25th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMuIlin) took the chair at 3 p.m., anc! read prayers.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Oan he confirm the statement by the Minister for Trade and Industry that Australian companies have been forced into 1,100 agreements to restrict exports? If the Minister can confirm the statement, does he agree that this is a serious blow at our vital export trade, with consequent adverse effects on our overseas balances? Can the Minister advise whether inquiries by the Department of Trade and Industry have elicited any other undesirable trade practice? Will he suggest to the Cabinet that it consider taking action to resist these demands as a demonstration that there is a limit to the price that Australia will pay for overseas investment?
– I have no doubt at all concerning the accuracy of the statement made by Mr. McEwen. If he said there were 1,100 agreements which restricted exports applying to factories or plants established in Australia, then I am sure he would be correct. It must be remembered, of course, that it is not necessarily bad in every case that an export limitation is imposed. These matters must be considered on their merits. The establishment in Australia of many plants, even with some limited export franchise, can in many instances bring benefits to Australia. In this respect I was particularly impressed by the remarks made last week by Senator Bishop. He spoke of the restrictions placed on exports from Australian plants, but he pointed out, at the same time, that this is not necessarily bad. Senator Willesee need have no fear that the Government will keep under constant close watch the establishment of factories and plants in Australia, particularly where there is an intention to impose some kind of export restriction; but in saying that, I wish to emphasise equally that I do not accept the view that it is necessarily disadvantageous that an export restriction should be imposed on overseas financed establishments. There is, on the other hand, always the advantage of getting into Australia a new plant which will employ Australians and bring new techniques to this country. If I understood correctly Senator Bishop’s remarks last week, he would not be fac away from my thinking on this matter.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy. Is it a fact that Captain R. J. Robertson has tendered his resignation from the Royal Australian Navy? If so, has the resignation been accepted by the Governor-General in Council?
– The Minister for the Navy has answered a similar question in another place in the following manner -
His Excellency the Governor-General in Council has accepted the resignation of Captain Ronald John Robertson from the Royal Australian Navy to date from 28th September 1964, I am now free to state why I refrained from announcing that Captain Robertson had tendered his resignation. My reason can be shortly stated. Captain Robertson’s resignation could have been withdrawn by him at any time up to its acceptance. Had t announced that he had tendered his resignation but that it had not been accepted, 1 would have deprived Captain Robertson of his opportunity of withdrawal. I have no doubt that a disclosure by me at a time when second thoughts were available to him would have made it impossible for him to withdraw and would, therefore, in effect have terminated his service. This I certainly was not prepared to do. In my opinion, I had no right to disclose the offer of a resignation not yet accepted or, indeed, the contents of any communication by a serving officer to the Naval Board.
There is another aspect of this matter. I have felt’ that some people might believe that the Government, through me, should have taken some action about the posting of Captain Robertson to a shore appointment. A few minutes’ reflecttion will make it quite clear that if I politically intervened in the postings made by the Board directing that some officer should be sent to a particular post or should not be sent vo a particular post, that would be a most dangerous proceeding. It would interfere with the proper administrative responsibility of the Service Board and it would create serious dissatisfaction in the Service itself. Promotions and postings must not depend upon political influence.
– Has the Minister for Defence seen statements in today’s Adelaide “ Advertiser “ and other State newspapers in connection with a proposed defence review by the Federal Cabinet? Is it true, as reported in the Press, that Cabinet has set the middle of October as the deadline for its consideration of the draft programme and that this date is a month earlier than was previously planned? Will the review include consideration of an interim bomber force pending delivery of the TFX bombers and the purchase of an attack carrier for the Royal Australian Navy from the United Slates of America? Will the subject of a selective national training scheme be discussed? Aire any such decisions likely to be policy matters in a December Senate election?
– I have seen some references in the Mer editions of the morning newspapers to the effect that the Government proposes to conduct a review of Australia’s defences in mid-October. I say at once to the honorable senator that the Government does not discuss Cabinet’s programme with newspaper reporters, and he would be in error if he took what appears in this morning’s press in this connection as other than speculation. The honorable senator may be assured that the defences and the defence equipment of this country are under continuing review. Policy statements are made as and when appropriate. This practice will be followed in the future as in the past.
– I ask the
Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service two questions which flow from an announcement last week by the Premier of New South Wales that he intends to legislate for a basic wage of £15 15s. for males and £11 16s. for females. Can the Minister explain to the Senate why one State Parliament fixes a basic wage by legislation and the Federal Parliament leaves it to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to do so? As the New South Wales Government has already legislated for equal pay for equal work, would it not be logical for that Government to start off from the premise that a man and a woman working for an equal number of hours should receive the same basic wage, and allow the difference in their skills to be covered by margins?
– The honorable senator asked me, first,’ why one State Parliament legislated for a basic wage to be applied to males and females within its boundaries. I think the answer is this: Constitutionally, this Parliament has not the right to legislate for a basic wage. I think that all this Parliament can do, broadly speaking, is to set up machinery to deal with interstate disputes and, through the machinery of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission which was set up for that purpose, in effect, to arrive at a federal basic wage. On the other hand, a State government is not constitutionally inhibited from legislating for a basic wage within its areas if it wishes to do so. As to why the New South Wales Government is to legislate for a differential payment between males and females, I would not feel it proper for me to comment on what that Government did, or any State Government did, in this field, other than to say that it throws into relief the fact that the legislation existing in New South Wales allegedly for equal pay for equal work covers only a minority of women workers in that State. Therefore, presumably, for its own reasons the New South Wales Government has discriminated in its own legislation.
– I wish to direct the following questions to the Minister for Civil Aviation - 1. Is a newspaper report correct that the Department of Civil Aviation has closed the Corowa airport because of deterioration of the runway pavements? 2. If so, why was this information not communicated to the Corowa Shire Council in the first instance? 3. Arising out of the newspaper report, has the President of the Corowa Shire Council stated that the runways were in good order and that the Department had only recently handed over the aerodrome as an A class aerodrome? 4. As Corowa is in close proximity to several important towns in north eastern Victoria, such as Wangaratta, Rutherglen, Yarrawonga and Benalla, is there not considerable merit in the Corowa Shire Council’s contention that there is room for air services both to Corowa and to Albury? 5. If Corowa is to be denied a service, is it not unfair to expect the Shire Council to maintain the aerodrome merely to provide an alternative airport to cater for times when aircraft could not land at Albury? 6. When may I expect an answer to my earlier questions relating to the Albury airport, which was opened about a week ago?
– I have not been advised by my Department that the Corowa airport has been closed because of deterioration of the runways. I shall seek answers to the honorable senator’s questions at the first opportunity and relay them to him. In a very few minutes I shall give the honorable senator an answer to his questions concerning the Albury Airport.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry: In view of the reported significant increase in the total end of season carryover of cotton indicated by the International Cotton Advisory Committee, can the Minister say to what extent it is likely to affect the economics of cotton production in Australia?
– As I understand the position, at 30th July 1964 world stocks of cotton were slightly in excess of those held 12 months previously. A percentage of the carryover was held in America. 1 think it is proper to say that the American Government has always adopted a responsible attitude in its price policy when effecting disposals. The honorable senator might be interested to know that the Australian cotton crop supplies, I think, a mere 10 per cent, of our needs. He will be reassured when 1 inform him that the sponsorship of the cotton industry that has been undertaken by the Federal Government will ensure a secure return for the present crop and, indeed, expansion.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy and arises from the reply given by him to a question asked a few minutes ago. In view of the resignation of Captain Robertson, will the Minister say, contrary to the statement made last week by the Leader of the Government in this chamber, that Captain Robertson’s reposting was not a demotion? Will the Minister agree that the Captain’s reposting was the imposition of a penalty without a trial or conviction?
– The reposting of Captain Robertson was at the direction of the Naval Board which has the responsibility for carrying out matters such as this. There is a procedure through which the officer concerned, if he so wished, could have approached this authority through his Flag Officer, I understand, to state a case to it. I understand also that Captain Robertson took no opportunity to do so.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. By way of preface, I point out that last week the PostmasterGeneral issued a statement on the extension of subscriber trunk dialling facilities wherein he highlighted the pending use of these facilities between Sydney and Melbourne and, later, between Melbourne and Sydney, and also in the areas within a radius of 60 miles or so of Melbourne. My questions are: 1. Have any study and investigation been made of the early subscriber trunk dialling facilities in relation to traffic between Adelaide and Melbourne, and between Adelaide and the larger country centres of South Australia, particularly Mount Gambier, Renmark, Port Augusta, Port Pirie, Whyalla, Port Lincoln, and Ceduna? 2. If so, in what areas in South Australia are these facilities first likely to be introduced, in what order, and by approximately what dates? 3. Will the Postmaster-General please explain the precise method and scale used of charging for calls of less duration than three minutes in this subscriber trunk dialling scheme?
– Senator Laught indicated to me that he would be seeking information on this matter and, because of the precise nature of the answers required, I conferred with my colleague, the Postmaster-General. I am now in a position to inform the honorable senator that the Community Telephone Plan for Australia proposes to mechanise the Australian trunk network. Consideration has been given to providing this service in South Australia. Limitations are imposed by the need to provide adequate trunk circuits and the suitability of exchange equipment. In most cases, subscriber trunk dialling, which today is known as S.T.D., to the centres mentioned is dependent upon the installation of broadband systems which will provide sufficient circuits. An Adelaide to Melbourne radio system is. planned for installation in 1965-66, and will take about two years to complete. Circuits from Adelaide to Mount Gambier and Naracoorte will then be installed to connect over this route. A broadband radio system between Adelaide and Balaklava is being extended to Port Pirie and Port Augusta and will take up to two’ years to complete. However, Port Pirie and Ceduna are manual exchanges and will need to await conversion to automatic working before S.T.D. can be introduced.
Plans have been prepared for the conversion of the Port Lincoln exchange to automatic working commencing in about two to three years. Tentative plans have been prepared to provide S.T.D. for Victor Harbour, Nuriootpa, Gawler, Gladstone, Naracoorte, Murray Bridge and Mount Gambier to Adelaide in that order with the possibility that work may commence in about two years. Plans have not .yet been formulated for Renmark and Whyalla.
Under S.T.D. conditions, calls are recorded on the calling subscriber’s local meter which means that each impulse is timed to represent 4d. worth of trunk time. The frequency of operation varies according to the distance between the exchanges. For example, a call costing 4s. for three minutes under manual conditions would cause the calling subscriber’s meter to operate regularly at 15 second intervals. The cost of the call is therefore more closely related to its duration, and trunk calls are included with the local calls recorded on the meter.
– My question which is directed to the Minister for Defence, follows on the question asked of the Minister by my colleague, Senator Bishop. I ask the Minister: Do I take it that, despite the report referred to by my colleague, the Minister still adheres to his previous assurances, given to the people of Australia that, so far as he is concerned, the existing defences of this country are in a satisfactory and adequate state of preparedness?
– The honorable senator has a perfect right to interpret any statement of mine as he pleases. Let me repeat what I have said on previous occasions. The defences of this country are undertaken in such a way and to such an extent as to meet the existing strategic situation and the demands that might be made on Australia in collaboration with her allies in defence of our own country and Territories and in fulfilment of our external obligations.
– What does all that mean?
– It means that the defences of Australia are adequate to meet the existing strategic situation, and that they will be kept in a state of adequacy.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry, ls the Minister aware that the International Wool Secretariat last week presented to Miss Great Britain, a visitor to Australia, what was described as “ a most becoming suit ‘:? Is the Minister also aware that the suit was not made of wool? Will he have inquiries made into this strange behaviour by the International Wool Secretariat, which was set up for the purpose of promoting wool sales?
– On behalf of the Minister for Trade and Industry, 1 will.
– Has the Minister for Defence seen a report that the British TSR2 bomber, which was advocated by the Opposition as a replacement for the Canberra bomber, will be obsolete before it is available for delivery? Is it a fact that production of this aircraft may bc abandoned? If these are facts, what would have been the position of the Royal Australian Air Force if the Australian Government had listened to the Opposition’s request that Australia re-equip with this machine? Is it true that, if production is proceeded with, the cost per machine will rise from £5 million to £20 million?
– I think it is true, regrettably, that the British TSR2 aircraft has run into production difficulties and into difficulties arising from other reasons. It is now stated in the Press - I have not seen anything more official than that - that production will bc limited, and that the
Royal Air Force does not now propose to order nearly the number of these aircraft that it intended to order originally. As a consequence, of course, the unit cost will be increased. Had the Australian Government ordered this aircraft, the R.A.A.F. would have experienced the same difficulties that the R.A.F. is now reported to be experiencing. I might add that the Australian Government is well satisfied with the bomber that it has ordered, which, on the last available advice, will be delivered on schedule, despite the gloomy predictions of the Opposition.
” HANSARD “.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer, who, 1 understand, administers the Government Printing Office. I ask whether the daily “ Hansard “, being a verbatim report of the previous day’s proceedings in the Parliament, is a proof issue and is liable to correction and therefore cannot be quoted outside the Parliament in Press, radio and television news services without the possibility of legal proceedings being taken against the publishers. At present a warning to readers is printed on the inside cover, and anyone who notices this is told -
This is a Proof Issue. Corrections which honorsenators suggest for the Weekly Issue and the Bound Volumes should be clearly marked in the Daily Report, and the copy containing the corrections must be received at the office of the Principal Parliamentary Reporter . . . and a date a week hence is given. Will the Minister recommend to his colleague that an appropriate and better worded warning be prominently placed on the front page of the daily “Hansard “ to save people from committing an error without intention?
– I was not aware that this matter came under the control of the Treasurer. I thought that it came under the control of the Minister for the Interior. I ask the honorable senator to put the question on the notice paper and if the matter comes under the control of the Treasurer, I will bring it to his notice.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Health. In April of this year I asked the Minister a question on notice regarding the satisfactory treatment by Dr. Moeller of Germany of an Adelaide woman who was suffering from arteriosclerosis. I received a reply from Minister in which he said that he would have an investigation of the claim made and would furnish me with a report. I ask the Minister: Has this investigation been completed, and is he in a position to make the report available to the Senate?
– I remember the question and I can confirm the advice that I gave then to the effect that the Department of Health would investigate the claim and furnish me with a report. My understanding of the position is that, if the report has not been completed, it is almost complete. I shall be happy to make further inquiries. If the report has been completed, I shall let the honorable senator have a copy of it as soon as possible. If it has not been completed, as soon as it has been, I shall furnish it to him.
– My colleague, the Minister for National Development, has advised me that most of the positions created in the Northern Division of the Department of National Development have been filled and the officers have taken up their duties. Liaison has been established with the officers appointed for that purpose by the Queensland and the Western Australian Governments as a necessary prerequisite to the close association required between the Commonwealth and the States in the field of northern development. The Division has begun the long job of assembling and co-ordinating the considerable amount of information available in Commonwealth and State Departments on northern Australian resources. Examination of several proposals submitted by the Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia is now under way. In summary, the new Northern Division has now commenced to function and it should be operating effectively within the very near future.
– 1 direct my question to .the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy. Is there any truth in the Press report that, because of his resignation, Captain Robertson will lose his pension rights, which, under normal circumstances, would amount to about £2,500 a year? If the answer is in the affirmative, will the Government consider paying some compensation to Captain Robertson, who was virtually compelled to resign because of his demotion without trial?
– I combat the honorable senator’s statement very strongly. Of course there was no compulsion on Captain Robertson to resign. He was fully aware of all the circumstances before he decided to resign, and he was fully aware also of all the consequences of resignation. I thought that both the Minister and the Government showed commendable restraint in not saying anything about this resignation, so that Captain Robertson would have additional time in which to consider fully the step that he was contemplating.
– Has the
Minister for Defence any comment to make on the published statement that Indonesian guerrillas in Malaysia are using the world’s deadliest gun, the Armalite 115, which kills with shocking cruelty? What is the position of Australian troops in this area? Can the Minister assure the Senate that Australian forces which may face such a weapon are provided with effective defence? What are the Australian Government and the Australian diplomatic corps doing in an attempt to secure sanity in the Governments of Indonesia and Malaysia and to avert a terrible sacrifice of the youth of all countries?
– I have seen a Press report to the effect that some Indonesian troops are equipped with the Armalite rifle. I have been informed that it is a light rifle and that it discharges a slug approximately the size of a .22 slug and that this slug has a rather more serious effect when it makes contact than does the ordinary bullet fired by one of our rifles. Some of these weapons are in the possession of Indonesian forces, but although they are possibly more lethal weapons than are our rifles, they are not as effective as one might be led to believe by the newspaper account.
As to the other portion of the question, relating to what Australia is doing in this matter, if the honorable senator would care to survey the negotiations which have gone forward over many months as well as the patient and helpful part that Australia has played, he would be well satisfied that the Australian Government is doing a job which is appropriate to the circumstances.
– Has the Minister for Civil Aviation read a statement in today’s Sydney “ Daily Telegraph “ to the effect that the Lord Mayor of Sydney is to launch a campaign to make Sydney (KingsfordSmith) airport the No. 1 international airport in Australia? Has the Minister also read the statement that Alderman Moran made at a meeting of the Sydney City Council? Can the Minister comment on both statements?
– I saw the statements to which the honorable senator has referred. A couple of days prior to that, I saw an article in the Sydney Press to the effect that the consensus of opinion in New South Wales was that the Liberal-Country Parly coalition undoubtedly would win three of the five New South Wales seats in the forthcoming Senate election. When I read that article and also the statement that the Lord Mayor of Sydney probably would seek Labour Party endorsement for the Federal seat of Robertson, I at once expected a renewal of the campaign in relation to Sydney airport. Because of that, I felt that I should arm myself with the answers to Alderman Moran’s question. Having already answered a series of mis-statements that he previously made, I should like to refer to some inaccuracies in his latest statement. The first relates to a campaign to make Sydney Australia’s No. 1 international airport. There is no need for a campaign; it is Australia’s No. 1 international airport.
– Is it going to stay that way?
– In my opinion, yes, it always will, for the very simple reason that we have already spent £8 million on facilities at Mascot for Australia’s great international air carrier, Qantas Empire Airways Ltd., and only last week I authorised further expenditure of nearly a quarter of a million pounds for a new three-story building for additional technical training facilities at the existing Qantas technical training centre at Mascot. One does not authorise the building of facilities to cost a quarter of a million pounds for this great international carrier if there is any suggestion that Mascot will not continue to be the centre. I notice also constant reference to the “ Melbourne dominated and controlled Department of Civil Aviation “, and I thought it would be a good idea to have a look at the top ten officers in the Department. Three are Victorians, three are New South Welshmen - that is a fairly even balance, is it not - two are South Australians and two come from the United Kingdom. The Director-General of Civil Aviation is a South Australian and, with great respect, the Minister is a Tasmanian. That is an eight to three vote against the Victorians in the top eleven positions in the Department of Civil Aviation. Surely the statement to which I refer is such utter nonsense that one ought not to have to waste time in replying to it.
I should like to refer to one or two other things mentioned by one of the aldermen of the Sydney City Council. His name was mentioned, but it was of no significance to me. He said that 600 houses had been purposely built around the airport of Essendon to make sure that it could not be made an international airport. Encroachment upon the airport surroundings at Essendon has been going on for many, many years. Anybody who approaches Essendon from the air knows that it is totally impossible to build upon one portion. No land has been sold from Essendon for housing development. It is utter nonsense to say that there has. With the close concentration of houses around the airport and the arrival of the jet age, common sense would say that when a site was available 13 miles out of Melbourne - not 20 miles, as the alderman keeps on stating - which had none of the inhibitions of close settlement, it should have been seized upon in preference to any possible extension or development around Essendon. 1 have said, and I repeat, that Essendon is not suitable for any further development for the domestic airlines and for that reason the development of Tullamarine has taken place. In addition, international facilities are being developed at Tullamarine.
Both cities will have international airports. The one at Sydney will be far greater. The alderman asked to be informed of what we had spent at Sydney and what we had spent at Melbourne. The answer is that we have spent just on £13 million at Mascot and a little over £5 million at Essendon. In addition, Qantas has spent £8 million so that, in fact, we have an investment of £21 million at Mascot. As I have said, this is a purely party political campaign. As soon as the Senate election has been held and the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party have won three seats in New South Wales, this matter will be forgotten.
I think that I have answered most of the questions which the alderman directed to me in the Press. I thought I should take the opportunity to answer the questions as soon as I could to let him know the facts and to put him right, as I did previously. He made mis-statements, and I think he made them deliberately. I say again that there is not the slightest degree of truth in his comments. I have said - and I will keep on saying it because I believe it to be the fact - that the No. 1. international airport in Australia is at the cross-roads of the Pacific traffic, which is at Mascot, in Sydney.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, is supplementary to questions asked by other honorable senators with respect to the resignation of Captain Robertson from the Royal Australian Navy. I ask: Did Captain Robertson give the Naval Board any reasons for his resignation? If he did, does the Government propose to tell the Parliament and the people what those reasons were?
– I am not aware of any reasons that Captain Robertson gave to anybody so far as his resignation is concerned. As I understand the position, Captain Robertson tendered his resignation and, as I said previously, considerable time was given to him to reconsider the position. He did not wish to reconsider it, apparently, but went on with his resignation and, as the Minister for the Navy has stated, it was accepted this morning.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs. Is it known from what type of aircraft Indonesian paratroopers were dropped in Malaya recently? Can the Minister say which country supplied the aircraft and the year in which they were supplied? Were they supplied free of cost or did the Indonesian Government pay for them?
– There is too much detail involved in this question for me to give the honorable senator an answer now. I seem to remember reading in the newspapers that the aircraft was alleged to be a Hercules, but as to the year in which it was supplied, by whom it was supplied and whether it was supplied free or not, I am not sure. I am not even sure that it was a Hercules. I shall ask the Minister for External Affairs to supply an answer to the honorable senator.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, arises from what I consider to be his unsatisfactory answers to previous questions. I want to know whether the appointment of Captain Robertson to a land posting was a demotion by the Naval Board without trial. If Captain Robertson gave reasons for his resignation will the Minister make them known to the Senate?
– I gave that information in reply to another question a short time ago. If the honorable senator is not satisfied, I suggest he place his question on the notice paper and I shall get the Minister for the Navy to reply to him. Apparently, as the representative in this chamber of the Minister for the Navy, 1 am not able to satisfy the honorable senator.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs whether he can confirm speculation that President Sukarno is abdicating. Has the President left, or does he intend to leave, Indonesia because of the censure of the United Nations Security Council over Indonesia’s blatant and unwarranted invasion of Malaysia?
– The answer to the first part of the question is: No. The answer to the second part is: I doubt it.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Does he agree that the international terminal at Mascot is already hopelessly inadequate and that the position is becoming worse each year? Why is the erection of a new terminal being delayed until 1968? What is the Minister doing to expedite ils completion?
– The honorable senator is on common ground with me when he suggests that the international terminal as Mascot is quite inadequate, is old fashioned, and is not worthy of the city of Sydney. The honorable senator has asked me what steps are being taken to expedite the building of a new terminal. He knows what we are doing, because I have already told him in this place. As he leaves Mascot, he can see for himself the extensions that are being made to the runways.
I am now discussing with the Department the possibility - really it is more than a possibility - of doing the filling on the new site immediately. Approximately 3 million yards of filling will be needed to enable the new international terminal to be erected on the site on which it is to stand. I am also seeking to have the surrounds done almost immediately. When the site has been prepared, I hope plans and specifications for the new terminal will be ready to be placed before the Public Works Committee for consideration. Thereafter tenders will be called in the normal course of events.
– I address to the Minister for Civil Aviation a question following on that asked by Senator Murphy. Is the Minister aware that, if this Government were to co-operate with the New South Wales Government in the building of the eastern suburbs railway in Sydney, the debris taken from the railway tunnel could be used for filling in Botany Bay? I understand that to do this would reduce the cost of the runway extension by £4 million or £5 million. Is this Government, in its own interests, in the interests of the New South Wales Government and in the interests of economy, prepared to forget party politics and to come to some such arrangement with New South Wales?
– With great respect, I remind the honorable senator that the New South Wales Government started the eastern suburbs railway about 20 years ago but that the project is still, one might say, a hole in the wall. We do not propose to wait for the State Government to make up its mind about whether it will proceed with that project. Rather do we intend to get on with the extension of the runway and the construction of the international terminal at the Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) airport so they will be completed long before the honorable senator and I have white beards, which would be the case if we waited for the New South Wales Government to make up its mind. To suggest that we should wait for the State Government to proceed with the eastern suburbs railway is nonsensical.
(Question No. 165.)
Senator CANT (through Senator
Willesee) asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
Have a number of Philippine nationals been stranded in Western Australia as a result of a salvage tug being seized for debt?
Are these Philippine nationals permitted to work, either for wages or under contract, in Australia or the territorial waters of Australia?
Were tenders recently called for the salvage of a cray-fishing boat at the Abrolhos Islands?
Was a lender of £8,000 refused?
Was a tender of £3,000 accepted and is this tenderer employing the Philippine nationals to perform the salvage operations?
What are the terms and conditions of the employment of these people?
– The Minister for Immigration has provided the following answer - 1 to 6. A Philippines tug with a Filipino crew arrived in Western Australia on 11th January 1964 to engage in the salvage of a vessel aground to the north of Fremantle. The tug subsequently became the subject of litigation, which I understand has not yet concluded, and all but its master and a caretaker crew of seven were repatriated to the Philippines in March. A request was made to the Department in April by the agents of the salvage tug that five of the seven remaining crew members be permitted to assist in a salvage operation off the Albrolhos Islands, which appeared to involve a degree of urgency. On the understanding, therefore, that the time involved would not exceed two weeks, no objection was raised to the men being so engaged.
It transpired subsequently that the five Filipinos were engaged on a normal salvage operation, for which a tender by an Australian contractor had earlier been refused. I understand the conditions under which the Filipinos were employed were that they were to receive the sum of £2,500 as their share of the salvage fee. The salvage operation in fact was completed in June, and all the Filipino crew have since been repatriated to the Philippines, with the exception of two seamen who for the time being are remaining on board the salvaged vessel as caretakers.
Non-Europeans are not admitted for work in an industry in which Australian labour is readily available, nor for employment which places Australian workmen at a disadvantage. In matters relating to salvage operations, errands of mercy and other situations arise in which normal international practice with respect to salvage prevails. The possibility of a recurrence of the situation which arose with this particular group of Filipino seamen will be carefully watched. The admission of non-Europeans to engage in such operations will not normally be permitted where adequate labour and suitable facilities are readily available locally.
(Question No. 190.)
Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
Did the subject of contracts for the servicing of television receivers come under discussion at the general meeting of Commonwealth and Stale Attorneys-General last April or at any other meeting this year; if so, what decision, if any, has been arrived at?
– The Minister has supplied the following answer to the honorable senator’s question -
The interest of the Commonwealth in this subject is at present restricted to the Australian Capital Territory, the only Territory which, forthe time being, enjoys television services. The subject was discussed at meetings of the Standing Committee of Commonwealth and State Attorneys-General which were held in Canberra in April 1964, and Perth in August, 1964. It was agreed that, as enquiries showed the abuses which had existed in some quarters of the television servicing industry appeared to have abated, no immediate action was called for. To the extent that companies were responsible for abuses in this field, it was agreed that the uniform companies legislation be examined to ascertain what amendments would be necessary to prevent a recurrence of abuses in this and other fields in the future.
(Question No. 195.)
asked the Minis ter representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The AttorneyGeneral has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions -
(Question No. 200.)
Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has furnished the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions-
Amalgamated Engineering Union (Australian Section).
Australasian Society of Engineers.
Australian Air Pilots Association.
Australian Coal and Shale Employees Federation.
Australian Glass Workers Union.
Australian Railway Union.
Australian Tramway and Motor Omnibus Employees Association.
Blacksmiths Society of Australia.
Boilermakers Society of Australia.
Electrical Trades Union of Australia.
Federated Gas Employees Industrial Union.
Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia.
Federated Liquor and Allied Industries Employees Union of Australia.
Federated Moulders (Metals) Union of Australia.
Federated Rubber and Allied Workers Union of Australia.
Seamens Union of Australia.
Sheet Metal Working, Agricultural Implement and Stovemaking Industrial Union of Australia.
Transport Workers Union of Australia.
Vehicle Builders Employees Federation of Australia.
Waterside Workers Federation of Australia.
Wool and Basil Workers Federation of Australia.
(Question No. 202.)
Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions -
(Question No. 208.)
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions -
(Question No. 218.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Interior has provided the following reply - 1, 4 and 5. Representations have been made from time to time from various sources, including the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council, for some form of self-government for the Australian Capital Territory. Other people feel that there should be no self-government yet, or that the question should be approached with extreme caution because of the implications involved. Canberra is going through a period of unparalleled growth bringing with it major problems of development and administration which are handled by the National Capital Development Commission andthe Department of the Interior. These problems are far more complex than most people realise. Because of this, the Government has not, up to the present, formulated any deliberate policy leading towards any specific form of self-government. However, my Department is now looking into the implications involved in any change from the present system. These investigations will take some time but until they are completed it is not practicable to make any public statement on possible future policy in relation to selfgovernment. 2 and 3. In 1963 the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council recommended to my predecessor that a flag be produced for Canberra. The advice of the College of Arms in London has been sought and their suggestions are now receiving consideration. I can see nothing wrong with the City of Canberra having its own flag.
(Question No. 230.)
– Senator Cole has on the notice paper a question directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Army. It reads as follows -
Since the pay increases granted in June last, how many enlisted personnel have -
The Minister for the Army has provided the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions -
It should be understood, however, that the reengagement procedure is commenced some months in advance of the actual date. Hence a soldier who did not re-engage in, say, July 1964, probably made his decision long before the pay increase was announced. Also the number falling due for reengagement in any month - and so affecting the number who re-engage or fail to re-engage in that month - is directly affected by the enlistment pattern 3, 6, 91 12 or even more years previously. From time to time there have been wide fluctuations in enlistment figures, notable examples being during the Korean Wat and the period immediately following the Services pay review in 1958.
(Question No. 234.)
Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows -
(Question No. 235.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answers -
Delhi has carried out a responsible exploration programme over a very large area using early disappointing results to guide them to better prospects. The statutory programme of exploration work which is a condition of the granting of the tenement is as laid down by the State Minister for Mines and the programme of work on subsidised operations is as approved by the Commonwealth. Delhi-Santos have farmed out areas to French Petroleum Co. in an effort to increase the rate of exploration.
(Question No. 243.)
Senator ORMONDE (through Senator
Willesee) asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
How many underground coal mines have been closed down in Cessnock, Kurri Kurri, Maitland and Muswellbrook areas in the period between 1950 and 1964?
What is the estimated amount of coal left unmined in the whole area?
How many of these mines are capable of being re-opened if market conditions improve asa result of any controls that may be applied in the production of residual oil?
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answers -
I could not offer any opinion as to how many could be re-opened as a result; of such improvement of market conditions as might occur in the hypothetical situation of the application of controls to the production of residual oil.
(Question No. 267.)
Minister representing the Minister for Housing, upon notice -
– The Minister for Housing has provided the following answer to the honorable senator’s questions - 1 and 2. Up to the close of business on Friday last,18th September, 6,810 applications for homes savings grants had been received, of which 3,359 had been approved and 288 rejected. A large proportion of those stilt on hand cannot be finalised until the applicants submit documents or information which they omitted to include with their applications, and which they have now been asked to provide.
(Question No. 277.)
asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable senator’s questions is as follows -
The following amounts were paid in subsidy in respect of intrastate services during 1963-64 -
In addition, £128,339 was paid to MacRobertson Miller Airlines Limited whose total network is substantially intrastate, and £118,211 was paid to Connellan Airways Limited, whose network is substantially within the Northern Territory. Adding these amounts to the above total, therefore, £438,850 was paid in subsidy to the airlines for the operation of development and essential intrastate and intra-Territorial services.
There wre, in addition, some interstate routes which received subsidy payments bringing the total to £557,750.
Consideration resumed from 17th September (vide page 561).
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
– I move -
That the clause be postponed.
I propose this amendment to indicate that not only do we feel that the proposed increases envisaged in this Bill are insufficient, but also that the date for payment of the proposed increases should be made retrospective. The Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) in his reply to the second reading debate last week referred to the fact that for many years this question of retrospectivity of increased payments has come before all governments, and that when we were in power we did not make similar increased payments retrospective, as we would like to see done on this occasion. I do not think the fact that increased payments have not been made retrospective in the past is any argument why they should not be made retrospective now, particularly as the Treasurer has budgeted for a surplus of £18,500,000. The small amount of benefit that is being granted under this Bill is such that to make it retrospective for five or six weeks would not make any appreciable difference to the proposed surplus in the Budget. Therefore, this concession could easily be allowed for by the Treasurer.
On at least three occasions in the past, benefits under other legislation have been made retrospective. I refer, first, to the subsidy which was made last year to the users of superphosphate. That measure was brought down in the 1963 Budget. The users were told that the subsidy would become effective immediately, and it did. The users did not have to wait for approximately 13 weeks. Secondly, when additional child endowment for student children was granted by virtue of legislation that was brought down in the session of Parliament earlier this year, those payments were made retrospective to 1st January 1964. Thirdly, when the Homes Savings Grant Bill was passed by Parliament earlier thisyear, the payments under it were made retrospective to last December. So, this Government has established a precedent for making increased payments of social service benefits retrospective. The old argument that, because it has not been done before, therefore, it cannot be done now can no longer hold water.
Since the introduction of the Budget, the full impact of the recent rise in the basic wage has been felt - and has been reflected in increased costs. So much so, that even today we see that the Australian Council of Trade Unions is preparing a case to submit to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the new year for a further increase in the basic wage. Therefore, pensioners are so much worse off. They have been granted this 5s. a week or 8ld. a day increase in their pensions, yet they have to wait for 13 weeks before they receive the benefit of the increase, small as it is. The only way that the Opposition has of protesting against the Government’s action is by moving that the clause bc postponed.
We feel that the Government, upon reflection and bearing in mind the fact that it has already made increase payments retrospective in three instances within the Jas! twelve months, could do so in this instance with an even clearer conscience than in those three instances because the recipients of this benefit are people to whom it means so much. They are people to whom this increase, small as it is, means a great deal more than the benefits paid to the people in the three instances to which I have referred. Under these circumstances, the Opposition has moved that clause 2 bc postponed in order that the Government may reconsider making the increased payments retrospective.
– The Government is not prepared to accept the motion which is proposed by Senator Tangney. This proposition that has been put forward is not novel. It has, of course, been advanced over the years. It seems to be a debating point which we hear almost every time increases are granted in the social services and repatriation fields. There are, of course, some 800,000 pensioners involved in increases in pensions. I think we all recognise that departmental officers have to have a date towards which to work. That date is determined by the Government and effect is given to it when the Bill receives royal assent. I have no authority to accept the amendment.
My attention has been drawn to the fact that in 1948 the then Opposition put forward to Senator McKenna, who was then Minister for Health, the sort of proposition that Senator Tangney has now advanced. I do not propose to refer to Senator McKenna’s exact words, but he rebutted the argument on the ground that it was not the usual practice to make payments retrospective. Senator Tangney has mentioned certain precedents which are not completely analogous but, they do suggest that there is provision for retrospective payments in certain legislation. It has not been the practice to have such retrospectivity in this field. As I said before, Governments over the years have had this proposition put to them, but they have not been prepared to accept it. On behalf of the Government I say that we are not prepared to accept the motion as submitted by the honorable senator.
– I oppose the view advanced by the Minister on behalf of the Government. Whilst recognising his position, we suggest that this clause be postponed so that he can, if possible, obtain the Government’s authority to accept the Opposition’s proposed amendment. He has said that he has not the authority to do so. That is why we have advanced our proposal.
It is no good the Minister saying that 800,000 pensioners are involved and that the Department of Social Services does not know exactly what it can do in relation, to them. Let me assure him that the Department, because of its very competent officers, is one of the most efficient organisations in the Commonwealth. Acceptance of our proposal to make the increase payments retrospective to 1st July would present no great problem to these most competent officers. I have seen the equipment in the Department, not only in Melbourne but in other capital cities as well. The Department has the most up to date electronic machines operating in the world. They can be used to make whatever adjustments are necessary in pension payments.. It is no good saying that the present arrangement has been going on for 55 years. That may be true, but it is time for a change.
This year the Government is budgeting for a surplus of £18.5 million. In the past few years it has budgeted for a deficit and has concluded each year’s operations with a surplus, so it is natural to assume that this year there will be a surplus of about £100 million. Therefore, finance should not present a problem. Within the past two or three years the Government made payment of the superphosphate bounty retrospective. This involved about £9 million. The amount for which we are begging on behalf of the pensioners would be very much less than that. We are asking that the Government make retrospective for two or three months an increase which can only be regarded as paltry. Retrospective arrangements have also been made in the case of the home savings grant and in the case of the child endowment paid for students receiving full time education up to the age of 21 years. What better case can there be for retrospective payment than the case of the few miserable, paltry shillings that the Government proposes to give to people who are in desperate need?
I ask the Minister to accept the opportunity that would be given him by accepting the Opposition’s proposal to ascertain from the Government whether the proposed increases in social service benefits can be made retrospective to 1st July.
– In supporting the motion proposed by Senator Tangney, I wish to refer to a section of the community which for many years has received a raw deal - the married pensioners, whose wives are not of pensionable age. The plight in which these unfortunate people have been placed, because of the difference in their incomes when compared with the incomes of pensioner couples, has been raised in this place from time to time. When this Bill is passed, the pensioner whose wife is not eligible for a pension - he can be regarded as a single pensioner - will receive £6 a week and his wife will receive £3 a week, making a combined income of £9 a week. In effect, each receives a pension of only £4 10s. a week. However, the married pensioner couple receives a combined income of £11 a week, so there is a vast difference between the two categories. Acceptance of our proposal will afford’ the Government an opportunity to give to the unfortunate people 10 whom I have referred at least some of the benefits that they have been deprived of for years.
Honorable senators have raised this matter previously and I. have brought it before the Minister’s notice whenever social service legislation has been debated in this place. It is time something was done. I was pleased last year when the Government introduced a bill to increase the wife’s allowance by 12s. 6d. to bring it to £3 a week. But that increase was not nearly enough. If the pension increases covered by the Bill now before us are made retrospective to 1st July, that will give the pensioner whose wife is not eligible for a pension at least some recompense and will help to tide him over the phase that we are going through at present. I refer to the current high cost of living which has resulted from the recent increase in the basic wage. These people arc finding it increasingly difficult to live on a combined income of only £9 a week.
Certain tags are attached to the wife’s allowance. A pensioner has to be more or less permanently incapacitated before his wife becomes entitled to the allowance but if a pensioner were incapacitated to that extent, his wife would not be able to go out to earn anything to supplement the pension income. This section of social service recipients should be given some justice, because they are in a very sad plight. Most of the wives are over 50 years of age and even in these times of so-called full employment they find it very difficult to obtain jobs.
I understand the Minister’s reason for not accepting the Opposition’s proposal, but I say that it should have been accepted by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) when it was advanced in the other place.
.- I find the Minister’s reply to Senator Tangney unsatisfactory, not only as a matter of justice but also as a matter of logic. As I understood him, he said in effect: “ We are working towards a date and these things are set in train some time in advance “. Presumably he argues that there would be practical difficulties in the way of implementing the proposal made by Senator Tangney. But no date has yet been fixed. Clause 2 of the Bill proposes only that the Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the royal assent. Wc do not know what day that will be. We do not know when this matter will finally be through this Parliament. It might have been through last week. We on the Opposition side think that it should have been through last week. We placed no obstacle in the way of its being through last week. So far as the practical aspect of the matter is concerned, it is not a question, of rehandling 800,000 pension cards. It is a question of what the amount to be paid to each pensioner will be on the day oh which the increased payments are made, and it is not an answer to Senator Tangney to suggest that there are some practical difficulties in the way.
In our view, there is no element of either practicality or justice which should stand in the way of proper and speedy provision being made for those who are to get pension increases, lt is only necessary to remind the Committee that married pensioners are to get, as a result of this Budget, the first increase to be granted to them in two years. They got nothing out of last year’s Budget. The single pensioner last year received a 10s. rise, from £5 5s. a week to £5 15s. a week, but the married pensioner got nothing. So it is virtually two years since married pensioners have received any increase in their rate of pension, and that is a scandalous state of affairs, having regard to the present economic situation, and having regard also to the fact that the £1 a week increase in the basic wage, as mentioned by Senator Tangney, has already been swallowed up in the inflationary price structure.
We say that on this occasion, irrespective of what has been done in the past, whether it was last year or 20 years ago, justice can be done to pensioners only by pre-dating the increase as far as possible. If 1st July is too far back, what is wrong with the date on which the Budget was introduced, 1 1 th August? That is the date on which the Government committed itself to the increases, and that surely is a date which the Minister ought to be prepared to take back to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), asking him to consider introducing it afresh on that basis.
– I have nothing to add to my previous statement, which has come under some critism, notably by Senator Cohen. I remind him that in the world of practical politics for a long, long time, when the Budget is brought down and the. Treasurer of the day announces that the Government has decided, to make increases in certain pensions, he says that it is estimated that the increases will cost so much in a full year and so much in the remainder of the current year. Let us be sensible about this. Quite clearly, when the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) makes an appreciation in that way it is made on the basis of a probable date of application. Senator Cohen, I think, weakened his argument - if I were in his place I would be submitting the same argument - when he suggested that the payments should be made retrospective to 1st July but, as though he were going to arbitration, said that he would settle for the adoption of some other date, such as the date of the Budget speech. On that sort of argument, he might equally have gone back to last December.
I recognise this as an argument and I recognise that it is proper that the Opposition should put it. In fact, Senator McKenna when he was the Minister for Social Services in 1948, had to rebut a similar argument when it was put by Senator O’sullivan, as the Leader of the Opposition. Oddly enough Senator McKenna used the very words that came into question in this debate when he said that he’ did not know what explanation had been given by his colleague in the other place but if his colleague had put it on the ground of administrative difficulty he certainly would have put it on its proper ground. At that stage, Senator McKenna was relying solely on the ground of administrative difficulty. I do not go so far. That is a problem, but it is a matter of Government policy to pay such increases after the date of the legislation receives the royal assent. Obviously, as Minister representing the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who is in another place, I am not in a position to accept the proposal.
Senator FITZGERALD (New South Wales) F4.35]. - In view of the fact that the Government is budgeting for a surplus of £18.5 million, can the Minister advise what would be the additional cost if payment of the increases ware made retrospective to 1st July?
– A short answer is that it would be impossible to make an assessment. As the Committee will appreciate, people die and other people become entitled to and are paid the pension. In the mechanics of the matter, there would be a variation almost from day to day. If that assessment were in contemplation, it would have to be made on a departmental level.
– I suggest to the Minister that the arguments which he has put are rather fallacious. He said that the same argument had been raised when Senator McKenna was Minister for Social Services. It is rather interesting to note that in that same session of the Parliament, in another place the present Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) and the present Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) put forward the very arguments that we are putting forward now. The whole thing becomes a vicious circle; as one political party puts forward the argument the other side of politics rejects it. There is a difference this time because in the past 12 months the Government has recognised the principle of making retrospective payments in relation to certain social services. Leaving superphosphates out of the discussion for the moment, I point out that in the social services field the Government has made retrospective payments of child endowment and it has made retrospective the provisions of the Homes Savings Grant Bill. These come within the ambit of social services.
Now we have an altered situation. The Government has recognised that it can make retrospective payments in the social service field. We ask it to extend the principle to this very deserving section of recipients of social service benefits, age and invalid pensioners. I cannot see that these old arguments should prevail. I realise that all governments of all political colours have taken refuge in them over the years. I do not think that I ever agreed with them. I have always opposed them in this chamber. As some light has been shining through the gloom lately. I was rather praising the Government for having made these social service payments retrospective. It could add to what it has done if it were to see the light on this occasion. I think this is a completely different occasion from any previous occasion on which we have asked for pensions to be made retrospective, because the Government itself has shown that social service benefits may be made retrospective if the Government wishes them to be.
– I listened carefully to the Minister’s statement that it would be impossible for the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) to make the increase retrospective.
– With respect, I did not say that it would be impossible.
– I did not mean to use the word “ impossible “. The Minister said that it could not be done because it would be difficult to take into consideration certain aspects of social service benefits. Why could not those aspects be considered when the Budget was being framed? The Minister said that this matter is a hardy annual with the Opposition and that we always ask at this time that payment be made retrospectively. My contention is that the problem would not be so great if it were considered when the Budget was being prepared. It seems to me that the matter has been ignored. The Minister for Social Services or the Treasurer should have taken note of the points made by the Opposition from time to time and tried to rectify the position. 1 do not see why nothing can be done in 1964, even if the argument that was presented in 1948 was wrong. Conditions have changed considerably in the meantime. I believe that the Minister could have rectified the position regarding retrospectivity long before . the present Budget.
Question put -
That the clause be postponed.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator G. C. McKellar.)
Majority . . . . 3
Chairman, a Government supporter who is paired is in the chamber.
– Will the- Committee grant leave for the honorable senator concerned to leave the chamber? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 to 6 - by leave - taken together.
– We of the Opposition consider that these clauses are really the crux of the Bill. Clause 3 relates to the rate of age or invalid pension. We have already dealt at the second reading stage with the inadequacy of the rate, but there is one matter on which I should like to dwell. I refer to the plight of the invalid pensioner and the fact that he or she will not benefit from this Bill. An invalid pensioner and his wife are expected to live on £9 a week. There is no question of permissible income in this instance because a man must be disabled to the extent of 85 per cent, before he is entitled to an invalid pension. His wife can gel the wife’s allowance only if she is not gainfully employed but stays at home to look after him. The needs of an invalid pensioner are much greater than those of an age pensioner. Many things have to be bought in order to maintain the invalid. I feel that invalid pensioners are perhaps the most pitiful of all pensioners. I refer parTticularly to invalid pensioners who have no other income than the pension. Their conditions are definitely sub-standard.
We are led to understand that £6 is the base upon which we build our pension structure, but we see the amount payable to an invalid pensioner and his wife reduced to three-quarters of twice that sum. As I am not quite certain on this point, I should like the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) to tell me whether the wife of an invalid pensioner has an entitlement card for medical services. I know that the invalid pensioner himself would have a card, but I should like the Minister to tell me whether his wife has one. That is regarded as being much more important perhaps than a rise of £1 a week in the pension.
This Government has created all kinds of pensioners. It has differentiated between one class of pensioner and another. For example, we have the single pensioner who receives £6 a week and an extra 10s. a week if he is living alone and who gets a medical entitlement card if he has no other income in excess of £2 a week. We have the pensioners who got their medical entitlement cards before 1955 and who are entitled to medical treatment even if their income is now in excess of £2 a week. Then we have the married pensioner couples who receive less than they ought to receive because it is believed that it costs less for two to live together than for them to live separately. Indeed, there are so many different classes of pensioners that it must almost be necessary to use automation in the Department of Social Services to keep up with the position.
Confusion is caused by the merged means test. I must confess to the Minister that I have gone into this matter many times but I become increasingly confused every time I try to explain it to people who come to me to learn how much money they may have in the bank without having their pension altered. I find that some folk may have only £209 in the bank but that others may have a couple of thousand pounds. I should like to see the whole business simplified. The easing pf the means test does not assist the basic pensioner. He, after all, is the one with whom we are primarily concerned. It may be said that these people have wasted their substance in riotous living or have not been encouraged to save, but I point out that we are legislating for the needs of people as they are today.
The payments that are provided for in clause 3 are quite inadequate. I again ask the Minister to have the whole system examined, particularly, the position of the wife of an invalid pensioner who gets only £3 a week in her own right upon which to live. Of course, it may be said that if husband and wife pool their resources they get £4 10s. a week each. If, according to the Government, £6 a week is the basic requirement for a pensioner, why does it reduce the payment to the wife to one-half of that amount in circumstances where even with all the goodwill in the world she is unable to go out to work, because she must care for her invalid husband? When we take into account the total number of age and invalid pensioners, there would not be many wives in this class. I should like the Minister to ascertain for me what it would cost the Government if the wife of an invalid pensioner were to be paid the same amount as the wives of other pensioners. It would mean raising the combined payments for an invalid pensioner and his wife from £9 to £11 a week. I am pleased that over the last few years the Government has yielded to our entreaties to increase the allowance to the wife of an invalid pensioner, but 1 should like to see the Government go still further. When we look at the cost of living, we realise that the wife must suffer and that her husband must be caused some worry when he realises that his wife is necessarily going without certain things so that his needs may be met.
Married pensioners receive less than two single pensioners. There have been quite a number of marriages among the Darbys and Joans in our community, but the Government is encouraging such people not to get married because if they do so their combined pension will be less than they presently receive. The Government is being unromantic in that regard. I again pose the original question that I put to the Minister: If £6 a week is the minimum that the Government sees fit to pay to a pensioner, why should that not be the base upon which other payments are built? Each person should be regarded as a single individual and one should not have his pension reduced because he is married to another pensioner.
I come now to the position of the wife of an age pensioner who is younger than her husband and is not able to get a pension.
It may be said that she could go out. to work but as you know, Mr. Chairman, not very many positions are available to women in their fifties who have not had previous experience in the business world but who have spent the best years of their Jives raising families. They are unable to compete against the younger and smarter women. As I said last week, even the more humble domestic positions are no longer available because of the use of washing machines and other electrical equipment in homes. There is now not the work for laundresses that was available some years ago. lt is said that the economy is flourishing and that there is no need for anybody in Australia to be hungry, but I emphasise that the position is very difficult for a couple whose only income is the pension of the husband. I visit quite a number of people in their homes, and it is sad to see them trying to eke out the pension until the .next pay day. One week is a good week, but the next week is a poor one.
As I said earlier, I pay a tribute to the Child Welfare Department in Western Australia. Really it should be called the Family Welfare Department, because it docs as much as it can for all members of the families with which it is concerned. The State is dependent upon Commonwealth grants, and consequently this Department cannot do as much as it would like in giving assistance to necessitous cases.
That brings me to the variation in the classes of widows. I am sorry if this afternoon I seem to be taking a stand on women’s rights, but I want to discuss this subject in terms of the responsibilities of citizenship. Under the Social Services Act women do not get a fair deal. Wives of men who had been sentenced to imprisonment did not receive a pension from the Federal Government until 1940, when legislation was introduced by a Labour Government. Although the amount paid to them is less than that received by an A class widow with children, over the intervening 20 years there has come about a complete revolution in public thinking on social services. Those who did not realise it before have come to see that the community has certain responsibilities to its less fortunate members and I am pleased that this lesson has been taken to heart by those who, 20 years ago, lacked this understanding.
Although a differentiation is made between payments to wives of prisoners and payments to widows under pensionable age whose children are over the age of 16 - a point on which Labour is criticised - it was a Labour Government which first entered the field of widows’ pensions. A start has to be made somewhere. I think the time has now arrived when we should work on a base rate for all women pensioners, irrespective of whether they are widows, or the wives of men who have been gaoled or deserted wives, who must wait for six months for their pension rights to be recognised by the Federal Government. It is true that the provision for delayed payment was introduced by a Labour Government, but it was introduced because the State governments were able to act immediately through their representatives in the courts, their child welfare departments and such bodies. When these women become eligible after six months for a pension under the Commonwealth scheme, they should not be placed at a disadvantage because of their age. They should receive the minimum amount of £6. Provision for payment of that amount is not included in the Bill, but I shall continue my fight for the rights of civilian widows and deserted wives and for payment of one base rate.
Recently I heard of the case of a widow who had raised four or five children. The youngest child has just reached the age of 16 years. The widow is about 51 years of age. She has still to keep roof over the heads of her children. Although they have started work, they are not earning very much. They have to be adequately clothed. They have fares to pay and lunches to buy. Widows do not have a husband to do household jobs. If a tap has to be mended, they have to employ a plumber. They do not receive services at reduced charges because they happen to be widows, nor do they receive reductions in tram fares or anything of that kind.
I would like the Government to consider this matter very urgently and sympathetically. Civilian widows are not formed into a great pressure group which can force the Government to take action for them. They cannot help themselves in that way. It is too late for action in connection with the present Budget, but perhaps the Government will examine, before the time of the next Budget, the problems of civilian widows, the widows who have no children under 16 years and who have not passed the age of 60 years, and the deserted wives, to sec what action may be taken to solve those problems.
– Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– It seems to me that Senator Tangney has stated accurately, with one exception, the details of the various categories of pensioners. I have risen to deal with the question of a woman whose husband unfortunately goes to gaol. For this purpose I shall put aside for a moment the question of the waiting period of six months, because that is another issue.
– A vital one.
– No doubt Senator Morris will have something to say about that matter. As I understand it, a woman whose husband goes to gaol or who is deserted by her husband receives the pension payable to the category in which she would be placed if she were a class B widow.
Senator Tangney referred to variations in payment. It is true that there are many variations and many of us have problems working out the merged means test. I have a short formula which I use in these circumstances. I would not say that I understand the mathematics of the formula but at least I can get a quicker answer than by using the long formula which is provided as an alternative. I suggest that the fact that there are variations demonstrates that over the years the Government has met special circumstances. For instance, the Government decided on the weight of evidence that there was a case for single pensioners to receive a rental allowance. That is the reason for one variation. In every category the argument is used that a special pension should be paid to people who live on their own as distinct from people living together as husbands and wives. That is the reason for payment of a pension of £6 to a single pensioner and payment of £5 10s. to each married pensioner.
Although Senator Tangney has been critical of the variations in payments, it seems to me that they are evidence that over the years the Government has recognised degrees of injustice. Within the framework of Government policy we have tried to correct injustices where they have occurred. I think this shows that there is a degree of flexibility in Government policy and is a form of rebuttal of the honorable senator’s argument. I rose to speak primarily to correct the impression that there is a difference in payments to deserted wives and payments to wives of husbands who go to gaol. It is true that there is a six months waiting period for Commonwealth assistance in all States except Victoria, but in each case they are placed in the category of widows in the same financial position.
– I support the very sincere appeal made by Senator Tangney. I do not wish to raise the details referred to by Senator Tangney, but I wish to disagree with the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) who stated that the issue of the six months waiting period was a different matter from the case of the woman whose husband goes to gaol. I do not see why it is different. I do not see why these women should have to wait all that time. During the waiting period they do not receive assistance in all States. I believe that my own State is doing a very fine job in this field.
– This is a different argument to which we can address our minds at another stage.
– I will leave that matter because the Minister says that k is not relevant to the clause under discussion. We are discussing clauses 3 to 6 inclusive. Clause 3 deals with variations to age and invalid pensions. I think every person in the community regards the increases in pensions as completely inadequate. Previous speakers in the debate have pointed out that the 5s. increase is the first rise that many pensioners have received for two years. It is miserable and paltry.
It seems obvious to me that the basic wage must enter a discussion on this matter of the inadequacy of the pension rates. In the last six months the basic wage has been increased by £1 a week and its effect has been felt throughout the length and breadth of the community. Vicious inflation has taken place as a result of the so-called increase of £1. Today newspapers carry reports of the plan of the Australian Coun cil of Trade Unions to apply for an increase of 12s. to 1 5s. in the basic wage because of price rises in the last few months.
– Three months ago.
– As my colleague Senator Willesee points out, this increase was announced three months ago. Because of certain factors, these people have not yet been paid the additional 5s. which is the first increase to be granted to them in two years. But the whole economic situation for them is already out of proportion.
An appeal has been made on the question of supplementary allowances. 1 want to make it quite plain that we have no objection to supplementary allowances. In fact, we support them wholeheartedly. As has been frequently pointed out, Labour would increase supplementary assistance to 30s. a week, and would examine also the question of making a payment for certain needs. I pointed out in my speech on the Budget, and I do not want to go over the matter again, that there are needy people in the community who ought to be given a special allowance. Some people, because of circumstances beyond their control, find themselves in desperate plights and great need. These people should be given special allowances. I mention these matters because I think they are very important.
Senator Tangney also dealt with the question of invalid pensioners. It is tragic that, although some people are always talking about how much pensioners can earn, most invalid pensioners cannot earn anything. Some are able to obtain jobs, such as selling lollies or lottery tickets, and the Department of Social Services determines that the income so derived is permissible. But the invalid pensioners doing this are few and far between. They have to be 90 per cent, incapacitated in order to be eligible to receive the pension. Their incapacities stop them completely from taking any practical steps to earn additional income this way. I think that their problem should be looked at.
Attention should be paid to the position of the wives of invalid pensioners. At the present moment, the wife of an invalid pensioner receives an amount of £3 a week. The Opposition feels that this payment is completely inadequate. The Labour Party, says quite definitely on this matter that any adult in receipt of a social service payment should not receive less than the basic pension rate In effect, that means that the wife of an age pensioner, who is completely dependent on him, should not be paid less than the full pension rate. These are matters about which we are deeply concerned. We hammer at them on every occasion we have in this chamber to do so. We feel that they are most important. Whilst the Opposition has obtained success in causing the Government to recast its thinking on some of these issues, it will continue its campaign to rectify the many injustices that exist at the present moment until such time as it becomes the Government. The Australian Labour Party is pledged to do these things. Immediately we become the Government - and I hope that time is not far distant - these wrongs from which the people surfer today will be rectified, and the persons concerned will be given the full justice to which they are entitled.
– It was not my intention to come into the debate at the present time, but I have been interested in the remarks which have been made and, especially, in the logic which is quite evident in the approach of the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) to many of these problems. It is perfectly obvious to me that all these problems are being looked at most urgently and carefully. Indeed, I think that, over the years, this has been one of the outstanding aspects of our social service legislation. Therefore, 1 have hopes that there will be a further examination of the problem that 1 mentioned during my second reading speech. I did not refer to that problem very fully then. I touched on it more or less briefly, and I would like to elaborate on it a little at this time
I am advancing the’ case of those women who are unfortunate enough to be deserted by their husbands or whose husbands are sent to prison. After six months, the women are treated in exactly the same way as widows in that they receive the same rate of pension. But I am deeply troubled about the period of six months from the time of the domestic catastrophe, because that is what it is for them, until they receive the pension. In that time they suffer tremendously. In my own State of Queens land, this problem is recognised. I do not know how widespread this recognition is in the other States. Within the resources of the State Government of Queensland, assistance is given to these women, and to their children, if there are any, to carry them over until this six months’ period has elapsed and they can obtain help from Federal sources. But the amount of help that is given by the State is not as adequate as I believe the State would like it to be. The whole position is seen to be completely out of proportion when we realise that the waiting period of six months is experienced by wives who find themselves in this situation in every State except Victoria, where the Department of Social Services pays this pension immediately, or within seven days of domestic catastrophe.
The reason given to me for this anomaly is that in 1947 when this legislation was amended every State, except Victoria, gave some assistance to these unfortunate women and their children. Up to that stage, Victoria had done nothing in this regard while the other States had done quite a lot within their capacity to do so. In 1947, because of the variation that had existed up to that time between the States in their treatment of this problem, the then Federal Government said: “ Seeing that no assistance has been given in Victoria, we will pay this benefit for the first six months in that State, but not in the first six months in any other State “. I would be interested to see whether there is any logical explanation for this action. Certainly, the fact that no assistance had been received in Victoria before is no logical explanation for this payment in Victoria. So, we have a situation today within this Commonwealth where certain sections of the community are treated more favorably than others. Frankly, when I think of this matter, I wonder whether it is legal to proceed in this way. Although I cannot remember the relevant section, I- am inclined to think that there is provision in the Constitution to the effect that all citizens within the Commonwealth must receive equal treatment Quite possibly, if this situation was questioned before the courts it’ could be changed. However, I do not think there is any need to consider that action because, having pointed out this problem as I did in my second reading speech,’ having mentioned it now, and having heard’ the very logical explanation of all other facets of this legislation I am quite confident that the Minister for Social Services will see that people living in States other than Victoria are not discriminated against by the continued operation of this provision.
I feel that it must be stressed that the worst period in the lives of these wives and their families is in the first six months of the catastrophe when they receive so little help. I am sure that if these women were able to choose whether they should be helped during the first six months or the second six months they would invariably choose the first six months - the period when their whole lives have been thrown into disorder by the catastrophe that has hit them. 1 appeal to the Minister handling this Bill to make an urgent plea to his colleague to rectify this anomaly at the earliest possible opportunity.
– There arc one or two aspects of this matter of which T think the Committee should be informed. They may help the Committee in its consideration. Senator Morris gave the background fairly accurately. The special benefit payable in Victoria was introduced in 1947. There is no doubt that there is a differential, and that in Victoria these wives do not have to wait for six months before receiving a payment from the Commonwealth. This arrangement was made in 1947.
– By a Labour government.
– Yes, by a Labour government, lt was made on the basis that every State other than Victoria was providing for relief to be given in this type of case. It was agreed that deserted wives in Victoria should get some consideration. In fairness, and in order to get the picture quite clear, it should be stated that during the first six months the Commonwealth does not pay the full widow’s pension, but pays at the rate of £4 2s. 6d. for the wife and 15s. for each child. If the woman were classified as a class A widow she would receive £7 15s. a week plus 15s. for each child after the first. During the first six months the Commonwealth does not pay the full widow’s pension, but pays a special benefit. After the six months’ period has elapsed the woman receives the full widow’s pension.
– Would the special benefit be the average of what is paid by the other States?
– I would have to inquire as to how that amount is arrived at. This arrangement was introduced as far back as 1947.
Let me deal with the point made by Senator Morris, that this is something that is not generally known. The matter was raised at Premiers’ Conference level as recently as the time of the last Premiers’ Conference. It is generally recognised that the problem could be solved by Victoria assuming responsibility for helping these women during the first six months, but at the Premiers’ Conference the other States were not prepared to make an issue of the matter. The facts of life are that in every State with the exception of Victoria there is a waiting period before the Commonwealth accepts responsibility, In Victoria, the Commonwealth pays a benefit during the first six months.
I should not like it to be thought that when I spoke on this matter recently I was suggesting that Senator Tangney was against special benefits. I realise that, she is not and that she was merely arguing that the present situation is confusing. I explained how that came about. 1 was not suggesting that Senator Tangney was opposed to these special benefits. During the years, she has made her contributions to debates as an advocate of such benefits. I want to make that point perfectly clear. As to Senator Morris’s proposition that the Government should have another look at this matter, I repeat that it was raised at the last Premiers’ Conference but the Premiers were not prepared to go any further with it.
– Shall I say that the Government should have another look at it?
– The fact that the Minister supplied an answer to a question on this matter that Senator Morris asked the other day indicates that he has it in mind.
– I should like to ask the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) once more about the payment of an allowance to the wives of invalid pensioners. Will the Minister assure me that he will once again bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton)? The Opposition believes that this represents the most glaring anomaly in the whole of the social services legislation. I am certain that there are many others besides myself who think that this matter should be looked at again.
– The whole of the debate will be brought to the attention of the Minister. I do not wish to be provocative when I say that in 1949 this allowance was 24s., whereas today it is 60s. Looked at in relation to rises in the consumer price index and increased costs generally, that represents a substantial increase. In fact, the Government believes that it has made a special effort in this field over the years. As Senator Tangney is leading for the Opposition, naturally whatever points she has made will be brought to the attention of the Government.
Clauses agreed to.
Clause 7 (Application of amendments, &c).
– What I said in relation to clause 2 holds good in relation to clause 7. The Opposition maintains that as the Government has in the past accepted the principle of making social service payment’s retrospective in some cases, it should consider making these increases retrospective cither to the beginning of the financial year or, as suggested by Senator Cohen, to the time when the Government made the statement that it would pay the extra benefits. The pensioner should not have to wait until after a debate in both Houses, after the Bill has received the royal assent and after a date is fixed for the payments to come into operation.
The Opposition believes that the rises given to various pensioners are not sufficient. In some cases there has been no rise at all, and many social service benefits have been completely ignored in this Bill. The Opposition would like to express not only its regret but also its indignation at the fact that many social service payments have been left completely untouched by this Bill.
– In supporting the view put forward by Senator Tangney,I want to make one point in relation to the alternative date for payment that
I suggested. I do not in any way differ from Senator Tangney in the first request that we make to the Minister, which is that payment should be retrospective to 1st July. However, it has been sufficiently indicated that the answer to that request is: “ No “. Therefore, as we get only one bite at the cherry, it is necessary to ask: If you will not consider 1st July, will you consider 11th August? It is in that sense that I put forward the alternative suggestion. I very strongly support the request that Senator Tangney has made on behalf of the Opposition for payment to be made as from 1st July.
– I am not prepared to accept the proposal.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Anderson) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 17th September (vide page 571), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- I move -
Leave out all words after “That “, insert - “ the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for an appropriate allowance -
to a remarried widow of an Australian mariner whose death has been accepted for purposes of section twelve of the Act who is again widowed, and
to the parent or parents of such an Australian mariner “.
In moving this amendment I wish to direct attention to the many anomalies that exist as far as merchant seamen are concerned. The Bill itself is designed to provide increased pensions under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act to bring them into line with those paid to ex-servicemen under the Repatriation Act. This is necessary because certain amendments have been made to the Repatriation Act.
Many anomalies exist in regard to pensions paid to merchant seamen. Naturally, we are concerned with increases in pensions, but there are many other matters that need to be considered because of the marvellous service that was rendered by merchant seamen throughout both world wars We are glad to see that some increases arc made but, as we have said before and as we will keep on saying, we believe that the increases are totally inadequate in this period of inflation for which this Government is wholly responsible. As a matter of fact, I heard the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson), when dealing with the Social Services (No. 2) Bill 1964 a few minutes ago, refer to the amount of money that was paid in 1949 as against the amount of money that is paid today. You cannot make that comparison, because what £1 bought in 1949 would take £5 to buy today.
As I said previously, the pensions paid under this legislation are kept in line with those paid under the Repatriation Act. As with the payment to the totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, the Opposition believes that the payment to the totally and permanently incapacitated seamen should be, at least, equal to the basic wage. We have not reached that stage yet. There are many other matters, in addition to the actual pensions, that need to be considered by this Government. We will be proposing amendments in the Committee stage that deal with these anomalies.
Surely we are entitled to view the rights of merchant seamen in the same light as we view the rights of ex-servicemen because they filled just as important a position during both world wars. What more arduous task could any person have had than to have served in the merchant service? As we all know, the merchant service formed the lifeline of this nation, and it formed the lifeline of the Allied cause. We know the terrible hardship that those merchant seamen endured. When this Bill was in another place, the excuse was given, more or less to justify denying merchant seamen the same privileges and rights as are extended to exservicemen, that merchant seamen received a much higher rate of remuneration than did the ex-servicemen. That is not an argument which justifies the denial of those privileges to merchant seamen. Various alterations have been made to t’“.e privileges and rights of ex-servicemen under the Repatriation Act over the years, but up to date nothing has been done to extend them to merchant seamen. Naturally, with the increased cost of living, increases have been granted under the Social Services Act and the Repatriation Act. Over the years we have made amendments dealing with qualifying conditions and it is to the credit of the Government that it has done so; But those rights and those conditions have not been granted to the men of the Merchant Navy.
Again I emphasise the great service rendered by the men of the Merchant Navy. I know from my own experience that during the war years thousands of men in he Merchant Navy were anxious to join the Services, such as the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, but they were not permitted to do so because they were in what were declared under the state of emergency that existed at the time to be protected occupations. One of the principal disadvantages, as far as merchant seamen are concerned, is that they have no right of appeal when they make a claim. Whatever claims they make are considered by a committee. According to the information that I have received, nobody seems to know how many committees there are or where they meet. If the decision of the Committee is unfavorable to the claimant, he can appeal to the Repatriation Commission, but if the Repatriation Commission rejects his claim, then he has no further right of appeal to an independent tribunal, as has the ex-serviceman. As we all know, ex-servicemen have a right of appeal finally to the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal, but no such right of appeal exists for the merchant seaman. Even those who suffered injuries as a direct result of their service in the Merchant Navy, and whose claims have been rejected by the Committee as not having been due to their war service, have no right of appeal against the Committee’s decision, or against the decision of a Repatriation Board. That is a:i anomaly that the Government should endeavour to rectify.
I appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment and the others which will be advanced during the Committee stage. They are designed with only one objective - to bring the men of the Merchant Navy into line with the men of the other Services who rendered such great service to the nation during the First and Second World Wars. In many cases men of the Merchant Navy and men of the
Royal Australian Navy served side by side on merchant ships because merchant ships were equipped with at least one gun - I am not sure whether it was a four-inch or a six-inch gun - which was manned by personnel seconded from the Navy. When in action naval personnel worked side by side with the crews of the merchant ships, yet we have the strange anomaly that if a merchant seaman and a member of the Royal Australian Navy were wounded in the one action the Navy man has more privileges and rights than has the merchant seaman. We must realise how vitally important the Merchant Navy was during the First and Second World Wars.
We have another strange anomaly, which was mentioned in another place by the honorable member for Chisholm, Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes. Let me remind honorable senators that the case to which the honorable member referred is not an isolated one. He said -
In Melbourne during the war, a merchant seaman was asked to volunteer with others for service on United States Navy tankers. He did so volunteer. He served in the Atlantic on United States naval tankers. Since then he has had certain illnesses which his doctor stated . . . had been affected by his service . . . but when this man appealed to the authorities he was told: “You served on United States Navy tankers, so it is a matter for the United States”. But the United States says: “You are an Australian citizen, so it is a matter for Australia “. He was tossed about from one to the other. Under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act as it stands, unless a seaman received personal injury during his service he receives no compensation.
There we have one anomaly which, I repeat, can be multiplied a thousand times. In this case a seaman was asked to volunteer to serve in the United States Navy tankers; he served in the Atlantic in those United States Navy tankers and now, as the honorable member for Chisholm has said, he is tossed between Australia and the United States. He is an Australian citizen, and as such is a responsibility of the Australian Government, but he served in United States Navy vessels.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension I was making a point that on many occasions during the war merchant seamen, when engaged in action, worked side by side with naval personnel who had been seconded to the Merchant Navy to man the guns that had been placed on the merchant ships. An honorable senator opposite - I think it was Senator Kendall - said that the merchant seamen received much more in pay than did the naval personnel.
– That is true.
– The interjection, from whichever senator it came, indicates quite clearly the thought that because merchant seamen received more in pay - although, I remind the Senate, they did not enjoy the deferred pay privileges of Service personnel - they should be treated differently. The implication of the interjection was that even though the merchant seamen were engaged in the same action, as they received more pay they were not entitled to the same benefits as ex-service personnel. That contention does not hold water. If that argument were to be advanced, one might point out that there were different rates of pay in the Services. If the argument were to have any weight whatever, one would imagine that a colonel, who received very much more than a private, would be denied repatriation benefits. So that argument does not hold good at all. Whatever one might say or think, these men of the Merchant Navy are entitled to the full repatriation benefits and rights of ex-service personnel. One might say that they were the unsung heroes of the war. I repeat that the Merchant Navy was the lifeline of this nation. We depended entirely on it to convey troops, goods and materials to the armed Services in various parts of the world. Admittedly its deeds, although heroic, were less glamorous than those of the other Services, if there is any glamour at all in war. We did not hear much about activities of the merchant service, for obvious reasons. I claim that the Government cannot evade its responsibility to give to these people the same rights, benefits and privileges as are enjoyed by ex-service personnel under the repatriation legislation. The Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act should be brought up to date in every respect so that not only rates of pay but also other rights are brought to the levels prescribed in the Repatriation Act.
We must remember that there is no organisation comparable with the Returned Servicemen’s League to which merchant seamen can belong. Ex-servicemen may belong to the R.S.L. which, as we all know, renders very great service to them and is a very strong body in advancing their claims. Merchant seamen have not a similar body. They have not the same facilities for making their claims known. These things cannot be denied. The Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act was introduced in 1940. Since then, many anomalies have arisen. Perhaps some minor ones have been removed but many still exist. Comparatively speaking, the war service of these people has been neglected. The administration of this Act is, I understand, carried out by the Seamen’s Pensions and Allowances Committees, and not by the Repatriation Department. I have not heard much about the personnel of these Committees, how many members there are, and where and how often they meet. However, these are the Committees to which seamen must apply for anything to which they feel they are entitled.
If they are dissatisfied with the decision of one of the Seamen’s Pensions and Allowances Committees they may appeal to the Repatriation Commission. If the Commission rejects the claim, they are denied the right, which is given to ex-service personnel, of appeal to an independent tribunal. The Government has often claimed - very likely, rightly - that if an exservicemen is dissatisfied with a decision of the Repatriation Board and the Repatriation Commission, he may appeal to an independent tribunal. That right should surely be made available to merchant seamen, but at present they have no right of appeal whatever beyond the Repatriation Commission. I cannot understand why they are not given the same rights as ex-service personnel have. There is another matter, too, in relation to the vexatious question of onus of proof. We on this side of the chamber have rightly said that the provision in the Repatriation Act does not work as it should work. However, in very many cases it does work. In this legislation relating to merchant seamen, there is no provision in regard to onus of proof. That is a matter that should be considered.
Very few persons realise the extent to which merchant seamen were involved in wartime activities, because for security reasons it was never publicised. We never heard much about the heroic deeds of merchant seamen. It might be interesting for people to know of the extent to which they were involved.
– Four thousand live hundred ships in the First World War and 2,500 in the Second World War.
– Yes, but I wish to deal particularly with wartime activity involving merchant seamen off the Australian coast. Fifty-six ships were attacked off the Australian coast and 36 were lost. In all, 386 merchant seamen lost their lives as a result of wartime service off the Australian coast alone. That is very enlightening. It is further evidence that the Government should consider greatly extending the rights and privileges of merchant seamen who rendered yeoman, valuable and heroic service to this country during the war.
There is no validity in the argument that merchant seamen received much greater pay than did members of the Royal Australian Navy. In many respects the heroic deeds of the merchant seamen have been appreciated to the full, but in other respects they have been ignored. Merchant seamen who became involved in enemy action were, comparatively speaking, almost defenceless; they could be described as sitting ducks. They were the principal target of an intensive submarine campaign and intensive bombing on the part of the enemy. Surely it will be agreed that the horrors of war experienced by these men were just as great as and, because they were comparatively defenceless, in many cases even greater than those experienced by members of the armed Services. Can anybody deny that the- merchant seamen suffered as much as did the men of the armed Services? In many cases they worked with naval men on the same ships. I repeat that they were the principal target of the enemy during both World Wars.
Let us compare the lot of the dependants of ex-servicemen with those of the dependants of merchant seamen. In this respect, I am very much indebted to the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) for having supplied me with some very interesting and illuminating figures. It is pointed out that under the Repatriation Act the widow of an ex-serviceman who has remarried and who again becomes widowed and who receives less that £3 10s a week as permissible income may receive the difference between her income and the widow’s allowance. She may have an income of £4 a fortnight and still receive the full allowance of £2 8s. There is no justification whatever for differentiating between the dependants of ex-service personnel and those of merchant seamen. A single surviving parent of a deceased private is entitled to an allowance of £4 10s. a fortnight, and where both parents are living there is an extra payment of £2. In the case of a deceased corporal, a single parent receives £5; in the case of a sergeant, £5 5s.; in the case of a warrant officer £5 13s. 6d.; in the case of a lieutenant £5 18s.; in the case of a captain £6 8s.; in the case of a major £6 19s.; in the case of lieutenant-colonel £7 lis.; in the case of a colonel £8 3s.; and in the case of an officer above the rank of colonel, £8 6s. In each case an extra payment of £2 is payable where both parents are living The same rates apply to equivalent ranks in the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force.
It seems incredible that the Government will not accept an amendment that is designed to remove the injustice that is being perpetrated against the dependants of merchant seamen who have rendered heroic service to Australia in our greatest periods of crisis. As I mentioned earlier, some of them were eager to joint the armed Services but under wartime regulations were not permitted to do so, and quite rightly so. In a period of crisis, such as existed during World War II when we were threatened with invasion, men had to be retained in positions in which they could best serve the country. The figures I have quoted highlight the differentiation that is displayed as between the dependants of merchant seamen and those of ex-service personnel.
The purpose of the amendment is quite clear. It is submitted by the Australian Labour Party with an earnest appeal to the Government to remove what must be admitted to be a distinct anomaly. I remind the Government of the need also for medical treatment not only for the dependants but also for former Merchant Navy personnel who are suffering varying degrees of ill health as a result of their wartime service. 1 do not want to speak at greater length, even though one could continue to deal almost ad infinitum with the distinct disadvantages that are suffered by members of the Merchant Navy as compared with those who served with the armed
Services. There still remain many anomalies, even in the Repatriation Act, despite the fact that each year the Government does its best to improve repatriation benefits. The purpose of the legislation we are now considering is to bring the pension rights of merchant seamen to a level comparable with that of payments to ex-service personnel. Such payments are important, but also important is the care of these men who have suffered in no less degree than the servicemen as a result of the heroic services they rendered to the country. Perhaps their service was not so glamorous - if there is any glamour in war - as that of members of the armed Services, and perhaps it was not spoken of or read about so much, but they ran the gauntlet for 24 hours every day they were away from the ports on their wartime duties. Their service was of inestimable value to the country.
The honorable member for Chisholm has mentioned a particular case, and we know that there have been many;’ other cases in which merchant seamen reached England and then for various reasons were taken on to the Atlantic run on British ships and in some cases ships of the United States of America. However, those who have served on ships of the United States are not accepted by that country for the payment of benefits because they are Australian citizens. Their entitlement to repatriation benefits is not accepted by the Australian Government because they served on American or British ships.
I appeal to the Government to realise that we are putting forward our proposed amendment in the hope that the Government will see the light of day and will appreciate the difficulties that we have expounded both here and in another place which are experienced by men of the Merchant Navy. It is our hope that the Government will come to an appreciation of the rights of merchant seamen not only in respect of pensions, but also in respect of the onus of proof, the right of appeal to independent tribunals, and medical attention and hospitalisation similar to that provided for exservice personnel.
I appeal to Senator Paltridge, who represents the Minister for Shipping and Transport, to appreciate fully the anomalies that exist. I know that he is sympathetic, but I do not know whether he has any influence in the Cabinet. Possibly he has not and is like the other Ministers in that he has to do as he is told, as a yes-man. I will not go into that aspect now. The Minister is an exserviceman and I am quite certain that he appreciates to the full that the first step towards removal of the present anomalies and injustices that are heaped on the men of the Merchant Navy is the Government’s acceptance of the amendment 1 have had the honour to move on behalf of the Opposition.
– The Merchant Navy is one of the most peculiar services that we have to deal with as a Federal Parliament. I remember that during the First World War merchant seamen had no claims at all in respect of services rendered when compared with the positions of the soldiers, sailors and airmen. 1 can remember vividly that those members of the Seamen’s Union of Australia who urged that merchant seamen should be given their rights, as happens with trade unionists today, were classed as Corns. Almost every soldier who served in the First World War realises the unsavoury conditions under which men of the Merchant Navy worked. They were poked into the forecastle, where living conditions were none too pleasant. When representatives of the unions concerned made claims they were disregarded, not by a Labour government, but by an anti-Labour government.
It was not until 1940, I think, after a Liberal government had another world war thrust upon it, that it decided it must do something to appease the people who had made gallant sacrifices and whose rights had never been recognised during the First World War. The Parliament and the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth) must bear in mind that these men of the merchant service who belonged to the Seamen’s Union - the maritime workers union - had had no war training; possibly they may have had more training than had the crew of the “ Voyager “, but their practical training was very limited. In 1914 they were called upon to man the ships to take Australia’s soldiers to the First World War. In 1940 the Prime Minister of that day considered it an opportune time to bring down an act to give some consideration to the merchant seamen who had served gallantly Australia’s needs without recognition of their rights.
Today the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act covers merchant seamen and their dependants, but these men have not achieved a great deal of recognition because of their lack of numerical strength. They have not had the numbers. In 1914 and 1915 the merchant marine was classed as a reserved occupation. Merchant seamen who wished to volunteer for service in the Army, Air Force or Navy were refused permission because they were in a service classed as essential. I believe that irrespective of whether you are employed in the merchant service, in munitions manufacture or in the Army, you should be compensated for any sacrifices made on behalf of your country.
The Repatriation Act provides for soldiers, sailors and airmen who served in the First and Second World Wars compensation in respect of the ailments contracted or sacrifices made, but the same benefits were not extended to merchant mariners until 1940. I believe that the Government, if it refuses to accept the proposed amendment, will be doing an injustice to merchant seamen who have sacrificed their lives and to their dependants. I do not want to go into a detailed comparison with repatriation benefits at the moment. The truth of my statement has been proved by speakers in the debate in. another place. I think the Minister will be quite prepared to accept the amendment moved by Senator Sandford. However, in my opinion it does not go far enough.
– How far do you want to go?
– I want to go a reasonable distance. I have never been one of those who wanted to go the whole hog. Statements have been made by members of the Government parties which demonstrate their lack of knowledge of the working conditions and wages of men who take ships across the high seas, even during peace time. It is admitted that they are paid award rates of pay, but I remind the Senate that the conditions enjoyed by seamen today were obtained for them by a union which has been game enough to face and fight the accusation that they are Communists.
I have seen the working conditions of merchant seamen. Because the union officers had the audacity to claim decent conditions they were declared to be Communists. During the Second World War - and to a lesser degree in the First World War - merchant seamen may have been paid at higher rates than were the soldiers of the Australian Imperial Forces. But you do not use that as an argument to show that members of the Australian Imperial Forces in the First and Second World Wars were paid adequate salaries. I do not think they were. Merchant seamen, during both wars, gave yeoman service to this country. It would not hurt the Government to agree to the request that has been made in this chamber. It would not have hurt the Government to agree to the amendment that was moved in another place on behalf of these people who have to depend on the Government’s gratuity.
I want to say advisedly to the Returned Servicemen’s League that if there had not been merchant seamen in the two world wars, there might not have been any returned sailors, soldiers or airmen. It was only because of the gallant efforts of these men who manned the ships in both world wars that it was possible for the A.I.F. in the First World War to go to Egypt, in the first place, and later to France, and in the Second World War to Egypt and to the islands. I have always maintained, and I hope that the Government will accept this, that no matter whether a person be a member of the Seamen’s Union, the Waterside Workers Federation, the soldiers union, the navalmen’s union or the air force union, if he is maimed in the industry in which he is engaged he should be looked after by that particular industry. I do not think that there can be any argument against that proposition. I believe that that is the right principle to follow. I have voiced my opposition in the past to legislation which has been accepted in this place on repatriation pensions. I issue my protest again. I want to remind the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) that antiLabour governments have won two elections in the most critical times in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia when they have used the seamen as a front to divide the Australian Labour Party.
I remember reading in the Press - I was not here then - that the government of the day in 1916-17 said that the seamen were waiting to carry wheat overseas to help Australia defend democracy, but that the waterside workers were not prepared to load the grain into the ships. That government won the election in 1917. Let us come now to the Second World War. I think I have mentioned in the Senate before that in 1940 the Government used the Seamen’s Union to win another election. The Government used the Communist” Party, and tha miners union which was led by Communists, to bring about a strike on the New South Wales coalfields. It .said that the seamen were waiting to take to sea the ships to carry food to the soldiers in Egypt and Great Britain and that the workers in England were being starved because of this strike. We know, and everybody knows now, that the coal strike in 1940 was engineered by the Menzies Government; that gratuities were paid to the leaders of the miners union, two Communists, who brought about that strike; and that it caused the hold up of ships which were to carry foodstuffs to troops overseas.
– Are you suggesting that Williams was paid by William Morris Hughes to call the strike?
– My friend, the honorable senator from Victoria -
– I am asking you for information. I am not trying to take advantage of you.
– You are a long way away from having a knowledge of the happenings in those years. Williams had nothing to do with it. The two people I mention were Nelson and Orr, who were the president and secretary respectively of the coal miners’ union in New South Wales. It was later proved that they were Communists and that they were bribed from a slush fund provided by the Menzies-Hughes Administration to bring about chaos on the coalfields of New South Wales, when troops were going hungry overseas. We had hundreds of thousands of tons of coal at grass. Because of that strike, it was not possible to send those ships steaming overseas. That state of affairs was brought about not by a Labour government but by those people who constitute the Government today. They are the people who foster and finance the Communist Party of Australia, and who finance the Australian Democratic Labour Party. I tell Senator Cormack, who is interjecting, that I am speaking now of the yeoman service given by merchant seamen in the two world wars. I say in all sincerity that those men made sacrifices, and faced dangers, as great as those of the soldiers who were in the A.I.F. For that reason, I believe that the Government not only should accept the amendment moved by Senator Sandford but also should apply to the persons concerned, for what it is worth, all the sections of the Repatriation Act, whether they be good or bad - and, in some cases, they work all right. Goodness knows, the time may not be far distant when people of this type will be called upon again to carry Australia to success in any hostilities which may come. Therefore, I hope that the Minister, or his colleagues in the Cabinet, will give favorable consideration to the amendment moved by Senator Sandford.
The amendment provides, among other things, for the withdrawal of the Bill. I know that the Government will not do so, because of its numerical strength in this chamber. But let me say this to the Government: I remember that in 1929 Mr. Bruce, who had a great majority in this Parliament, was defeated at the general election. I remember, too, that, in 1952 the Liberal Party in Victoria, which had a large majority in the Parliament, was defeated. The Menzies Government should extend justice to the people who are entitled to some reasonable compensation for the sacrifices they have made. I believe that the Government should take this action not because it will be defeated but because it may be defeated if it does not. I ask the Government to accede to the request by Senator Sandford and accept the amendment so ably moved by him.
.- I wish to support the amendment submitted by Senator Sandford to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the amendment is to secure the reconsideration of the Bill. The amendment states -
Leave out all words after “ that “, insert: - the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for an appropriate allowance -
to a remarried widow of an Australian mariner whose death has been accepted for purposes of section twelve of the Act who is again widowed, and
to the parent or parents of such an Australian mariner.
The Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act dates back to 1940. At that time, it was recognised that the men who went to war in merchant ships were as much a part of the sinews of war as any serviceman in any theatre of war. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that logistics, particularly in the 1939-45 war, show the dependence that must be placed upon transport in getting men and equipment to the front line. Supplies are of paramount importance in having effective defence forces. I stress that point because in retrospect we see that the merchant seamen were in all respects doing a job for the defence of their country by supplying the sinews of war. There should be a recognition of the equality of their service and that of men who served in the forces by the nation making provision, to the best of its ability, for the dependants of merchant seamen who were killed in war.
Since the Act was passed in 1940 there has been an extension of activity under it and many anomalies have become evident. Today there is in that respect very little difference between the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act and the Repatriation Act.
– There is a big difference between the Acts.
– There are differences and I wish to stress some of them. The argument is advanced that merchant seamen received higher wages than servicemen. That is quite true.
– They had danger money.
– They had a zone allowance, too.
– They had allowances while they were serving, but the position, as we see it, is that although the merchant seamen had a higher rate of pay, deferred pay and other benefits that were available to servicemen were not available to merchant seamen. The principle that should be established is equality of service. A person who gives his life gives everything that he has to give. Regardless of the branch of the Services that he was in, ample provision should be made for his dependants. Our amendments are in keeping with that principle.
A differentiation is made between the widow of a deceased merchant seaman and (he widow of a member of one of the Services. The widow of a serviceman, onremarriage, can continue to receive a pension of £2 8s. a fortnight. That, of course, is not available to the widow of a merchant seaman. It is argued from this side of the chamber that as this entitlement is not available to the widow of a merchant seaman in the event of remarriage, if the security which the second marriage gives her is suddenly taken away from her as the result of the death of her second husband there is a responsibility on the nation to give her again the entitlement arising from the death of her first husband. The need for the parents of a deceased mariner to receive appropriate allowances has been described by Senator Sandford, and is something which I support. 1 should like to direct the attention of the Senate to another point. In the debates on the Repatriation Bills that come periodically before the Senate, honorable senators are fortified with the information and background knowledge they have gathered personally through dealing with various cases of hardship or difficulty experienced by ex-servicemen. Many of us have the opportunity of acting on behalf of ex-servicemen or their dependants and of making representations to departmental heads, or to the Minister on their behalf. Our knowledge is increased by the information contained in the annual reports of the Returned Servicemen’s League. This enables us to suggest many improvements of the Act. Annual reports of the R.S.L. quote the improvements that have been made to the Act during the years. The R.S.L. holds conferences throughout the Commonwealth where various items are brought forward, hammered out and then submitted to the Government. The seamen have no such powerful organisation, but have to rely on the good graces of the Cabinet and the Parliament, particularly the Parliament. We should assume our responsibility and see that these men receive their just entitlements.
It is mainly in order to overcome differentiation in the treatment of dependants of servicemen who lost their lives and in the treatment of dependants of seamen who lost their lives that the amendments have been proposed by the Opposition. We wish to close the gap between the treatment of these two classes of dependants.’ Their husbands or fathers gave their lives, or sacrificed their health, in the defence of their country, regardless of which branch of the Services they were in. We must recognise that in modern warfare activities extend far behind the front line. Today, with modern weapons, the forces at the front could, perhaps, be the most secure of all the units waging war in defence of their country. The civilian is brought right into the front line as the result of the development of long range weapons, super-sized bombs and other methods of modern warfare. It has been said often that the only way to have a really efficient defence force is to unify all branches of the Services under one head. Such a unified force would include, of course, both naval and merchant naval personel
Perhaps we are not being unwise in reminding the Senate that although there has been an accepted differentiation in the pensions paid to merchant seamen and Service personnel, in the long run the ones affected materially are those who are left behind. It is with that thought in mind that we say that the concessions granted to the widows and dependants of exservicemen should be extended to the widows and dependants of merchant seamen under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act.
The other anomaly that I think should be corrected is the matter of appeals to tribunals. As this matter was widely canvassed during the course of the debate on the Repatriation Bill, there is not a great need to reiterate “ it, except to stress that after claims of ex-servicemen have been examined by the Repatriation Board, the ex-servicemen can appeal to subsequent tribuanls and a substantial proportion of appeals are favorably considered and allowed by those tribunals. It is reasonable to submit that merchant seamen who make claims under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act should also enjoy the benefit of further appeals if they believe that their claims have not been properly or fully determined, or if they have fresh evidence to bring forward. As was mentioned during the debate on the Repatriation Bill, the onus of proof should rest fairly and squarely on the Repatriation Board and on subsequent tribunals. These are important matters that can be discussed when a bill such as this is before this chamber.
Of course, the main provision in the Bill is directed towards the alteration of the rates of allowances payable to wartime mariners. When one considers that the rate of pension is based on a rate of pay of the Australian mariner during the last war not exceeding £1 2s. 6d. a day, ranging up to an amount not exceeding £2 10s. a day, one realises the enormous inflationary process that has gone on in this country. That is something of which no government could be proud. We in this Parliament can make certain that the value of these pension rates is maintained as this inflationary process continues. We have to counter the thief of inflation by making periodic increases in the pension rate, not based on some abstract principle, but according to principles that apply to every other privilege and amenity. 1 support the amendment that has been moved by Senator Sandford. I hope that the Government will consider these important matters. If it accepts the amendment it will only be doing justice to the dependants of those men of the Merchant Navy who gave their lives in the defence of their country.
– The Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill, which the Senate is now considering, has a single and simple purpose; that is to authorise the payment of increased rates in conformity with the rates approved of in the Repatriation Bill which the Senate passed last Wednesday. The first increased payments under the Bill are to occur on Thursday next, the day after tomorrow, Yet, in the face of this the Opposition, for political purposes, proposes an amendment which asks the Senate to withdraw and redraft the Bill that has been presented. Anyone who gives this matter a moment’s thought will realise that to withdraw the Bill and to redraft it would mean that pensioners who were to receive the benefits of increased pensions on Thursday next “would be deprived of it while the Australian Labour Party debated amendments for a’ party political purpose. How stupid is this? Only a day or two ago in this chamber I had the opportunity of saying to an honorable senator who sits on the Opposi tion benches that the Act would be amended a second time in this session to incorporate certain proposals which Senator Cooke of Western Australia had sponsored and supported.
The Bill which is before the Senate is to authorise the payment of increased pensions on Thursday next. I can give the Senate an assurance from the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth) and from me that the Act will be amended a second time during this session of Parliament to provide for free hospitalisation for seamen who are on the 100 per cent, rates pension or a higher rate. Surely that would be the time for the Opposition to bring along these amendments. We could debate them then, but let me not mislead the Opposition. We would oppose them then, and for good reasons. At no time in the last 17 or 18 years have we not been disposed to consider reasonable amendments to this Act. The Minister for Shipping and Transport in the other place arid I in this chamber have announced that the Act will be subject to a second amendment this year to provide for certain alterations. One would have thought that that would be the occasion for the Opposition, if it is sincere, to bring along further amendments. In order to grandstand and to play to the public, it brings forward the amendments at this time, although if they were carried, the effect would be to deny to pensioners the increased pension payments on Thursday next, as is proposed in this Bill.
Having said that, let me say emphatically that we reject the amendment. When we introduce our next amending Bill to provide more liberal benefits, the Opposition may re-submit this amendment and we can debate it then. The amendment will be rejected because what the Opposition proposes is very far removed from the intentions of the Bill and how the Government believes pensions to merchant seamen should apply. But for the time being, may I ask the Senate to pass the Bill, without delay? We can then get on with the real job that the Government has in mind, which is to pay these proposed increases in pensions the day after tomorrow.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Proposed new clause 2a.
.- I move -
After clause 2 insert the following new clause: - “ 2a. After section eight of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - 8a. A person who has claimed a pension (other than a service pension) or other benefit under this Act arising out of the incapacity or death of an Australian mariner and whose claim has been refused by the Commission on the ground that the Australian mariner is not suffering from any incapacity or on the ground -
that the incapacity or death of the Australian mariner has not resulted from any occurrence that happened during the period of his war service, or from his employment in connexion with naval or military preparations or operations, or did not arise out of or is not attributable to his war service, as the case may be; or
that the incapacity from which the Australian mariner is suffering, or from which he has died has not been contributed to in any material degree or has not been aggravated by the conditions of his war service, may lodge with the prescribed person, in the prescribed form, an appeal to an Appeal Tribunal against the determination of the Commission.’.”.
There is no need for me to elaborate on the amendment as the points relating to it have been covered in the second reading debate. I repeat, however, that the men of the merchant service should be given the right of appeal to an independent tribunal when a claim has been rejected by the Repatriation Commission. As was stressed earlier, there is no provision now for an appeal by men of the merchant service against a decision of the Repatriation Commission. I hope the Government will accept the amendment so that merchant seamen will be placed on the same basis as ex-servicemen of the armed forces who have the right of appeal against the decisions of the Repatriation Commission.
– The Government does not accept the amendment. The present practice, which has been in operation for many years, is that claims for benefits under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act are submitted to Seamen’s Pensions and Allowances Committees. Any person affected by a deter mination or by an assessment of a Pensions Committee may, within a prescribed time limit, appeal to the Repatriation Commission. The Commission may confirm or vary or annul the determination of. the Pensions Committee. I emphasise that the determination of the Pensions Committee may be subject to an appeal to the Repatriation Commission. There is no provision in the Act for any appeal beyond the Repatriation Commission.
– Quite right.
– That is quite right as my colleague has said because the benefits of this Act, as distinct from those under the Repatriation Act, are restricted to a war injury suffered as a direct result of actual combat. The scope of an appeals tribunal under this Act is much more limited than it is under the Repatriation Act. The question of whether or not a war injury has been suffered as a direct result of enemy action, as provided in this Act, is a question of fact and there is not the scope with exists in the Repatriation Act for wide differences of opinion as to whether the death or incapacity could be accepted as due to any occurrence that happened during the member’s war service. In point of fact, under this Act pension rights are directly attributable to an injury incurred as a direct result of actual combat. I repeat that there is an appeal from the Pensions Committees to the Repatriation Commission. This provision has stood the test of time and the Government believes it provides completely sufficient means of appeal from the Pensions Committees. Therefore, the amendment is rejected.
.- The Minister for Defence has not given a satisfactory explanation. He has stated only what was conveyed to him when I moved the amendment. Under the present Act, men of the merchant service have no right of appeal whatever beyond the Repatriation Commission. By interjection, the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) said: That it was” quite right. The Minister for Defence has not explained why the right of appeal to an independent tribunal is denied to men of the Merchant Navy who suffered, as we have said earlier, similarly to men in the armed forces. The Minister has not explained why the Government considers this right should not be given to men of the merchant service.
– Even if I have not made this matter clear to Senator Sandford, I am sure that it is completely clear to everyone else. The Government does not propose to accept the amendment.
.- It appears that the Minister has reiterated the statement that was made in another place, and evidently made to Senator Cooke in this place, that this Act will come up for amendment later in the year. He implied that if an amendment similar to that now proposed were advanced then, consideration would be given to its incorporation in the Act.
– That is just what I have not implied.
– You said that you would do it.
– Not the amendment now before us. I have referred to the particular amendment which we propose to introduce, but that is not this one.
– But I understood you to say that if this amendment were brought forward at a later date you would consider incorporating it in the Act then.
– No. I gave notice that we would not accept it.
– Not accept it at this time.
– Not accept it at this time or at any future time, and for the reasons that I have stated.
Sentaor O’BYRNE. - Is that a decision that we have to take as being irrevocable? Have you just made that decision at this moment, or is it a Cabinet decision? It has taken a long time for the other amendment to penetrate Cabinet. If you have decided now nhat this proposed amendment will never be accepted, you are taking rather sweeping action. This is only a matter of giving equality of amenities and. pension payments to the widows and dependants of merchant seamen who lost their lives in the war. If you have closed the door completely and have decided that this will not be considered when the Act is being amended in the future, all we can do is to continue to press for the amendments as outlined by Senator Sandford and divide the Committee on them.
To my mind, the Minister has been rather ambiguous about what the Government intends to do in the future. I am always a great believer that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
– You have not even got a bird in the hand.
– It is all very well to speak from strength, when you have the numbers, but the time may come when you will not have the numbers.
– The amendment to which you are referring is that dealing with appeals?
– Yes, and that is the one which the Minister has evidently intimated will be considered in the future.
– No, I have not. 1 have given notice that we reject it.
– Then is the one dealing with hospital treatment that which you will consider later?
– Yes. I have said that the Government proposes to introduce that amendment in respect of the 100 per cent, and the T.P.I, pensions. We have already stated unambiguously that we will introduce that amendment.
– Despite your explanation, I believe that the Committee should give very serious consideration to amending the Act to give the same right of appeal to merchant seamen and their dependants as is given to ex-servicemen. I support the proposed amendment.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator
Sandford’* amendment) be inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator G. C. McKellar.)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move -
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause - “33a. - After section fifty-eight of the principal Act the following section is inserted: - 58a, An Australian mariner who is totally and permanently incapacitated may obtain treatment at Commonwealth expense in a repatriation hospital although his disability did not arise out of or is not attributable to his war service.’.”.
I propose this amendment now in spite of the fact that the Minister has said that at some later date the Government proposes to amend the Act along similar lines. If that is the Government’s intention, why hesitate? Why not implement it now? What is wrong with accepting the amendment now? The Government proposes, as the Minister has said, to amend the Act later along similar lines.
– No, nothing similar to this.
– Very well. I think everybody was of opinion that that was what you said.
– In reply to Senator O’Byrne, you said that the Act would be amended later this year to provide hospital treatment for men of the Merchant Navy. Did you not say that?
– That is right.
– The position is that the Government is to do this at a later date. Why hesitate? He who hesitates is lost. Procrastination is the thief of time. If the Act is to be amended later, the only sensible and reasonable thing to do is to accept the amendment tonight.
– I am not doubting the Minister’s sincerity but we have had experience.I well remember - possibly he does, too -that the present Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Garfield Barwick, when Attorney-General in the Government, said in 1960, and we had an assurance from the Minister representing him in this chamber, that great progress was being made with the preparation of legislation in relation to restrictive trade practices, in collaboration with the appropriate authorities inthe various States. We were told that something definite would be clone in the very near future. That was in 1960, and the legislation has not yet seen the light of day. I recall vividly - possibly the Minister will, too - that this Government set up the Constitutional Review Committee in 1956 to examine the Constitution and to make recommendations to the Government for constitutional reform. We know that the Committee submitted a voluminous report as long ago as 1959, and that it has been in a pigeon hole ever since.
The amendment that I have had the honour to move is quite clear. It is to provide hospital treatment for the men of the Merchant Navy who are in need of such treatment. The Minister has promised that this provision will be made before the end of the year. The Government should take time by the forelock and accept this amendment, instead of hanging off with the possibility that this proposal will be pigeonholed, as have the restrictive trade practices legislation and the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee. The Minister should do the right thing. The amendment seeks to provide what the Minister has said the Government will be prepared to provide later on. Do not do it later. Be right on time all the time. Accept the amendment now and avoid any further waste of time.
– I hate to disappoint Senator Sandford, but the Government does not accept the amendment. The Government, always in the control of its own business-
– Not always.
– The Government, always in control of its own business, and always in complete command of both Houses - a command, incidentally, which will be greatly increased in the very near future - does not feel itself constrained to accept the tender blandishments of the Opposition. We have said that we shall introduce amending legislation later this session. I have described what those amendments will be. The Government will introduce this legislation in its own good time. Meanwhile, what I am asking the Committee to do is to pass this legislation tonight so that we may make the increased payments to pensioners on Thursday, the day after tomorrow. If this Bill is amended tonight, what will happen? It will go from here tonight to another place. It will await its turn to be dealt with in another place.
– That is a disgraceful argument.
– It is not a disgraceful argument at all. if the honorable senator, who so noisily interjects, knows what happens in another place, he is aware that tomorrow his own leader there may very well be taking certain action to propose a motion that will hold up the business of the other place for a day or two. 1 say, if he knows what is going on, which I have always very much doubted, incidentally.
– It would not matter what was going on-
– The point I am putting to the Committee is that if the Bill is passed tonight it will ensure that on Thursday pensioners will get the increased payment. The Opposition should now stop playing politics and support our legislation when we introduce the amendment later in this session.
– The Minister’s reply is quite ambiguous.
He has simply told us again that the Government proposes to amend the Act at some later date to provide for the very thing which this amendment would provide. His excuse is that if this legislation is not passed tonight the pensioners will be deprived of the increase on Thursday.
– That is right.
– That is no excuse at all, because there is nothing to prevent the Government from making the increased payments retrospective, ls there anything to prevent that? The Minister is putting over the sob story that if wc do not agree to the legislation tonight the increases proposed in the legislation will not bc received by the pensioners.
– On Thursday. That is right.
– There is no substance in that argument. 1 repeat that the Government can make the payments retrospective. There is nothing to stop that, lt has made retrospective payments in other cases many times. If the business pf the Parliament will not permit the amended legislation to go through by Thursday, or if it will not be possible for the increased payments to be made on Thursday, there is nothing in the wide world to prevent the Government from making the increases retrospective to Thursday. There is no substance in what the Minister says. I appeal to him to have common sense, because this is an amendment that will affect vitally and beneficially many hundreds of deserving cases when hospital treatment is urgently needed. I appeal to the Minister to reconsider his infantile opposition to this amendment which he explained by the mere statement that, if the amendment were accepted now. the pensioners would not get the rises on Thursday. If little Audrey were here, she would laugh and laugh and laugh. It is just hooey to talk as he has. There is nothing to prevent payment to be made as from next Thursday, even if this amendment is accepted by the Government.
– Mr. Chairman, may I make one brief comment on the reply given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) to
Senator Sandford? It is within the responsibility of the Minister and the Government to decide whether they will accept Opposition amendments. I am always willing to listen to arguments on the point in question. But the Minister says that the Government is in control of its own business and then says that if Senator Sandford’s amendment is agreed to that will affect pension payments on Thursday next. The only thing 1 can say to the Minister is this: If he is in control of the arrangement of the business of the Senate, as he says, he can hardly blame Senator Sandford for our having the Bill before us so close to the date of payment. The Minister says that he is in charge of the arrangement of the business. If that is so, the Bill could have been introduced here in plenty of time for the Senate to be treated as it should have been treated, giving the Opposition an opportunity to move amendments. Then, if the amendments were rejected on their merits, well and good. The fact that we have the Bill before us so close to the date of payment must reflect only on those who have charge of the business of this place.
– I should like to join with Senator Sandford and Senator Willesee in deprecating the way in which this matter has been approached by the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge). This matter is of greater significance than that it concerns this Bill alone. When a Minister says, in effect, that a Bill must be passed and that we must not make any amendments to it because payments have to be made, in this case, on Thursday next, that is a very serious matter indeed. The Bill is to come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal assent. That may be on Thursday; it may be on some other day. There is nothing to prevent the legislation from providing (hat the payments shall operate from some fixed date, whether it be Thursday next, or 1st July 1964, or some other date. It is impudence on the part of the Government to come here and say: “This Bill is presented to the Senate. It must be dealt with in such time and in such a manner that the Senate should not conceive of making any amendment to it, because to do so would hurt the persons who are to benefit from it.” To say that is an impudence, and it ought not to be repeated.
– Mr. Chairman, I would not have risen again were it not that Senator Murphy referred to what he cared to describe as an impudence on the part of the Government. May I remind honorable senators for the fifth or sixth time that this is the kind of bill which in the ordinary course of a year’s legislation comes before us on only one occasion. If that experience were to be repeated this year, there might be some validity in- the arguments that have been advanced by Senator Willesee and Senator Murphy. The fact of the matter is that I stated in my second reading speech with particularity that the single purpose of this measure was to increase the rates of pension payable to seamen pensioners on Thursday next. In addition, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth) in another place, and I in this place, have stated that the Government will be introducing further amendments of the Act later in this session. If Senator Murphy is so moved about this matter that he wants to propose some amendments, he will have another opportunity to do so. The Government is not presenting this legislation and saying, looking over one end of the gun barrel: “ Pass it “. This Government never does that. That happened during the term of office of the last Labour Government, but it has not happened since.
We give honorable senators an opportunity to deliberate properly on legislation that is presented to them. In presenting this Bill, the Government says unblushingly: “Pass it, because it will permit the payment of pensions on Thursday next. Later in this session we will be introducing another bill which will contain other amendments.” The implication is that honorable senators will then have an opportunity to move any further amendments they may desire. Now I put it to honorable senators-
– The session may last for three years.
– I put it to those honorable senators who are courteous enough to listen to the person who has the call that this Bill should be passed to enable the payment of pensions on Thursday next and that, if any honorable senator wants to move amendments to the Act at a later stage in the year, the Government, by the action it is taking, will give him every opportunity to do so.
.- This rather simple Bill will go down in history as the shotgun bill. Despite the fact that the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) tried to imply that this sort of thing was done during the term of office of the Labour Government, this is the first occasion on whichI have heard a Leader of the Government in this place issue a threat that a bill had to be passed by a certain time. He also implied that no pensions would be payable.
– That no increase would be payable.
– The Minister did not say that no increase would be payable.
– He did.
– He said that no pensions would be payable. The whole purpose of this measure is to amend the Act to give an extra miserable sum of5s. a week to people who are finding the cost of living too high. If the Minister who has adopted this shotgun attitude thinks that any one of us is frightened that the seamen or the ex-servicemen would die if they did not get this extra pittance, he is quite mistaken. Even if this Bill were not passed, they would still get their pensions on Thursday next, even though they would not get the pittance that is now being provided for them. I join with Senator Murphy in taking exception to our being asked to pass legislation because it must be passed. It is the responsibility of honorable senators to give the fullest consideration to legislation, and it is the duty of the Opposition to move amendments if it believes that to do so is in the interests of the people of Australia. The Opposition has the right not only to move amendments and to criticise the Government’s legislation but also to have the time it needs to review that legislation without the threat implicit in the suggestion that if it does not pass the legislation the recipients of pensions will be penalised. I support the amendment.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator Sandford’s amendment) be inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator G. C. McKellar.)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Paltridge) read a third time.
COMMONWEALTH BUREAU OF ROADS BILL 1964.
Debate resumed from 17th September (vide page 590), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- In my speech in this debate last week I pointed to some rather strange passages in the second reading speech of the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge)) who represents the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth). I have since read the speech again. 1 am frightened to read it yet again because I may find many more strange passages. Early in the honorable gentleman’s speech appears what to my mind is a classic. He refers to the following statement in the Prime Minister’s policy speech -
The nation would benefit from a thorough-going survey and appraisal of the existing road system and of foreseeable road requirements.
A little later in his speech the Minister states that the Bill is introduced so that the Commonwealth may have the benefit of a continuing study of the national roads situation. So far, so good. But later in his speech the honorable gentleman said -
In this connection I should perhaps mention that the Bill does nol contain any provisions specifying how the Bureau is to go about its work . . .
Then follow the words that I cannot understand, in view of the previous statements I have quoted. The Minister continued -
In spite of the earlier references to a thorough-going survey and appraisal of the existing roads system, and so on, and the benefit to the Commonwealth of a continuing study of the Commonwealth road situation, the Minister tells us that at the moment he docs not know what is to be the precise nature of the work of the Bureau. 1 think I was right in saying that the Bill - certainly the second reading speech - must have been conceived in a tremendous hurry. It is not usual for Senator Paltridge to make a speech containing contradictory statements. Therefore I feel justified in saying that the Bill must have been conceived in a tremendous hurry and that the statements I have quoted are rather remarkable.
As well as being destructive in one’s comments, one should also offer a little constructive criticism of this roads legislation. I think we all will agree without hesitation that the roads of the nation are of vital importance to its economic life. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber do not like the Bill. We do not have much in common with the statements made by the Minister in his second reading speech, particularly the contradictory portions I have quoted. If the proposed Bureau is to be set up as a statutory body, it should submit a report to Parliament, a procedure followed by almost every other statutory body set up by Parliament. Surely knowledge of the roads of the Commonwealth is not to be the exclusive prerogative of the Minister. 1 do not deny his great interest in roads, but 1 think he should share with us the knowledge imparted to him by the Bureau. It should also be shared with the people who, -in the long run, have to pay the money in order that the Bureau can function. As Parliamentary representatives of the people we are sent here to give our whole attention to matters of vital national interest. 1 think it was Senator Cohen who said that this Bureau will not be described as having strong teeth. I do not know whether my colleague used those words, but if he did not another honorable senator did. The Australian Labour Party believes that there should be a national roads plan. We, of course, go further than that because we believe that there should be not only the Bureau to plan roads but also a Commonwealth body to finance the construction of them. I will give my reasons for saying that the Commonwealth should finance the construction of roads. In the main, we are financing them now out of the collections of petrol tax. The only other money which can bc obtained for road purposes in the various States is from motor vehicle registration and driving licence fees and by the rates that residents, pay to local government bodies. Those of us who live in metropolitan areas know just how impracticable it is for local government bodies in those areas to cope with their road problems in a small area, particularly where main thoroughfares in and out of big cities pass through them.
It is true that certain moneys find their way through devious channels, if I may use that expression, from the Federal authority to State authorities. In my own State of Victoria, this money goes to the Country Roads Board. Some of that money, although not much of it, finds its way into the metropolitan area. If my figures are correct - and I think they are - in Victoria about 65 per cent, of all moneys received for roads are derived from the metropolitan area. Those moneys come from petrol tax, motor vehicle registrations, and drivers* licence fees. 1 think that the largest amount that has been returned to the metropolitan area was 8 per cent, of the total collected. It was unfortunate that the Victorian Government, when it established this authority, called it the Country Roads Board. It would have been far better if the authority had been called the Main Roads Board. Then the name would not have had the political significance that it now has. I do not think the originators of the name thought it would have that effect.
As I have said, the Australian Labour Party believes that there ought to be a national roads plan. We believe that roads are so essential to the economic welfare of the nation. Seventy-five per cent, of all goods transported in Australia are carried by road. If transport charges form approximately 80 per cent, of the cost factor in all goods, then we should find ways and means of financing road works. I believe that the first task of this Bureau ought to be to concentrate on the roads that are of great national importance. Those are the roads between the capital cities, particularly those on the eastern seaboard. I refer to the roads connecting Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. It is interesting to note that in 1956 the Government of New South Wales proposed to other governments the adoption of a national scheme of principal interstate roads. This network would represent about 3 per cent, of the total road miles in our nation. A statement to that effect was made by Mr. Sherrard, who is a former Commissioner of the Department of Main Roads in New South Wales, and who now, I understand, is with the University of New South Wales. Mr. Sherrard estimated that over two-thirds of the total distance travelled on roads takes place on only about 5 per cent, of Australia’s road mileage. The classified main roads comprise only about 15 per cent, of the used road mileage, but carry about 75 per cent, of the total miles travelled. That was Mr. Sherrard’s estimate in 1962. The National Association of Australian State Road Authorities has suggested a possible road system of approximately 14,500 miles. The Commonwealth Bureau of Roads, in cooperation with the States, should draw up a national roads scheme, as I have suggested, which would not only serve to develop the present economic position of the country but also help in the development of the nation and, may I also add again, our defence.
One naturally asks how this scheme is to be financed. I believe that any scheme that is put up will cost many millions of pounds more than we have estimated in the past or the expenditure over the next five years estimated in the second-reading speech of the Minister. As I have said, the bulk of the money for roads in Australia comes from petrol tax. It is interesting to compare the petrol tax in Australia with the tax imposed in other nations. The following figures indicate the comparison -
I know that any suggestion to increase the petrol tax would not be received with any great pleasure in Australia. But the fact is that those who want roads - and the Australian people do want roads - are the only ones who can pay for them. The money cannot come out of the air.
I have some knowledge of what one might say was a political kite - I say that in all fairness - that was flown in my own State by the present Premier some months ago. At that time, there was talk of asking the Commonwealth Government to levy extra tax so that Victoria could spend more money on roads. It is true that there were interests that objected to that proposal, but I can honestly say that there was not the outcry against it that one would have expected. People realise that if we are to have roads those roads must be paid for. The cost of the construction and maintenance of roads, along with the COSt of everything else, has risen enormously in recent years. I believe that the average motorist can see the wisdom of the argument that extra money to provide good roads must come from the motorist, however much he may grumble when certain taxes are placed upon him. It is interesting also to note, in going further into this question, that the United States Bureau of
Roads has estimated that, by 1972, when its interstate system is completed, the benefit to each automobile will be about 750 dollars a year; to the 20-ton truck about 1,200 dollars a year; and to the 36-ton truck about 3,000 dollars a year. I cannot verify those figures, but 1 do not think that a person connected with the United States Bureau of Public Roads would place them on record if he were not prepared to substantiate them.
Mr. McDonald, a former head of the United States Bureau of Public Roads, made the following statement, which 1 think applies very aptly to our own nation -
We were not a wealthy nation when we began improving our highways. But the roads themselves helped us to create a new wealth in business and industry and land values. So it was not our wealth that made our highways possible. Rather tt was our highways that made our wealth possible.
That is a pretty sound statement, no doubt based on the knowledge of the person who made it. I am not disagreeing with that statement but I believe that in this country, although the people collectively have paid to improve our railways, roads and bridges, a certain few only have gained immeasurably from unearned increments arising from increased land values flowing from those improvements. lt amazes me that a tax was not imposed on unearned increments arising from increased land values following the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. How Mr. Lang forgot to do that amazes me. In Victoria, we started to speak about building a bridge across the Yarra 64 years before such a bridge was completed. I am talking about the Spencer Street Bridge, not the King’s Bridge. I will leave Senator Cant and others to make their jokes about that. A scheme was evolved whereby people in the suburbs - even the outlying ones- contributed a certain amount towards the cost of the bridge. I do not think that individuals, however few or however many, should make great gains from improvements for which the people generally pay. Some people, even those on my own side might disagree with me on this but I am not against tolls. Let me be quite candid. If the people want something til at costs money and there is not enough money in the Government’s purse to pay for it, 1 have no objection to them paying for it themselves. In the case of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, what is wrong with the people who use that bridge paying a toll? I think we must be honest about these things. If people want a thing and are prepared to pay for it, I see nothing wrong with allowing them to have it.
– Added value of broad acres - that is what you are arguing about - is in fact taxed.
– Not to any great extent. I do not think the Minister for Customs and Excise would say that the tax collected on land in the North Shore area is in any way comparable with the gains that some landholders made when the bridge was built.
– This principle of betterment has been tried in many fields. It is a very difficult question.
– It may be, but I do not think that anyone can justify the enormous unearned increments collected by a few.
Roads are very important. The Government boasts that £500 million is going to be spent on roads in the next five years. I am not decrying the immensity of that sum, but I say that it will not really touch the problem. If one has read anything on this subject written by people who have made a deep study of it, one will realise that we will have to talk, not in terms of hundreds of millions of pounds but in terms of thousands of millions. We cannot afford to allow the position to get further out of hand.
In the few minutes left at my disposal may I say that I wish the Bureau every success. 1 think we should have a plan in these matters. It is pleasing to know that although in the past the Government has been opposed to plans, at last it is going to have a plan. The Opposition’s main objection is that the plan is to be made available only to the Government, or only to the Minister. What is wrong with others having a look at it? As I said on the last occasion when I spoke, surely there will be nothing associated with the proposed Bureau the disclosure of which would affect the security of the country. I cannot conceive who thought of having a bureau that will not submit reports. I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter. I do not think that the present proposal is in the best interests of the people. It is certainly not in the best interests of the Parliament. More than once I have heard a number of honorable senators say that power should rest in the hands of the Parliament rather than in the hands of the Executive. In a very friendly way I say to the Government that it would be wise to let the people have a look at the reports of the Bureau. There is an old saying that in the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom. I hope that the Government will give this matter some second thoughts.
– The Bill before the Senate is quite a small measure to set up a Commonwealth Bureau of Roads and provide for the necessary mechanisms by which the Bureau will function. The Bill sets out how the Bureau is to be constituted and, in general terms, what it is proposed it will do. The Bill is concerned, of course, with a most important subject, as roads and road transport play a major role in our economy.
The Opposition has said that it does not intend to oppose the Bill, although Senator Kennelly has said that he does not like it. Other honorable senators opposite seem to be obsessed with the idea that they should attempt to put teeth into it. One speaker described the Bill as a gummy old ewe. I do not know whether the dental metaphors have anything to do with the current argument about fluoridation. That possibly could explain the references that have been made to the dental features, or the lack of them, of this Bill. In order to carry out what the Opposition would like to do with the Bureau, the nature of its functions would have to be changed. As the Bill is set out, the Bureau has purely an advisory role. The Opposition would give it an executive role. If it were the intention of the Government to give it that role, the Opposition’s amendments would have some substance and the argument that a report should be made to the Parliament would be a valid one. But because of the different concept of the role that is to be given to this Bureau, the argument is completely invalid.
I know that it is quite in line with the Opposition’s policy to endeavour to give the Commonwealth increasing powers which would impinge upon and erode the existing powers and responsibilities of the States. I do not believe that this trend towards unification is a good thing. In fact, I oppose it, and I think that most honorable senators on this side of the chamber also oppose it because it is not a good thing to be continually taking away from the States the responsibilities that they possess. The building of roads is one of the functions that have been entrusted to the States. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth), in considering requests to the Commonwealth for financial assistance to the States for road projects that the States deem necessary, has had to take advice gathered largely from incomplete sources. The Bureau intends to give to the Minister a method of independent assessment of the projects that are submitted to him.
During this debate various estimates have been made of the amount that .can be attributed to transport in the overall assessment of costs. Various figures ranging from 20 per cent, to 25 per cent., have been suggested, and comparisons have been made with costs in other countries. Incidentally, we have heard from the Opposition the suggestion that we do not spend enough on roads. There is a familiar ring about this. Recently we heard suggestions that we do not spend enough on education compared with other countries. Statistics have been quoted and figures have been given to show that Australia is lagging behind other countries. We have been told that we do not spend enough on social services in proportion to our overall national income. We have been told how backward we are in expenditure on defence. Now we are being told that we do not spend enough on roads. One wonders what we spend our national income on if we are lagging in so many respects.
Whatever conclusion we come to regarding the statistics, the fact remains that transport is a vital factor in our economic structure. It would not be so bad if transport costs were shared evenly throughout the community, but unfortunately they are not. I am conscious of the fact that for people in the vast hinterland of this country transport costs amount to more than 20 per cent, or 25 per cent, of the overall cost structure. While all sections of the community are interested in the subject of roads and road transport, it impinges upon various sections differently. The city section, of course, is vitally interested because the congestion on city roads is slowing transport and lengthening the average working day. The working man is taking longer to get to and from work because of traffic snarls and jams. We are experiencing a terrific toll of accidents because of the congested roads.
The civic authorities are thinking more in terms of overpasses, underpasses, tunnels and various devices to channel traffic more swiftly and more safely from the outer suburbs into the cities and throughout the cities. The problem of financing these undertakings is a matter that is giving great concern to civic and State authorities. Approaches are being contemplated to the Commonwealth to help finance these works. The road problem in rural areas is quite different. In many areas the roads arc dirt tracks or, at the best, gravel roads which become a series of potholes and corrugations when they are subjected to heavy traffic. Bridges are inadequate; they are too narrow or not high enough to escape flood waters. Many roads become impassable in the wet season. Last week we heard an argument between two honorable senators from Queensland about the depth of certain potholes or washouts. One honorable senator said that when he stood in one of these potholes his head could barely be seen showing above the top. I do not know what attitude he was in at the time, but in any case, I am sure that potholes of that dimension would be somewhat inconvenient. Whatever the depths of the corrugations or potholes are, they present a very serious and a very real problem to the development of out outback.
The development of whole regions is being stultified by inadequate access roads. Consequently, the cost of transport is unduly inflated because of its slowness and the high cost of repairs to vehicles. Because the roads are in a bad condition tyre life is short. To the more isolated settlers roads mean the difference between life and death in cases of sickness and accident. Roads are important to everyone in Australia, whether they live in the city or the country. Therefore, the question of roads and the way in which we deal with it is important to all of us.
One of the factors that will be dealt with by the Bureau is the economics of road construction. I feel that we have looked at this question of economics too superficially altogether. For instance, we have heard the argument, regarding the sealing of roads in outback areas, that it is better to build 1,000 miles of gravel road than 750 miles of sealed road. That implies a very short sighted and cursory examination of the case. When we have 750 miles of sealed road, we have a road for a reasonable period of time which can be used with speed and comfort. When we have 1,000 miles of gravel road, very soon we have 1,000 miles of corrugations and potholes and we have a rapidly diminishing asset, lt is questionable whether in the long run - or, indeed, in the short run - the construction of roads without sealing is a sound economic proposition anywhere and in any circumstances.
We build roads that are far too narrow to allow vehicles to pass in safety and in consequence the edges are continually broken away. Upkeep is enormously increased because of this idea that it is more economical to build roads that are narrow and that we can thus get more length of road. In the long run, we defeat our objective. These are some of the problems of the economics of road construction that the Bureau will be charged with examining. One criticism of the Bill was that it was confined to roads but 1 believe that an examination of any road problem cannot be pursued very far without bringing in accompanying considerations. Roads cannot be considered out of context from the general study of transport and its accompanying needs. 1 understood Senator Kennelly to advocate, in a rather gentle way for him, an increase in the petrol tax. He suggested that it would be desirable to increase the petrol tax to pay for our road requirements. That is all very well until we examine just who is to pay this higher petrol tax ultimately. It is all very well to pay a tax if one can pass it on. If one uses transport and consumes petrol, one assesses the costs in the charges to be made and the question is: Who ultimately pays? Certainly there is a direct recoup from the users but in the main, a large number of those users will pass it on. However, there is one industry that cannot pass on these increased charges and which has to absorb them all.
It is all very well for the honorable senator to suggest that finance can be obtained by a petrol taxbut I believe that this is not an equitable way to pay for road construction when everyone in the community, whether a user of the road directly or not, is concerned and benefits from it. A great point was made about the increasing wealth of the nation which roads have made possible. I agree; but when there is increased wealth, all of us share in it and I think all should make a contribution towards it.
The Government is acting wisely in introducing this measure at this time to provide for a Commonwealth Bureau of Roads. I believe that the Bureau, whether it has teeth or not, will have a function to perform as an advisory body. I believe this will be the first step towards an overall study of our road needs so that the Commonwealth Government and the Minister for Shipping and Transport in particular will be advised on the best and soundest course to pursue. This will enable the Minister to make a sound judgment upon the various propositions that are submitted from time to time by the States. I have pleasure in supporting the Bill.
.- There is one point on which all honorable senators are agreed and that is that roads are gradually becoming more important. One looks back over the years and, seeing the increase in motor traffic on the roads, appreciates how important they are. I can recall when the residents of Toowoomba, about 100 miles from Brisbane, would boast if they travelled by car from Brisbane to Toowoomba in eight hours. Time has passed and the road between the two cities has been improved. Now a motorist can average about 40 miles an hour on the trip between Brisbane and Toowoomba.
There are problems in road construction. There are localities where, because of the depth of black soil, it is costly to construct roads. As with the runways at an airport, the foundations of a road are important. I suppose some honorable senators have seen runways under construction at airports and have noticed that in many cases those constructing the runways go down to a depth of 4 feet or more to lay a solid foundation. In passing, I will mention that the terminal buildings at Brisbane airport are not posh or flash. People ask me, sometimes, why I do not have something to say in the Senate about the buildings at the airport. I always reply that I am more concerned about the runways thanI am about the buildings. I am satisfied that we have good runways at the main airport in Brisbane.
Similar comments can be applied to roads. Methods of construction of roads in the States vary, but they are all getting more costly. I am one who sees the picture of this proposed Commonwealth Bureau of Roads. I have wondered from time to time why such a bureau was not established years ago when roads were deservedly beginning to attract more attention from the road constructing authorities within the Commonwealth. I see the picture so far as road construction is concerned in this light: We have, first, a construction authority generally known as a main roads board operating in each State. The Commonwealth Government is also a road constructing authority as it builds roads in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. But in the States there are six main road constructing authorities. They construct the main roads and bear the cost of construction. Then we have the city and town councils building roads. The shires have their share of road construction work. All these authorities are engaged in the task of constructing roads with the result that no-one can get a picture of all the roads that have been constructed in the Commonwealth over the past 20 years.
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.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 22 September 1964, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1964/19640922_senate_25_s26/>.