannot help themselves. At present, there are 515,000 age pensioners, 85,000 invalid pensioners and 50,000 widow pensioners. Therefore, the total number of pensioners in Australia at present is about 650,000. As we know, only about 50 per cent, of the persons who are qualified by age to draw pensions do in fact draw them.
The’ Opposition contends that the pension is not big enough for the recipients to live on. I hope to be able to prove that that is not the case. It is very important to keep in mind that originally the provision of social services was based on need. Let us approach a consideration of this matter by asking ourselves: What does a pensioner need to provide him with a reasonable standard of living? According to a survey that was conducted last year, only 15 per cent. of 20 per cent, of the pensioners were then in. dire- straits and needed increased pensions as a result of the increased cost of living. They included widows, divorced people and single people whose only means of subsistence is the pension. Last year I was one of those who advocated the making of a special grant of £4,000,000 to the States to be distributed amongst deserving cases - in amounts of from £1 to £3 a week when necessary. I think that is the only way out of the difficulty that has cropped up. That is a better approach to the matter than, making a blanket increase. The Government allocated a supplementary rent allowance of 10s. a week, but only 14 per cent, of pensioners- availed themselves of it. That fact indicates that the position is not so grave as the Opposition has asserted.
I was very interested, to read an article in the Melbourne “ Herald “ last, week concerning the needs of pensioners. I shall read a. part of it to the Senate, because 1 think it is of general interest. The article was headed, “Palatable Food for a Pensioner - How Much Does it Cost “ and stated -
For 35s. a person can buy food for one for a week. At this cost he or she can produce the 21 meals of the week and prepare appetizing and economic, palatable and protein-packed food;
At the Housewives’ Association monthly meeting yesterday afternoon these facts were established as the first stage of the association’s current investigation into the pensioner’s problems of cost of living. “ That 35s. is a generous estimate, “ president Mrs. Gladys Ham said yesterday. “ Our investigators have discovered that there are definite variations in prices, in different suburbs. In some cases and places it would be possible to buy the week’s food for 30s. “
Research was carried out for the association by Invergowrie Homecraft Hostel principal, Miss Margaret Kirkhope, with the help of her students; and by two cooking, demonstrators, Mrs. M. Landemann and Miss L. Bloggs. . .
The meeting was attended by members and representatives of other organizations, including the Dietetics’ Association
All meat used was mutton, and the meals included fish, beans, cheese and allowed for occasional fruit. The new milk loaf of bread, which lasts for a. week, was also, included.
I do not think I need read’ any more of the article in order to- show that a pensioner - if he wishes to - can live fairly reasonably on his pension.
– I have quoted directly from the article that, was published.
– They must have lived on fish during’ Lent.
– I’ do not think that Lent occurs early in September. Parliamentarians in this place-
– Eat too much.
– We have three meals a day and: probably; as Senator
Healy says, we eat too much. That may be partly responsible for our being affected by blood pressure on occasions. When 1 am at home, I find that two meals a day are sufficient for me. Probably we do eat too much in this place. When I was on active service, at times my daily ration was only a tin of bully beef and a couple of biscuits. I have often wanted to meet the Army dietician who fixed our ration. I would have told him some home truths.
– More people die each year from over-eating than ever die from over-drinking.
– I agree. In. fact, we managed to exist on- our ration and did not lose much, weight. It is possible to supplement one’s food supply with home-grown vegetables and other extras which can easily be produced in country districts. Even if a man has no land, of his own the people round about him will doubtless be pleased to let him use a little in their backyards.
I am one who contends that the means test should not be applied where the pensioner has reached the age of 70 years. A voluntary contribution- of 3£d. by each taxpayer would make that possible. It would bc a very good start towards supplementing the pension of the people in that age. group.
– Do you think that a’ person should get more when he is over 70?
– I think he should.
– How old. are you?
– That is a personal matter, but I shall willingly discussit with- the honorable senator at another time. The property means test should bc removed. The thrifty person derives no benefit from a lifetime of saving. Indeed, when he reaches pensionable age, from the point of view of current income he is often in a worse position than is a person who has dissipated his assets entirely. I trust that this anomaly will be rectified in the next Budget, or even earlier if that is possible. I think it can be done by removing the £2,250 ceiling for single persons and; the £4,500’ ceiling for married persons, as well as reducing’ the pension by £1 for each; £20 over the permissible income of £200 - instead of by £1 for each £10 as is the case at present. I believe that could be done without any great alteration to the act becoming necessary. It would have the support of the Senate, particularly of my friends of the Opposition.
The abolition of the means test would cost £120’,000,000, but the scheme that I have just suggested would cost only £2,500,000. When you come to think of it, it takes £4,940, invested at 5 per cent., to produce the present pension of £247 per annum. Not one working man in 50 could save that rauch money during his lifetime. There are 515,000 age pensioners, and of this number only 70,000 qualify for the supplementary pension of 10s., which was granted in order to ease the situation of the single pensioner.
I accept the assurance of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) - made recently in another place - that a committee of representatives of all interested parties will meet early in the new year, or a little later; to go into the question of pensions., the- means test, and the property qualification. Every one who, having qualified for his pension, is willing to work should be given an opportunity to do so. I think that activity of that kind makes for a fuller and happier life. The man who is working has an object in life and can retain the dignity and independence that Australians set so much store by. The means test results in wastage of labour, and of production potential-.
We have not paid sufficient attention to the position of the thrifty man, who has saved’ during his lifetime. We should give him a better deal, either in the next Budget or sooner, if that is possible. We cannot develop this country without the aid of savings - now often dissipated because their existence disqualifies the applicant for a pension. The accumulated savings of all the thrifty people’ in the community would go a- long’ way towards developing Australia. If all persons capable of working were encouraged” to do so, the Government would not then have to levy heavy taxes in order to raise money with which to carry on the work of development’. The removal of the existing’ penalty for thrift is essential if we are- to build” up* our working capital to a level of which we can be proud. Hie savings of the people can contribute greatly to a country’s expansion, and also promote stable working conditions and prices. ls national insurance the answer? Our pensions scheme is complete, but unless a national contributory scheme is introduced at once the position will deteriorate. In five years’ time it will be difficult to implement; in ten years’ time it will be very difficult; and in twenty years’ time it will be almost impossible. I support the bill.
.- When such legislation as this is under discussion it is very easy for honorable senators to engage in carping criticism. I am pleased to say that on this occasion there has not been anything like the criticism that I have heard on other bills, when honorable senators from both sides have said, “ When you were in power why did you not do more than we are doing now? We instituted this - not you “, and so on. From that type of discussion, which seems to go on incessantly, no good whatever can stem so far as the beneficiaries of social services are concerned.
A proper review of existing social legislation produces the conclusion that three outstandingly important matters are involved. The first is the need for the Commonwealth Government to provide adequately for the unfortunate, underprivileged members of the community. That principle was settled in this country years ago. If I recall my history correctly, I think it was the Lyne Government in New South Wales which first introduced age pensions in Australia.
– Do not go backwards. Go forward.
– The honorable senator would not know whether I was going backwards, forward or crabwise. He has been going crabwise all his life, and he thinks like a crab. It was that government which first established age pensions in the Commonwealth, and from that beginning has evolved the scheme that is in operation to-day. There is no need for me to dwell any longer on that point, because it is a well-established principle that it is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to provide for the underprivileged members of the community.
Another important principle, and a serious one, involved in this matter is the necessity to provide the means for maintaining’ all the social services at an adequate level. When I deal with that matter it is not necessary for me to look at the ability of the Commonwealth Government, at the present time, to maintain social services at a level that is in conformity with the requirements of our society of to-day. When I consider this matter, I see staring me in the face the fact that this year the cash requirements of the Commonwealth Government amount to no less than £1,682,000,000. That is far more than Senator Scott would receive in his pay envelope if he lived as long as Methuselah. I come now to the real question, because the funds required for social services are not provided by magic. There is no mysterious way in which we can replenish the National Welfare Fund, with its sixteen items, most of which require millions of pounds.
As I have said, the Commonwealth Government requires £1,682,000,000 for all its commitments in this financial year. It is anticipated that- revenue will amount to £1,385,000,000. That is to say, direct taxation, indirect taxation and other sources of revenue will provide that sum. Direct taxation at the present time is at the level of £752,400,000. Wherever we go in the Commonwealth people tell us incessantly that direct taxation has reached its limit. The sum proposed to be raised this year by means of indirect taxation is £472,200,000. Again, everybody in the community will tell you that that is the limit to which this Government may go in raising indirect taxation.
– Why do you put a limit on the figure? Surely, as the population grew it would not cost any more, and you would get your money in, would you not?
– What you are saying is incomprehensible to yourself, so how can you expect me to understand it? Surely you do not understand–
– Yes, I do.
– Then what are you saying?
– I am saying that as the population grows you can get more revenue without it costing the individual any more.
– That is the way that a statistician puts it. He says that if we are going to raise £1,000,000,000 this year, with a population of more than 10,000,000, the sum to be raised per head will have lo be so much, and he says that if you double your population so that you have 20,000,000 people, the cost per head will be so much less to raise the same revenue. But we know that with a population of 20,000,000 we would require twice as much money because the commitments would be twice as great.
Let me pass to what I proposed to say before I was unnecessarily interrupted by Senator Scott. I know that he was trying to be helpful, as he always is. From loans, the Government proposes to raise £190,000,000. Of course, that is going to be difficult this year. We have ‘ noticed over the years that each year it has grown more difficult to- raise the amount required. That £190,000,000 is part and parcel of the sum of £1,682,000,000 that I mentioned a little while ago. From sinking fund, the Government proposes to obtain £46,000,000. I know of no government more entitled to get money from sinking funds than this Government because it is a sinking government. When the Government has obtained all those amounts, it will still be £61,000,000 short of the amount required. There will be an overall deficiency. Nevertheless, the Government will be faced with the necessity to pay into the National Welfare Fund £300,000,000. That is something that is going to cause a good deal of worry to the Government, and that is the second important matter for consideration when we are dealing with the pensions to be paid to those who are entitled to them.
There is a third very important matter to consider when we are dealing with the whole question of pensions, and that is the increasing number of pensioners. We can forget for a moment that our population has increased to about 10,000,000 souls. The number of pensioners is increasing annually, and it appears that it will continue to increase. In this respect, it is interesting to refer to the last report furnished by the Director-General of Social Services, the report for the year 1957-58. It shows that at 30th June, 1911, the percentage of age pensioners to persons of pensionable age was 32 per cent. At 30th June, 1921, it had increased slightly, to 32.1 per cent. At 30th June, 1933, it had increased to 32.5 per cent, and at 30th June, 1940, it had increased still further to 42.6 per cent. By 30th June, 1947, it had decreased to 37.5 per cent. It is quite easy for me to account for that decrease, Mr. Acting Deputy President, because that was a period that covered the last world war. During that time it was an easy matter for persons in receipt of pensions to obtain employment. Age pensioners, both male and female, who worked during that time did a splendid job for the Commonwealth. Many of them sacrificed their pensions and’ undertook work at a weekly wage.
Passing from that period to 30th June, 1954, we find that the percentage of age pensioners to persons of pensionable age was on the increase again. It was then 42.1 per cent. At 30th June, 1958, it was 48.2 per cent. It is very likely indeed that the percentage will continue to increase in the future. I say that partly because of information contained in the report of the work done under the Medical Research Endowment Fund. This report is furnished by a council that is entrusted with the expenditure of certain funds made available to it by this Government. The act under which the council operates provides that the fund shall be used to provide assistance -
On a cursory glance through the report we find that the council has established committees to deal with various phases of health research. No fewer than seven or eight doctors” comprise the committee dealing with industrial hygiene. I have not the slightest doubt that when members of the medical profession devote their energies and experience to the pursuit of knowledge in relation to industrial hygiene they can make discoveries of great benefit to the 4,000,000 people who now comprise Australia’s work force. I know of my own knowledge that about fourteen or fifteen years ago investigations into industrial hygiene were carried out in nearly all industries that were then operating in the
Commonwealth. il know that a full .investigation was. made of i the engineering industry and it was found .that in some foundries free silica was present in .the sands used for moulding .purposes. I suppose it is generally known, to my audience at least, that when silica finds its way into the lungs a disease known .as silicosis ^results. This disease is just as virulent and deathdealing in every sense .as is tuberculosis or any other lung disease. Strange to relate, those persons who were engaged in these industries did not know of the inherent dangers. They did not know that they were actually dealing with death all the time. In some places it was ‘found that men employed to clean casts after moulding were using compressed air jets and leaning over the castings to blow away ‘the moulding sand. This meant that they ‘were inhaling free silica all the time. ‘Is it any wonder that at least some of these employees died as a result of contracting silicosis? In the mining industry there is always a danger of contracting tuberculosis and silicosis. ‘Perhaps <no State of the Commonwealth ‘has done more than New South Wales in the matter of industrial hygiene. As a matter of fact, in this respect, it has led the Commonwealth, and I would -say that it was still leading the Commonwealth.
Another committee was appointed to deal with the problems of nutrition. When one studies diets and information passed on to the public by -professional dieticians one is amazed at what is eaten in the name of food but does not contain any nutriment whatsoever. 1 shall not .deal with .the contents .of this report. My speech does not ^relate to that at all. I indicate only that .research is being conducted all the time in all branches of medicine, so there is a possibility that the people of to-day will live longer than did people years ago, and so we shall proceed further with social services in the future.
There is one other matter with which I want to deal at this stage. When I opened my remarks, I said that it was easy for any one to engage in carping criticism when dealing with pensions. Let us just have a look at what was done some years ago. In 1949 the age pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week. It is now £4 7s. 6d., and it is proposed to increase this amount to £4 15s. The invalid pension rate was £2 2s. -6d. in 1949. It is now £4 7s. -6d., and it is proposed to be increased .to £4 15s. The class A widow’s pension .was £2 7s. 6d, in 1949. It will be approximately £5 when this legislation is passed. The .base rate .maternity allowance was £15 :in 1949. It was fixed in 1944 by the Curtin Government and it remains at that level now. Child endowment was 1.0s. for the second child in 1949. It was fixed at 7s. 6d. by the Curtin Government in 1945 and increased to 10s. by the Chifley Government. Unemployment and sickness benefits for a married man with one child were fixed at £2 10s. in 1949. They are now £3 5s, Funeral benefit, which is very important, especially to age and invalid pensioners, was fixed at £10 by the Curtin Government in 1943.
It is :high .time that the Government, increased the :rate .of unemployment and sickness benefits. To-day £3 5s. a week could be spent by .an unemployed worker in travelling round looking for work. The amount is -far -too small and, as costs arecontinuing to increase .and .periods of unemployment are probably lengthening, I should .like the Government to give earnest consideration to increasing it at a very early date. The Government claims that this is the seventh occasion on which it has increased pensions since taking office in 1949. I do not know whether it made that statement boastfully or shamefully. It did not say that since it took office in 1949 no fewer than 30 increases in the Queensland basic wage have taken place. I propose to give details of those increases. It is all very well to pay £4 15s. a week to a pensioner, but what counts in the end is what that £4 15s. will buy to sustain life. Although the Government has increased pension rates six times since it was elected in 1949 - these proposals make the seventh increaseit has given very little .regard indeed to the increases in the basic wage over the years. When it took office in 1949, the basic wage was £6 9s. a week. To-day, the basic wage is £13 3s. a week, so that, over the past ten years it has increased by approximately 104 per cent.
I shall state the increases which have taken place. In 1950, there were five increases totalling 25s.; ‘in 1951, there were four increases totalling 31s.; in 1952, there were four more increases, and the total sum involved was £-1 ls. In ‘1953, there were three increases totalling 6s. In 1955, there were three increases totalling 7s.; in 1956, there were three more increases totalling 12s.; and in 1957 there were two increases amounting to 4s. in all. In 1958, there were’ four more increases totalling 15s., and, so far this year, there have been two increases totalling 7s.
I do not argue for a moment that the pension rate should be related to the basic wage, but I do point out the fact that although the Government proposes to increase certain pension rates within the next few weeks it is not giving any assurance whatever that the cost of living will remain stationary for more than a week or so. It is of little use passing out £4 15s. a week to the age pensioner when that £4 15s. contains a cavity, as it were, in respect of living costs. It may be truthfully said that pension rates of to-day are the same as they were prior to 1949;’ as a matter of fact, they do not buy as much as did the pensions paid back in the year I have just mentioned.
As I stated a while ago, the maternity allowance has not been increased for years and unemployment and sickness benefits remain at, may I say, a disgraceful level. I say that the unstated policy of the Government in connexion with these two benefits is to leave them alone, so that they may fade out of existence. They are worthless at present, and the Government has not indicated that it will amend them at any time. I support the amendment that has been proposed by the Opposition.
– It was not my intention originally to take part in this debate, but I realize that by supporting the bill we are ensuring that some- of the less fortunate people in our community will receive an additional 7s. 6d. a week- after 1st October next. Because these worthy people are to receive this extra 7s. 6d. a- week, I am at a distinct loss to- fathom the- Opposition’s reasons for opposing, these improvements to> age and invalid, pensioners.. Why has the Opposition stated openly that it will not vote for the proposals? I think: the public should be told, the1 reason why members of the Labour Party, who claim to have the welfare of these unfortunate people at heart, are saying openly here that they are opposed to the proposed increase of 7s. 6d. a week.
– On the one hand, they tell harrowing tales of the dismal plight of the pensioners, and on the other hand by opposing this measure, they seek to deny those worthy people an extra 7s. 6d. a week! That does not make sense to me. I cannot see that there is either logic or sincerity in that attitude. 1 think it can be truly said that the Opposition has spoken with two voices. One is the raucous voice in- which honorable senators opposite complain that they are the only givers of alms. The other is the undertone in which they gloss over the fact that whilst they were in office they failed to do anything, about relieving the hardship of many men and women despite the fact that they collected vast sum’s of money under their social, service legislation. They had the opportunity to do what they are suggesting should be done now, and they did not take it. Instead* they used the pensioner as a stool-pigeon, if I may use that term, so that they might collect £134,000,000 which they did not spend on the. pensioners. Labour has to face up to the charge that it did not spend this money for the benefit of the pensioners. Honorable senators opposite cannot deny the fact that they had no excuse for not spending at least part of the £130,000,000 they collected’ in relieving the hardship suffered by pensioners.
Perhaps the only yardstick we have for measuring living standards is the C series index, and I think that it is a reasonable one. If we apply it to. pension rates, we find that the return to pensioners to-day under a Liberal-Country Party Government is higher than it has ever been. In effect, the purchasing power of the proposed pension of £4 15s. will’ be greater by 15s. 4d. than the purchasing power of the pension in 1949. I have not heard any honorable senator opposite disprove those figures, because they simply cannot be disproved.
I did not intend to- mention child endowment, but it has been dealt with at great length by the- Opposition. I think that it would- have been better if some honorable senators- who have spoken so glowingly of child- endowment were qualified to receive it in. respect of their own children, because then- we should have known that they were speaking with some knowledge of the subject. Some of them could assist some widows. But that is only my personal opinion. The proposal to pay child endowment for a first child was introduced into this Parliament at a time when the Labour Party was in the majority in the Senate. I well remember the arguments that were advanced then by the Labour Party as to why child endowment should not be paid for a first child, but then the central executive of the party instructed its members to vote for the proposal, and they did so. During the course of the debate on the occasion to which I have referred, one of the most revealing statements that I have ever heard in this place was made. I am sorry that Senator Aylett is not present in the chamber at the moment. At the time of which I am speaking, he was a member of the central executive of the Labour Party. I said that members of the Opposition would not vote for child endowment for the first child until they had been instructed to do so by the twelve gentlemen of the central executive of the Australian Labour Party. As quick as a flash, a very prominent member of the party said, “ Ted, old boy, you are wrong. There are only eleven gentlemen and Senator Aylett.” I have repeated that statement because I do not think that I shall ever forget it. Senator Aylett at that time was a member of the central executive, and I could not help but think how appropriate, perhaps, the remark was.
Let us consider what has been done in the field of social services since 1949. The Government has steadily improved the pension rates, eased the means test, provided hospitalization together with free medicine and drugs, assisted in providing homes ‘for aged persons, and in many other ways has endeavoured to improve the living standards of the recipients of national health benefits.
With the proposed increase of 7s. 6d. a week, the base pension rate will rise to £4 15s. a week. I should like to spend a few moments on this aspect. Welfare workers in particular are devoting a great deal of time to research into this matter. There is a school of thought which says that two persons who are receiving the pension - I am not happy with the word “ pension “, but I use it because I cannot think of a word that is more applicable - and who will now receive £9 10s. a week, can manage better than one person on £4 15s. a week. I hope that some of our social workers will be able to give us some facts on this aspect, because I have felt for some time that it might be better to increase the single unit pension, if I may so call it, be the pensioner an unmarried man or woman, a widow or a widower. I believe that that aspect should be considered, although I do not know what difficulty would be entailed in the administration of such a proposal. I hope that those people who are vitally interested in this subject will produce some facts and figures which will help us to come to a decision.
I am pleased that the civilian widow has been considered again. The assistance, although not as much as some of us would wish it to be, will be welcome. I join with Senator Sheehan in paying a tribute to this band of people in our community. I think that a widow who is supporting two, three or more children can be regarded as the unsung heroine in our midst. I hope that we will be able to assist her still further in the future. I am sure that we are all delighted to see the children of these widows become such worthy citizens. It is pleasing to notice that the children of widows and widowers are playing a very important part in our business world. They have taken their place in the community. They are a credit, not only to themselves, but also to their parents. They have, passed through school, usually with credit and brilliance, because the urge and the incentive are present for them to do well. I sometimes wonder how widows or widowers are able to carry on. I wonder how they are able, day after day and year after year, to look after their families, earn a living and yet appear cheerful and happy. That is the spirit that has made Australia great, and I pay a tribute to them.
I should like to mention now a section of our community which is being taught and assisted to take its place in industry and in social life. I refer to the disabled and physically handicapped, to those people who are being assisted in our rehabilitation centres and are winning their way back. The people of Australia regard as a good investment any funds allocated for the purpose of enabling disabled and physically handicapped people to have the benefit of rehabilitation courses. I think that every honorable senator would say, “ Thank you “ to the instructors and all those people who are responsible for the oversight and the wellbeing of this scheme of rehabilitation. It is always a source of quiet satisfaction to me to see what is being done in this field, and to realize that these men and women, through their courage and grit, are fitting themselves to take their places again in the work force of Australia. Money spent on this scheme is money well spent, and it will return a national dividend.
In this bill we see a new venture. Some of the aboriginal population of this country are to be brought under the wing, so to speak, of the Department of Social Services. This presents a challenge, not only to the aboriginal himself, but also to our Christian faith. It presents a challenge to all those who employ these people. They must ensure that these aborigines will reap the benefit of the advantage which the public of Australia thinks it right to bestow upon them. The great mass of Christian folk in our community will have an added incentive to work for our aborigines to be integrated into our community life. The proposal in the bill is a great step forward, and I am sure that each and every one of us will anxiously watch the effect it will have on this section of the community. 1 am sure that we will endeavour to correct any faults that arise. I say again that it is up to us to see that this new venture, as I call it, is a success.
I know that there are various schools of thought on this subject. Some say that we are giving too much. I pay a tribute to our missions and social workers, who give their services voluntarily in an attempt to correct some of the mistakes that we made in the early days in our treatment of the aborigines. 1 am hoping that this experiment - if I may call it that - will prove worth while, and that great benefits will accrue, not only to our native people, but also to the people of Australia in general. The money that is spent on this new venture will be money well spent.
The proposals in the bill will benefit those who qualify for pensions, and will also widen the field of eligibility for pensions. Whenever we widen the field of social services, or ease the means test, it becomes even more important to realize that social service payments are payments re ceived as of right, rather than by way , of charity. I think there is a growing feeling throughout the length and breadth of Australia that pensions should be paid to people as of right, rather than handed out as a dole.
If we subscribe to this view, it would appear to me, at least, that a national insurance scheme is highly desirable. I know that the very mention of national insurance conjures up all sorts of visions, but I believe that a national insurance scheme must come eventually. We on this side have been chided about this matter in this chamber. The back-benchers who support the Government did submit a modified scheme for the Government’s consideration, and I believe that they will continue their research into social service legislation, with a view to correcting anomalies and ensuring that thrift will receive its reward. I am not at all perturbed because the Government is not in a position at the moment to accede to the request made by the back-benchers. I think it is a very healthy sign when backbenchers can present their views, not only to the Government, but also to the Parliament. After all, one thing of which we have to be careful in this fair land of ours is that the Executive does not become superior to the Parliament. I welcome the existence of the Government members’ social services committee, and I welcome the efforts that its members have made. We, as back-benchers, are justified in using every endeavour, by research and by study, to present to the Government a possible social services bill which would enable every man and woman to receive a retiring allowance, if I may call it such, when they reached the age of 65 years. The age and the conditions would, of course, have to be worked out. We will continue our efforts.
The modified scheme that was presented to the Government has had a great effect. I hope that not only the modified scheme, but also the whole ambit of pensions and the anomalies that exist at present will be examined by an expert committee. I hope that the findings of such a committee will lead towards the national insurance scheme which, in my opinion, is so desirable. It is necessary to inculcate in the minds of our young people the virtue of thrift and ,to show them -that it will be worth while for them to save. The back-benchers on this side of the chamber will explore every avenue of investigation to see whether they can produce a scheme that is worth while. If the Parliament were unanimously in favour of a planned national insurance scheme, pensions would be removed from politics entirely and every person in the community would realize that thrift would pay. Perhaps I may be treading on dangerous ground, but I have often wondered whether, if a person had, say, £2,000, he should invest that sum in government bonds if he were paid a retiring allowance. I like the idea of people having a certain amount of savings. What .is wrong with people having £2,000 saved? In any event, in a civilized community these people have to be looked after. If they became sick and went into hospital they would have the means to pay for the attention they received. If they .had no money at all, they would become a charge on the .public. I think the scheme has everything to commend it. I can see nothing wrong with the idea of people who receive superannuation payments or retiring allowances of any kind being permitted to accumulate savings so as to give them a sense of security and enable them to pay their way should sickness or accident befall them. After all, there is nothing like a little independence for our aged people.
There are many other things that I could stress on this question of rewarding thrift, but perhaps I should leave it to much wiser people to examine all the financial ramifications and say whether or not it would be wise to prescribe that these people shall invest all, or a certain proportion of, their money in government bonds. I personally do not see any great objection to it, and I think that they should draw the full pension. We know that government bonds form one of the safest investments that they could have-
– What about Mardene?
– I think that government bonds are an ever so much safer investment than what the honorable senator suggests. Perhaps if we had less Mardene and more saving-
– It is valuable in South Australia.
– However that may be, I point out -that the increase of pensions ‘by 7s. 6d. a ‘week will add £22,558,;000 to the pensions bill this year. In 1959-60, the expenditure from the National Welfare Fund will amount to more than £300,000^000-1 think that that was the -figure that Senator Benn quoted. It is interesting to note that that fund contributes to the maintenance of approximately 4,000,000 men, women and children. It is true, as Senator Benn said, that a government of any political colour must approach the question of social service payments in the light of Australia’s economic position. That is one of the reasons why I think that we are on firm ground when we advocate a national insurance scheme on a contributory basis for every able-bodied person in Australia.
This bill does many other things, but I do not intend to go through the whole ambit of its provisions, because honorable senators have had an opportunity to study them and I believe that the measure will receive support from both sides of the chamber.
I referred earlier to the benefits that are payable to widows, particularly those who are supporting children, who will receive increases under this bill. The pension payable to a class A widow having one child under sixteen years of age will rise from £5 2s. 6d. to £5 10s. a week. In addition, as we know, she receives child endowment.
When discussing pensions, we must take into consideration the value to the recipients of free medical treatment and free pharmaceutical benefits. The value of these real benefits that accrue to our aged citizens is not generally known. I think the Government -is to be commended for the attention it has -paid to the question of pensioners in benevolent homes. Blind pensioners have not been overlooked in this measure. A benefit, similar ‘to the clothing allowance for ex-servicemen that is now provided by the repatriation legislation, is included iri the measure before us.
The value of social services provided to the pensioner must be considered in any assessment of the adequacy of the pension. As I said earlier, as a result of the provisions contained in this bill, the expenditure this year on social services will rise by £22,558,000. In spite of the criticism of this bill that has been voiced by honorable senators opposite, I think -that when the time comes they will vote for it-
– You will.
– ;I hope that Senator Ormonde also will vote for it. I do not think that the Opposition would like the news spread up and down the highways and byways of this country that it opposed an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in pensions.
– We are not opposing it.
– It is the queerest argument I have ever heard. Honorable senators opposite have spoken against the bill, and now Senator Brown says that they are not opposing it.
– Do not be so stupid.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood).- Order!
– I always thought that if an honorable senator voted against a bill he opposed it. I did not know that under the new Labour doctrine honorable senators opposite had gone so far down the drain. It is a new one to me that when you oppose anything you approve of it. I do riot know why the Opposition has been opposing the measure, because it is a good bill. Of course, it increases the cost of social services! In addition to benefiting existing pensioners, the bill makes provision for benefits to be payable to further, worthy people. For instance, it recognizes the right of aborigines to qualify for benefits on the same .basis as other people in the Commonwealth.
Those are but a few of the reasons why I believe that we should be unanimous, in this chamber at least, in approving this bill. Perhaps it should be said that in some ways it does not go far enough, but after listening to Senator .Benn this afternoon, and considering the figures that he produced-
– One would think that it went too far.
– The honorable senator convinced me that this was a generous bill and that, for that treason, I must support it. If Labour supporters believe that it is generous they should go outside the Parliament and say so; .and when the vote .is taken they .should support it. This is a good -bill - one that improves the lot of the less fortunate members of the community. It adds £22,558,000 to our social service costs, and brings the total to more than £300,000,000 annually. The Australian public approves this measure and is prepared to shoulder the extra burden, because it will bring a little more comfort to many members of the community. I support the measure and oppose the amendment. I do not want Senator Brown to take that as meaning that 1 approve it.
– Senator Mattner has a humorous bent, and usually takes criticism in good part, but he descends to a low political level when he attempts to convince those who do not think for themselves that Labour is opposed to the proposed pension increase. Such a suggestion is utterly stupid. Over the years the Liberals, because of political exigencies and pressure from the people, and from Labour, have effected certain improvements in the lot of those who must depend upon the Government to provide for a -modicum of comfort in the remaining years of their lives. I do not intend to engage in a competition to prove what. has been done by one party or another, except to state the true position so far as Labour is concerned. Another humorist, the big fellow from Western Australia - Senator Scott - interjected on several occasions to ask who introduced age pensions.
It is easy for Government supporters to go out on the public platform and say that their colleagues introduced the age pension, so I have taken the trouble to make a few inquiries concerning its early development. It is true that the Liberals introduced it, but that is not the whole story. We believe that the whole truth should b: told for the benefit of the people and, perhaps, of the Australian Labour Party also.
I wish to quote from “ Hansard “ for 1908, and shall give the exact page so that Senator Scott can check it when he reads my speech. Of course, he may not do me that honour. I do not often read his effusions. Reference .to page 11,922 of “ Hansard for 3rd June, 1908, reveals that the legislation granting age pensions was introduced by Mr. Groom of the electorate of Darling Downs. In a very interesting speech indeed he said -
The Commonwealth proposals are liberal though not unduly so - and just. We propose that a pension of ‘£26 .per annum shall be payable, under certain conditions, to every person who has’ attained the age of sixty-five years, or, if permanently incapacitated for work, the age of sixty years.
Right from the inception of the federal system of government the Labour movement prosecuted vigorously the idea that an age pension should be paid. I have in my hand a statement given me by a member of another place - I must not say “ House of Representatives “ - pointing out that the records of the Australian Labour Party in the early days - 1901 - show a Mr. McDonald, M.H.R., the representative of the electorate of Kennedy, Queensland, as expressing strong feelings concerning the evasive replies of Mr. Barton, the then Prime Minister, on the subject. The Liberals wanted to avoid bringing the measure in. They said that Australia did not have the money with which to pay 10s. a week to old age pensioners. Mr. McDonald suggested that it be raised by direct taxation, but that was like holding out a red rag to a bull. Direct taxation is anathema to our friends opposite; they do not like it. Neither do 1, personally, but it is the best and cleanest method of gaining revenue. It is one way in which the burden can be placed on those who are best able to bear it. I. have shown how, in the earliest days of this Parliament, Labour was active in prosecuting the principle of pensions for the aged of Australia. Mr. Reid wanted to postpone the bill. He spoke against it being pushed through the Parliament, but apparently someone thought that the bill should go through. Sir John Forrest, member of the Reid Opposition, said, “That settles it “, and the bill went through in one night. The next day the Senate also passed it. At page 11,943 of the same volume of “ Hansard “ we find Sir John Forrest saying -
To ask us to pass the bill to-night is an extraordinary demand, seeing that there is no urgency.
Parliamentarians had been talking about it since 1901. Of course, he was on a par with some of our friends on the other side of the chamber. The discussion of those days is reminiscent of what has been happening all the way through in regard to our political divisions. This old tory, this dear old soul from Western Australia, said -
Probably the Government wishes to allow the Labour Party to go to the Brisbane Labour Conference in July and boast of what it has done.
Sir John Forrest made that statement because he knew that the Labour Party would have thrown out the Deakin Government if it had not brought in the old age pensions bill. There was a tariff bill before the House, and there was also another bill to provide for the payment of a bounty. If a firm paid the award rates it was to receive a bounty from the government. 1 believe that the High Court threw out that measure because, it was said, it was ultra vires the Constitution, or something of that nature. Deakin knew there would be trouble once the Labour Party found this out, so he had the measure passed hurriedly. It was passed because of the pressure brought by the Labour Party on Mr. Deakin.
I come now to another gentleman whom we revere, a man of great public probity and a man who fought here for the Commonwealth Bank.
– What was the point in throwing Deakin out if the other people were even more inflexibly opposed to pensions?
– The honorable senator is a politician and he should know the answer. There probably would have been a dissolution, and Labour might have got back into office. I was about to refer to the late King O’Malley. Only a few months ago, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said that a statue should be erected in Canberra in memory of King O’Malley. We all know his history in regard to the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank. When speaking in the second-reading debate on the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill on 3rd June, 1908, King O’Malley said -
Up till 1904 it- the matter of pensions - was before us almost every session. Upon the 9th May, 1901, I gave notice of the following motion: -
That in the opinion of this House it is desirable, in the interests of the deserving aged poor, that the Government, without any unnecessary delay, formulate a national scheme for the payment of old-age pensions, and that this motion, when carried, be an instruction to the Honorable the AttorneyGeneral to draft the necessary measure.
He went on to say -
Upon 2nd August of that year I had the honour to submit that motion. At that time the Barton Government thought the financial position of the Commonwealth would not enable an old-age pensions bill to be placed upon the statute-book.
Later in his speech advocating the payment of pensions, he said - 1 am prepared to finance such a scheme if honorable members will help me to institute a national postal banking system . . .
J shall not read further from the “ Hansard “ report, because it is not germane to my argument, but I understand that at that time New South Wales, Victoria and, I think, Queensland had age pension schemes. I am telling the Senate these things not only for record purposes but also to indicate that Labour was at that time a strong advocate of age pensions, although we admit that it was a Liberal government which placed pensions legislation on the statute-book. I think it is only fair that the people of Australia should know these things. It is rather childish for honorable senators to try to win a point at the expense of truth. You are all honorable men. You all are gentlemen who are anxious to do your best in the community. You are selfless souls who desire to improve Australia, and if you had your way, no doubt, and if you were not taxed, the age pensioners would get their due. But taxation is the trouble. The difficulty arises from the financial situation. We are living under a system of financial capitalism. Everything is subordinated to finance.
Before I go any further I want to say that I admire members of this Parliament for the diligent way in which they have worked on this particular measure, and for the speeches that have been made and the facts that have been disclosed both here and in another place. If we study “ Hansard “, there is a wealth of information to be gleaned from the speeches of members of the House of Representatives and of honorable senators on both sides of the .Senate. Those speeches show that members of the Parliament have been working very hard in ascertaining facts and figures concerning pensions. If the figures that the supporters of the Government have presented are correct, they surely mean that the pensioners should be well and truly satisfied. Those are the Government’s figures. Of course, the figures that the Opposition has put forward demonstrate that the pensioners are worse off than they were formerly. Senator Mattner has said that they are 15s. 4d. a week better off. People on this side of the Parliament, and people independent of both sides, who have gone into the figures, including those relating to the cost of living, have demonstrated clearly that the pensioner to-day is no better off than he was in 1949.
Why is it not possible for some intelligent actuary, or a gentleman who can figure scientifically - we know that liars can figure and that figures can lie - to go into these figures and give the facts to the Senate and the House of Representatives? I know that the remarks of honorable senators opposite are coloured by a desire to make political capital. Undoubtedly, on our side we bring the best figures forward. We would be fools if we did not do so, but between us surely we should be able to devise some system whereby, in this matter of age pensions and social services generally, we could get down to the truth. The supporters of the Government quote figures, but they never say that there has been depreciation in the purchasing power of the £1. We say that on every opportunity. Ministers and others glibly bring forward figures and point to the huge sums of money that are being paid out in social services. Yet, they never once give the real facts of what the pensions will buy.
In speaking of the approach that should be made to this question of pensions, may I say that there has been a complete change in the psychology of the pensioner. It is not many years since a person who wished to get a pension would come to see you in fear and trembling and ask you not to tell anybody about it. To-day, the pensioner takes his pension as a right, and justly so. To-day, pensioners are well organized and,’ because of their organization, they have a greater impact upon governments than they had when they were a disorganized body. It is good to know that. I have had a lifetime of experience in political activities, experience such as no one else in this chamber has had. I have lived with the very poor and I have: been in institutions in the Old Country. One of them was called a workhouse. I have spoken of it before and I shall not deal, with it at any length now. Old men and women went into that workhouse in fear and trembling. Many of them tore their clothes so that they would be locked upin gaol rather than in the workhouse. We have gone a long way since then. The- attitude of the Liberal Party and: the Australian Country Party - the conservatives or tories, or whatever- one likes to call them - towards pensions and pensioners has undergone a fundamental change. There was a time in Great Britain when the ears were chopped off people who were povertystricken and indigent. At other times they were marked on the forehead. In other countries, native tribes used to throw old men and women over cliffs in order to kill them.
– The Eskimos still do it.
– Our learned friend says that the Eskimos still do it. He is a man of probity, and I believe him. I am concerned at the manner in which we approach this measure. It is said that because of the financial situation we cannot do justice to the pensioner. It is a marvellous thing that we have so increased, our powers that we can blast cities into hell. It was done in a twinkling at Nagasaki. We have seen what Russia can do to the moon. I suppose that Russian forces could drop a bomb on this Parliament House at any moment, if they so desired. We. are wonderful human beings. But I often think of a cartoon that I have mentioned here before. In the midst, of the. ruins of a world, from which, all men and, women: are obliterated; a couple of monkeys axe sitting on- a pillar, one saying to the other,. “ Men were very clever creatures, weren!t they?” We are clever creatures but we- cannot solve this problem of looking after, the aged. We cannot even provide them, with blankets. We have to rely- on- charitable: people and the press. Every year the-, press publishes appeals for money, to buy blankets. Men can send rockets to the moon but, because of. our money system, we. cannot- provide blankets for the aged-..
In the main, pensioners require only a few things. Their money goes principally in the purchase of food. Tea, I suppose, is one of their biggest expenses, and’ it is not produced here, but butter and cheese and bread and other- foods are produced here. Why should’ it not be possible for this country, which- produces in such abundance wealth in- the form of food, to ensure that every pensioner has at least the food’ that is necessary for his existence? Our financial system, causes bottlenecks in the distribution oil commodities. This con.tention was borne out by Senator: Maher in a speech in this chamber, which I. think everybody should re-read, in relation, to the Mount Isa railway. He showed how our: present, financial, system created, a bottleneck that prevented our bringing that project to fruition. Because of our financial, system, we cannot re-build that railway from Townsville to Mount Isa in the way in which it should be re-built. He is a tory senator, whom we are all pleased to know. He is a very jovial fellow. Everybody likes Senator Ted Maher. Publicly, in letters to the press, and from his place, in this chamber, he has pointed to the fact that we have men and materials and that with a: proper system of finance the railway would be re-built. But we cannot even re-build the railway. We cannot even provide our aged people with blankets, tea, butter and bread. Tea is a costly item. Labour made tea cheaper by subsidizing, the price, did it not? I hope that I. am right in my facts.
– Labour rationed it.
– Yes, during the wan We did a splendid job during the war, as many honorable senators opposite have admitted. Mr. Chifley, Mr. Curtin, and those who were- associated: with them did wonderful work. Do not let us argue, about that. It would be’ an advantage- if we could get cheaper food. If that subsidy, had been, continued, tea. would be cheapen than it is to-day. If food were cheapened, the: purchasing power of. the pension would. he1, increased.
– The people would drink-, more tea and the subsidy would’ be greater than ever.
– That would be better than drinking more beer.
– The Chifley Govern: ment removed the subsidy from- tea.
– Iff it did, I personally would like to see the subsidy restored. This is not a laughing matter. F know that I seem to be amusing but I am trying to< make a point. Iff; because of our financial’ system, the pensioners cannot be settled’ and’ looked after, by the methods of this, conservative Government, let us devisesome other methods. If’, by subsidizing- tea and other foodstuffs and so reducing prices, the purchasing power of pensions will rise, it will not be necessary to continue to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on social services. Is that not a good point? Labour seeks to limit control by the capitalist financial machine. Yesterday, when discussing the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill we saw how financial forces were seeking to remove the Post Office from the position it now occupies as a socialized institution, not making a profit or seeking to make a profit. The Government is to set up a committee. As a result of the committee’s decisions, a bill will be brought before the Parliament to capitalize the Post Office and provide for the payment of interest on the capital invested in it. That cost will be passed on to those who use the Post Office.
I simply want to show the difference between the Labour Party and the capitalist parties. The Government knows what it is doing. We say that the Post Office is a national institution. It is a social institution that exists for the people and it is not necessary to capitalize the Post Office in order to bring it into line with other institutions. In the same way, we seek all the time, by the application of our socialist principles, to limit the field where industry is in the arena of speculation. I hope I make myself clear. If, by our political activities, we get into power, we shall take from the arena of speculation certain industries which to-day are subject to the stock exchange, to the buying and selling of shares, and the usual practices of financial capitalism. They will then be socialized institutions. Shares will not be bought and sold. All kinds of crooks will not be on the stock exchange trying to make money out of national institutions.
So, we want to try, if we can, to bring pensioners within the ambit of socialized schemes where they will not be subject to the present financial capitalist system under which their miseries are not alleviated because the alleviation of them would affect the financial machine. Like many industries, the pensioners are subject to the vagaries of financial activities. We say that financial capitalism is dominant to-day and industries, and even the pensioners, are subservient to the financial capitalistic system.
I am not speaking personally - it is a matter of politics - when I say that if one or two diehard8 in the Tory Party had their way the Post Office would be handed over to private enterprise, or to monopoly, just as I am firmly of the opinion that TransAustralia Airlines would be handed over to private enterprise, and so on.
During this debate, we have heard various schemes put forward for overcoming the problem. The Labour government had a social welfare fund, but that was destroyed by the present Government when it altered the system of accountancy- According to the figures I have, the sum of £278,227,024 was paid into that fund in the last financial year of its operation; and it was also paid out. The only real addition to the fund was a sum of approximately £2,000,000. But this Government destroyed the character of that fund and built up no reserves. The Government has merged the social service contribution with the income tax, and has frozen the fund. If there is a social services act, and if there is a welfare fund, what need is there for the Government to worry about contributory schemes? It already has all that is needed. Why not let the people know what money is needed and then let every one pay into the fund as we go along? We had that system established. There was no need to change it, and I see no difference whatsoever between paying 5s. or 10s. a week into a welfare fund and paying it into a contributory scheme.
I know, too, that the purpose of many of the schemes is not to solve the social problems of the pensioners, but really to take the burden away from the big taxpayer. If you can take more money from the mass of the people then less will be paid by the big taxpayers. We believe in direct taxation. We believe in income tax. We believe in a social welfare fund, and we believe in placing the burden on the backs of those best able to bear it. We do not believe in tax legerdemain, or trickery, or humbug. Let the people know what the scheme will cost and let them contribute according to their ability to pay. That is my blunt and plain contribution with respect to the various schemes that are brought forward with such gusto by our friends on the Government side.
Another cry of the Government is, “ Let the people- save “. Senator Mattner spoke of saving. He said, “ Let the people save “.
That is rather unusual. What does “ saving “ mean? To save means to refrain from spending. If that were done on a large scale throughout Australia, many business people would be up in arms against the Menzies Government. The Government’s scheme means that those who are not getting enough now should get less, that they should direct their purchasing power, whether it be ls., £1 or £10, into the funds of the Government so that the Government can spend it, possibly on capital works, or lend it to those numerous companies that are now offering 10 per cent., 15 per cent, and 20 per cent, for money. If the money is lent to them, the Government cannot spend it, nor can the lender, and if it cannot be spent, then definite changes take place in the channels of trade.
At the same time as Senator Mattner and other honorable senators on the Government side are appealing to the people to save, I see on television advertisement after advertisement, asking people to spend. We also hear pleas over the radio to spend, and we see requests to spend published in the press. It is most amusing to hear our good honorable senators opposite, with all their powers of oratory, appealing to the working men to save whilst television, radio and newspaper advertisements are asking the people not to save.
Then, of course, we come to hire purchase. The hire-purchase people are well organized now. The banks have got into the racket! The hire-purchase interests are asking people to buy television sets. It will take the people two, three or four years to buy those sets and their purchasing power is reduced to that extent. Yet Senator Mattner says, “ Let the people save! “ How people can save and at the same time buy television sets, God only knows; I don’t! And that is going on at an accelerated rate! In America to-day, the wages of some families are paid direct to the banks and the banks pay instalments to various firms. Many of the workers on fortnightly and monthly pays have hardly a cracker left!
If people wanted as high a pension as they are getting now, they would have to save about £10,000. How many honorable senators have £10,000? Ten thousand pounds invested at 5 per cent, would return £500 a year. So the working man on £14, £15 or £20 a week, who has a wife and several kids is asked to save £10,000 during his working life so that he will not be a charge on the Government. What a lot of damn rubbish!
Then there are these advertisements inviting people to spend. The other day, 1 saw an advertisement in a newspaper, reading, “ Drink more milk; it is good for you “. On the same page I saw another advertisement reading, “ Drink more beer; beer is good for the human frame”. In north Queensland, we grow sugar, and, for years, the propaganda issued there urged people to eat more sugar. As Senator Kendall can tell honorable senators, if a person going to north Queensland does not take sugar, because of some internal complaint, he takes a spoonful or two and throws the sugar over his shoulder. You must waste it. We go to some of our party meetings and frequently a little tea party is held afterwards. I do not take sugar, so I just throw some over my shoulder.
– You make rum in Queensland, too.
– We make jolly good rum, although it kills the fishes. There was trouble in Bundaberg when the distillery was burnt and a lot of fishes were killed by the rum which flowed into the river. Do not worry; you can still take rum; it will not kill you.
I now wish to quote. I like quoting. I quoted Senator Ted Maher - the genial senator. I now want to quote somebody from another place. I listened to our good friend Senator Mattner who told us how to save and how to put money in government bonds. Let me tell you of one of the most amusing things that has happened to me. I put money in government bonds. I started to save a few years ago for the first time in my life. When I went to England the bank docked me about £13 on every £100 bond I sold. When I got to England I found that every £100 bond I took out years ago was worth only £35 in purchasing power. Yet Senator Mattner says “ Save, save! “ What did the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) have to say about the depreciation of savings?
– He is going to be expelled.
– I hope not. 1 advise every honorable senator to read the speech of the honorable member for Bradfield which appears at page 515 of “ Hansard “. What did he say? It is pretty strong language and I hope our friends on the other side can bear with me. It is not a Labour man who said this. What did brother Turner say?
– I bet you even money you will tell us.
– I bet you a million to one that I will. He said, “ governments are perpetuating a swindle in borrowing good money and returning bad “.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) - Order! The honorable senator is not in order in making that quotation.
– Very well. I shall quote another gentleman who is not a member of the Parliament. He contends that to-day under the capitalistic financial system the people who lend their money are being robbed. After a few years, because of inflation, money will not purchase the amount that it would have purchased at the time it was lent. Our good friend Senator Mattner should realize that inflation has been so rapid under the Menzies Government that Australia is placed very high in the list of nations which have suffered from inflation. Under the present Government good money that was invested a while ago is being returned in bad money. What incentive is there for people to save? I had a friend who insured himself so as to draw £400 at a certain age. He decided that when he got that £400 he would buy a car and have a trip to New Zealand. In those days you could buy a Chevrolet car for £200. When his policy matured he did not get his trip to New Zealand, but he did buy a car. He spent the £400 on the deposit and for the next twenty years he will be paying off the balance!
I want now to deal with one or two points raised by honorable senators on the other side who are rebels. I will not quote what they said because the good President has told me that I am not in order in doing so. As a matter of fact, I have been in touch with a number of gentlemen on the other side who are rebels. They contend that the Government should take action to control hire purchase and monopolies and they believe that an end should be made to trade restriction practices. The sams things for which they contend were advocated before Labour’s federal conference last May by Senator Dittmer and his suggestion was adopted unanimously.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– I shall not detain the Senate for much longer, but I do want to say that Labour fought for social services even before it was a political party and when it was an industrial movement only. My mind goes back 60 years to the time when, as a young boy, I sold pamphlets at socialist meetings in the Old Country. I know the fights that took place there. 1 know the struggles that took place, both industrially, and politically, in order to bring about a change of thought among the people, designed to introduce a system of old age pensions instead of dreadful work houses for elderly people. Many members of the aristocracy, including the members of the House of Lords, bitterly opposed the Labour movement and the setting up of a system of age pensions. Right throughout my lifetime I have belonged to industrial and political organizations, and I have fought against those who opposed us. I experienced gaol and the work house, and I know the tragedy of that vile institution that I had the pleasure to re-visit a few years ago, and find in another form. It had been changed from a house of detention and correction and misery into homes for the people.
Irrespective of the side of politics to which we belong, we all owe a duty to look after the aged. I think that it is a splendid thing that certain societies are organizing the establishment of cottages - not institutions - where the aged members of the community can live. I agree with what Senator Sheehan said in this connexion. He would like to see built in certain districts, not elaborate homes, and not institutions with long dormitories and many beds, but separate cottages where aged men and women could live in peace and privacy.
During the debate in this chamber on social services last year, I mentioned a splendid motion picture that had been shown in the Senate Opposition party room, depicting what is being done in England, lt is sometimes said that two ladies cannot live together, but that picture showed keys being handed over to two old ladies who were to live together in a small house that had been provided for them. It was only small, containing a bed-sitting room and a kitchen, but it was to be home to them. Small apartments were also provided for aged people, where they could live on their own. It would be splendid if we made similar provision in this country.
Let me point out how the scheme could work. We could build homes for the aged in parts of our cities or on the outskirts of the cities, where the old folk could meet as a community. We should provide in those homes all the amenities that it is possible to provide to enable them to enjoy the remainder of their lives. What would there be to prevent us from providing them with work to do - some form of occupation? In Brisbane, and in other cities of Australia, the blind are doing splendid work. Why, in this age when a rocket has been sent to the moon and modern developments enable an atomic missile to be accurately directed to a faraway target, should we not provide the aged members of the community with all amenities possible for their spiritual, physical and economic good, and enable them to engage in some occupation so that they may enjoy the remainder of their lives? Labour stands for that, Labour stands for this bill as far as it goes, but our amendment was brought forward for the purpose of showing to the people of Australia that it is possible for the Government to do better than it has done in this measure. We stand for that; we are not ashamed of it. We know that the bill will be passed, but we hope that in the near future greater work will be done for those old soldiers of the industrial movement who have served their country faithfully and well.
. I rise to support the bill and to oppose the amendment. Senator Brown said that it is the responsibility of all people to look after the aged. Well, Sir, I should like to congratulate the Menzies Government on recognizing its responsibility and acting accordingly during the period of ten years that it has been in office.
This afternoon, we had a very thoughtful speech from Senator Benn, who made an analysis of the cash requirements of the Commonwealth for the year 1960. He directed attention to the increase in the number of people in the pensionable age group and to the number of pensions that is now being paid. It is true, Sir, that this bill contemplates the expenditure of £300,785,000 from the National Welfare Fund. That represents an increase of £220,000,000 in the ten years that thi: Government has occupied the treasury bench. I quote that, not for the purpose of comparison with what was paid in 1949, but actually in order to agree with Senator Benn’s statement that the increase in thu money requirement for pensions must impose a great strain on this Government and on all future governments. Taking that as a basis, we must turn our attention to means whereby we will be able to remove pensions from the ordinary financial transactions of the Government and place them in a position where a serious recession could not affect them in any way.
Senator Brown said that we had destroyed the National Welfare Fund, that we had changed its character. If Senator Brown hoped to impress upon the Senate that the previous Labour government had left any funds - any liquid funds - in the National Welfare Fund, I should like to disabuse his mind of that idea straight away. On the first occasion on which I spoke on social services in this Senate - if I remember rightly, my statement was hotly challenged at the time, but it was subsequently accepted as being accurate - the position was that there was no money at all in the National Welfare Fund. The money had been spent, and had either the Chifley Government or the Menzies Government desired to use the book entry standing to the credit of the National Welfare Fund it would have had to impose extra taxation or use central bank credit in order to obtain the money. That disposes of the position of the National Welfare Fund when the Menzies Government came to office.
– There was not a penny in the fund.
– That is so - every penny had been spent, and either extra taxation or central bank credit would have been needed in order to find the amount of money that stood to the credit of the fund. It does not matter how many millions of pounds were involved - Senator Mattner mentioned one amount and Senator Brown has mentioned another - the end result is the same.
– The dough was not there.
– That’s it. The main purpose of the bill is to increase the basic rate pension by 7s. 6d. a week. Opposition members, both here and in another place, have complained that pensions have not kept pace with either cost of living increases or basic wage adjustments. Senator Benn said that he did not intend to argue that pensions should be related to the basic wage, but he then went on to quote basic wage adjustments over the years and said that whereas, in 1949, the basic wage had been £6 9s., it is now £13 3s. I do not know the figure for Queensland, but the average basic wage for Australia is £13 16s. The age and invalid pension of £2 2s. 6d. paid in 1949 represented approximately 32.9 per cent, of the then basic wage. The amount of £4 15s. which this Government will now pay, represents 34 per cent, of the present average basic wage of £13 16s. In States where the basic wage is lower than the average the percentage will be even higher. If we add the supplementary pension of 10s. which is paid to certain classes of pensioner, we have a total payment equal to 38 per cent, of the basic wage. I am not using these arguments to prove that the pension should be related to the basic wage. My only concern is to show that if that principle had been adopted the payment would now be £4 lis. 3d. instead of £4 15s. or, in some cases, £5 5s.
Senator Benn went on to say that, whether or not the pension was related to the basic wage, the Government was not in a position to say that costs would not rise during the next few months. I remind him that no government has ever been able to forecast that. Tn 1949 the Chifley Government refused to increase the pension. The basic wage was then £6 9s.. but, when it was next adjusted, it rose to £6 13s. I mention that in no spirit of criticism, but merely by way of illustrating how pointless it is to say that the Menzies Government fixes a pension rate, but has no idea of the increase in costs that might follow. I repeat, no government has been able to forecast such increases.
Senator Benn’s figures as to the percentage of pensioners relative to persons of pensionable age were most interesting. Honorable senators will recall that, on a number of occasions, I have given similar figures. I have directed attention to the -fact that the percentage of pensioners has been increasing and that, at some point or other, we would have to take a stand and decide how governments of the future were to meet their pension commitments. We all know the reasons for the higher percentage of aged persons drawing pensions and, indeed, for the greater number of persons in the eligible age group. Advances in medical science have added greatly to the expectation of life. There has been a lowering of mortality rates, especially in infancy. That improvement has extended into the middle age group, and Australia and other countries will have to face a situation in which the proportion of elderly people will be very much greater than it has been in the past.
A substantial liberalization of the means test has also taken place during the administration of the Menzies Government. I am sure that Senator Toohey, who is at present in the chamber, was under a misapprehension when he said that there had been very little liberalization. I shall give the Senate figures to show that, to the contrary, it has been substantial. In 1949 the permissible income was £1 10s. a week, the savings exemption figure was £100 and the property limit was £750. There were then 403,022 persons drawing pensions, but in 1951 this Government raised the property limit to £1,000, and another 14,346 pensioners came into the field. In 1953 the permissible income figure was increased to £2 a week and the savings limit to £150. That brought in another 33,964 pensioners. In 1954, the Government raised the permissible income to £3 10s. a week, the permissible savings figure to £200 and the property limit to £1,750. Then in 1955, it decided that income from property should ne disregarded and that ceiling limits, as applied to age and war pensions, should be abolished. In all, another 58,834 persons became eligible for pensions. The further raising of the property limit, in 1958, to £2,250 added a further 23,434 pensioners. So that in those ten years 194,620 additional people became eligible for pensions. I hope that that will correct any doubt either that there has been an appreciable liberalization of the means test, or that pension benefits have been extended to many more people.
Complementary to the money increases given by this Government have been its medical and health services - of inestimable value to the recipients. Such benefits cannot be measured in terms of money. This Government was quick to realize that advancing years imposed a great strain and that, because of reduced incomes, elderly people found sickness an intolerable burden. So it was that in 1951 we introduced a pensioner medical service. That service supplies free medical and pharmaceutical benefits to invalid, age, widow and service pensioners. I repeat, the ease of mind and comfort that this service brings to the pensioner is beyond estimation. In 1957, 93.6 per cent, of pensioners were enrolled in the pensioner medical service, which means that by far the greatest proportion of pensioners are in receipt of the wonderful benefits that are provided.
Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin referred to the Aged Persons Homes Act. Here again, Sir, I am sure that honorable senators will agree that we have had an innovation in social services which has earned for Australia the admiration of the whole world. As Senator Brown mentioned this afternoon, we all know of the poorhouses of London and of the conditions under which elderly people were forced to exist in institutions in years gone by. The care of the aged by government instrumentalities is not new in the Commonwealth. It is practically as old as the nation itself, but formerly most of the people, during the years of their lives when they needed hospital care, were cared for in institutions of a very poor standard which were run mainly by the States. The Aged Persons Homes Act has completely transformed the scene. Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin mentioned, as did the Minister in his second-reading speech, that as a result of the act already 7,000 people are living under most congenial circumstances. Most important of all for elderly people is that they are able to maintain the type of domestic life to which they have been accustomed, and they are also able, wherever possible, to enjoy the companionship of husband or wife. The Aged Persons Homes Act, by removing irksome aspects of the institutional type of care, has added considerably to the happiness of the declining years of many people.
– It must be remembered, too, that the aged persons homes scheme was not introduced as an electionwinning bid. It was introduced between elections.
– That is perfectly true.
A departure from accepted practices ii. the case of the aged is the study and the time that have been devoted to geriatrics. As a matter of fact, we in Victoria are very proud because we believe that we are ahead of all other States in this work. The first of the comprehensive surveys that we made in Australia originated in Victoria. Those surveys were made possible through the generosity of Rotary and the Sidney Myer Trust. Honorable senators may remember that Dr. Bertram Hutchinson produced a report which has been accepted as one of the text-books on this subject. At the present time in Victoria reciprocal visits are being undertaken by some of our Victorian geriatricians and overseas geriatricians, and special programmes are being laid down for the study of old age and the rehabilitation of elderly people.
Within our Hospitals and Charities Commission we have set up a special department. We have established medical and nursing scholarships for our doctors and nurses to go overseas and, on returning to Victoria, help in the wonderful work of gerontology. I have seen some of the work that is being done, particularly at Mount Royal, which works in co-operation with the Royal Melbourne Hospital. In addition to that work, and with the assistance given through the State Government, we have set up in Victoria an Old People’s Welfare Council. That council has extended to other States. Through its efforts, home help services are being provided for many elderly people. They are having the assistance of home help and of “ meals on wheels “; and clubs are being set up all over the State so that elderly people may meet and fraternize with others of their own age. That is a part of what is being done for elderly people, in Victoria, and in most other States as well. 1 am inclined to the belief that the granting of an over-all increase of pension rates is probably a method that pleases most people and is the easiest to put into effect, but, Sir, I believe that the time may well have come when the whole of the pension system requires a thorough overhaul, because we have on pensions to-day two very different types of person. On the one hand we have the couple who own their home and who have been able to place in the home all the modern amenities they require. They may have superannuation. They may possess an annuity, or one or other of them may be able to work, and they may thus be able to receive an income of £16 10s. That is a net income, without any taxation deduction, and is £2 14s. a week in excess of the present average basic wage. On the other hand, we have the poor, sick, lonely pensioner living alone. That person obtains a pension of £4 15s. a week. If he is paying rent he is eligible for the additional 10s. rent allowance, making a pension of £5 5s. a week.
In perpetuating a system that gives a flat increase to all pensioners we must reach a stage at which one section of pensioners is at a very much greater advantage than are others. So, Sir, it is the responsibility of the Government to look at the position of the pensioner to whom I have referred previously in this place as the hard-core pensioner, the person who is too old or too sick to do anything for himself oi herself. If we do that, I believe that we may be unable to continue to increase the general rate of pensions on an overall basis. It is true that the means test as it exists to-day is a deterrent to thrift. A couple who have saved only £400 are able to apply to the Government and receive a pension of £9 10s. a week, whereas a person who has saved £5,000 and invested it at current bond interest of 5 per cent, receives only £250 a year. It is all very well for Senator Brown to ask, “ Who should save? “ Governments have only two ways of obtaining money to carry on the business of the nation. They obtain it either through taxation or through loans. If people are to feel that there is no encouragement at all for them to save money and that if they spend it - I shall not say “ squander “, although many do dispose of their assets in such a way as to squander them - they will be in a better position than those who save all the time, eventually not only will the economy of this country suffer, but so also will the capacity and stability of its people. If one thing has brought Australia to the position it occupies at the present time, it has been the sturdy independence of men and women who had a little money to save and saved it in the belief that by so doing they would help their country and also make their own future secure. I am delighted to hear that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has given an assurance that the Government will have a look at this matter. I do not know what the solution is, but I believe that a solution must be found.
Widows’ pensions are to be increased by 7s. 6d. a week, bringing the pension of the class A widow to £5 a week and those of class B, C and D widows to £4 2s. 6d. a week. I commend the Government for making progressive increases in widows’ pensions, but I do not believe that we comprehend the difficulties under which a widow, divorcee or deserted wife has to live when she is the sole support of her children. It is true that they can go out to work and that they do, by their thousands. That they do so is borne out by the fact that in a sample survey in 1956 it was shown that approximately 13 per cent, of widow pensioners were 60 or more years of age, which indicated that 87 per cent, of widows at that time were under 60 years of age. So it is reasonable to assume that many of them had dependent children.
Before I entered the Senate, I was a special magistrate in the children’s court, and I know something of the subject about which I speak. I know the results of broken homes and the difficulties into which widows, deserted wives and their children get when the mother is absent from home. It may be said that many women who do not require money leave their children and go to work. That may be so. That is the mother’s decision and, in some cases, the father’s too. I believe that it is time we had a look at the situation of the civilian widow who wants to stay in her own home and do the job which in the long run is the best for her country, so that we may see whether it is not possible to give more generous treatment to her.
There are other ways in which the Government has assisted the aged, the invalid and the widowed. Domiciliary nursing has become increasingly important all over the world. We have recognized that fact, and the Government is subsidizing nursing services. The extent to which these services are used can best be judged by the fact that the Melbourne District Nursing Service, which is just one service out of dozens - 1 would hope there were hundreds but 1 know there are not - that operate throughout the country, treated 4,726 pensioners last year and its nurses paid 165,100 visits. That is a great contribution to the health and happiness of the people who are ill and in need.
I should like to make a brief reference to the health services that have been provided by this Government. In 1949, the Labour government spent approximately £6,000,000 for this purpose, whereas this year we shall spend £64,000,000, or more than ten times as much as was spent by the previous government. These are services the value of which is beyond estimation in financial terms. Running right through the pattern of the social services programme of the Menzies Government has been an appreciation of the need to provide as much money as the Government can manage each year, with some addition in every Budget. But superimposed on that and, in my mind, more important still, it has given sympathetic consideration to the need for care. That, in the final analysis, means more to the aged than does the payment of a few extra shillings, no matter how valuable money may be to any one of us. I mentioned before that the sick and the lonely are in some instances unable to use money. I have gone into pensioners’ homes where the food was untouched, where they could not lift their hands to brush a fly from their faces, but their eyes were fixed on the door because they knew that sooner or later a visiting nurse or a member of some voluntary auxiliary would appear and give to them something that money could not buy. Gare has been, the keynote of the social services policy and programme of the
Menzies Government. I believe we have a magnificent record that is unsurpassed by that of any other country.
In conclusion, may I say that other countries have sought and found an answer to the question of a national retiring allowance for all people. The last survey of superannuation in Australia showed that approximately 25 per cent, of the people do benefit by some pension scheme, which leaves 75 per cent, without one. If we have been able to develop a social security programme of the type that we now have, surely we should find a way to offer to the people of Australia a retiring allowance scheme that would place us not only in the forefront of social services but would also give to Australia a complete social security programme for which the people who received the benefits would, I believe, during their working lifetime gladly pay. I support the bill and oppose the amendment.
.- Although it is not stated in so many words, it is implied throughout the second-reading speech of the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) that age pensioners and other recipients of relief payments are receiving something for nothing. Quite the reverse is the case. During the course of his second-reading speech, the Minister had this to say -
The money which is used to pay social service beneficiaries is not summoned out of the air.
That is perfectly true. I do not know anybody who has suggested that it is summoned out of the air, but the use of those words implies that persons like honorable senators on this side think money can be summoned out of the air. People who make statements such as that either are ignorant of the position or are saying these things deliberately to mislead those who do not know any better or are supposed not to know any better. The Minister went on to say -
It must be paid over in hard cash by the taxpayer.
That is. true. But who are the taxpayers? They are the men and women actively and usefully employed in both primary and secondary industry creating the wealth of the nation. They pay both directly and indirectly. They pay in one way by providing enormous profits in excess of the subsistence wage they receive. Out of those enormous profits, the taxes are paid. The taxes that we pay are made possible by the men and women actively and usefully employed in primary and secondary industry. But for them, we would not be able to pay any taxes at all unless we did the work ourselves. That is one of the reasons why profits are increasing enormously while poverty is also increasing.
The people pay directly in taxes imposed by the Government, lt is not an exaggeration to say that the people who actually do the work of society pay all the taxes. All they receive in age and other social service payments is merely the refund of a small part of what they have paid over previously to their taskmasters. That being so, for the Government to imply that it is a great benefactor, that it is charitably disposed, that it is humanitarian and an example to all is just so much posing and postulating. The Government is no such thing. Actually it is the beneficiary of the people who do the real work.
If we are to judge by the tenor of their speeches, honorable senators on the Government side are not at all thankful for that. They, with others outside the Parliament, are more favorably placed than the wage earners in that they earn their living by the sweat on the brow of the other fellow, not by the sweat on their own brow. All these statements made by them are grossly exaggerated and are designed to create a false impression of the real position.
What will actually happen will be that the so-called increases will be cancelled out by increasing prices. I have a copy of a long speech made at Perth by Dr. Coombs, Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, on 26th August last. In that speech, he pointed out that prices will continue to increase. In effect, he said that was inevitable under existing conditions. In those circumstances, the so-called increases of pensions certainly will be cancelled out by increases in prices.
It is somewhat similar to the position of the workers who go to an arbitration tribunal for an increase of wages. Thousands of pounds are spent, mainly in legal expenses, over many months as the court virtually chases shadows and works on hypotheses which cannot be supported by facts. If the court grants an increase of 15s., as it has done recently, that is can celled out almost immediately by increased prices. So, in actual fact the court fixes a money wage and the directors of the leading monopolies fix the real wage.
Then, when the workers are considered to be too old or unprofitable, they receive a slight refund. Senator Brown has given us some idea of why the age pension system was adopted in the first place. The government of the day was simply making a virtue of necessity. If a pension had not been paid to placate the victims of systematic subordination, exploitation and impoverishment to the lowest level they would tolerate, the Government would have had more trouble than it could have coped with.
The Minister told us in his secondreading speech that certain increases had been made since 1949. As honorable senators know, I have some figures published by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the United Kingdom, a reliable authority. Those figures disclose the extent to which our currency has depreciated. They disclose that whereas the £1 was worth 6s. in 1946 it is worth approximately only 3s. to-day. So that when honorable senators on the Government side talk about increases they are referring only to paper increases, or increases in terms of depreciated currency or printing-press money, call it what you like.
We have the state of affairs that the Government is absolutely imposing on thousands of unfortunate people who are not supposed to know any better, and are unable to resist. The Minister went on to say in his speech -
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.
That position will go from bad to worse. That is the reason why the Opposition proposes in its amendment that the whole question be inquired into. We say, of course, that the inquiry should be made by people who are capable of doing the job and who understand the position. The Opposition asks that the bill be 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. That is a perfectly reasonable request, in the light of the Minister’s statement that the position is going from bad to worse, yet the position is being condoned by allegedly intelligent and sympathetic representatives of the people. If I were outside addressing a meeting - as I have done thousands of times - I would use much stronger language than that, and 1 would be fully justified in doing so in the circumstances.
Relatively, the wage paid to the average worker in primary and secondary industry has never been lower than it is to-day. Those who are working with machines to-day are producing wealth considerably in excess of their cost of subsistence, to an extent much greater than did the previous generation or generations before that. To the extent that they create wealth so cheaply, so quickly and so enormously in excess of the cost of their subsistence, so their wage is being lowered proportionately and poverty is increasing.
Senator Brown referred to the number of aged pensioners who have been compulsorily retired by the Government and by private employers. These pensioners are denied the right to earn a decent livelihood, although they are capable of doing so. They are willing and able to work. As Senator Brown said, and as any intelligent person knows, there is no shortage of land or materials in this country. As I have just pointed out, there is no shortage of manpower. Why are these people impoverished down to the lowest level and denied the right to earn a decent livelihood in the declining years of their lives? Some of these men and women are years younger than I am, and possibly much more capable of doing their jobs, yet thousands of them have to live in solitary confinement. Then the Government takes unction unto itself as the great benefactor of mankind. I do not know of any age in history when such a hypocritical approach was made to this question. In the days to which Senator Brown referred, this process of impoverishment was done more crudely than to-day, and it was understood. To-day it is done so subtly, so scientifically, so ingeniously and so profitably that it is not understood. All the means of propaganda that we have, including the privately-owned monopoly press, and the television and broadcasting commentators, try to convey the impression that these people are being cared for to the extent that they deserve or to the extent that they need. Nothing of the sort is happening.
I often hear people speaking about out welfare state. It is euphemistically spoken of in that way, but actually the workers are in a condition of cheaply subsidized pauperism - and preventable pauperism at that. I can imagine what honorable senators opposite would say if they were in a similar position, but they are in a comfortable position. They see the world from their own point of view, and speak and act accordingly. What they have to try to do, if they want to do justice, is to see the world from the point of view of the workers and pensioners, as well as from their own.
I was very interested in a report which appeared in the Melbourne “ Herald “ of 11th September. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was reported as saying that the workers here are second to none. He was speaking at a Chamber of Manufactures dinner, so possibly he was inspired by the spirits. The report states -
The Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, praised the Australian workers’ skill, resource, good humour and courage last night.
That was said to mislead them. If waterside workers, transport workers or any other workers were on strike, I can imagine the Prime Minister and his supporters saying that they were Communist inspired, but when the workers acquiesce, as it were, in their own subjection, they are told that they are second to none in the world. It is interesting to note that in the same speech the Prime Minister spoke of inflation. Inflation plays a most important part, as I have said. The 1949 Australian £1 was worth 6s., assessed in terms of gold, but the 1959 £1 is worth approximately only 3s. The Prime Minister said “ Beware of inflation “. Dr. Coombs also has referred to inflation in an article that covered 18 pages - something like a second-reading speech only a little longer and a little more involved - and has pointed out what the result is likely to be unless we take some action different from that which has been taken to date. The Prime Minister went on to say -
But, like every other country, Australia lives under the shadow of inflation. Inflation, at the rate of two or three per cent, a year, is not a very healthy thing. With its steady growth, financing of public works became more and more difficult.
Not one word of advice was given as to what should be done to stabilize the currency; not one word to the absent Treasurer as to what he should do to stabilize the currency; not one word for the academically qualified economists as to what they should do to stabilize the currency. The position is going from bad to worse, and the chief sufferers are the most helpless - the aged, those in enforced idleness or unemployment, widows and children. The existence of this state of affairs has been admitted by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and all those men who are qualified to speak with authority and are supposed to do so, but not one word has been said as to what constitutes inflation, its origin and its purpose.
We are being asked to accept the bill that is now before us and all that has been said and implied in the Minister’s secondreading speech. I should be ashamed to sit on this side of the chamber if one of my colleagues was prepared to accept it. Inflation and mechanization are reducing an ever increasing number of people to the level of poverty. However, the financial situation to which Senator Brown has referred could be changed. After all, what is finance? Money is simply a medium of exchange for indirect bargaining; nothing else. It has been so regarded through the ages, in fact from the time that money was first adopted for the purpose of exchange. Yet here we are in the twentieth century, in the year 1959, and we are confronted with a state of affairs which is to be deprecated, a state of affairs in which thousands of men, women and children are being impoverished and reduced to the lowest level. But not one word has been said by the Government and its supporters as to how that state of affairs can be avoided.
If men and women were reasonably well informed, it would be within the possibilities of practical politics to reverse this state of affairs and to make it possible for every man, woman and child in need of the necessaries of life to receive them. I can visualize a national household, organized on the basis of a decent private household, in which the young, the ailing and the aged receive priority of treatment from the breadwinner who is actually working for them. In Australia we have a national household where the reverse is the position.
I wonder at times how it is possible for honorable senators on the Government side of the chamber, particularly lady senators, to justify the continuance of this state of affairs because, after all is said and done, the women and children suffer most because they are least able to resist. In all the schools, in the kindergarten, the primary, secondary and high schools and at the universities - I make no exception - children and young people are taught, in effect, to accept this state of affairs as they find it simply because it has been condoned and sanctioned in the name of authority.
I can appreciate the proposal to allow aborigines to enjoy social service benefits. But this is only the result of intensified propaganda. I can remember as far back as 1894 when I saw aboriginal men, women and children, living in Western Australia in the most revolting conditions. Since that time the aboriginal population has decreased to such an extent that the Government has thought that these people should be given some relief. Before the white man came to this country the aborigines had freedom of access to the means by which they live. To-day they are in a similar position to wage earners - they do not have freedom of access to the means by which they live. They have access to those means only by the consent and goodwill of the Government and employers. It is purely negative, therefore, to speak of freedom. However, the owners of land and capital have positive freedom of access to the means by which they live. For them, this is a free world, but for the aborigines it is not. They have to depend upon the Government for what they receive. They have no means of resisting unless they do what has been done in other countries and resort to the use of armed force. An appeal to reason is absolutely useless - at least, it has been up to date. In moving the amendment we are hopeful that something more will be done for these people in the immediate future than has been done in the past.
To sum up the position from the point of view of the economy of the country, I believe that the problem of production has been solved. There has never, been an age in the history of man when workers employed in primary and secondary industries have produced so much so cheaply, so quickly and of a value so enormously in excess of what they receive as a subsistence wage. As I have said, the problem of production has been solved, particularly in the highly mechanized countries. But what do we find in the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the world where there are mountains of primary products which cannot be sold and millions of people are living in a state of semi-starvation just as are the people in some Asian countries where only primitive methods of production are used? As the people of those countries do not possess machines, we have donated many to them, but they have not been used. Hence, the problem has yet to be solved. To provide them with additional machines under the Colombo Plan would only make the position worse, because in many instances the machines that have been provided are rusting away. What is needed in all these countries is a re-organization of their internal economy based upon production for use instead of production for profit. The provision of machinery alone will not solve the problem; it will lead only to increased starvation.
In the State of Victoria, it should be possible to provide decent housing for the 15,000 people who require homes instead of building skyscrapers and palatial hotels and offices for people who are living, on the sweat on other people’s brows, but that will not be done because it would be unprofitable. Therefore, the internal economy must be re-organized on the basis of production for the people who actually do the work - not for those who exploit and impoverish them. Similarly, we should re-organize international trading on the war-time model, when goods and services were exchanged for other goods and services. This is well within practical politics. T do not suggest for a moment that the present practices can be changed overnight, but I do say, in view of the poverty that exists in this country where, out of a population of 10,000,000 people more than 650,000 are on the dole so to speak, the Government could give’ a lead: As far as I can see, this Government - as did other governments - lacks initiative, knowledge and moral courage to depart from the established procedure of impoverishing the people in the midst of plenty, or allowing them to be impoverished by the system under which we live. When supporters of the Government are turning these things over in their minds, they should try to visualize the splendid men and women who began to create wealth here 60 years ago and who are now withering away in poverty. How would honorable senators opposite themselves like to be faced with a similar prospect? They should ask themselves what they are doing about it. They are merely conforming to the financial and production policies laid down by their leaders. Of course, the press and the television and broadcasting commentators are all paid to look after the supporters of the Government and to keep these unfortunate, people on their present level. The fact that the number of pensioners is increasing rather than diminishing is proof of my assertion. I wonder how long the present state of affairs will continue - for how long the pensioners and potential pensioners will acquiesce in the way that the matter is being handled by the Government. Inevitably, there will be a reaction, and if an appeal to reason fails there will possibly be an appeal to physical force, just as there was in 1854. People who had attempted to reason with government authorities were not listened to but were gaoled. Years afterwards, they revolted at Eureka. As we know, that incident, which took its rise from moral courage, led to important reforms. Likewise, in other countries workers are resorting to the strike weapon and to revolutionary action within national borders, not because they want to do these things but because they are forced to do them in order to improve the conditions to which they are being subjected by government authorities.
I have stated these facts so that it cannot be said that we on this side of the chamber acquiesce in the infamous proposition that is set out in the bill before us and which was dealt with- by the Minister in his secondreading speech. The Government thinks that because so many millions of pounds are being expended on- social services, the proposed increases are substantial. That is not. so. All these figures’ on paper do not mean any more to the recipients of pensions and other social services than what they are now receiving. The so-called increases will not even restore the status quo ante when this Government came to power. During the period of ten years that honorable senators opposite have controlled the machinery of government the position has gone from bad to worse - on their own admission - and I wonder how much further it can deteriorate -before reaction will set in.
– I rise to oppose the amendment and to support the bill that is before the Senate. It is not for the reason that I disagree entirely with the amendment that I intend to vote against it. I feel that if it were carried there would be an unnecessary and an unduly long delay in paying the increases to the people who have been chosen in the Budget to receive these increases. The Government is very anxious that they shall receive them at the first possible moment.
I do not intend to quote figures in relation to the proposed increases because they are contained in the bill before us and were explained by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) in his secondreading speech. Suffice it for me to say that increases will apply to invalid and widows’ pensions, and to the maternity allowance which will now be paid to aboriginal women other than those who are primitive or nomadic. An innovation is the payment of a clothing allowance, similar to the clothing allowance that has been included in the repatriation legislation. This is a very fine provision. Payments of clothing allowance received under the Repatriation Act will be exempt as income under the Social Services Act. It will enable repairs and replacements to take place where the use of artificial limbs has been hard on clothing.
I should like to say something about the wonderful co-operation that the Federal Government has received from State governments, church bodies and other organizations in regard to the proposed service to aboriginal folk. Honorable senators are well aware that a number of the laws governing aborigines are enacted by the States, and that the Commonwealth is not solely responsible for native welfare. In that fact lies much of the trouble that nas been experienced in past years. The treatment of aborigines has not always been what one might have expected because of this lack of co-operation between governments, and the reluctance to assume complete responsibility. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), and his departmental officers, have done a very fine job in this connexion. I should like to quote what the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) said in his second-reading speech, for I feel it to be very important. He said -
At this point I should like to amplify briefly the reference I 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 foursquare with other Australians as far as eligibility is concerned . . . 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 I am sure will continue to devote in the future - so much time to the noble purpose of aboriginal welfare.
This is a striking example of co-operation between State and Federal governments, and between those governments and the various organizations concerned with native welfare. This is, indeed, an historic piece of legislation.
The mounting cost of social services is engaging the attention not only of the Government but of businessmen generally. Expenditure in this direction is being watched closely. Businessmen are fearful, because the Government has not yet attempted to introduce a national insurance scheme. They envisage a continuance of the pay-roll tax, which was really introduced as a wartime measure only. Foi some years they have expected its abolition, but that has not taken place. In more ways than one they are expressing their fear that pay-roll tax will always be with them; or worse, that it might even be increased.
I direct attention to the fact that in 1948-49, when Labour was in office - and social services were not so extensive as they are to-day - the annual expenditure in this direction was only £46,000,000. To-day, the cost is in the vicinity of £161,000,000, an increase of 251 per cent, during the ten years of this Government’s administration. How futile it is for the Opposition - and how terribly untrue - to state that this Government has neither increased benefits nor extended them to greater numbers. Pension increases have been given in every Budget brought down since the Government took office. Certainly, it has never reduced the age pension, as did Labour on one occasion - causing considerable suffering to the people whom Labour supporters claim to serve. Labour’s National Welfare Fund, inclusive of the cost of the health benefit, amounted in 1948-49 to only £80,000,000. The present Government must foot a bill for this purpose of more than £300,000,000, an increase of 273 per cent. Comparisons may be odious but the figures that I have given entirely refute the arguments of honorable senators who have tried to detract from the wonderful work that this Government has done.
I should like to remind honorable senators of the various factors that have produced this enormous increase in social service costs. There has been, first, a great rise in population. Pensions have been increased six times. In addition, the Government provides repatriation benefits, and benefits to tuberculosis sufferers. The means test has been liberalized considerably and child endowment has been increased. Free medical and pharmaceutical benefits have been conferred on eligible pensioners and their dependants, and this has removed the great fear of being overtaken by illness in old age and not being able to foot the bill.
I would also remind Opposition senators that we have a wonderful health scheme, which actually works. They will recall how completely the McKenna scheme failed - because it did not have the co-operation of the doctors, the chemists or even the people. People refused to be ill by categories. Women refused to have their babies at 10.28 a.m. on Friday. Our scheme gives great satisfaction. It has removed fear, and given security to many pensioners and their dependants. The Opposition will find it very difficult to make the public believe that the Government has not done a wonderful thing in enacting legislation to enable churches and charitable organizations to build homes for the aged. The Aged Persons Homes Act is a very humane piece of legislation. I have been interested in housing for aged persons for a very long time. Indeed, my late husband began the first cottage homes in Western Australia, and that is a good many years ago now. Those homes are to-day flourishing because of the wonderful aid that has been given to them by the Commonwealth Government under the Aged Persons’ Homes Act.
I have visited a great number of homes for the aged. The last one I saw was during a visit to Hobart. I congratulate Tasmanian representatives in this chamber on the splendid home that they have in Hobart, known as the St. Anne’s Rest Home. I spent half a day going over the home. I found a beautiful new building with the latest equipment of every kind, and with every comfort for the people living there. I was delighted to know that Hobart had such a fine refuge for its elderly citizens. I was glad to hear Senator Wedgwood mention the excellent work that Victoria is doing for the aged. I had the pleasure of visiting the Mount Royal Hospital in Victoria quite recently. Not only are elderly people being taken into that home, comforted and looked after, but in addition they are receiving therapy treatment which gives them something to do in their idle moments. The advancing years of their lives are being made more pleasant. I am able to speak from first-hand knowledge of such homes. I am on the council of at least three homes in Western Australia, and I know just how much the Aged Persons’ Homes Act means to organizations that have been struggling for years to make ends meet and to provide additional accommodation. Because of this legislation, 7,000 elderly people are to-day living in the greatest comfort, with all the fear of loneliness and of being left alone at the end of their lives removed from them. That, I think, is a remarkable achievement.
The fact that medical science has done such wonderful work in prolonging life is a matter for concern for some of us. We in Australia, with our high living standards, our abundance of good food and our beneficial climate, have, through the advance of medical science, probably been given another twenty years of life. But in our Public Service and, generally speaking, throughout industry, we still keep to the very archaic rule of retirement at 60 years of age for women and 65 years for men. By retiring people who are physically fit and able to carry on, and who want to carry on with the work they are doing, we are building up a human scrap heap. We are wasting the talents of those people. That is not a good thing for a young country like Australia, which is crying out for expansion. I know, of course, the kind of answer that people give as soon as one starts to speak about abolishing the retiring age of 60 years for women and 65 for men. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) made a public statement a few weeks ago in which he said that he thought that the retiring age should be considered with a view to seeing what variation could be made. The next day, in the press, there was criticism of his statement, to the effect that you cannot possibly keep people on after they have reached the age of 60 years or 65 years because to do so blocks those who are coming along behind them. I know that that applies to the Public Service, including the education departments in the various States. But I have a feeling - and I am not alone in this - that it is high time for us in this country to decide that we want the best brains guiding us at the top, and that it is not simply a question of a person getting a certain position because he or she has been a long time in the service and is entitled to the next move up.
The point is that we should be choosing as the heads of our departments, and for leading positions in industry, people who can give leadership. Australia is the leading country in the Pacific, and we want our best brains at the top. The Americans have a smart way of putting it when they say, “ Let the good peas come to the top “. If we take some time to study this question of the retiring age, I think we shall find that there are ways and means of holding those people who are expert at the work they are doing, who have spent a long time at it and who can be very valuable in guiding those who are coming on after them. We should hold them in the positions they have attained if they are physically well and willing to carry on.
In the “ Canberra Times “ this morning there was a very interesting article on almost this same question. It referred to the training of apprentices. One of the most arresting paragraphs of the article stated that the older and more experienced worker - the expert, in other words - could play a very valuable part in the training of apprentices in this country. Radical changes are taking place in our industries to-day, and there will be even more radical changes when automation is stepped up. Therefore, I think that our trained people, those who have given their lives to their work and who are able to guide others who are coming on, should be allowed to remain at their work, or at least they should be transferred to other work, as some firms are doing, so that we do not lose the value of their great experience.
I noticed the other day a pleasing feature of a function held by a very big firm in New South Wales. It gave a banquet to two of its employees who had reached the retiring age. Both employees had been with the firm for 43 years. At the banquet they were given handsome presents, and the owner of the firm said, “ I am very pleased to be able to announce that we are holding this banquet to-night in honour of these two people who have been with us for so long. I am delighted to be able to tell you that they will continue to work with us until they feel they want to give up. We are taking no notice of the “ retiring age.” That is a very significant pointer to the fact that this matter is being talked about by big business interests.
There was quite a little dismay at the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) some months ago to the effect that we were not able to have a national insurance scheme because of the difficulties involved. Some of the criticism was very severe, and I wish to refer to one critical statement that was published in the “ West Australian “ soon after the announcement was made. Incidentally, I noticed that Senator Cole, in his speech, said that it was high time that we had a national insurance programme. I heartily agree. The “ West Australian “ article stated -
Out of a total estimate of £273,000,000 for Federal social services this year, age, invalid and widows pensions account for £143,000,000. This figure is rising annually with higher pension rates, liberalization of the means test and more people of pensionable age drawing benefits The call on tax revenue is mounting correspondingly, but more and more taxpayers are becoming angry because of the means test. Even so, present pension rates are not providing a decent living standard for many recipients.
The answer to this complex problem is a contributory system of national insurance, which has been dangled before the Australian people at intervals since 1923. Presumably, the Menzies Government has abandoned all idea of carrying out its 1949 promise to prepare a contributory system for submission to the electors. If that is so, the public is entitled to a frank statement of the reasons why the Government now considers national insurance to be impracticable. As it is, the Government is merely drifting along into unpredictable expenditure. There are difficulties in a comprehensive insurance scheme, but it is not enough for Social Services Minister Roberton to use them, as he has, as an excuse for shrugging the question off. The big problem is to fix contributions by employee and employer, which, with the Government’s quota, would be reasonable while ensuring an adequate basic rate of pension. If it was impossible to finance benefits approximating the present scale it would still be open to the Government to alleviate cases of hardship.
The advantages would be many. Contributory insurance would limit the cost of pensions and therefore revenue demands, thus widening the scope for tax cuts. By giving taxpayers a measure of superannuation by right in abolition of the means test it would encourage thrift for old age and private investment in national development. It would eliminate also an unhealthy tendency to dissipate assets to qualify for the means-test pension.
The slogan to-day, instead of being “ Save for your old age “, is “ Spend while you have it “. As the years go by and the average age of the population increases, it is no wonder that people are discussing the manner in which about 4,000,000 Australian taxpayers are to carry the increasing load they will have to carry if social services are to be maintained at the standard that we would desire. Quite a few societies have sent me particulars of national insurance schemes which they have formulated. The Taxpayers Association of Australia has sent a very commendable scheme, and likewise the Fixed Income Group of Western Australia, which has submitted substantial figures. These societies think that there is a way out in the adoption of a national insurance scheme. 1 join with other honorable senators in thanking the Prime Minister for promising to look further into the matter of the means test. There are in Australia to-day people who are suffering very badly because of their thrifty habits. Although we are grateful for the easing of the means test over the years, it is time that it was completely abolished. The Government would then have kept the only promise now unfulfilled of those that it made to the electors in 1949. I hope that the Opposition will not try to defeat this bill. I can hardly think that Opposition senators want these pensioners not to have the increases proposed. They are always boasting about looking after the workers and the other people who need assistance. I am quite sure that they will all want to vote in such a way as to pass this legislation unanimously through the Senate. I oppose the amendment and support the motion for the second reading of the bill.
.- I rise to support the amendment moved by Senator Toohey, because I feel it represents the correct approach to the problems facing us in relation to aged persons and pensioners generally. On making a very rough calculation of the extra amount involved in making retrospective to July increases in age and invalid pensions, I find that approximately £3,675,000 would be required. It is estimated that the increases in the general rates will cost £12,700,000 in a full year and for 1959-60 £9,525,000. Therefore an additional £3,175,000 would be payable in respect of these pensions if the amendment were given effect. Aboriginal natives will be paid £500,000 in pensions in the 1959-60 pension year, but in succeeding years they will be paid pensions amounting in total to £1,000,000 a year.
This year we are raising £42,359,000 from increased income tax on individuals. Therefore, from that increased income tax alone the Government could show a profit of £38,000,000 or £39,000,000 after meeting the additional payments resulting from the granting of retrospectivity. That is one very good reason why the Government should give full consideration to that part of the amendment moved by Senator Toohey which proposes that increases in pensions be made retrospective to July instead of applying as from October, in accordance with the Government’s proposal. If the Government were to make the increases retrospective, it would not be establishing a precedent, because there has been a number of instances of retrospective payments or retrospective charges. Only yesterday, if my memory serves me correctly, I mentioned in this chamber that a government department had made a charge in anticipation of the passage of a bill by this Parliament. If the Government can, on the one hand, by executive action make a charge in anticipation of the passage of a bill, why should it not on the other hand make retrospective increased payments to pensioners? I suggest that it would be only logical for the Government to do as the amendment suggests.
One of the bright spots of the legislation is that the Government has seen fit to introduce pensions for aboriginal natives. That is one of the greatest advances that has been made in this field, and I commend the Government for it. While I am always ready to criticize the Government for any action with which I do not agree, on this occasion I compliment it on making provision for aboriginal natives to receive pensions in certain circumstances. The Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty) in his second-reading speech said that the increases in the general rate of pension would become payable from and including the first pension pay-day after the day on which the bill received the royal assent, but that the provision affecting aboriginal natives would come into operation from a date to be proclaimed. The Government has not given any indication as to when it expects the bill to be proclaimed. I seriously suggest that the pension should be paid to aboriginal natives as from the same date on which it is payable to other pensioners - the date on which the legislation receives the royal assent. If it is not possible to do that, then I suggest that the pension be deemed to be payable as from that date and that moneys that would be payable between that date and the date on which the Government says it is possible to begin making payments to aboriginal natives should be held in trust by the Government until such date as it is possible to commence making regular payments. That matter could well be left to the administrative officers of the Department of Social Services, and if my suggestion could be adopted it would be of considerable benefit to the aboriginal natives.
A few moments ago, I pointed out that it would cost about £3,675,000 to make the pension increases retrospective to 1st July, as is suggested, in the amendment. That might seem to be a. somewhat high figure, but I submit that I have shown the Government one avenue by which it can recoup itself in respect of this extra amount. Surely to goodness, with the present rate of expansion of the economy and the increases that naturally go with it, the Government is not confronted with any difficulty in giving effect to the terms of the amendment!
Another matter to which I should like to refer relates to the supplementary pension - the rent allowance of 10s. a week - granted in last year’s Budget. If I remember correctly, the Minister for Customs and Excise said in his secondreading speech that there had not been the number of claimants the Government expected for this supplementary pension. I submit there are many reasons for that. Some honorable senators on this side have mentioned certain anomalies attaching to qualification for this supplementary pension. One factor that I have not heard mentioned so far is the fact that many people did not know that the extra 10s. a week was payable to people who boarded in rooms or houses provided they did not have a wife or husband who was also drawing a pension. I have had a number of these cases in Tasmania. As Tasmania is the smallest State of the Commonwealth, I submit it is logical to assume that if a number of such cases exist in that State then there must be a considerable number of similar cases throughout the Commonwealth. I suggest that the Government give serious consideration to circularizing pensioners notifying them of the fact that a supplementary pension of 10s. a week is payable under certain conditions. Many widows, widowers, deserted wives and others have told me that they did not know they were entitled to claim this supplementary pension under certain conditions.
Honorable senators on the Government side have been most vocal in pointing out that increases in social service benefits have been granted since this Government came to office in 1949. Admittedly, there have been increases. I do not think any one wants to take any credit from the Government for that. Age and invalid pensions have increased by £2 12s. 6d. a week since this Government took office in 1949. But how have costs and the basic wage increased in the same period? The average basic wage for the six capital cities has increased by £7 7s. a week in that time. But it is also true to say that the percentage increase in pensions during that period lags far behind the percentage increase in the basic wage.
– What were the percentage increases?
– I have not worked them out and I do not want to delay the Senate at this stage, because I believe the Government wants to dispose of the bill to-night, and we have yet to go into committee. I suggest that the honorable member could work them’ out for himself if. he consulted a percentage ready reckoner.
– The present pension represents 34 per cent, of the basic wage and the increased pension will represent 38 per cent, of the basic wage, as against 32.9 per cent, in 1949.
– Apparently the honorable senator has a very quick method of working things out. Let me now examine child endowment figures. Honorable senators on the Government side have twitted us about our approach to child endowment. This Government has not increased child endowment; it merely extended endowment to the first child in 1950. Here again, a comparison of percentages is not very favorable to this Government. In 1948, the date when the last increase in the actual rate of endowment paid for children other than the first was made, child endowment represented 8i per cent, of the basic wage. In 1959, it represents 3) per cent, of the basic wage. That is a decrease of 4.34 per cent, over the period.
Let me now deal with the history of child endowment. Why was it introduced by this Government in the first place? Child endowment was paid simply in order to avoid an increase in the basic wage. Even to-day in the Arbitration Court, child endowment is used as an argument for not increasing the basic wage, and that principle is fostered by this Government.
During the debate on the Estimates and Budget Papers and during the discussion on this bill, it has been stated that the increase in pensions to a married couple will be the same as the recent basic wage increase granted by the Arbitration Court - 15s. a week. As the Government has related one section of social service payments to the basic wage, as it proposes to grant the full 15s. to a pensioner couple, or 7s. 6d. to an individual pensioner, I suggest that it should apply the same principle to child endowment and other social service payments. The increases in those should be at a rate equal to the increase in the basic wage.
The means test has been the subject of considerable discussion during this debate. The means test as it applies to-day gives no encouragement whatever to people to save a little money during their working lives so that they will have some comfort in the evening of their lives. On the contrary, owing to the operation of the means test, people tend to get rid of a certain amount of their money when they are nearing the retiring age so that they can qualify for a pension. They go on trips abroad or spend their money in other ways so that they will be able to satisfy the provisions of the means test. I know of a workman and his family in Hobart who have been considerably penalized by the means test. The workman and his wife have been a very thrifty couple. The man has been only a worker in industry, but, by saving, the couple have managed to get together a small amount of property. During World War II., two of their sons were in the Navy, and were drowned when the boat in which they were serving was sunk. This elderly couple bought war savings certificates, put money into war bonds and generally did everything that they could to assist this country. Now, because they have saved a certain amount of money and have acquired a certain amount of property they can get nothing by way of a pension. I feel that when people have sacrificed their sons and have put money into Commonwealth war bonds to assist the war effort, this Government should be humane enough to do something for them in return.
I was very concerned because the Minister, in his second-reading speech, used this social service legislation for propaganda purposes. It is typical of Senator Henty to do that. I have noticed in relation to a number of bills which he has introduced into this chamber that he has almost invariably used his second-reading speech as an excuse to put over propaganda for the Government. I think it is deplorable for a Minister to use social service legislation, or any other legislation, as a vehicle for propaganda.
– You ought to wear a halo.
– Perhaps I should have a halo, but the Minister should not get one for his conduct in this connexion. If he is looking for a halo, let him come out, get on the stump and earn one that way, but do not let him try to earn one at the expense of the pensioners. He is attempting to put over his propaganda at the expense of the pensioners.
– Are you complaining that it was good propaganda?
– That may be so. Apparently my thrust is getting home. It is nice to know I am raising a few interjections from honorable senators opposite. When we raise interjections, we know that our thrusts are certainly getting home. However, it would take more thrusts than the members of the Opposition have given so far to make the Government take a sensible view of social services.
What did the Government do about its promise to put value back into the £1? In 1949, it was put into power on a policy of putting value back into the £1. How does the value of the £1 in 1959 compare with the value of the £1 in 1949? I would suggest that the £1 now is worth about 4s. or 5s., taking 20s. as the value in 1949. It cannot be said that Australia is not in a reasonably sound economic position. One has only to look at the volume of bank deposits and at the amounts invested in insurance policies to realize that the country is in a sound economic position. On making a perusal of some of the figures showing deposits in trading and savings banks, I find that approximately £3,300,000,000 has been deposited in the various banks. The amount invested in insurance policies is in the vicinity of £3,300,000.000. There is all this wealth in the banks and the insurance companies, yet we see this Government handing out a niggardly increase of 7s. 6d. a week to the pensioners - the people who have given their lives to build up the economy of this country and to bring about the conditions which we enjoy to-day. Mr. President, to me that does not make sense.
Another matter which concerns me is the plight of widows. I expected that the Government would do a little more for widows, particularly those in the A class category, who have children going to school. I am also concerned about the plight of deserted wives. I do not know the conditions that apply to them generally, but I do know the conditions that apply in Tasmania. A wife who has been deserted by her husband has to wait for six months before she can qualify for, I think, a widow’s pension. How is she expected to live during the six months when she is waiting to qualify for a pension? I know of one wife with three children who was deserted by her husband and who had to try to eke out a living for six months while she was waiting for the pension which this Government grants. Certainly she received State social service benefits, but the State social service benefits are considerably lower than the pension which is payable under the Commonwealth legislation. In this connexion, the governments of claimant States are penalized by the Commonwealth Grants Commission if their expenditure on social service benefits per head of population is greater than that in the bigger States.
I wish to touch on another matter, to which Senator Robertson referred. I agree with Senator Robertson that we should commend the Government for making money available for the building of aged persons’ homes. This scheme is one of the greatest benefits that aged people have had during recent years. I realize that the Government has done a good job in that respect, but I feel that there is an aspect of the matter which must be taken into consideration. Senator Robertson referred specifically to St. Anne’s Eventide Home in Hobart. I was one of those who, some years ago, assisted to raise quite a substantial amount of money for that home, and I am pleased to know that it has gone ahead so well. But the point I want to make is that, although these homes do a very good job for the aged people, they do not provide any sick bays.
– That is not quite true.
– I am speaking of the position in my own State where, almost invariably, aged people who take sick in one of these homes are put into a home for the aged sick, known as St. John’s Park, or into a mental institution. In the main, the homes for the aged do not provide sick bays. I believe that, in addition to the service they at present provide, they should care for aged people who become sick. Many aged people in Tasmania go to St. John’s Park when they reach a stage at which they cannot care for themselves. This concern is run by the State Government, and it is worth, noting that, under the existing legislation, the Commonwealth Government does not assist the State Government in the running of St. John’s Park. Why not? As the Commonwealth Government subsidizes the provision of homes for aged people, why does it not also assist the State Governments to make provision for the care of aged people who become sick?
Mr. President, I notice that the time is moving on, and I realize that much remains to be done before this bill passes through all stages. I know that, when the vote is taken the Government will have the numbers to. defeat the- amendment; or rather, I anticipate that the amendment will be defeated unless there are one or two defections on the- other side. Some supporters of the Government have been critical of the bill, but I do not know whether they will have the courage: of their convictions and will vote with the Opposition. On this occasion, I know that we are sure of the support of Senator Cole and
Senator McManus,. but we need some defections from the Government side in order to carry the amendment. However, it appears that the heavy hand of the Leader of the Government in this chamber has fallen on the shoulders of Government senators who will, undoubtedly, vote to defeat the amendment that has been moved by Senator Toohey. But irrespective of the fact that the Government has the numbers, I feel that the amendment should be accepted. I support it wholeheartedly, and I trust that it will be carried.
– Before dealing with the amendment, which the Government will not accept, I should like to discuss, one or two very interesting matters that have been raised during the course of this debate over the last day and a half. As Senator Toohey led for the Opposition, I shall refer first of all to one or two matters that he mentioned. He said that if a pensioner gets sick and leaves his home in order to live with his children, he thereupon loses his pension and. is: in great difficulty. The honorable senator overlooked the fact that the Director-General of Social Services may exercise a discretionary power to disregard the value of property. Whenever a pensioner temporarily vacates a home because of ill health, the capital value of the home is disregarded for the purposes of the means test. The honorable senator went on to say that immediately the value of a pensioner’s property exceeds £2,250, he loses 30s. a week from the pension. That is incorrect. If a pensioner has property worth £2,250, the amount of pension involved is £42 a year, which is about 15s. a week. The honorable senator probably meant that the pensioner would lose a pension of 30s. a fortnight, but it is as well to put the record straight.
Senator Toohey proceeded to say that a pensioner, receives pension up to the time that the value of his property reaches £2,250, and he then receives nothing. The honorable senator suggested that the property limit should be raised to £2,750. Would not the same position apply? Immediately the value of a pensioner’s property exceeded £2,750, he would receive nothing. Whatever the limit in these things, the same anomaly arises. If the property limit were raised to £2,750, a pensioner would receive a certain amount of pension up to that figure, but immediately it was exceeded even by £1, he would get nothing.
I am sorry that Senator Poke has left the chamber, because I wish to tell him that 1 thought that my second-reading speech on this bill was a very good one. As the Government has such a magnificent record in the social service field over the ten years that it has been in office, the facts should be stated so that the people may read the true position. My second-reading speech contained only statements of facts - not propaganda. It showed that the Government has a good record in this field, and that is something that I think is worthy of recording in “ Hansard “.
I should like to give a bit of encouragement to one of our new senators - Senator Ridley - because I thought he sounded rather dispirited. He stated that back-benchers - or private members, as he called them - get up in this chamber and make suggestions which are never listened to. 1 exhort him to be of good heart, because that is not the case. I felt as he does when I first came here, but after a few months I got on to the taxation committee, which arranged for departmental officers to confer with us about certain matters. When they came. I was staggered to find that every suggestion that had been made in the Senate by a back-bencher during the preceding four years had been faithfully recorded in the annals of the Taxation Branch and was available for reference. So suggestions that are made in this chamber are not wasted-
– They are filed away.
– No. Gradually, step by step, some suggestions that were made in this chamber, perhaps two years earlier, were adopted. I am not attributing credit for that to any particular government I am talking about the system. Therefore, I exhort Senator Ridley to be of good heart. If he makes a suggestion it will be recorded by the department concerned and, sooner or later, its merit will be assessed. That system is followed irrespective of the political colour of the government.
Senator Ridley stated that he regretted that Government supporters would vote against the amendment. If he goes back to 1948 when a similar amendment was moved by the then opposition in another place and has a look at the names of those who voted against it, he will see that the list included the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser).
– It was wrong then.
– Yes, it was wrong. 1 should like now to direct the attention of the Senate and that of the pensioners of this country to a matter which causes me great concern. Every year when the Budget is presented, a deputation of pensioners comes to Canberra seeking increases of pension. These trips, I understand, are financed by pensioner leagues, and by individual pensioners who contribute a few pence each week. They can ill-afford the money,, which is just wasted. If a deputation is to have any chance of influencing the position it should seek audience at least two months before the. Budget is brought down. This kind of thing goes on year after year, and I can only regard it as nauseating. Senator Cooke may regard it as funny, but I am very serious about it. There is nothing funny about pensioners paying 2d. or 3d. a week to finance a deputation engaged upon a futile mission.
– You say that they should come earlier. They came twelve months earlier.
– I must appeal to you, Mr. President. I am endeavouring to make my point and Senator Cooke should at least give me an opportunity to do so.
Senator- HENTY. - It is nauseating to contemplate. these people coming here without the slightest chance- of success - whatever government might be in power. Let them raise the necessary funds if they wish. Let them put their case if they wish, but let them come- to the Government at an appropriate time - at least two months beforehand, when the Budget is being prepared and such matters are being considered It is upsetting to any selfrespecting senator to see the same deputation coming year after year to tins- place on Budget day - putting what we all know is a completely hopeless proposition.
– Do not do them out of a nice enjoyable trip.
– The pensioners can ill-afford it. 1 pass now to the amendment, which the Government cannot accept. It has a very familiar ring. It has already been put in another place, and can be reduced to three main propositions. The first is that the bill should be withdrawn to provide social service payments adequate to living costs. The pension provided under the bill, tested against the C series index of retail prices, has a purchasing power 15s. 4d. greater than the pension which applied when this Government took office. I do not wish to argue about the appropriateness of the C series retail prices index, but I think I can say without contradiction that it is the best that we have for measuring living costs. It is clear, therefore, that the proposed pension is more adequate than the standard set by Labour would require. I think I have said enough about the first proposition.
The second is that rates of payment should represent a fair and reasonable share of the national income. Here we pass on to a matter of some complexity - the national income - which can be affected by many factors, each in itself, despite all the experts who spend much time on its compilation, subject to a considerable amount of conjecture. It follows, of course, that a country in which there is great poverty, will need to spend a greater part of its national income in alleviating that poverty. Conversely, it follows that in a rich country, in which there is little poverty, a smaller amount of the national income will be spent on social services. To a certain extent, the higher the proportion of national income spent on social services, the greater may be the poverty in that country. One could argue till Doomsday about what constitutes a fair and reasonable share of the national income, but unless all other economic considerations were taken into account, no conclusion could be reached. The Government has adopted the proper policy of considering all its commitments, including those arising from social services, and it has devoted to social services the greatest amount possible in all the circumstances.
The third proposition implicit in the amendment is that the increased rates should take effect from the first pension pay-day in July, 1959. This also has a very familiar ring. It has been echoed by the ghosts of the past, some of whom are still with us - and are still as immaterial. Senator McKenna, when Minister for Social Services said in this chamber on 14th October, 1948-
Members of the Opposition also suggested that retrospective payment should be made in the increases provided by the bill, but I regret that the Government cannot accede to that suggestion. The increases provided by the bill form part of the general’ Budget proposals of the Government, and at the present stage the Government is unable, having regard to the overall picture, to reconsider its attitude.
Senator McKenna and I have agreed on other occasions, and we certainly agree on this. I can do no better than use his own words.
– You prove no more than that perhaps the same civil servant wrote both speeches.
– They may have been written by the same civil servant, but what I have said is just as true to-night as it was in 1948. I do not think that I need go any further in answering the points that have been raised. If honorable senators wish to raise further queries I shall be glad to answer them in writing after the bill has been passed.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Toohey’s amendment) be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Those of that opinion say, “ Aye “, and to the contrary, “ No “. (Some honorable senators calling “ Aye “ and others calling “ No “) -
– The Senate will divide.
– I did not hear a call for a division on our side, Mr. President.
– I heard voices call “ No “. I must be clear about the matter. When a conflict of opinion is expressed, I must call for a division. I do not want a division to go on, but having heard the call that I did, I cannot do other than declare that a division will be held.
– I, too, heard *’ Ayes “ and “ Noes “, but I heard no call “Divide” which, I think, is the call that specifically leads to a division. If you refer to the rule, Sir, I think you will find that there has to be specific calling of the word “Divide”. I certainly did not hear that.
Question resolved in the negative.
Clause 1 (Short title and citation).
– I move -
That clause 1 be postponed.
As an instruction to the Government -
That immediately on the payment of the present increases provision should be made for the establishment of an independent tribunal similar to the Richardson committee to ascertain and inform the Parliament of suitable amounts which should be made payable for the comfort and needs of the recipients of age, invalid and widows’ pensions.
When the committee that I suggest should be appointed has made its report, it will be the duty of the Parliament to implement the provisions of the report. It has been argued that it is the business of this Parliament to decide the rates of pension for the aged, the invalids and the widows. That may be so, but pensions have been a political football for so long that I believe the time has arrived for this subject to be referred to a special tribunal, the recommendations of which should be implemented by the Parliament in the way that the report of the Richardson committee was implemented.
I hope that we will receive support from the Opposition for our amendment, since the Opposition amendment that was moved to the motion for the second reading of the bill sought something similar to what we are seeking now, in that that amendment asked that age, invalid and widows’ pensions should represent a fair and reasonable proportion of the national income. The tribunal that I have suggested should be appointed could consider that matter, and I hope that the Australian Labour Party will support me in attempting to have such a tribunal established.
– If it is necessary for the amendment to be seconded, I shall second it. If not, I desire to support it. I can see no reason at all why, in a chamber which is a part of a Parliament that we all believe should give leadership to the people of this country, we should not carry out one of the first principles of leadership. We should not ask other people to endure what we do not endure ourselves. We decide that our emoluments should be inquired into and settled by an independent tribunal. We say that the public servants employed by the Commonwealth shall have their emoluments decided by independent tribunals. We say that the wage-earners of the country also shall have their emoluments decided by independent tribunals, and I see no reason why the pensioners of Australia should be placed in a class apart and denied what appears to me to be ordinary common justice.
I hope that the Opposition will support our suggestion. I see no reason why any representative in this Senate should oppose a proposal which merely suggests that we shall do the pensioners the common justice of having an independent tribunal determine what, in fairness, they are entitled to receive. As I have said, if it is good enough for us to have our emoluments settled in a certain way, it should also be good enough for the pensioners to have the same privilege.
– Should the taxpayers have a tribunal, too?
– I should have expected such a statement from Senator Marriott, who last night, in the course of his speech, attempted to answer the claim that we should give justice to pensioners, by referring to the considerable sums already involved in the payment of pensions and by suggesting that we could not increase those sums very greatly. If he thinks that it is not possible to improve the conditions of pensioners, then he should have voted earlier this year against improving his own conditions.
– I did.
– In one respect only, and he took care in his other votes to do nothing that might embarrass those who wanted that salary increase legislation passed.
– You aTe a miserable coward.
– Senator Marriott knows that it is an ordinary principle of justice that if one feels that the money necessary .to improve the conditions of pensioners cannot be afforded he should vote against any improvement in his own conditions.
– That is just the D.L.P. outlook.
– I think it will be found, on examination, to be not a bad outlook. The proposal we have put forward fairly and squarely gives the opportunity to senators to-night to decide that they will not ask pensioners to put up with what they themselves are not prepared to put up with. If there is not available money to increase pension rates, we should not have increased our own salaries. That is undeniable.
– It is not undeniable.
– It is undeniable. Justice should be evenly administered all round. It should not be confined to one section or to certain sections. I maintain, therefore, that there is no possible argument against setting up a committee to determine just rates of pension. When Government supporters are challenged about pension rates, they say, “We have improved on the pensions paid in past years, and we cannot pay more because it would cost too much “. That is no argument at all. There must be some amount which could be determined by an independent tribunal as the proper amount to be paid. What is wrong with having a tribunal determine the rate that ought to be paid? What is wrong with our knowing what a tribunal believes is the amount that the pensioner needs in order to exist properly? Why do we run away from having a determination of the amount on which a pensioner can reasonably exist? Why do we perpetuate a system whereby pensions are determined not on the basis of a proper examination of the needs of the pensioner but simply upon entries in the books of account of the Commonwealth Treasury?
– What sort of a pensioner, the one who has a house?
– The Minister immediately raises the point that some pensioners may be.. better off than others are. I simply say that I am arguing the case of the pensioner who has to look after himself and may not have the advantages that others have. There is no reason at all why a tribunal should not be appointed to determine the amount to which he is entitled. I regret that for years the parliaments of this country have run away from determining a just rate. One has to blame governments from both sides. They prefer a system whereby the Treasurer arbitrarily decides a rate to a system whereby the rate would be justly and scientifically determined upon an examination of needs in the same way as needs are examined in an arbitration court.
The Minister for Customs and Excise made a strong criticism of pensioners coming here at the time the Budget is presented. I share his regrets that they come here, but after all they have a right to do so. Any body of citizens has a right to come to Parliament when legislation that concerns their interests is being considered. I have never heard any protests about representatives of airways being present when their interests are being affected by legislation, and I have never heard protests against other persons in the community being present when legislation that concerns their interests is being considered. The pensioners have just as much right as has anybody else to come, but while the Government maintains the present system of arbitrarily determining a rate without regard to a scientific examination of needs, it will always have pensions in politics, and while pensions are in politics there will always be these deputations. The only way to avoid such deputations is by taking pensions out of politics, by scientifically determining the rate in the manner that we suggest. If the Government is not in favour of that, it should carry out its own policy, which it has neglected for so long, of introducing a national insurance scheme.
– The Government cannot accept the amendment. I want to make quite clear that the Government feels that the expenditure of moneys collected in revenue is a matter for the Parliament of Australia and in making any decision on this matter we cannot shelve our responsibility for the disbursement of revenues collected from the people. Nice as some people may feel it may be to shelve their responsibilities to the people, that is the attitude that we have taken.
I should like to reply to one comment that Senator McManus made. I agree entirely that pensioners should come here when matters affecting their interests are being decided. That is the very point that I made. But that is not when the Budget is made, signed, sealed and delivered. It is not then that their interests are being considered. I agree entirely that they should come when their interests are being considered. I do not deny to anybody the right to come to Parliament but I do not think the pensioners should waste money on visits that will not be effective.
– I should like to state the Opposition’s viewpoint on the proposal put forward by Senator Cole. I take it that it seeks to instruct the Government to refer the determination of rates in the pensions field to an independent tribunal, presumably constituted by thoroughly competent investigators, whose determination would be accepted unquestioningly by the Government. In the first place, if by “ pensions “ the honorable senator means age pensions, invalid pensions and widows’ pensions-
– For the purposes of this bill.
– If he means pensions payable under this bill, I would point out, in the first place, that there are recipients of many other kinds of social service benefits.
– But not under this bill. We shall come to them next.
– Yes, but I point out to the honorable senator that his amendment is not directed to the whole field of social services. The mothers might ask for an independent tribunal on maternity benefit, the families upon child endowment, and unemployed and people in industry upon unemployment and. sickness benefits. That is one defect that I see in the proposals. But the question of principle is that in the social service field there is now a vast expenditure of £278,000,000 per annum. It is by far the biggest item in the federal Budget and much bigger than the defence expenditure of about £200,000,000. It is an expenditure that is growing. The amount to be made available must have some limit and, from time to time, whatever government is in power must make the financial decisions and answer the social questions that are posed to it by the state of society. In other words, are we to put emphasis upon the aged? Shall we go for an easing of the means test or for more benefit for those on the lower grade of income? Are we to put emphasis upon maternity benefit, on child endowment or upon sickness benefit? Are we to direct our attention to unemployment benefit. If we were to act on the arbitrary decision of an outside body in relation to pensions it would negative the Government’s decision in the major field in the whole social services set-up. I went through this before. To-night we are hearing a lot of things that we have heard before. I think we are agreed on that. I have heard the honorable senator’s proposal before and I think I have said before very much the same things as I am saying now. I appreciate the support that has come from my friend on the proposed amendment to the motion for the second reading. I should be happy if, on that count alone, I could reciprocate. But we feel that it is unreal from a governmental viewpoint to comply with that suggestion.
– It would not be any more unreal than what was suggested in your proposed amendment.
– Let me make this point: I should say that nothing will ever take pensions out of politics. Let us assume that an independent tribunal fixes the amount. Suppose that tribunal takes into consideration a state of financial stringency in a particular year and reduces the pension. Could anybody in the Senate imagine pensions being out of politics in that situation? Of course, they would not be! I should imagine that the decisions of such a tribunal would be accepted only while they were generous and only while pensions were rising, and that they would be most violently opposed, not before the tribunals, but, of course, in this Parliament, while they were falling. Everybody in the Parliament would be subjected to exactly the same pressures. Although the honorable senator has evolved a nice-sounding phrase, “ Take pensions out of politics “, I think that he is trying to reach the moon with a pair of dove’s wings.
It is a situation that never ever will be achieved.
– What sort of wings?
– Dove’s wings. I think the honorable senator will agree that it would be difficult to reach the moon with them. That is why I chose the wings of a dove. For those reasons, which, in effect, are merely a repetition of those that were put in answer to the same proposal quite a while ago, I regret that the Opposition is unable to support the proposal.
– My object in submitting the amendment is to cause the Government, because many millions of pounds would be involved, to recast the whole of the social services legislation. Once again I emphasize the point I stressed during the second reading debate, and that is to give justice to the pensioners out of the revenue that is set aside for social services from our receipts from taxation -
– Where would you get it from?
– If the honorable senator will wait a few moments I shall tell him. 1 I believe that my proposal, if accepted, would cause a recasting of the whole of the social services legislation and compel the Government to look for another means of financing social services. The Government would be forced into that position because the cost of doing justice by the pensioners would be so great. The Government would be forced to implement a scheme of national insurance to meet the needs of social services.
– Do you know of any country where it has worked?
– You people had the same idea in 1938.
– And also in their policy speech in 1949.
– Yes, it was also included in the Government’s policy speech in 1949. The legislation is now on the statute-book, and I ask the Government to implement it.
– You should not have promised it in 1949 if you did not intend to implement it.
– We did not promise it.
– Yes, you did.
– We shall not have any argument about it now. I make the point that the Government must recast its thinking on finance for social services. The only solution I can see, if we are to give justice to the pensioners, is to introduce some form of national insurance, for I believe that in time to come the revenue of this country will not be sufficient to give them justice. I repeat that one of the reasons why we are submitting this proposal now is that, if accepted, it will force the Government to take a new look at the social services field.
Question put -
That the clause be postponed.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 - (1.) Subject to the next succeeding sub-section, this Act shall come into operation on a date to be fixed by Proclamation. (2.) Sections one, two, four, six, nine, eleven, fourteen, twenty and twenty-four of this Act shall come into operation on the day on which this Act receives the Royal Assent.
.- I move-
In sub-clause (2.) leave out all words after “shall “, insert “ be deemed to have come into operation on the first pension day in July, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine “.
I remind the committee that I referred to this amendment briefly during my speech at the second-reading stage. The Opposition is of the opinion that the protracted debates that take place on social services legislation are time-robbers as far as the date of payment of pension increases is concerned. 1 know that the first query which will be fired at me by members of the Government parties is: Why did not the Labour Party do this when it was in office? To save time and trouble, I raise the issue now myself.
I think that it can be said justifiably that the circumstances in 1949, when Labour went out of office, were as they applied to pension, considerably different from those applying to-day. The cost of living at that time was stable. We were not confronted with ever-increasing prices. As a consequence, the pensioners did not suffer so much because of delay in giving effect to social services legislation arising from the Budget. But be that as it may. The fact that the circumstances then were different from those to-day, does not alter the situation. Whilst we of the Labour Party claim a large degree of responsibility for the social service structure of this country - mainly, of course, because it was Labour governments which built the structure - we acknowledge quite freely that we did not deal with, and in fact could not deal with, all the injustices and anomalies involved.
There is not much to be gained now from criticizing the Labour Party for what it did not do in 1949. Let us look at the position in the humanitarian light of to-day, against the background of the disabilities under which the pensioners are suffering. The fact that this Government has decided to increase the various classes of pensions by 7s. 6d. a week is a clear indication that the Government recognizes that the pensioners are suffering a serious disability. If we accept that that is so - and I do not think anybody disputes it - we must accept that the quicker the pensioners receive this increase in their payments, the quicker will they be helped to resolve their difficulties. Therefore, the Labour Party asks that the Government should show some further consideration to the pensioners by making the increased payments from the first pension pay-day in July.
It might reasonably be asked: What would be the cost if the Government took such a step? I have gone into the matter and assessed the position. Of course, I cannot vouch with complete certainty for the accuracy of this figure, but I understand that the cost would be in the vicinity of £2,000,000. Having regard to the fact that not so long ago in this chamber a bill was passed which will increase the revenue of a certain department by £17;000,000 in twelve months at the expense of the taxpayer, it would be an extraordinary thing if we could not agree to give the pensioners an extra £2,000,000 by making these increased payments retrospectively.
– The figure is much nearer to £20,000,000 than £2,000,000.
– I said that I could not guarantee the accuracy of my figures. I made the calculation quickly, but I believe that the cost involved in back-dating the pensions to the first pay-day in July would be about £2,000,000. I dispute that it would be in the vicinity of £20,000,000.
– Are you suggesting that pensions should be financed out of Post Office revenue?
– I never suggested anything of the sort. All I said was that the Government, by a bill that was brought into this chamber, made provision for wringing from the taxpayers of this country in another field the amount of £17,000,000 in twelve months. That is not disputed. I do not suggest there is any relationship between the Post Office and the pensioners, but I do say that, as the Government was so ready to bring down that legislation, which will affect the taxpayers so materially, it should be equally ready to do something for the most underprivileged section of this community. I suggest that it back-date the pension payment to the first pension pay-day in July.
– We did not back date the Post Office charges. There is no analogy between the two matters.
– I have never said you did back date the Post Office charges, hut I have said that the Government was quite willing to bring down legislation that would take from the Australian community in general an amount of £17,000,000.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. Chairman. Standing Order No. 416 provides -
No Senator shall allude to any Debate of the current Session in the House of Representatives, or to any Measure impending therein.
I believe the honorable senator is referring to a debate in the House of Representatives.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order! The honorable senator has not connected his remarks with any debate. Therefore, he is in order.
– May I say that I was not referring to a debate. I was referring to a measure that was before this chamber. I did not touch on the debate which surrounded that measure. I was simply drawing an analogy, and I think I have gone far enough in that direction.
I say in conclusion that this amendment is put forward by the Australian Labour Party in good faith as a means of relieving the privations and disabilities of a section of the Australian community which has suffered tremendous hardships as a result of inflation and other things. I ask that the Government give the amendment the most serious consideration.
– Although the Opposition failed to support our amendment, Mr. Chairman, we propose, in a truly Christian spirit, to offer our. support to this amendment. I understand that it has been said in the course of the debate that governments of all political colours have been guilty of refusing to make increased payments such as these retrospectively. I pointed out that that refers to what was done in past years. We should be guided by the latest precedent. Only a couple of months ago, both of the principal parties in this chamber united to establish a very strong and a firm precedent when they determined that increases in their own salaries and emoluments should be made retrospective. Therefore, I feel that we should disregard what happened in past years and that we should be guided by the latest, the most compelling precedent. We have had a vote in this chamber in which the two principal parties united to confirm the principle that increases should be retrospective, and all that Senator Toohey’s amendment asks now is that, having established a precedent in the case of our own salaries and emoluments, we should continue that precedent in the case of increased pensions. I see nothing wrong in that. Why should we ask the pensioners to do what we are not prepared to do ourselves?
I conclude by saying that I have seen references in the press in the last few months to incidents which people have said have not reflected very well on this Parliament. Here we have an opportunity now to redeem ourselves in the eyes of the community in general. I should say that there is not one good Australian outside this Parliament who would object to the principle of back-dating the pension increases, and if there is not one good Australian outside this Parliament who would object to our doing for the pensioners what we did for ourselves, let us be just as good Australians in this Parliament by voting for Senator Toohey’s amendment to show that we are not prepared to ask other people to do what we ourselves are not prepared to do.
– For many years past, it has been quite traditional for the Opposition to move this type of amendment, just as it has been traditional, for reasons that are just as sound, for the government of the day to reject it. The Government rejects the amendment.
– I rise only to deal with several interjections which came from the Government side when I said that the amount of money that would be involved in the proposition put forward by the Labour Opposition in this chamber would be about £2,000,000. Two Government senators, one of whom was the Minister for the Navy (Senator Gorton), I think, suggested that the amount would be in the vicinity of £20,000,000.
– I did not say so.
– The interjections came from a place close to the Minister, and he probably heard them. In order that there may be no misunderstanding, I say that my authority for stating that the amount would be something over £2,000,000 is the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton).
Question put -
That thewords proposed to be left out (Senator Toohey’s amendment) be left out.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (Officers to observe secrecy).
– The first thing that is to be noted about the proposed new sub-section (3.) is the extreme rapidity with which the Public Service can move in the direction of its own protection. This amendment stems from the fact that on 9th September Mr. Justice Walsh gave a decision in Sydney to the effect that existing sub-section (3.) did not give officers sufficient protection to exempt them from producing documents in court, inasmuch as the section was limited to apply to any claim or determination of a claim under the act. We have not yet reached the end of September, but already we have before us a ready-made provision, passed through the House of Representatives, to meet that situation. I merely pause to note the celerity with which things can be done if people are interested in getting them done.
An important principle is involved in the proposed new sub-section. I regret to say that I have found no evidence that sufficient consideration has been given to that principle. I point out that under the old provision a person was not required to produce in court any claim or determination of a claim made under the act. Under the proposed new sub-section an officer is not required to produce to the court, except for the purposes of the act, any document that has come into his possession or under his control in the performance of his duties or functions under the act, or any repealed act. I suggest, with great respect, that that provision is too wide. I know that the committee is not in a mood to argue this matter as fully as perhaps the depth of principle involved would warrant. I am content to put on record a request that this provision be reviewed when a comprehensive reconsideration of the bill is undertaken, perhaps within the next twelve months.
I point out, for instance, that if an officer of the department is sued for defaming a pensioner he will have the protection of the proposed new sub-section. Also, if the department is sued by a pensioner on the ground that it has been neglectful in maintaining slippery steps on which a pensioner has broken his leg, a report made by an officer concerning the accident will not be available to the pensioner for disclosure in aid of his case. One could multiply a great many times -instances such as that which show that this immunity from obligation to produce documents in a court of law should be restricted to those documents which are related to the confidential affairs of the applicant or pensioner.
The oddity of the situation appears in a further anomalous light when one goes on to read sub-sections (4.) and (5.) of section 17. Sub-section (4.) provides that, notwithstanding anything contained in the preceding provisions of the section, an officer may divulge information to any prescribed authority or person as the Minister or Director-General directs. I am informed that no authority or person has been prescribed, but the officer may divulge any such information to a person who, in the opinion of the Director-General, is expressly or impliedly authorized by the person to whom the information relates to obtain it. One can imagine all sorts of cases in which the person to whom the information relates has authorized the officer to divulge it. It then rests in the discretion of the officer to divulge it or not. I confess that when one reads that provision in conjunction with sub-section (5.) the full intendment of the amendment is a little obscure.
I think that I have said sufficient to show that too great a bite has been taken in this provision and that we should restrict the protection - necessary in the interests of preserving the secrecy of the confidential affairs of a pensioner, or an applicant for a pension - to the requirements of the public interest. In giving protection against the discovery of any document whatever it goes too wide.
I might illustrate that by reference to section 16 (2.) of the Income Tax Assessment Act. I would remind honorable senators who may be nodding of the quotation that I made the other night - “ Even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea “ - and that often before midnight. The Income Tax Assessment Act provides that an officer shall not be required to produce to any court any return, assessment, or notice of assessment.
I have also been interested to look at the Repatriation Act. So far as I can discover, there is no statutory immunity in favour of people whose confidential affairs and personal ailments - often very private - are disclosed to the department for the purpose of obtaining a repatriation pension. I hope that my remarks will be taken on this occasion as having been made for the constructive purpose of inviting an effort, of equal celerity, to give complete consideration to a problem which is directed to resolving two great principles - the protection of confidential information, and the need for the courts to have access to proper evidence.
– I think that I would have approached this matter from another direction. As the bill was now before the Parliament, it was an appropriate time for the Public Service to bring forward an amendment in another place. It was fortuitous that the bill was before the Parliament, and I would have thought that if the amendment had been brought in later by way of a special bill there might well have been room for criticism. The Public Service should be commended for choosing this time to have the bill amended. It shows that sometimes we tend to look at these matters differently.
I do not intend for one moment to argue the legal position with the eminent senator. I can only say that, in the case of the pensioner falling down on the slippery steps and breaking his leg, the report would not have been made for the purpose of pensions and could, therefore, have been produced in court.
– The legislation refers to any document which has come into his possession in the performance of his duties under the act. He would have made the report in the performance of his duty under the act.
– I am informed that the particular report to which the honorable senator refers could have been taken before a court. I do not intend to argue matters of law. I rely on my advisers and the honorable senator relies on his legal knowledge. All I can say is that I shall certainly see that the honorable senator’s remarks are brought promptly to the attention of the Minister for Social Services.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.
New clause 6A.
Section proposed to be amended -
– (1.) An age pension shall not be granted to a person -
.- I move-
That the following new clause be inserted in the bill:- “ 6a. Section twenty-two of the Principal Act is amended omitting paragraph (g).”.
This amendment deals with the property limit as it affects entitlement to age pensions. It is well known that, under the act as it now stands, if an unmarried person has more than £2,250 worth of property, and if a married couple of pensionable age have more than £4,500 worth of property, pension entitlement disappears. The Opposition believes that the present formula by which the age pension is reduced by £1 a year for every £10 worth of property over £2,250 or £4,500, as the case may be, is absurd because, as we have pointed out on other occasions, an unmarried pensioner who owns £2,250 worth of property can receive a pension of £42 a year whereas an unmarried pensioner who owns £2,252 worth of property is not entitled to anything. In the case of a married couple of pensionable age, the anomaly is twice as bad because their entitlement is £84 if they have less than £4,500 worth of property but not one penny if they possess a few shillings above that amount.
We may agree or disagree on some of the basic features of the Social Services Act, but surely every honorable senator on the Government side must recognize the utter absurdity of the scale which determines the graduation of pension entitlement because suddenly the pension ceases to be payable. If the proposal that is inherent in the amendment that I have submitted was one that would cost a tremendous amount of money and would take the property limit to a figure undreamed of, perhaps there would be reason for opposition to the proposal by the Government, but in simple terms it means that the amount will be raised from £2,250 to £2,670, a mere £420. It must be obvious to honorable senators on the Government side that at some time or other the existing anomaly must be corrected. ]f it is proper to have a formula by which pension is reduced by £1 a year for every £10 of property over a certain amount, it is equally acceptable that the formula should run to some proper conclusion and not stop at a figure that has been fixed arbitrarily by the Government and at which pension entitlement disappears. ‘
The terms of the amendment that I have submitted do not suggest that the Labour Party regards the proposed limit of £2,670 as of necessity giving justice to pensioners and prospective pensioners who may be affected by the means test. We do not want any one to believe that. Our amendment seeks to correct not only an injustice but also an absolutely glaring anomaly in the formula which has been accepted over the years.
It would cost the Government very little to accept the amendment which, as I have said, will correct not only an anomaly but also an utter absurdity that exists in the provisions of the Social Services Act. I hope that some senators on the Government side will see the logic of the situation, and will accept our amendment which will correct the anomalies to which I have referred and will place the matter on a proper and regulated basis.
– The Government’s decision in the Budget was to concentrate all its resources giving the greatest possible increase in the maximum rate of pension. The amendment, if adopted, will alter the means test. It is not proposed to liberalize the means test this year and the Government, therefore, does not accept the amendment.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Clause 7 agreed to.
New clause 7a.
.- I move-
That the following new clause be inserted in the bill:- “ 7a. The amounts fixed in this Act as the maximum amounts which may be paid for age, invalid and widows’ pensions should be reviewed annually and shall at least be increased in accordance with any upward movement of the cost of living as measured by the weighted average retail price index for food, clothing and groceries as ascertained by the Commonwealth Statistician for the twelve months ending on the thirty-first day of March each year.”.
I hope that the Opposition will support me on this occasion. This amendment seeks to have cost-of-living adjustments made to the pensions to overcome the possibility of them losing their value in buying the necessaries of life for the pensioners. This, of course, is the policy of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It is necessary to maintain the relative value of the pensions, and the only way to do so is to make costofliving adjustments to them each year.
Perhaps, as has been found on several occasions previously, the pensions will remain unaltered for two years. Pensions were not varied last year, or in 1949. The result was that the pensioner in the second year found that his pension was losing value.
I believe that the amendment which 1 have submitted is self-explanatory. It will help the pensions to keep pace with the cost of living. I am sure that the Opposition will support the amendment.
– I regret that I must disappoint the honorable senators. As this is new matter, I shall address myself to the proposal with more particularity than I would otherwise have done. I think that on consideration the honorable senators will see that the amendment has not been conceived happily. I put it quite seriously that the proposal that he puts selects as the standard with which the new procedure is to begin, the rates that are fixed by this bill. That is quite obvious.
– That was the argument that you brought forward last year.
– I do not recall that, but the honorable senator mav be right, but let me make my point. The aim of the amendment is that the amounts fixed in this bill as the maximum amount which may be paid for age, invalid and widows’ pensions should be reviewed annually and shall be increased in accordance with any upward movement.
– It says “ shall at least be increased “.
– Yes, but I am not talking about the increase now. I will come to ‘that in a minute. I am talking about the starting .point. The honorable senator’s amendment selects as a minimum the rates fixed in this measure as the starting point of the new scheme under which there is to be an upward movement in accordance with a particular standard. 1 am putting it to him that that is against the proposal that he supported with us a moment ago when we were defeated by the Government - that adequate living standards should be reflected in the rates of pension.
– You opposed me ,a moment ago, as well.
– Let us stay on the one point. I would like the honorable senator to understand my objection on behalf of the Opposition. First, he selects the wrong .starting point, even from the point of view of the amendment of the Opposition which he supported a little while ago. I should like him to understand clearly why we ane opposing this. Next, (he selects too narrow a measuring stick for increasing pensions from that too-low Tate. It is the weighted average .retail price index for food, clothing and (groceries -as ascertained by the Commonwealth .Statistician .each year. That ignores a lot .of -factors, lt is confined to food, clothing and groceries. It does not touch other important .items such as /rent and fuel.
– The Leader of the Opposition could move that those items ‘be included in the amendment.
– Let me state my objections to the amendment. I. -am ‘developing my second point that -the standard selected is too narrow. Even if I included rent ‘and -other items, it takes no account of inflationary tendencies !in the -community such -as can be promoted by the ‘postal rates legislation ‘which we passed ‘yesterday, and which will project £I7,000,000 into the economy. It ignores inflationary tendencies which will affect not only the ‘commodities mentioned in the honorable senator’s measuring stick, if I may so call it, but all kinds of services that the pensioners will want. So, my first point is that the honorable senator -starts off at too low a figure. The (Opposition considers ‘that the present rates are quite inadequate, and we moved, a few minutes ago, to establish that point. Secondly, the measuring rod selected in the amendment is too narrow, in my view. The third objection is -that confining the procedure to age, invalid and widows’ pensions, again is too narrow.
– -That is only for this bill.
– I point out to the honorable senator that we are amending the Social Services Consolidation Act. If he selects only the three social services mentioned in his amendment, he discards the very vital question of wives’ allowances for invalid pensioners and incapacitated age pensioners. He must see the force of what I say. He discards the child endowment, maternity benefits, unemployment and sickness benefits and ‘the very flexible special benefits. If something is to be done on a graduated scale in respect of age, invalid and widows’ pensions, -surely it is reasonable to believe -that there -should be some similar standard in all these other great fields.
– That is the intention.
– It may be the intention but the honorable ‘Senator must appreciate that what ;is before us is his amendment.
– He says, “ ‘ One step enough for me ‘,, on -this occasion “.
– That is obvious But I point out that if the principle is right it should be applied not only to the three benefits .mentioned but to them all. Again - and I put this not in any carping spirit but as a criticism of the drafting - when we look at the proposal- to write into an act of Parliament the instruction that pensions should be .reviewed annually, we find that that casts no obligation on anybody. That is a mere expression of opinion which, f frankly, has no place in an act of Parliament. I throw that in as a very minor matter. I do not want it to be elevated .out of its order of importance.
– These ;are things that you can amend.
– The .honorable senator’s proposal is -before me and I am invited to vote on this .particular proposal.
– You -are -raising captious ‘Objections, though.
– I said that my criticism was not put carpingly. But the other points that I put strongly and seriously on behalf of the Opposition are first that too low a standard is taken for the beginning, secondly that too narrow a standard is adopted for the expansion, and thirdly that the amendment is confined to only three items.
.- Mr. Chairman, I am an admirer of the ability of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) as a reasoner, but I have rarely heard him reason or argue to less advantage than in what he has just said. After all, his party has presented some amendments this evening. We could have examined them and suggested that they might have been better phrased. We might have said that some of them could have gone further. He suggested that the pension increase should have been backdated to July. We might have said that it would have been a good thing to back-date it to January. But we did not say that because it did not go far enough or was not as nicely phrased as we would like that we would vote against it, even though it sought a substantial improvement in the Government’s proposals. We did not regard the amendments from the point of view of the English in which they were couched or from the point of view of whether they fulfilled our desires 100 per cent. Our one basis of decision was whether the amendments represented something better than the Government was already offering. I am sorry that our proposal has not received the same treatment from the members of the Opposition. I hope that they are not opposing our amendment merely because it is ours. I think there are dangers in the adoption of, such an attitude by any political party. Senator Cole’s proposal is definitely in accordance with trade union policy. If this amendment did nothing else it would enshrine in social services legislation the principle of adjustments in accordance with increases in the cost of living. That is something for which the trade union movement of this country has battled over the years and something which is being firmly denied by conservative governments throughout Australia. Here we have- a proposal which seeks . to incorporate in the legislation the principle of adjusting pensions according to rises in the cost of living. Yet, we shall find that when a division is held, as it will be, forces that are supposed to represent the political aspirations of the trade union movement will be lined up on the same side as the conservative forces of this country, in opposition to the principle of cost-of-living adjustments.
– But most trade unionists vote Liberal these days, anyhow.
– I do not think that most of them vote “ Liberal “. I should say that while most of them vote for either the Australian Labour Party or the Australian Democratic Labour Party, many of them do not vote for Labour with the same feeling of confidence that they had in years past when there was a united political organization representing the trade union movement, and when it was led by men in whom the workers of this country had every confidence.
I say, therefore, that I regret the attitude of the Opposition. This amendment represents an advance. Whether it involves rent or anything else is beside the point; it represents an advance, and if it were accepted ii would mean increased rates. Therefore, since the amendment seeks to put into the legislation the very objective for which the trade union movement is fighting, and since its acceptance would mean higher rates than the present rates, I am amazed by the attitude of the Opposition. If the supporters of the A.L.P. thought that we should have included reference to rent and other matters, they had the remedy in their own hands. They had merely to say, “ We will move a further amendment to the effect that rent and other matters should be included “. Had they done so, they could have voted with confidence for this amendment and for the whole principle. It appears to me that, because of the divisions in the Labour movement, there is a desire to score off one another rather than a desire to advance the interests of the people whom Labour is supposed to represent.
– Senator McManus was kind enough to pay me a compliment when he rose. I begin by extending to him a compliment on his great debating ability. To-night, he has given an excellent exhibition of the skill with which he can avoid points that he finds difficult to answer. I compliment him on his skill in evading the points at issue. I repeat, for his particular benefit, that he did not deal with the submission that I put first on behalf of the Opposition, that in its view, this amendment begins at an unfair level and at a wrong level. I arn prepared to say that the trade union movement would not give its blessing to a resolution which takes as its starting point rates that are fixed under this bill and that exist under the act. The honorable senator did not deal with that point, and I think that that objection is fatal to his amendment.
The second point was - and by the interjections from his party it appears that the legitimacy of the argument is accepted - that the standard chosen is too narrow. That has not been answered. I mention it for the second time so that it may be answered, if it is desired to do so. The third point was that the amendment is too narrow in its concept, applying only to three benefits when there are so many others. The honorable senator concentrated on my criticism of the drafting. That, I made clear, was the least of the points that I put forward on behalf of the Opposition. The other matters of substance are the ones that we rely upon.
I conclude my answer to the honorable senator by saying that the objection does not stem from the fact that the amendment comes from his party.
– It did at the beginning, three years ago.
– Are we functioning three years ago, or are we functioning to-night? I put it to the honorable senator that I have treated his amendment with every consideration and have given reasons for the attitude that we have taken. I say without hesitation that they are most powerful reasons and ones that I am prepared to stand on. Our attitude as a party was made perfectly plain in the amendment we sought to have carried, and which the honorable senator and his colleague supported. That was the amendment that the bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide for rates of social service payments adequate to present living costs. The honorable senator subscribed to that proposition, indicating his dissatisfaction with the proposals in this bill. Having done that, he has now selected, as the starting point for his new proposal, those very things to which he objected. In those circumstances, I think we have given very powerful and adequate reasons for the attitude that we take. After enunciating those reasons, I think it should not be necessary for me to say that we are rejecting the proposals, not because they emanate from the D.L.P., but on the pure merits of the case.
– This amendment is contingent on the first amendment that I moved to-night, to the effect that a tribunal should be set up to ensure that just rates of pension are payable to pensioners. If Senator McKenna’s argument had any validity at all he would have supported my first amendment, which, had it been accepted, would have resulted in just rates being paid. The rates could have been stopped from going downhill by the addition of cost-of-living adjustments. The honorable senator’s failure lies in the fact that he did not support our attempt to obtain just rates in the first amendment that I moved. Now he says that the starting point is too low. The Australian Council of Trade Unions is not worrying on that score. It refers to pensions as they are now.
– It asks for half the basic wage, does it not?
– I am not speaking of what the pensions should be. I am referring to the addition of cost-of-living adjustments to the present pensions. The present level of pensions was taken as the starting point by the A.C.T.U. when it asked for cost-of-living adjustments to be added to pensions. I am doing the same thing here to-night.
If the members of the Opposition thought my proposals were too narrow, they had the opportunity to move that cost-of-living adjustments be added. There was nothing to stop them from moving with a view to widening the proposals. There have been some carping criticisms of the bill, but we want to see the principle that I have mentioned incorporated in our social services legislation. I think that- Senator McKenna’s. arguments here to-night have not the validity that he thinks they have. The Opposition is not following Labour policy as it is set out by the A.C.T.U., the body that, to a certain, extent, controls the Labour Party.
Wednesday, 30 September 1959
– The amendment is not acceptable to the Government. It is the duty of the Parliament to fix these rates. The amendment suggests that they should be reviewed annually. Every government already reviews the pensions annually and from that point of view the amendment is of little consequence..
I was most interested in Senator McManus’s statement that the amendment represents an’ advance and therefore should be supported. I have been looking at the adjusted rates according to the C series retail index. In 1957, when the pension was last increased the adjusted rate was £3 16s. 7d. As a result of this legislation, in 1959, the adjusted rates will be £3: 19s. 8d. The effect of the honorable senator’s amendment would be to increase the present rate: of pension by 3s.1d. but this bill will increase it by 7s. 6d. a week.
– That does not come into it at all.
– Nothing comes into the honorable senator’s argument that goes against him. In his amendment he is asking: that the pensions be raised in accordance with the C series index of retail prices. I am pointing out that that would result in an increase of only 3s.1d. whereas this measure will provide an increase of 7s. 6d. The Government reviews these rates each year, and in this case: it is providing an increase of more than double that proposed by the honorable senator. He suggests that the amendment will represent an advance. It is an advance in the wrong direction it is like the horse that went down the hill instead of up.
Question put -
That the. words, proposed- to. be. inserted. (Senator. Cole’s amendment) be inserted.
The committee divided. (The’ Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid)
Majority . . . . 46
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived’.
New clause 7a..
Section proposed to be amended -
– I move -
That the following new clause be inserted in the bill:- “ 7a. Section thirty-two of the Principal Act is amended by inserting in sub-section (1.) after the word ‘pensioner’ (second and third occurring) the word’s or an age pensioner
This amendment deals with the question of the wife’s allowance. Under the present provisions of the Social Services Act a wife who is not of pensionable age can receive the wife’s allowance only if the husband is an age pensioner who is completely incapacitated” or a blind pensioner or an invalid pensioner. The amendment asks, that all wives of persons who are entitled to’ a pension should’ receive the wife’s allowance.
Not many women, come within this category,, but, I know that many senators on the Government, side will have come across, cases from tune to time in which an age pensioner of 66 or 67 years, of age, who is not capable of earning anything and is receiving a pension of £4 1.5s* a week, has a wife aged 58 or 59 and she is unable because of the age harrier to qualify for a pension. The result is that the two of them have, to1 try to live on £4 15s. a* week, which, to say the least, is very, difficult, under present conditions. It may be argued, theoretically, that women in their late: fifties are employable. But those of us who: have had some experience of the requirements of the labour market of this country in the circumstances of the: present day would recognize that very few employers regard, a woman in Her late fifties as a>. good, employable proposition, which: means that: people who fall within that category are very badly off indeed. I do not know whether Senator Wright’s amusement, is directed at the plight of these people.
– It is when you talk of these people as “propositions” at ten minutes past midnight that my sense of humour is aroused..
– I am not so much concerned with the honorable senator’s sense of humour, because honorable senators on both sides of the chamber have at all times of the day and night had to suffer in various ways and in various frames of mind some of the long legal technicalities that Senator Wright has fed to us. Therefore, I suggest that if would not be asking too much; even at. twelve minutes after midnight, to suggest that he should still be prepared to give some consideration] to human problems. In the question that is now before the. Senate there are,, perhaps, some fields, for disputation, some avenues for argument, and some matters on which we might differ, but I can- see nothing humorous in it
– When you can talk seriously about women as employable propositions’, you have, lost your sense of. humour.
– I can. see- nothing humorous about, it.. It. may be that I: have not ai good sense of humour: But. I want to get back to> the amendment.
– Don’t you smile about iti.
Senator- TOOHEY. - I have no intention of’ smiling. Whatever- faults’ I might exhibit’ in1 this chamber from- time to time - no doubt they would be just as many and varied as those exhibited on the other- side of the chamber - I can never see the humorous, side: of human problems because those problems go perhaps a. little too deeply for humour. I do not approach them im that light. The proposition) contained in the amendment is one that should receive the support of every person who has1 some compassion for people who are suffering disability. Even where a wife’s allowance is payable, nobody would suggest that, two people should have to exist on’ a meagre £6 10s. a week, in present-day circumstances, and: when the income of two. people, is reduced to £4 15s. the matter becomes: much less humorous: and much’ more serious.
We suggest, that, this small- number of women in their late: fifties,, whose- ages are lower than those of their husbands and whose pension entitlement, as a. consequence, does not accrue, at. the same, time as that of their husbands, should be given, the- benefit of a wife’s allowance. I repeat that in the present conditions: of employment in this; country very few employerswould be prepared; to give employment to women im their late fifties. Therefore1, although some one may- talk of- these women being employable and say that as1 a. consequence they can augment the pensions that, their husbands receive, we; know that, in fact’ that is. not the- case. There: may be one or two exceptions that get through. There may be one or- two: with great capabilities, whose physical resources: have remained with them longer than the average:. These might- find employment, but’ the bulk of women’ in this category are forced to- accept the domestic responsibilityof looking after their- husband’s on a combined income of £4 I5s. a week. If we can see humour in this, let us laugh, but if any one can see justice in it he has better eyesight than I have. I commend the amendment, to, the Senate-., . .. .. i
– I think that this is a despicable turn for Senator Toohey to give to the discussion. To use in relation to women in their fifties the expression “ employable propositions “ somewhat amuses me. I resent the idea that he should place on the record a suggestion that I find his proposal a subject for humour. Even after midnight he should not take himself quite so lugubriously or seriously.
– In this proposition we see advantage for at least some pensioners. We adopt an attitude unlike that which the Australian Labour Party adopted to our amendment, and we support this amendment.
– I resent Senator Wright’s attitude, just as he resents mine. 1 can see nothing strange in the term “ employable proposition “, and neither would anybody else who looked at the matter objectively. No doubt when some of Senator Wright’s prospective clients consider their legal problems and the matter of somebody to defend them or to appear for them and when they contemplate Senator Wright’s qualifications, they ask themselves what sort of a legal proposition he might be. It is quite a common term that does not contain the essence of offence. Quite frankly, I can see no explanation whatever for Senator Wright’s remarks other than the possibility that he cannot stand a few late nights and is deliberately looking for trouble.
– The amendment would make a wife’s allowance subject to the means test payable to the nonpensionable wife of any age pensioner. The increases’ to be granted under the bill will mean 7s. 6d. to all pensioner households, or 15s. a week where both husband and wife are pensioners. All pensioner households will thus benefit from the bill, and the Government is unable to accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator Toohey’s amendment) be inserted.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole.
– Mr. Chairman, I want to raise only one matter.
– The honorable senator ought to be careful. He will offend Senator Wright.
– I do not care whether or not Senator Wright is offended.
I refer to clause 24, which reads -
After section one hundred and thirty-seven of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - “ 137a. An aboriginal native of Australia who follows a mode of life that is, in the opinion of the Director-General, nomadic or primitive is not entitled to a pension, allowance, endowment or benefit under this Act.”
I ask the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty), who is in charge of the bill, whether there is any proposal to define the term “ nomadic or primitive “. A very great discretion is to be reposed in the Director-General of Social Services in respect of the payment of pensions to aboriginal natives, whom, we know, are a nomadic race. Many of these people do useful work in a seasonal occupation, and, for part of the year, they travel with their families from one place to another particularly when they are engaged in agriculture or the pastoral industry. The discretion reposed in the Director-General could result in their being denied the benefits proposed to be given to aborigines under the terms of this bill. In the northwest of Western Australia, numbers of natives work on stations for periods of the year and go out prospecting for part of the year. They have to work in some industry in order to get the money that they need to carry on while they are prospecting. As a result of their efforts, Australia reaps a harvest of a comparatively large production of strategic minerals. Yet, under clause 24, unless some definition of the term “ nomadic or primitive “ is proposed, these natives could be denied the pensions that the bill proposes shall be paid to aborigines. I should like the Minister to clarify the matter if he can.
– Mr. Chairman, officers of the Department of Social Services are at present traversing the areas in which the aborigines live. It will take some time to bring to perfection the system for the payment of pensions to aborigines, but whatever happens, we shall err on the side of generosity in this matter. This is a most difficult problem. We are breaking new ground, and the process is one of trial and error. I do not think that the honorable senator need fear that aborigines will not be treated as generously by the officers of the department as they should be treated.
Remainder of bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
In committee (Consideration of House of Representatives’ amendment):
Clause 5 (Definitions).
House of Representatives’ amendment -
In clause S, before paragraph (a), insert the following paragraphs: - “ (aa) by inserting in paragraph (a) of the’ definition of ‘ income ‘, after the word ‘ payment ‘, the words “ (not being a payment of an annuity) ‘; “ (ab) by inserting in paragraph (b) of the definition of ‘ income ‘, after the word ‘ payment ‘, the words ‘ (not being a payment of an annuity)
[12.28 a.m.]. - Mr. Chairman, I move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
This amendment was made in another place in order to make the means test which applies to service pensions paid under the Repatriation Act conform with the means test which applies to age, invalid and widows’ pensions under the Social Services Act. That act has been amended in order to remove some doubts regarding annuity payments and the means test. The object of the amendment now before the committee is to keep the means test for service pensions in line with the means test for social service pensions by making an amendment to the Repatriation Act similar to that which has recently been made in the Social Services Act. The capital value of an annuity is already excluded from the computation of property for service pension purposes under section 90 (1.) of the Repatriation Act, but provision is made, by virtue of the definition of “ income derived from property “ in section 83, for an annuity payment to be treated as income. However, because of the exemption from income of a payment received by way of benefit from a friendly society and certain payments by trade unions, some doubts have been expressed as to whether an annuity payment received from one of these sources is not likewise exempt under the income means test.
The exemption from income of payments received from friendly societies and trade unions was meant to cover comparatively small sums paid by way of sick pay and age benefits to members of these organizations who had made ;small contributions over a period of years. It was never contemplated that this concession might be interpreted to include annuities which had been purchased by ordinary members .of ‘the public on the .payment of a lump sum premium which could be very considerable for a very considerable annuity. Such arrangements are no different in character from ordinary -commercial transactions. /If an annuity were ‘disregarded both .as property and income, .the entire means test would go by the hoard. This amendment will clarify the .section, removing any existing doubts.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Senate adjourned at 1232 a.m. (Wednesday).
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 29 September 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1959/19590929_senate_23_s15/>.