25th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senatorthe Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Senator Henty) - by leave - proposed -
That Standing Order No. 283 be suspended so as to enable a call of the Senate to be made without 21 days’ notice in connection with the Constitution Alteration (Parliament) Bill 1965 and the Constitution Alteration (Repeal of Section 127) Bill 1965.
.- Mr. President, I had no knowledge that this motion was to be proposed. I would appreciate the opportunity, even if only for an hour, to consider the matter before casting my vote. At the present time, if the motion is forced on without notice, I would have to maintain the Standing Orders of the Senate.
– The honorable senator could achieve his purpose by asking for leave to continue his remarks at a later stage.
– Thank you, Mr. President. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs. By way of preface, I refer to the fact that, together with members of other major political parties, I attended several weekend functions in New South Wales to celebrate the Yugoslavia National Day at which strong pleas were made for Australia to escalate its present diplomatic ties with that country. My question is: Does the decision announced at the weekend of the appointment of an Australian Ambassador to Ethiopia enhance the prospects of the appointment of an Australian Ambassador to Yugoslavia, which, having regard to the strategic situation of that country in Europe coupled with the large number of people of Yugoslav origin in the Commonwealth, merits an early affirmative decision?
– I think it is true to say that the appointment of an Australian ambassador to Ethiopia or to any other country would be held neither to advance nor to retard the possibility of the appointment of an Australian ambassador to any other country. I do not think any relationship exists between the two matters. The question of the countries in which Australia has diplomatic representation is one for the Minister for External Affairs who has regard to the capacities of the Department and a number of other matters. He alone can give an answer in relation to them.
– My question is addressed to you, Mr. President. By way of brief explanation, I point out that on Saturday night last the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s programme “ Four Corners “ devoted a considerable amount of time to the subject of poverty in Australia. Will you arrange to secure this film from the Commission and have it shown in the Senate club room either this week or next? I believe that as many senators and members as possible should see the way in which some of our people have to live.
-I shall inquire about the availability of the film. If it is available, there is no reason why it should not be shown in the Senate club room on Tuesday night of next week.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. Before the Parliament rises, will the Minister state to what extent the natural gas that is available in Queensland and other parts of the Commonwealth has been developed for industrial and domestic purposes? Will he indicate, if possible, when natural gas will become available in cities and towns in Queensland?
– The honorable senator asks the Minister for National Development to make a statement in relation to natural gas. I shall refer the matter to my colleague. It will be for him to say whether he will make such a statement.
– I address the following question to the Minister representing the Treasurer: Has the President of the Australian Council of Soft Drink Manufacturers reported to the 1965 annual conference of manufacturers that the Council is unable to commence the big job of converting vending machines to use decimal currency coins because of inability to obtain sample coins? To assist the smooth conversion of machines before C Day, will the Treasurer make sample coins available to reputable firms and organisations that desire to commence conversion?
– I understand that sample collections will be made available, but I am not sure to whom. I shall refer the question to the Treasurer and ask him to consider it.
– Has the
Leader of the Government in the Senate had an opportunity to study the annual address delivered by Mr. Devitt, the President of the Australian Automobile Association, at the 38th annual conference of the Association in Perth last week in which he referred to the activities of the Department of Shipping and Transport? He contended that shipping takes pride of place and that land transport in all its aspects is a “ poor relation “. This situation, he said, is dangerous and intolerable. If the Minister has not seen or studied the reported address of Mr. Devitt, will he endeavour to do so and will he inform the Senate whether he and his Government believe that a Department of Land Transport should be established which would be responsible, at the Commonwealth level, for all forms of land transport, road and rail, and activities relating to the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads, road safety, formulation of draft uniform traffic laws, motor vehicle standards and so on? Would it be correct to say that already the Australian Road Safety Council, the Australian Road Traffic Code Committee and the Australian Motor Vehicle Standards Committee come under the administration of the Minister for Shipping and Transport but that the central Government is not giving much attention to roads, road safety with all its implications, and kindred matters?
– I have not read the address to which the honorable senator refers, but I do know of the attention that has been given to road safety by the Commonwealth Government. I know also of the good results that have been achieved, even though perhaps they are far from satisfactory when compared with the increasing number of cars on the roads. Part of the question relates to policy. If the honorable senator places his question on the notice paper, I shall endeavour to get an answer for him.
– Order! I shall keep on drawing the attention of honorable senators to the kind of questions that are asked. Senator Hendrickson has just asked a long and involved question to which Senator Henty has partly replied. That question will not be included in the broadcast of proceedings this evening. It would be much better to place such questions on the notice paper, thus avoiding lengthy repetition of them. I shall be much firmer in respect of questions in future, I can assure honorable senators.
(Senator Ormonde having addressed a question to the appropriate Minister) -
– Order! That question is out of order. No honorable senator can reply on behalf of Senator Fulbright.
Senator WHEELDON__ My question which I address to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, refers to the resignation of Mr. Gregory Clark, a senior officer of the Department of External Affairs, because of his disagreement with the Government’s policy on Vietnam. Have any other officers of the Department of External Affairs resigned for that reason, or expressed similar misgivings about the Government’s policy on Vietnam?
– I know of no other officer who has resigned from the Department of External Affairs. I think I might be allowed to correct the honorable senator’s description of Mr. Clark as a “ senior officer” of the Department. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Clark is now aged 29 years and, but for a period of about 18 months, has not done any political work at a desk. He has spent most of his time with the Department learning Chinese. I do not know whether he resigned because of the Government’s policy on Vietnam, and 1 know of no other officer of senior rank or of similar rank to Mr. Clark who did.
– I ask the
Minister representing the Treasurer: Has he seen a report that after it became known that the Mutual Life and Citizens Assurance Co. Ltd. would take over control of the management of H. G. Palmer (Consolidated) Ltd., some of Australia’s leading financial institutions made large investments in debentures of that company? Has the Minister noted that the institutions concerned included the Australian Mutual Provident Society, National Mutual Life Assurance Society, the New South Wales Government Insurance Office and the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Ltd.? Bearing in mind section 54 of the Life Insurance Act which empowers the Commonwealth Insurance Commissioner to demand in writing from any company information regarding any matter in connection with its business, will the Minister ask the Treasurer to request the Commissioner to ascertain immediately exact details of the transactions involved and place such information before this Parliament?
– I read the article to which the honorable senator referred. I have had no indication of whether it is true that certain institutions have invested in debentures of H. G. Palmer (Consolidated) Ltd. However, the Treasurer has already announced that Commonwealth officers are examining the position. If the honorable senator places his question on the notice paper, I will ask the Treasurer to provide for him any further information he has obtained.
– Has the attention of the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate been drawn to a statement by the sales manager of Horwood Bagshaw Ltd., Mr. R. E. Henry, which appeared in the Adelaide “ Advertiser “ of 25th November and . in which he said that Australia had a big part to play in the great awakening that was taking place among the nations of Africa? Will the Minister consult with the Government with a view to extending monetary assistance, in the form of loans, to these nations? Will the Government also consider bringing senior technical officers to Australia for the purpose of learning Australian techniques, particularly in farming, and will the Government consider sending specialist technicians to Africa?
– I believe that the time is long overdue when honorable senators should have a paper on the aid that Australia provides for less developed countries. We have a very proud record in the aid we provide in the form of money, goods and assistance through the Colombo Plan, in Papua and New Guinea and in many other countries. I do not think honorable senators are fully aware of the part that Australia really plays and the aid that it gives. I am sure that honorable senators, after studying such a paper, would realise that Australia is playing its part in this field.
– Earlier Senator Toohey asked me a question about a “ Four Corners “ programme on poverty in Australia being shown in Parliament House. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has advised me that that programme is on video tape, and not on film, and that accordingly it would not be possible for it to be shown outside A.B.C. studios.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs answer “Yes” or “No” the question whether the Australian Government has any information that in 1964 the North Vietnamese Government offered to confer on and to consider settlement of the Vietnam conflict? If the answer is in the affirmative, when was the Australian Government advised of the offer?
– I refer the honorable senator to the answer given by the Minister for External Affairs, Mr. Hasluck, on this matter in the House of Representatives.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service been drawn to a Press statement that employment of persons with criminal records has been found by the Melbourne Branch of the Waterside Workers Federation at the request of the Victorian Police Department? If that report is correct:, was this taken into consideration by the Minister for Labour and National Service when he made his recent statements on the number of criminals employed on the waterfront?
– I have not seen the Press report to which the honorable senator refers.
(Question No. 675.)
Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers - 1 and 2. These’ questions appear to refer to difficulties with the equipment used by the Commonwealth Actuary when calculating the new superannuation contribution rates. The Treasury took prompt action, as soon as the difficulties became known, to provide alternative facilities. The calculation of the new contribution rates has now been completed. 3 and 4. As I announced in my Budget Speech, the Government proposes to increase the age limit for pensions for children undergoing full-time education to 21 years and not merely 18 years as now suggested by the honorable senator.
(Question No. 711.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answers -
(Question No. 712.)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers -
Persons whose names are to be included in the report are not specifically warned of that fact In all cases, however, they have previously received assessments or amended assessments incorporating particulars of the tax avoidance claimed by the Commissioner. At that point of time, it is open to the taxpayer concerned, if he is dissatisfied with the assessment, to have recourse to the normal processes of objection and appeal.
Although the law provides that the Commissioner may enforce payment of disputed tax, in appropriate circumstances an extension of time for payment may be granted pending the determination of any objection or appeal.
In practice, an offender’s name is not included in the report until his case has reached finality, in the sense that all his rights of objection and appeal have been exhausted.
(Question No. 717.)
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Has the Australian Broadcasting Commission made efforts to procure the rights to show on Channel 2, Sydney, on Friday nights during the current summer months, a telecast of the previous Saturday’s First Division Soccer Match of the Day played in Britain, a programme which in the previous season had a high viewer patronage?
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answer -
No. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has decided not to attempt to obtain the rights for the current series of First Division Soccer Matches.
(Question No. 738.)
Senator KEEFFE (through Senator
Sandford) asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
Why was a Viscount aircraft, operated by a major commercial airline, directed, on 7th November 1965, to change course for the purpose of leading an R.A.A.F. Neptune bomber into the Townsville airport?
Can the Minister assure the Senate that the incident was not caused by lack of navigational landing aids at the Townsville airport?
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows -
(Question No. 741.)
asked the Minis ter representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers -
(Question No. 743.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– -The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following reply -
(Question No. 747.)
asked the Minister re presenting the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
Referring to the call made by the SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations on 17th November 1965, for a reconvening of the Geneva Conference as the only means of bringing peace and stability to Vietnam and the expression of his view that the Geneva Agreements of 1954 can still be implemented, and as Australia is one of the few nations with combatant forces in the Vietnam war, will the Government declare its support for U Thant’s appeal, and urge the Soviet Government to join with the British Government in taking steps to call the Conference together?
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following reply -
On 18th AugustI stated in the House of Representatives that “we should envisage a return to the Geneva Agreements of 1954. That agreement embodies the results of discussions and negotiations between the countries immediately concerned and the great powers.” (See “Hansard”, pages 190- 191.) Concerning the suggestion that Australia should urge the Soviet Government to join with the British Government in taking steps to call the Geneva Conference together, it will be recalled that the British Government has on several occasions proposed this step to the Soviet Union, which has not agreed - (see for example Select Documents on International Affairs, No. 1 of 1965, Vietnam, First Half of 1965, at page 65). The Government has on several occasions expressed the view to the Government of the Soviet Union that it should direct its influence towards the authorities in Hanoi and Peking, who have it in their power to remove the causes which have given rise to the existing situation in Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia. (Question No. 751.)
asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following replies -
(Question No. 753.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following reply -
If a dangerous and wider war in Vietnam is to bc averted and world peace is to be preserved there is no alternative to a political solution within the framework of the Geneva Agreements which the two sides strongly support.
For this purpose it is. of utmost importance that the parties concerned in the Vietnam situation meet at a conference table.
At any such conference the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam should take part.
There should bc a stoppage of bombing of North Vietnam which would create favourable conditions in which there could be appropriate responses on all sides, leading to a conference.
The two countries agreed that they would undertake, together wilh other non-aligned countries, efforts for finding out a peaceful solution of the Vietnamese problem and for the realisation of the aspirations of Vietnamese people for peace and independence.”
(Question No. 755.)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following replies -
– I present a report by the Tariff Board on the following subject -
Sulphuric Acid and Pyrites Bounty Acts.
Motion (by Senator Henty) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the Air Navigation (Charges) Act 1952-1964.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This is a Bill for an act to amend the Air Navigation (Charges) Act 1952-1964 for the purpose of securing an increase in the revenue from the various operators and owners of aircraft who make use of aerodromes and other facilities for air navigation provided, maintained and operated by the Commonwealth. It is the Government’s policy to move progressively towards the ultimate full recovery of that part of the cost of providing facilities that is properly attributable to the industry. Each year a careful review is made of the ability of the industry to absorb an increase in charges. Increases are not made automatically but, in the present case, the increase of 10 per cent, has been decided as fair and reasonable. For 1964-65 actual revenue from air navigation charges was £2.218 million. With the 10 per cent, increase of 10 per cent., has been decided as venues resulting from natural growth in the industry, it is estimated that total revenue for 1965-66 will be some £2.839 million.
This Bill does not change the method of assessing charges but simply increases by 10 per cent, the unit charges which are based on the weight of the aircraft. The new scale of charges will be applied to all domestic and international airlines and to charter, aerial work and private operators. Operators of light aircraft will pay in total an increase of less than £5,000. The Act previously referred to the weight of the aircraft as that specified in its certificate of airworthiness. With the change in the form of the certificate of airworthiness, the weight does not always appear in this document and thus this source is no longer appropriate. This Bill now provides that the Director-General of Civil Aviation may, by notice in the Commonwealth “ Gazette “, fix the weight of aircraft and the charges will be based on the weights so fixed. Where there are limitations on the weight at which an aircraft may operate from particular aerodromes, the Director-General may prescribe a weight for the aircraft at that place which will take into account the limitations of its operating weight. This Bill includes some amendments of the machinery provisions designed to specify more clearly the obligation of certain aircraft operators to pay the respective charges. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Kennelly) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Henry) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be granted to Senator Sherrington on account of ill health.
Motion (by Senator McKenna) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave of absence for one week be granted to Senator Willesee on account of ill health.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is designed to alter the provisions of the Constitution which relate to the manner in which the composition of the House of Representatives is to be determined. When duly passed by the electors, the Bill will have the effect of removing sections 24 to 27, inclusive, of the Constitution and of substituting for them a new section 24. AsI shall explain in more detail later, the new section 24 will supersede the existing sections 24 and 27, which determine the composition of the House of Representatives, and sections 25 and 26 will be deleted because they are no longer operative.
The existing section 24 of the Constitution lays down four basic requirements -
Under this Bill, the first, third and fourth of these requirements will be preserved, but the second requirement - that the number of members in the House of Representatives is to be as nearly as practicable twice the number of senators - will no longer find a place in the Constitution. This proposal to break the nexus - a term we have all come to understand - created by the present section 24 of the Constitution is the primary objective of the Bill. I think I should mention at once that the proposal represents a significant change in the basic law which has applied to the Parliament since Federation. Before attempting some assessment of the advantages which will flow from this change, I think it is important to state the pertinent facts for honorable senators as clearly as possible.
It is difficult to be certain about the meaning of the phrase “ as nearly as practicable “ in the present section 24 of the Constitution. It is clear that it does not mean that the number of members in the House of Representatives must be precisely double the number of senators. That position does not apply at present, when we have a House of 122 members plus the members representing the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Furthermore, the amendment made by the Parliament in 1964 to the Representation Act provided for an additional member of the House for any remainder after the division of the number of people of a State by the quota provided by the Act. The result at present would be an increase of two members in the House of Representatives on recent figures.
Whatever the legal niceties of the position may be, it seems likely that there could be difficulty in making further increases in the size of the House of Representatives without increasing the number of senator;. At present there are 60 senators - 10 from each State. Originally, before the increase in 1948, there were 36 senators, three retiring from each State each three years. These 60 senators are elected five at a time in each State. So at each Senate election there is a reasonable probability of one side or the other having a majority of three to two. Should the Senate be increased by one senator per State - that is, to 66 - each Senate election under normal circumstances would require the choice of one-half of 1 1 senators, that is, of five and a half senators which, as our late lamented friend Euclid would have said, is absurd. The only practical course in those circumstances would be to choose six at one election and five at another. This is a result which would hardly commend itself to either this House or electors.
Let us suppose that instead the Senate were to be increased by 12, to a total of 72. Of course, the Senate can only be increased in multiples of six because of the requirement for equal representation of each State. That would mean 12 senators from each State, six to be elected at each election. Under the present system for Senate elections - nobody has been able to suggest a better system - the election of six senators from each State would almost guarantee in every State the election of three Government senators and three Opposition senators. So we would produce a deadlocked Senate, with every motion and every amendment defeated. None of us would, I think, want that situation to come to pass, because there would be no possibility of obtaining either a resolution or an amendment to a resolution, in view of the provisions of section 23 of the Constitution, which require a question to pass in the negative when the votes are equal.
Therefore, if there is to be a Senate in which a clear majority becomes possible, the members of the Senate would need to be such under the Constitution that an odd number would be elected every three years. The present odd number is five, and the next seven. If seven were to be elected every three years, there would be a Senate of 84 members and, under the Constitution as it now stands, the House of Representatives would need to have approximately 16S members. Thus the Constitution, as it is at present, makes necessary a massive simultaneous increase in the size of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, a result which is certain to produce anomalies when we have a population which is increasing steadily year by year. The primary purpose of this Bill - I hope the people of Australia will accept it as an expression of the joint judgment, wisdom and opinion of this House - is to break the nexus.
Should someone be anxious about representation by the States in this House, or about the number of members in the other House, we propose two matters in this amendment to afford protection. First, we will protect State representation in this House. We have provided that all original States which, under the existing Constitution, are entitled to no fewer than six senators, will in future be entitled to no fewer than ten senators. Secondly, we believe that there must be a limit on the increase of the membership of the House of Representatives. The Bill provides that the number of members in the House is to be ascertained by dividing the number of people in the States by such number as is for the time being determined by Parliament, that number being not less than 80,000. In other words, the quota for electorates in the House is to be not less than 80,000. Honorable senators will be interested to know that, if the Parliament were to decide that the quota should be 80,000, the membership of the House would rise to 143. If the Parliament were to decide that the quota should be 85,000 - under the amendment it could not be less than 80,000 but could be more - then the membership of the House would be 135.
Turning now to consider the implications for the Senate of the breaking of the nexus, it will be generally agreed that there could be real advantages. When the Commonwealth Parliament was established, there were to be six senators representing each State, and a minimum of five members of the House. The purpose of the founders was to ensure that even the smallest State would have adequate representation in the new federation. In addition, they saw this House as being an influential chamber of review. I am sure all honorable senators would agree that this House has now anchieved a status as a chamber of review which does not require the safeguard of a continuing nexus in the number of our membership with that of the House. Indeed, the fact that the numbers in the Senate remain the same despite small increases from time to time in the size of the House of Representatives may well serve to emphasise the continuing nature of this House as a place where all States are represented equally and the work of the other House is reviewed
Briefly put, I think we would agree that, insofar as the Senate represents the six original States, there is no particular merit, at any rate at this time, in increasing our numbers beyond the present 10. Indeed, having in mind the voting card which electors have to fill in on the occasion of each Senate election, it is not inconceivable that there may be some at least who will be grateful for our restraint in this matter. I add that in the United States, with its population now approaching 200 million, the number of Senators is 100 - two from each State. We for our part have established in this place over the years a level of debate, and an atmosphere of deliberation, all of our own. I for one am not convinced that increasing our numbers by 24 - or 48 - would in any way enhance this tradition. At the same time, I recall that the amendment of the Constitution now being proposed will safeguard the existing representation of each State in the Senate.
Honorable senators will recall that the matters which are the subject of this Bill were extensively discussed by the Constitutional Review Committee. The proposals embodied in the Bill contain, with only relatively minor changes, the substance of the changes recommended by the Committee. The Committee recommended that, in addition to the repeal of sections 24 and 27, sections 25 and 26 of the Constitution should be repealed. The Government has adopted that recommendation, and the Bill proposes repeal of those sections. Section 25 provides that, for the purposes of section 24, if by law of a State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House , of Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or the Commonwealth, persons of that race residing in that State are not to be counted. Section 25 has not ever had any practical application. Because it has a discriminatory character, and because there is no need for its provisions, we have felt it desirable to take the opportunity to omit it from the Constitution. Section 26 makes provision for the number of members of the House of Representatives each State was to have in the first Federal Parliament. Its operation is, of course, completely spent and its repeal is of a purely tidying-up character.
Pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution, a bill proposing an amendment to the Constitution must be approved by the people by referendum before its presentation for the Royal Assent. Section 128 requires that that referendum be held not sooner than .two months nor later than six months after the passage of the bill through both Houses of the Parliament. The administrative arrangements required for a referendum are complex and require considerable time for preparation by the Chief Electoral . Officer. The Government has therefore selected 28th May 1966 as the date for the holding of the referendum. I believe that the best interests of the Senate are adequately protected, and indeed that they will be promoted, by the Bill at present before us. Moreover, I hope and believe that, when the purpose of the proposed change in the Constitution is explained to the people of Australia, they will say “ Yes “. By so doing, they will change the nexus provision and will thereby contribute greatly to making this Parliament an effective agent for the good government of the nation. I commend the Bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a first time.
– 1 move -
That the Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of this Bill is to alter the Constitution by repealing section 127. That section provides that, in reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted. The Government believes that the first opportunity should be taken to have this section repealed, and proposes to submit the Bill to referendum at the same time as the referendum on altering the method of determining the number of members of the House of Representatives. The Joint Committee on Constitutional Review recommended repeal in its report - that is the 1959 report - at paragraph 398.
No doubt the principal reason for the inclusion of section 127 in the Constitution in 1900 was the practical difficulties that would be encountered in satisfactorily enumerating the Aboriginal population. There were no doubt real difficulties then in ensuring that a census of Aborigines could be effectively taken. In modern times, this is not so. Moreover, section 127 is not related to the qualification of Aborigines as voters in Commonwealth elections. Section 41 of the Constitution has always guaranteed an Aboriginal the right to vote at Commonwealth elections if he had a right to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of a State. The Commonwealth Parliament itself has removed all disabilities in respect of voting at Commonwealth elections so far as Aborigines are concerned. Consequently, Aborigines are now entitled to enrol and to vote and they should, in the view of the Government, be recognised as forming part of the population of their State for any purpose.
In view of the general interest that has been expressed in the possibility of amending section 51 (xxvi), I think I should at this point make reference to the Government’s decision not to propose an amendment. Section 51 (xxvi) provides that the Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to “the people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.
There have been some suggestions that the removal of what have in some quarters been called the “ discriminatory provisions “ of section 51 (xxvi) should be associated with the repeal of section 127. The proposal would be to eliminate the words “ other than the Aboriginal race in any State “, on the ground that these words amount to discrimination against Aborigines. In truth, the contrary is the fact. The words are a protection against discrimination by the Commonwealth Parliament in respect of Aborigines. The power granted is one which enables the Parliament to make special Jaws, that is, discriminatory laws in relation to other races - special laws that would relate to them and not to other people. The people of the Aboriginal race are specifically excluded from this power. There can be in relation to them no valid laws which would treat them as people outside the normal scope of the law, as people who do not enjoy benefits and sustain burdens in common with other citizens of Australia.
What should be aimed at, in the view of the Government, is the integration of the Aborigine in the general community, not a slate of affairs in which he would be treated as being of a race apart. The mere use of the words “ Aboriginal race “ is not discriminatory. On the contrary, the use of the words identifies the people protected from discrimination when it is remembered that section 5.1 (xxvi) was drafted to meet the conditions that existed at the end of the last century - for example, the possibility of having to make a special law dealing with kanaka labourers. If the words were removed, as some people suggest, it would change dramatically the scope of the plenary power conferred on the Commonwealth. That must be borne in mind. If the Parliament had, as one of its heads of power, the power to make special laws with respect to the Aboriginal race, that power would very likely extend to enable the Parliament to set up, for example, a separate body of industrial, social, criminal and other laws relating exclusively to Aborigines. It is difficult to see any limitations on the power to do any of these things, because the existing power is a plenary power in the Constitution. Conferring such a new power could have most undesirable results.
What I have said will show that the removal of the exclusion of the Aboriginal race from the scope of section 51 (xxvi), that is, to include them within the power, is not the simple matter it is often represented to be. The inclusion would, in the view of the Government, not be in the best interests of the Aboriginal people. I should add that the Joint Committee was quite clear in its recommendation that section 127 should be repealed. It did not, however, have an opportunity to complete its inquiries on the issues involved in conferring a power on the Commonwealth to make laws with respect to Aborigines, as is pointed out in paragraph 397 of the Committee’s report. The work of the Committee was brought to an end because of the elections in 1958. It cannot therefore be said against anyone on the Committee that he has committed himself.
Returning to the Bill before the Senate, the matter can be simply put by saying that section 127 is completely out of harmony with our national attitudes and with the elevation of the Aborigines into the ranks of citizenship which we all wish to see. Three possibilities have been examined in relation to section 51 (xxvi). First, the possibility I mentioned earlier, to omit from placitum 26 the words “ other than the Aboriginal race in any State”. This would give the Commonwealth Parliament power, a plenary power, to make laws, unlimited except by such general provisions as those of section 92, with respect to Aborigines - for example, industrial laws, social services laws, health laws and so forth. Is this desirable? I have endeavoured to point out that we do not think it is. Should not our overall objective be to treat the Aboriginal as on the same footing as all the rest, with similar duties and similar rights? Section 51 (xxvi) does not create discrimination in the case of the Aboriginal. It avoids it.
The second proposal was to repeal” placitum 26 altogether. This has its attractions. Yet, in the modern and complex world which changes around us almost every week, we might conceivably wish to employ it. Therefore, it would be unwise, perhaps, to deprive ourselves of the machinery for dealing with problems of this kind should they arise. The third proposal that has been made is to add a new provision rendering invalid laws discriminating against Aborigines by, for example, invalidating any Commonwealth or State discrimination on the grounds of race. The Government’s view is that any provision of this kind could produce a crop of litigation as, indeed, it has in the United States in relation to the “ Bill of Rights “ amendments. The result could be to invalidate laws which, while designed to protect the special interests of Aborigines, could be held technically to discriminate either for or against them. We believe that the best protection for Aborigines is to treat them, for all purposes, as Australian citizens. I commend the Bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 1875).
.- I am obliged to the Senate for giving me an opportunity to consider this matter. I have ascertained that it is the intention of the Government now to fix Thursday of this week as the time for the call. That, in my view, is adequate. I therefore have no opposition to the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Henty) - by leave - agreed to -
That there be a call of the Senate on Thursday, 2nd December 1965, for the purpose of considering the third reading of the Constitution Alteration (Parliament) Bill 1965 and of the Constitution Alteration (Repeal of Section 127) Bill 1965.
Motion (by Senator Gorton) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to The Australian National University.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing Orders suspended.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill proposes several amendments to the Act under which the Australian National University operates. Some of these amendments meet the desire of the University Council, agreed to by the Government, to abolish the office of Principal of the School of General Studies when Professor Herbert Burton retires at the end of this year. Professor Burton has, of course, rendered long and meritorious service both as Principal of the School and before that as Principal of the former Canberra University College. The other amendments, largely of a technical character, have also been proposed by the Council and accepted by the Government.
The University Council, when seeking to have the position of Principal of the School of General Studies abolished, felt it desirable to have in its stead a part time position of Deputy Chairman of the Board of the School. The Government agreed. This position will not be occupied for a long period by any one person. Over the years its responsibilities will be shared by several. The new arrangement will give the School the same relationship to the Vice-Chancellor and the Council as the Institute of Advanced Studies now has through the existing office of Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Institute. We have deemed it desirable to recognise the status of the School of General Studies within the University by requiring the position of Deputy Chairman of its Board to be chosen from among the professors of the School.
As the office of Principal of the School is a statutory one, it is therefore now necessary to delete from the Act all references to it and to insert, where necessary, references to the new office of Deputy Chairman of the Board of the School. This operation accounts for many of the clauses in this Bill. Associated with this change is provision to relieve the Vice-Chancellor of his present obligation to preside at meetings of the Boards of the Institute and of the School when he is present. It is intended that the Deputy Chairman of each Board should be empowered to preside at a meeting of that Board at which the Vice-Chancellor is present, if called upon by the Vice-Chancellor to do so.
A further amendment deals with provision for securing representation of the University’s undergraduates on the Council. At present the undergraduates elect a member, but the person elected is required to be a student of the University being aged at least 2 1 years and a graduate “ of at least two years standing”. Time has shown that very few such eligible candidates are available. In cases where they are available they tend to be out of touch with current undergraduate opinion. It has therefore been decided to remove the requirement that candidates have two years standing as a graduate, with a consequent increase in the field of eligible candidates for election to the Council as the students’ representative.
The opportunity has also been taken to insert a provision which will permit the University to enter into certain types of contracts without being obliged to use its or. n mon seal. This obligation has proved cumbersome in the University’s more routine day to day business operations. The terms of this Bill would permit the University to dispense with the use of its common seal when entering into contracts which, if entered into by private persons, would not be required to be under seal. A similar provision applies to certain other statutory bodies, for example, the Australian National Airlines Commission.
A further provision is that which empowers the University to waive fees in the case of State Forestry Scholarship holders. When the University undertook to establish a Department of Forestry and to take over the work of the Australian Forestry School, which it did from the beginning of the 1965 academic year, it was faced with doubts concerning its power to remit the tuition fees of forestry students undertaking training on the nomination of various State Governments. By long standing Commonwealth-State agreement, no tuition fees have been paid by the States in respect of their nominated students at the Australian Forestry School. This amendment would permit this arrangement to apply without doubt in the new circumstances. It is Government policy for it to do so.
In connection with the transfer of the responsibility for advanced forestry education from the Australian Forestry School to the Australian National University, legislative action is required to ensure that the provisions of the Officers’ Rights Declaration Act 1928-1959, apply to permanent Commonwealth public servants who were on the staff of the Australian Forestry School and have now accepted appointment with the Australian National University. Provision has accordingly been made in this Bill for the purpose, as a result of which those officers transferred will have to opt within a period of three months for employment under either Australian National University or Commonwealth service conditions.
Finally the opportunity is being taken, in presenting the Bill to the Senate, to repeal certain sections of the Australian National University Act 1960, the operation of which is now exhausted. The 1960 Act incorporated transitional provisions which were required as part of the process of merging the former Canberra University College with the original Australian National University. The sections for repeal are of a technical nature only. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Tangney) adjourned.
Assent to following Bills reported -
Export Payments Insurance Bill 1965. Meat Research Bill 196S. Live-stock Slaughter Levy Bill 1965. Meat Industry Bill 1965. Public Works Committee Bill 196S. Public Accounts Committee Bill 1965. Copper Bounty Bill 1965.
Motion (by Senator. Henty) proposed -
That Standing Order No. 68 be suspended until the termination of the present period of sittings to enable new business to be commenced after 10.30 p.m.
– The Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) has merely put formally before the Senate a proposal that for the rest of the sittings this year new business may be introduced after 10.30 p.m. We of the Opposition object to that motion as being one more obnoxious step in the process of legislation by exhaustion. We all have had bitter experience of this, year after year and towards the end of each sessional period. On this occasion I refrain from opening old sores and old wounds. I hoped that the Minister would give us some indication of his intentions in relation to the matter for the rest of the sessional period. I hope that he will indicate in his reply that he intends to maintain the form that he has hitherto shown in the conduct of business in the Senate. So far he has set his face against carrying a sitting into the small hours of the morning to the detriment of the standard of the debate and our proceedings generally. I congratulate him on what he has done up to date. That is reassuring and it leads me to be hopeful as to the future; but I cannot overlook the fact that the motion proposes to give him a free hand with new business after 10.30 p.m., and that could prove gravely embarrassing, certainly to members of the Opposition, for whom alone 1 speak.
It would be very much better had the Minister relied upon the common sense and the co-operation of the Opposition to deal with any special need that arose. We have not hesitated from time to time to sit beyond the normal hour of adjournment for the purpose of concluding a matter then current, and on the form displayed by the Opposition the Acting Leader of the Government might well have relied upon a continuance of consultation and agreement without detriment to the despatch of Government business whilst maintaining the dignity of the Senate, safeguarding the welfare of its members and making for better debating standards. I indicate to the Acting Leader that we members of the Opposition ar: quite prepared to continue to sit at normal hours until the business of the Senate has concluded; we do not wish to avoid that at all. There are important matters to be debated. Some of them look as though they will need lengthy consideration. We may be here not only next week but also during part of the following week. That is possible from indications that have developed today. Every member of the Opposition prefers that we address ourselves to those important matters at comparative leisure and without all night sittings which are devastating in their effect in many directions. We do not mind sitting, and keeping on sitting, until we conclude all of the business. I indicate that to preserve the rights of the Opposition, and without embarking upon all the reasons that I have often put before the Senate on the occasion of the proposing of similar motions, we oppose the motion and will do so by calling for a division.
.- On behalf of the Australian Democratic Labour Party, I too desire to oppose the motion, because too frequently the Parliament is engaging in the consideration of rushed legislation, particularly when we get towards the closing stages of a session. On the business sheet of the Senate there are many important pieces of legislation, all of which merit the closest examination, discussion and debate. I contend that if new business is to be introduced, as is proposed, after half past 10 o’clock at night, the Senate having been in session from 3 o’clock in the afternoon or 11 o’clock in the morning, honorable senators will be in no state to give the legislation the attention that they should give it. I repeat that all too frequently we experience this rush period at the end of a sessional period both here and in another place. We read with monotony, and not with much pleasure, repeated criticisms in the Press of the inefficient or at least unsatisfactory conduct of the business of this Parliament.
I agree with Senator McKenna, who said that his Party is prepared to sit here until Christmas, and until after Christmas if necessary, to dispose of the business which requires our attention in a proper manner, rather than have important legislation introduced late at night and in the early hours of the morning. Why is it that, irrespective of what party is in Government, this state of affairs appears to obtain? I have come down here from my home State of Queensland each week prepared to sit on Friday. There did not appear to be any particular reason why the Senate should not have sat last Friday and the previous Friday.
If the volume of business is so great and if the programme of work before us is so extensive, how can we justify having closed down the Senate for one full week, merely because the Melbourne Cup is run on the first Tuesday in November? I am as good a sport as are most Australians, but I can see no justification for dislocating the business of the Senate for one full week merely because of a race.
I object to and oppose very strongly this suggestion that new business should be introduced into the Senate at 10.30 p.m. and later. Let us deal with the business that we have to consider and discuss it in an orderly way and in a sane and proper manner. We should not have important discussions taking place when many honorable senators are not conscious of what is going on around them. An honorable senator interjects: “Tut tut”. Everybody appears to be awake at the moment because I am on my feet and I am making sufficient noise to keep all honorable senators awake. But there are other occasions - and not at 10.30 p.m. either - when many honorable senators are to be found in slumberland
– Did the honorable senator have any trouble in Queensland with his Premier?
– I had a lot of trouble, and everybody knows about it. I think I had more troubles than had the average member.
– Did you ever sit late at night?
– Yes, but not frequently. We kept to the arrangements made. Of course there are occasions when emergency legislation has to be brought down and must be rushed through. Everyone is reasonable enough to go along with that and make allowances for it. But the legislation which is listed on our programme has been spoken about and publicised for some considerable time. It is not legislation which has just come off the Parliamentary Draftsman’s drafting board. It has been cooked up for some time now and there is no excuse for its not having been brought on last Friday, or the previous Friday, for that matter. But no, it was decided that the Senate would not sit on Friday. I object very strongly - with all the vigour at my disposal - to the motion moved by the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty).
– I do not think the motion before the Senate raises the question of how late we sit at night, but I join with those honorable senators who deprecate any late night sittings that preclude proper consideration being given to the business of the Senate. I believe it is not the intention of the Government to carry the business of the Senate through into the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning. The motion to which we are addressing ourselves is a motion that the Standing Order forbidding the introduction of new business after 10.30 p.m. be suspended.
I rose only because I am vitally interested in three matters of major legislation, two of which are yet to be introduced into the
Senate. My view as to what will be a proper vote on this motion will depend on what the Minister is able to tell us in regard to these measures. I refer first of all to the Income Tax Assessment Bill 1965. The Income Tax Bill 1965 was introduced last Thursday and I have been preparing myself, under great pressure, for the possibility that it will be called on for debate before the Income Tax Assessment Bill is ready for our consideration. The Income Tax Assessment Bill is a matter of very great concern to me, as I hope it will be to all honorable senators, and I therefore seek some assurance that it will be presented to the Senate in an orderly way so as to ensure that we get complete and adequate opportunity, in the ordinary course, to deal with it in its various stages. I anticipate that it will require a long debate in Committee.
The other measure to which I refer is the Trade Practices Bill 1965, which we are glad to see is being subjected to very vigorous discussion in another place. When the Bill comes to the Senate, it will deserve long debate. Honorable senators will need to consider the debate in another place together with all the material which might influence our viewpoint. It would be anathema to me to have that Bill introduced after 10.30 p.m. I have a vital interest in these two measures. Finally, I am interested in two Bills to amend the Constitution which were introduced today and will be debated this week.
My final remark is that it should not go unnoticed that the great Public Service, which in large measure runs the legislative programme of this Parliament, takes advantage of the fact that members live in many parts of Australia and travel to Canberra according to a fixed programme. I believe the Public Service takes advantage of this to get contentious bills through by accumulating them until late in the session. Any motion such as that now before us should be accompanied by an assurance that we will have all the debating time that is necessary to bring to a conclusion all the bills that are presented to us. If need be the Trade Practices Bill should be advanced to a certain stage and then held over until February.
.- I wish to speak briefly to the motion which is now before the Senate. At the outset, I was pleased to hear the sentiments expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) regarding the way in which the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) has handled the business of the Senate up till now. I believe that the sentiments expressed by Senator Wright are justified, but possibly the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate does not intend that this House should sit late at night. If it is intended to sit late I would not be in favour of the motion. From time to time I have expressed the view that it is wrong to sit all night to deal with legislation. Some people might believe they can think clearly throughout the 24 hours of the day, but anybody with any sense or wisdom must realise that much better consideration can be given to legislation if the debates are confined within a reasonable time of the day.
Senator Wright has mentioned that three very important bills - possibly some of the most important legislation that has ever been introduced into the Parliament - will be coming before the Senate. These bills are of such importance and magnitude that one of them, the Trade Practices Bill, could very well be left for consideration by this chamber in the next sessional period. This is a deliberative chamber, a House of review, and I believe that we would benefit from a consideration of the reactions to the Bill after it has been passed by the other place.
– Have not interested people had time already to give their views?
– That is a very easy statement to make. Let us remember that the Bill that we will receive from the other place will no doubt be very different from the Bill that was introduced originally. If one can judge from what one has heard, there will be many amendments made. Honorable senators are entitled to believe that they will be asked to consider what might be regarded as a very different Bill from the Bill which was originally presented. This is a very important matter but I do not think there is any extreme urgency about it. A delay of a month or two will not make any difference. There is no reason why we should not take our time over the consideration of such an important piece of legislation. I shall certainly strive to see that the
Bill is not rushed through in this sessional period but that it is left over until we next meet so that we shall be able to give it a great deal more thought.
I thought I should express my views. I am confident that the Acting Leader of the Government, judging by his performance so far, does not intend to run the Senate into exceptionally lengthy sittings such as we have experienced in the past. If he is prepared to give an assurance along those lines, I am prepared to support his proposal.
– in reply - The motion now before the Senate is similar to the motion which is proposed towards the end of each sessional period. Even if the Opposition were prepared to sit beyond 10.30 p.m., no new business - in fact, not even an emergency measure - could be introduced into the Senate after 10.30 p.m. unless this motion were carried.
I pay a tribute to honorable senators for their performance over the past few weeks. If the Senate continues as it has done and if we continue to deal with legislation thoroughly and promptly as it comes to us, I think we will have orderly sittings and will be able to avoid late hours. I hope we can achieve that objective. I make no promises - it would be silly of me to do so because no-one knows what will spring out of the blue - but I say to honorable senators that 1 hope to steer the Senate away from late sittings as much as possible and at the same time to allow an orderly discussion of the Bills that come before us. Honorable senators can make up their minds that the sittings will continue for at least another fortnight, until Friday, 10th December. I think it will take us until then to handle our business in an orderly way.
I say to the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labour Party (Senator Gair) that it would not have been very sensible to sit on the last two Fridays. We dealt on the following Tuesdays with the only legislation that was before us. If we had dealt with that legislation on the Fridays, we would not have needed to sit. on the Tuesdays because we would not have had any business before us. With the exception of one small bill, on each Thursday we had dealt with all the business on the notice paper. That is why we did not meet on the two Fridays.
– It could have been better arranged.
– The honorable senator must realise that we are in the hands of another place. Legislation comes to us only when it has been passed by the other place. I would love to be able to barnstorm into the other chamber and say: “ Hurry lip and get this legislation through because we want to deal with it in the Senate.” But I cannot dothat. Honorable members in the other place have their rights. After they have amended or passed legislation, it comes to us. I have to try to arrange the Senate’s programme as and when the legislation becomes available. I assure the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) and the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labour Party that if the business of the Senate can be organised and handled without late sittings - without a preponderance of late sittings at any rate - we shall do so. I hope that every honorable senator will help towards this end by stating his views on a bill and then sitting down. Very often, if we attempt to recapitulate our remarks we take twice as long as we should. Repetition is a dreadful thing in any House of Parliament. I pass on that thought to honorable senators.
Question put -
That the motion (Senator Henty’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 25th November (vide page 1872), on motion by Senator McKellar-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
, - When the Senate adjourned last week I was detailing the various groups that would benefit under the legislation now before us. I mentioned that no government was so completely evil that it did not perform on occasions a good deed or good deeds. Here we have a good deed by this Government. There is no government so completely inefficient that it does not on occasions do something effective. We have something effective in this legislation. But I do quarrel with the Government for its cowardly approach to this matter. In my opinion, it is guilty of extreme political cowardice. The title of the Bill itself is cowardly. Because of its restrictive nature, discussion of the Bill is limited at a time when the whole of the national health services of this country are crying out for investigation, and when people are suffering tremendous burdens because they have been expected to be able to provide adequately for their families over the years. The Government has seen fit on this occasion to limit discussion of this matter. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar), who is in charge of the measure, knows that the President, the Deputy President, the Acting Deputy President, and when the time comes, the Chairman and the Temporary Chairman of Committees will limit discussion on this Bill.
I hear an honorable senator say: “ Ah “, but I know the attitude of the Government. The restrictive title of the Bill shows the cowardly approach of the Government and illustrates the fact that it is determined to limit the discussion of this matter. The approach of the Government to the pensioner medical service has been hesitant. Its attitude has been dilatory, lt is now over 10 years since the people who were legitimately entitled to these benefits were deprived of them. By introducing this Bill, the Government admits that the repeated representations by Opposition members and from the spokesmen for the pensioners have been justified. But does it ever occur to members of the Government and, more particularly, to Cabinet Ministers, especially those who were Cabinet members in preceding governments, that they may have inflicted harm on people during this time and that they may have caused death through their callous disregard of their responsibilities? They never think of that aspect of the matter. In the comfort of their positions and the seclusion of their homes, they pay no real regard in their deliberations to the welfare of people whose situation entitles them to responsible consideration.
For some reason the Government has produced this Bill. It has been suggested that this legislation has been introduced because the Australian Medical Association has indicated that its members are prepared to provide a medical service to the pensioners to be covered by this legislation. I want to make it quite clear that the fact that members of the medical profession are receiving higher fees is no reason why the Government should have refused to meet the legitimate requirements of the medical profession over the years. If medical practitioners were entitled to a certain fee for a surgery consultation or a domiciliary visit, the Government should have been prepared to meet its obligation. We have before us what is termed a Bill for an Act to amend the National Health Act in relation to pensioners. The provisions of the Bill include people who in November 1955 were deprived irresponsibly of that to which they were entitled. But although the restriction operated from 31st October 1955, the pensions income means test had effect from 31st December 1953. Why the restrictions placed on the eligibility of pensioners for enrolment in the pensioner medical service should have been applied two years before the introduction of that measure in November 1955, no-one seems capable of explaining.
Certain limitations are contained in the Bill. Medical service does not involve merely a visit to a doctor’s consulting room or a visit by a medical practitioner to the home of a pensioner. Does the Government not realise that some pensioners in receipt of the age pension or the invalid pension have young dependants? These young people are in need of dental attention, and the older people are in need of this attention, the provision of dentures or the replacement of them. In this Bill the Government has not provided for dental attention. I emphasise that dental attention is part and parcel of medical care. Pensioners and their dependants have to travel to hospital at their own expense when hospitalisation is necessary. It is not suggested in the Bill that the Government is going to. assist a pensioner in respect of the ambulance charges incurred in transport to a hospital. State expenditure is involved also in this matter. There is no suggestion that the Government will provide anything in this regard. Irrespective of how irresponsible or stupid some members of the Government are, they know that inevitably or almost inevitably with advancing years comes failing eyesight. But the Government has not included in this Bill authority for the provision of spectacles or a change of spectacles. The Government does the minimum necessary and demands the maximum acclaim for it. That is the approach of the Government. It always has been.
If the Labour Party suggests something, Government members howl the suggestion down. Then they have another look at it. If the suggestion looks worth while and acceptable to the people the Government considers it. But the Government is so mean and parsimonious in its approach that it will not go the whole way to achieve the worth while objective put forward by the Opposition. It will go only a part of the way in an endeavour to obtain electoral support. It seems to me to be very hard to judge the mind of the Government in relation to various matters because we do not know the size of it. We do not know how small it may be in respect of a certain matter. In some cases the mind of the Government is bigger than in other cases. I know that is so. I concede that. I am one of those who, in all fairness, always concede the best motives to my opponents. But for some reason the Government will not go the full length of the road to grant to these pensioners what they are fully entitled to receive. The Government seems to possess an eternal desire to maintain perpetual control of the treasury bench. Everyone knows why the Government has continued to maintain this control of the treasury bench despite its malevolent attitude. It owes its success to the support it receives from the various media of propaganda - the Press, radio or television.
The Bill before us has been long delayed. Its introduction would have been just years ago. The Government will claim now that it will confer a great advantage on the pensioners and their dependants. Peculiarly enough, the Government claims - and in some measure it is justified in so claiming - that it has done something for the ex-servicemen and women of this country. Although the Government may argue that no provision can be included in this Bill in relation to them, the Opposition will move an amendment with regard to this matter. Provision is made for medical services for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. The widows and, in most cases, the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen qualify for general practitioner medical services at the expense of the Government. Some wives do not qualify, however, and no provision is made for this comparatively small number of women.
I have maintained, and I still maintain, that the pensioner medical service will never be complete while it provides merely for general practitioner services. If the Government acknowledges that it has a responsibility to provide medical care for pensioners, let it face up to that responsibility by providing a full medical service for them. In all decency, the Government should provide efficient specialist care. It is not sufficient for the Minister for Health (Mr. Swartz) or any other representative of the Government to say that these people may go to public hospitals and receive specialist attention. They have the same right as have other people to obtain specialist attention, and the Government has a responsibility to provide the finance and the means for them to obtain that attention. But the Government says that it will do as little as possible for as many as possible, in an effort to obtain the maximum electoral support. That seems to be the constant attitude of representatives of the Government.
We say that this legislation does not go far enough and that it has been too long delayed. In our view, the Government has been unfair over the last 10 years in not extending to certain pensioners and their dependants the benefits of the pensioner medical service. Probably many people have suffered and died because of callous neglect by the Government. The injustice that has been done to those who have died cannot be rectified now, but we hope that the Government will do something worth while for those who remain. The Government is providing a medical service for pensioners in small measure. We say that it should go further and make available specialist medical care and dental care, that it should make provision for the supply or replacement of dentures and spectacles, and that it should make an honest endeavour to meet ambulance costs for pensioners and their dependants. We say, further, that the wives of pensioners, irrespective of whether those pensioners are totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, should be provided with efficient and complete medical care. This would be little enough to provide in a country which claims to have one of the highest standards of living in the world and to be amongst the 11 greatest trading nations. However, this miserable, parsimonious Government gives as little as it possibly can. How it can justify its approach to this matter passes my comprehension.
.- As the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) has said, the purpose of the measure is to give effect to the Government’s Budget proposals in relation to the pensioner medical service. It is described as a Bill for an Act to amend the National Health Act 1953-1964 in relation to pensioners. The title of the Bill considerably restricts the scope of the debate. It is unfortunate, as Senator Dittmer said, that we cannot give vent to our feelings on the general subject of national health and on the need for a sound health scheme.
The Minister for Repatriation took great pride in saying that this is the second successive year in which the Government has introduced amending legislation to provide increased benefits under the National Health Act. He said that some 120,000 persons not previously covered by the pensioner medical service will become entitled to coverage. The Bill, however, does not extend the scope of the pensioner medical service in the real sense of the term; it merely provides for the restoration of something which was taken from the people by this Government 10 years ago. I think it is fair to say that it is only because of the attitude of one of the Government’s powerful friends - the Australian Medical Association - that the present course of action is being followed. In his second reading speech, the Minister said -
The Australian Medical Association has indicated that its members are prepared to provide a medical service for this enlarged group of pensioners at the concessional rates of payment made by the Government ….
I intend to develop that theme later. Let me trace briefly the history of the pensioner medical service since this Government assumed office. It is interesting to read a few lines from the 1949 policy speech of the present Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies). This is what the right honorable gentleman said -
We are deeply conscious of the frequently unjust operation of the means test, and of the penalty it imposes in many cases upon thrift. There are also grave anomalies associated with the position of persons who have contributed for their own superannuation benefits.
We desire, however, to adjust anomalies I have referred to, and to make such modifications in the means test as we find possible pending a contributory scheme. This great human problem will have our urgent attention as a matter of priority.
Those words were uttered 16 years ago, but we still do not have a national contributory scheme and we still have a means test for pensioners. We are still awaiting the urgent attention to which the Prime Minister referred in 1949. The Government assumed office in December of that year. On 4th October 1950, after the Government had played around with the idea for a little while, Sir Earle Page, the then Minister for Health, told the Parliament- that he had prepared a scheme that would provide free medicine and free medical treatment for age and invalid pensioners and widows. The scheme was launched on 21st February 1951, about 14 months after the Government took office. Then for four solid years in this Parliament, Government supporter after Government supporter rose in his place and virtually did little but extol the Government because all pensioners irrespective of income were able to obtain free medicine and medical treatment, in respect of which the Government implies it is now acting for the first time.
In 1959, completely out of the blue, because the British Medical Association, as it was then called, raised certain objections to the scheme, the Government took action to remove some of the benefits then granted to the people who will now be affected by this legislation. On 7th October 1955 Sir Earle Page, then the Minister for Health, announced that as from 31st October 1955 pensioners with income of more than £2 a week over and above their pension entitlements would not be entitled to the benefits of the pensioner medical service. Although that decision was taken by the Government, it was in fact dictated by the British Medical Association. At that time, Sir Earle Page had this to say -
The B.M.A. informed the Government that it would continue the pensioner medical service after 31st October 19SS only if the service was restricted to pensioners able to satisfy the means test in force at 31st December 1953.
Therefore as from 3 1 st October 1955 - over 10 years ago - pensioners receiving income or superannuation of more than £2 a week were excluded from the pensioner medical service that had operated for about four years. In a few words, the then Minister for Health airily dismissed the subject in 1955 by saying -
I venture to say that it will probably be found that new pensioners with means will already be insured with a medical benefits organisation and all they will be required to do will be to continue to pay their contribution of ls. per week.
It is worth while reminding honorable senators that the Minister lost his seat at the 1961 federal election. I dare say that the Government would have liked to have corrected this anomalous situation after the results of the 1961 election became known.
I well remember taking an active part in the general election campaign at that time in the Cowper electorate. Not only was there great opposition to the present Government because of the effects of the vicious credit squeeze then being suffered by the Australian people, but the electors there - represented in this Parliament at that time by Sir Earle Page - believed that there was a great anomaly in the pensioner medical service because many people were being denied their just entitlements, as is now admitted by the Government. I ask honorable senators to bear in mind Sir Earle Page’s dismissal of the subject by saying that it would probably be found that new pensioners with means would already be insured with a medical benefits organisation. One must contrast that statement with the statement made by the Minister’s successor in office, the late Senator Wade. On 24th October 1962, when introducing amendments to the National Health Bill, Senator Wade said in this chamber -
As from 1st January 1963 the day will have passed when they-
The Minister was referring to elderly pensioners - could be required to take out some insurance, cheap though it might be, and when they could be worried during their illness or old age about whether they were going to receive adequate hospital treatment.
Because the Australian Medical Association would not agree to the Government’s sands of people - I think the Minister s taking action at that time, countless thouassessment was 120,000 - were denied the benefits which .they had previously received for years and which were taken from them by this Government for 10 years. Almost every day the late Senator Wade, as Minister for Health, was asked question after question about this very matter. I am sure that every honorable senator here will agree with me that the late Senator Wade was a very fine and humane parliamentarian. It was obvious to me from his replies that he believed an injustice was being done to a great number of people who, because they were receiving income or superannuation of more than £2 per week over and above their pensions, were not entitled to the benefits under the pensioner medical service.
Although Senator Wade sympathised with the problems of such people, he freely admitted that little could be done to help them because the Australian Medical Association was not prepared to co-operate with the Government. This year negotiations took place on increased contributions to hospital and medical benefit funds. The agreement between the Government and the Australian Medical Association that doctors would not increase their fees expired and only then did the Australian Medical Association agree to co-operate with the Government in extending the pensioner medical service to all pensioners in return for the Government’s agreeing to increased contributions to hospital and medical benefit funds and increased charges by medical practitioners.
I refer honorable senators to the annual report of the Commonwealth DirectorGeneral of Health for 1964-65. At page 14, under the heading “Pensioner Medical Service “, it states -
Doctors participating in the pensioner medical service are remunerated by the Commonwealth on a concessional fee-for-service basis. During the year, as a result of negotiations between the Commonwealth and the Australian Medical Association, the fees payable to doctors were increased by 4s. to 16s. for surgery attendances and by 6s. to 20s. for home visits. The increased fees apply from 1st May 1965, and will be subject to review after two years.
One might ask rhetorically: Is there any significance in the fact that in the next paragraph of the report there is reference to the pensioner medical service? The report states -
The pensioner medical service has grown steadily since its inception in 19S1 and by 30th June 1965, the number of pensioners and their dependants enrolled had reached 849,000. This represents 7.5 per cent, of the population.
It goes on to set out the number of doctors enrolled in connection with the service. It states that the number has remained constant. It also states -
The average annual payment to each participating doctor during the year was £789, and the total payments by the Commonwealth to participating doctors totalled £4,660,204.
At present about 849,000 pensioners and their dependants are covered by the pensioner medical service. The Minister for Repatriation has told us that approximately 120,000 pensioners will be roped in as a result of this measure, making the number of beneficiaries under the scheme about one million. I notice that last year about seven million surgery and domiciliary services were provided.
I suppose that it is fair to assume that as a result of the restoration of this benefit - I emphasise that it is not an addition to the service - there will be a substantial reduction in the number of pensioners seeking free hospital treatment. I have made these remarks deliberately for the purpose of indicating to the people of Australia that this measure does not provide for an addition to the National Health Act insofar as it affects pensioners; it provides for a restoration of a benefit which previously was given to pensioners and which was taken away from them in October 1955. Indeed, this legislation has come about now only because the Australian Medical Association was prepared to co-operate with the Government in an extension of the service in return for increased fees and increased contribution rales of medical benefits funds and hospital benefits funds. We members of the Opposition have been pressing for 10 long years for this glaring anomaly to be corrected. We are pleased to know that at long last the Australian Medical Association has seen its way clear to give the Government the green light.
As Senator Dittmer has said, the Opposition believes that the service provided to elderly people should be much broader. We say that elderly people are entitled to and should be able to receive not only free general practitioner services but also free specialist services, because in these modern days medicine very rapidly is becoming a specialised profession. How well we know that when one of our children goes to a general practitioner he refers the child to a specialist for attention. We believe that this service should provide free dental services - particularly dentures - for elderly people. It should also provide free optical care for our elderly citizens. As Senator Dittmer mentioned, it should also provide free ambulance services. We members of the Opposition yearn for the day when all elderly people, including pensioners, who have done so much for the development of this great nation, will have a health scheme that will give them complete economic justice and security.
In conclusion I say that, insofar as this Bill restores something that was taken away from pensioners by this Government, we welcome it; but, insofar as it falls short of the standards required in the provision of reasonable and adequate health services for the aged and infirm, we deplore it. We believe that the scheme could be much broader. That being the case for the Opposition, I will have much pleasure in supporting the amendment that will be moved by Senator Dittmer.
– in reply - I propose to be brief because an amendment will be moved by the Opposition in the Committee stage. I will make a few comments on Senator Dittmer’s mostly unkind remarks about the Government. I thought they would have been more appropriate to a motion of censure of the Government than to a debate on the pensioner medical service, which is the matter before us. However, this is part of the Opposition’s role and, of course, I do not castigate the Opposition for playing that role.
Senator McClelland played the role that he should play as a member of the Opposition; that is, criticise the Government for not doing enough. I suppose that if we were in opposition we would do the same. It is “easy for one to say what should be done when one is in opposition; but it is not so easy when one has the task of doing those things and providing the wherewithal to do them. Senator McClelland said that members of the Opposition were confined to quite a narrow area of debate because of the title of the Bill. I point out to him that honorable senators on this side of the chamber were confined in the same way. The Bill was drafted for a specific purpose. I believe that it only fair that the debate be confined to what the Bill sets out to accomplish, instead of roaming over the whole gamut of medical benefits.
Senator McClelland made quite a lot of reference to the late Sir Earle Page. I remind him - no reminder should be necessary - that Sir Earle Page was the instigator of a health scheme that has won the admiration of the world. Time and time again overseas countries sought his advice on putting health schemes into operation. I also remind the honorable senator that it was Sir Earle Page who obtained the cooperation of the medical fraternity in order to get this scheme into operation. We have had the co-operation of the medical fraternity ever since. I remind the honorable senator, too - this is probably an unwelcome reminder - that attempts were made by the Labour Government to obtain the co-operation of the medical fraternity but those attempts proved unsuccessful and that Government’s scheme had to be abandoned.
Another matter to which I wish to draw the attention of honorable senators is that during the last five or six years in particular there have been reductions in the prices of drugs. I was very pleased to hear the eulogistic references that Senator McClelland made to the late Senator Wade. Senator Wade was very active during his term of office as Minister for Health in trying to achieve reductions in the prices of drugs supplied by the large drug companies. He had outstanding success. The efforts are continuing and we are still having success in this field. The reductions in the prices of drugs lower the cost of the scheme. As a result, the Government is able to do more in the field of national health.
Senator- McClelland suggested that we should provide free dental and optical care. That is all very well, provided we can find the wherewithal to provide those services but if we cannot do that, it is not possible to provide them. The Government has set out to give the most benefit to the people who are in most need of it. I will reserve any further remarks until the Committee stage, when we have the Opposition’s amendment before us.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title and citation).
– 1 move -
That the clause be postponed.
I do so in order to draw attention to certain anomalies and injustices concerning the wives of pensioners who are totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. Some of these wives are not entitled to receive medical care at governmental expense. Medical care at governmental expense is extended to part pensioners, full pensioners and full-time student children of pensioners up to the age of 21 years. The wives of T.P.I, pensioners receive medical care at governmental expense only where the total income does not exceed £18 Os. 6d. per week. As honorable senators know, a totally and permanently incapacitated ex- serviceman receives a pension of £14 5s. His wife, in the majority of cases, receives £2 Os. 6d. They are entitled to have other income, either jointly or individually, of £1 15s., making a total of £18 Os. 6d. per week. If the income exceeds that amount, the wife will not be entitled to free medical care.
If we were to include the wives of T.P.I, pensioners who are not now covered by the Act, what would be the number involved and what would be the estimated extra cost? There would not be a great number of people involved and the cost would not be considerable, in the light of our gross national product and our total budgetary expenditure. We realise that the wife of a totally and permanently incapacitated exserviceman has to do a great deal of extra work, because of the disability that her husband has suffered in the service of this country and in an endeavour to preserve the freedom of every individual in this land. The Government is so mean in its approach that it will not provide medical care for a small number of these self-sacrificing wives. Yet, under the Act, immediately the husbands die, the wives will be entitled to free medical care. How miserable can the Government be?
I know that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar), despite his political views, is considerate and gentlemanly in his approach to matters concerning the rights of every woman in this country. Yet he has made no endeavour to provide medical care for these unfortunate few people. The Opposition believes that this anomaly should be recognised and that the injustice should be rectified. Perhaps the Government has not considered the matter. We would gladly accept an assurance from the Minister that the Government will give serious consideration to the matter and that, in the immediate future, it will rectify the injustice that exists. The Minister will probably point out that another Bill would be necessary to rectify the injustice. I think that would be the correct procedure.
I submit this proposal purposefully, not with any malice aforethought. The Minister will realise that there is no malice in any segment of my mind. I would never be guilty of such a misdemeanor. I submit this proposal with the deliberate intention of bringing to the notice of the Government an anomaly that exists and an injustice that is crying out for immediate rectification. Only a comparatively few women are involved, and the cost of meeting our request would be small. Many of these women are elderly women, whose husbands are approaching the stage when they will depart from this life. The Government will have to face up to the necessity of providing medical care for these people. It will have to provide medical care when their husbands die. Why does it not do the decent thing now and provide medical care while they are able to enjoy the company of their husbands and while they have to accept the responsibility of providing the extra care which totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen require?
– I shall reply very briefly to Senator Dittmer, who has correctly stated the position regarding T.P.I, pensioners. I would like to point out something that he already knows. It is not within the province of the Minister for Health or within my province to bring about the state of affairs for which he has asked. As the honorable senator correctly stated, we have been able to give some relief to certain wives and children of T.P.I, pensioners. It has been very gratifying to us to have been able to do this. There are a number of T.P.I, pensioners who do not come within the provisions of the means test. Some quite wealthy men have been classified as being totally and permanently incapacitated, but I do not want to create the impression that there are many such people. We have set out to try to provide benefits to those who we believe are in most need of them. I repeat that it is not within the province of the Minister for Health or within my province to accede to what Senator Dittmer has requested. It is a matter for the Government. At this point of time the Government has decided that it is not in a position to accede to the request.
Question put -
That the clause be postponed.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator T. C. DrakeBrockman.
Majority . . . . 1
Question resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
.- The only thing that intrigues me is that the operation of this provision is not to be backdated to 1st July, as was the case with increases recently granted in judges’ salaries but, of course, this Bill deals with pensioners. The Minister stated in his second reading speech that the operation of the provision before 1st January 1966 would be impracticable from a departmental point of view. That could be so; the reason is a bit of a mystery to me. Surely, if a doctor gives attention to a pensioner he enters the pensioner’s number on the appropriate form and the department then has the information it requires for it’s records. One wonders why the Government could not allow this provision to come into operation on the day when the Bill receives the royal assent. I am intrigued that the haves should get the best of the deal while the have-nots are forgotten.
– The reason for the delay is the need for administrative arrangements to be made between the three departments concerned - the Department of Social Services, the Department of Health, and the Repatriation Department. After all, these matters cannot just be ironed out overnight. I have had a little experience in the last six months or so and I realise that, although some things seem very simple on the surface, when one starts to get underneath the surface there are all sorts of snags. That is the reason why the provision will not be introduced until 1st January 1966.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator McKellar) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 24th November (vide page 1757), on motion by Senator Henty -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Mr. President, I suggest that it will suit the convenience of honorable senators if the second reading debate on this measure be extended to cover the second reading debate on the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Bill (No. 2) 1965. If necessary, the Bills can be voted upon separately.
– That procedure is acceptable to me.
– There being no objection, that course will be followed.
– The Superannuation Bill relates to alterations in pension rates as a result of the eight quinquennial investigation of the Superannuation Fund as at 30th June 1962, when a considerable surplus in the Fund was found to exist. Some formula had to be devised for making refunds on an equitable pro rata basis. The determination of a formula has become a very complicated matter from an actuarial point of view. It is difficult also to provide the machinery necessary for the repayment of the surplus so that justice is done to all along the line. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) announced in his Budget Speech that the pension paid in respect of a child whose deceased father had been a contributor to the Fund and whose mother was still alive would be increased from £1 to £2 a week. The Treasurer also announced that provision would be made for an increase from £3 per week to £5 per week in the payment for an orphaned child whose father had contributed to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. These new rates of payment are covered by the Bill. It provides also that the new pensions will be paid until 21 years of age for children undergoing full time education instead of terminating at age 16. Of course these increases are only in keeping with the rising cost of living. On the face of it, the proposed increases appear to be substantial when we consider that the pension for a child whose mother is living but whose father is dead is to be increased by 100 per cent, and the pension for an orphaned child is to be raised from £3 to £5 a week. But these increases will barely keep abreast of the rising cost of living and the ever increasing need of modern life.
Contributors to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund and the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund invest a proportion of their salaries at a set rate down through the years. Their contribution varies according to the salary received and the number of units to which the contributor is entitled. These people make a sacrifice from their immediate income to provide for the future. But the inflationary process which has continued since this Government came into power has meant a decline in the value of the money. Many people who acted in good faith to provide a modicum of comfort in their retirement now find that their equity has been reduced to such an extent that their sacrifice was not worth while. Any revision of their contributions to ameliorate their position has to be screened by the Treasury and the actuaries. On the rare occasion when legislation such as this is introduced it serves only to accentuate my point that the decline in the value of money affects those in receipt of pensions - such as superannuitants and retired members of the .defence forces - more than any other section of the community.
Over a period, the Commonwealth Government under its social services legislation has provided pensions ranging up to £12 a week for a married couple who can pass the means test. This is a very notable contribution towards a sense of security among people who are in the evening of their lives. But the fact is that by contributing to a superannuation fund, many people have precluded themselves from the benefits of the age pension.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8.0 p.m.
– When the sitting was suspended I was speaking of the plight of many people who made sacrifices during their working lives to keep up their payments to the Superannuation Fund and the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund and who found, on retirement, that they were receiving just enough to exclude them from the age pension. It is anomalous that these people should be penalised in this way. As they received salary increases over the years they were required to take out additional superannuation units and, in some cases, their take home pay was lower than before the salary increase was granted. But they were prepared to make these sacrifices because they thought they were guaranteeing the future security of their wives and children. This requires review.
The Fund is under the direction of the Treasury and the members of the Superannuation Board, who seem to take the view that this type of superannuation is an exclusive type of insurance and that the retirement benefits can be made to suit the liquidity of the Fund. There is a very strong conservative undertone and lengthy periods elapse before decisions relating to changes are made. There was quite an amount of comment, during the course of the debate on this Bill in another place, about the time lag in making the proposed adjustments. The recommendations were made in 1962 and we are now within one month of being in 1966.
– What recommendations?
– The recommendations made by the quinquennial advisory committee, if I may call it that.
– The honorable senator means the recommendations contained in the Actuary’s quinquennial report?
– That is right.
– The Actuary made no recommendations on this proposal.
– He directed attention to the surplus.
– He made no recomdation on this proposal.
– That is true. He directed attention to the surplus accumulating in the Fund, and it has taken four years for something to be done about it. I point out that another review is due to take place within about 13 months. The graphs contained in the annual reports of the Superannuation Board and the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund show that since 1962 total contributions have been increasing rapidly each year. I understand that there are 10,000 new contributors to the Superannuation Fund each year. At the prevailing interest rate of about 5i per cent., at simple interest the investment would be doubled in 18 years. At compound interest, it would be doubled in 12 or 13 years.
The Superannuation Board is hesitant about making any move until the odds are very much in favour of the Fund. I suppose that could be described as good business; nevertheless, people who have made genuine sacrifices over the years to contribute to the Superannuation Fund could do with the money immediately it becomes available. It could be paid either in the form of a bonus, along the lines adopted by private insurance companies, or, in view of the increasing number of contributors and the ever rising interest rates that are available on investments, in the form of reduced contributions. This is being done to a degree, but I think the emphasis has been placed wrongly.
I have referred to the case of a widow who, on her husband’s death, receives fiveeighths of the pension to which her husband was entitled. Let us be clear about the responsibilities that devolve upon the shoulders of a widow, particularly if she has children to support. For a start, she bears full responsibility for maintaining the home. While her husband was alive he was allowed deductions for income tax purposes in respect of his dependants. If his wife predeceased him, he could employ a housekeeper and be allowed an income tax deduction in respect of the payments made to the housekeeper. However, the widow receives no such concession. Let us get down to tintacks. To claim that the cost of maintaining a child today is £2 a week, particularly when the responsibility is on the shoulders of a widow, is to close one’s eyes to the realities of present day expenses. The same thing applies to the claim that an orphan child can be maintained on £5 a week.
What man who is now contributing to the Superannuation Fund or the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund is not doing so with the object of enabling him to meet his responsibilities on retirement or of providing for his family should he not survive until retiring age? He contributes because he wants to place himself in a position to honour his responsibilities to his family. However, when a contributor dies, these Funds, in my view, do not fulfil the purposes for which the contributions were made. The Funds are highly profitable ventures. They are receiving increased contributions by reason of the new contributors; they are receiving higher interest rates on their investments; and they are receiving concessions for income tax purposes which enable them to take advantage of the higher interest rates on investments in semi-governmental bodies. They have the advantage, too, that the costs of administration are not a charge against the Funds. Therefore, I believe that they could treat the widows of deceased contributors, and their children, particularly orphans, much more generously than they do. After all, the benefits paid by other funds provide an example that could be followed to a degree by the Superannuation Board. I refer to the children of deceased ex-servicemen whose treatment is on a higher scale than that of others. Nevertheless, a responsibility does devolve on those who have taken on the job of running a fund such as the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund, which encourages people to invest money in superannuation during their working lives, to see that the job is well done.
Some comment has been made on the matter of a more equitable distribution of surplus funds. The view has been expressed that the value of the unit should be raised from 17s. 6d. to £1 because of the inflationary process that continues in our economy. The example of New South Wales was quoted. In that State the value of the unit has been lifted from £1 to 22s. 6d. There seems to be a valid reason for asking the Commonwealth Superannuation Board to watch the equity of those who, through the years, have put a substantial amount of their salary into the fund, and who have watched the value of their investment decrease because of inflation. This is one of the first occasions on which such a large surplus has been found. The method of distribution will arouse criticism, but I believe that it is in this direction that greater equity could be given to the contributors. The claim is made that the fund is designed primarily to benefit the immediate family of a deceased contributor only. The responsibility applies particularly in respect of the children of a deceased contributor. The adjustment that has been proposed - representing an increase from £1 to £2 for a child whose mother is still alive and from £3 to £5 for a child who has lost both parents - is insufficient.
I want to touch on the matter of superannuation and its relationship to the present scale of social service payments. It is well known that a married couple on an income of £19 a week is ineligible for any social service payment. Through making contributions over many years to a superannuation fund a married couple is excluded from receiving any of the benefits that are available to age or invalid pensioners. Only recently, legislation was passed to provide for hospital and medical benefits for pensioners under our social service scheme. Superannuitants are obliged to contribute to a hospital or medical benefits fund. They are obliged also to pay high prices to obtain from a chemist such drugs and medicines as are not on the free list. The cost of those items is quite substantial. In this way the overall value of superannuation payments is reduced when related to social service benefits.
The position of the man who is receiving less than £2,500 per year - and 90 per cent, of all superannuitants are in this middle income group - compares rather unfavourably with that of the man whose salary is above that figure. Payments up to £400 in respect of contributions to a superannuation fund are deductible for taxation purposes. The man in receipt of over £2,500 per year may claim a deduction of 8s. to 10s. in the £1 on the superannuation payments he has made. When the man who has received a salary of more than £2,500 a year retires, the Commonwealth’s contribution to his superannuation may be £20 a week. The total amount of money that we have under consideration at the moment is £5.6 million. The number of contributors to the funds has increased. Taking this fact into consideration along with the interest rates that are available on investments, we can see that the Superannuation Fund is very buoyant.
In this legislation some machinery amendments are proposed. I want to refer to the defences forces retirement benefits pensioner who, up to the present time, has been limited in respect of the type of employment in which he may engage. I feel that a desirable improvement will be effected. Henceforth, a man who retires from the Services between the ages of 45 and 55 years will be able to continue to use his talents in the best direction, to his own satisfaction, and directly to the benefit of the nation. The existence of restrictions on the field of employment for this type of person was a great anomaly. This amendment makes provision for the re-employment by the Commonwealth in a civil capacity of a man after his retirement from the Services. He will not be able to accept employment in the Armed Services.
I want to say a word finally about the time lag and the obvious complications that exist in working out the correct refunds and reductions of contributions that will be involved in implementing this legislation. The Auditor-General has referred to the lack of sufficient staff to carry out the amount of work that is involved in this process. I understand that there is an electronic data processing section within the Public Service that is available to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board and the Commonwealth Superannuation Board. Australia should be getting a better dividend than it is from the tremendous investment it has made in electronic data processing equipment. It seems to me that training and the acquisition of knowhow in the co-ordination stages have been going on for years, but there do not seem to be any end products coming from this huge investment. I can only guess as to whether this is as complicated and as technical a process as we have been led to believe. The people who are to be the recipients of this distribution are, by the very nature of their investment in superannuation, not rich people and they need their money as it becomes due to them. When their fortnightly cheque comes along most of it is committed. We can be quite certain that they arc not building up big surpluses in bank accounts or the like.
The distribution of these moneys should have been, and should still be, a challenge to the people who are associated with electronic data processing to programme the 200,000 calculations involved and to show, not only to the Parliament, but to the people of Australia that our investment in this equipment has been worth while. I do not know whether the processors are trying to reach perfection, whether the machine has become greater than the man, or whether not sufficient drive is being directed to the whole process and progress of electronic data computing. Surely this distribution offers an opportunity to the Superannuation Board and the Treasury to hand the job over to the electronic data processors. They should say: “We want this business tidied up so that everything is under control in expectation of the next report, which is due in 1967 “. If that were done, it would show the people of Australia that we are abreast of modern techniques in calculating and programming and are able to make final decisions on the mathematical problems that are under consideration.
In his second reading speech, the Minister referred to the opportunity that is being offered to contributors who failed to elect to pay the higher rate of contribution in 1959. He has given them the benefit of the doubt and has treated them as though they were not aware of the opportunity that existed in that year. Perhaps that is a fair enough decision to make. However, it seems that the whole superannuation scheme is in need of streamlining. It seems that a less complex technique is needed to assess contributions and payments, particularly payments to dependants of contributors. I understand that, if a man takes out an insurance policy with a private company, full value is obtained from the company upon his retirement or death. In the case of death, the benefit goes to his dependants. But under the Commonwealth superannuation scheme dependent wives receive a sum equal to only five-eighths of the contributor’s pension. A sum of £2 a week is paid for a child and £5 in the case of orphans. If attention were given to the points that I have raised, I believe that the scheme would show up much better in the eyes of contributors, and in the eyes of those who want to see people rewarded for thrift and providence during their liftime. At the present time, a person who invests in superannuation virtually is penalising himself because of his exclusion from social service payments. Not only that, but he does not provide full protection for his dependants in the event of his death.
The Opposition supports the Bills because, even though four years have elapsed since the surplus was announced, at least some action is being taken. We hope that, the searchlight of parliamentary debate having been turned on this problem, those who are associated with the administration of the Board wilt regard our comments as being a censure from the Parliament and a direction that this should not happen again. I hope it does not happen.
.- I regret to say that to my mind the speech to which we have just listened, so far as it concerned a cash refund to contributors, was simply without sense. We are discussing a Bill that was motivated by the weakest of Treasurers. Every activity in relation to the proposed cash distribution that has preceded this Bill shows that either he wants to pose as Father Christmas to the recipients or that he thinks the distribution of this mere sum of £5 million will stimulate the economy. I deplore such a Bill.
When the Bruce-Page Government was in office, it constituted a Public Service superannuation fund which has been developed from 1922 up to the present time and which was based upon a generous attitude on the part of the Commonwealth Government towards the Public Service and upon a spirit of thrift on the part of contributors and regard for their own future and the welfare of their dependants. In the situation that prevails today, the Common wealth Treasury will pay five-sevenths of every pension cheque that will be paid this week and next week and the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund will pay the remaining two-sevenths. If anybody in this chamber is so wanton as to disparage such a contribution on the part of the Commonwealth, I say that he does not represent the true welfare of the Public Service.
Expressed in another form, this year we are budgeting for a contribution from Consolidated Revenue Fund of £12,268,000 to be paid to persons receiving pensions from the Superannuation Fund. The extent to which the Treasury is meeting the increment that changed economic circumstances make necessary is indicated by the fact that last year the contribution from the Consolidated Revenue Fund was £10,01 6.38S. Not one penny is charged to the Fund raised by contributions from public servants for the administration of that Fund. The whole of the cost of the administration of the Fund is borne by the Treasury. The costs of administration of the Fund have mounted over the past few years so that in 1965-66 we are budgeting for costs of administration only at £326,600 as against £256,680 budgeted last year.
Public servants who are contributing twosevenths of their pensions and getting the whole of the administrative costs of the Fund paid by the Treasury should not be put in the position in which Senator O’Byrne would put them. Senator O’Byrne said that public servants are disqualifying themselves from social service pensions. If they were to become recipients of social service pensions, they would receive sevensevenths of those pensions from the Treasury. I guarantee that not one public servant receives in the five-sevenths of his pension from the Treasury less than he would receive if he were to deny himself the superannuation pension and become a social service pensioner.
By the creation of a superannuation fund there is created an aggregate mass of wealth for the mutual benefit of present and future dependants who hope that the Fund will be sufficient to provide the returns that are calculated, not on our judgment, but on the judgment of skilled people such as actuaries who know how to evaluate future liabilities and pensions both in life assurance and superannuation. They consider the economic cycle, the individual ages of contributors and every other factor and calculate what is a proper assessment of future liabilities of the Fund. Then they divide the Fund among contributors notionally so that each contributor is assured that his return from the Fund will be secured. When the Commonwealth Actuary addressed himself in 1962, as required by the Superannuation Act, to an evaluation of the Fund as at 30lh June 1962, he fixed the present value of future contributions, in round figures, at £80,407,000 and the amount of the Fund at £86,005,325. A total evaluation of the assets of the Fund - including present and future book debts and potential liabilities of contributors to the Fund - was £166,412,000. Liabilities debited against the Fund were: Present value of future benefits payable to existing pensioners, £23,092,000; present value of future benefits payable to existing contributors, £137,646,000; leaving a surplus of a mere £5,674,000. That is to say, in a balance sheet which shows assets of about £166 million and liabilities of about £160 million, the actuary shows a surplus on his evaluation of about £5.6 million.
It seems to me that anybody in this Parliament, with all the humility and conceit that he is entitled to arrogate to himself here, for the sake of the solvency and welfare of the Fund and the preservation oF the assets that have been contributed would have seen that this Parliament would never invade the certificate of the actuary. 1 would have thought that we would have wanted something in the nature of a royal commission or a select committee of the Parliament before we would ruthlessly approve of the squandering - that is what I call it - of the midget surplus of £5.6 million, unless we had a certificate of the actuary to endorse it. Otherwise, we are just as reckless in our attitude to the security and solvency ofthe pensioners and contributors as are some bubble and burst companies in Sydney today in their attitude to the security and solvency of their shareholders. The Fund must be properly preserved on a true and sound investment basis, which can only be governed, in this instance, by the actuary.
– Did the honorable senator quote the Commonwealth Actuary as saying that it would be squandering the surplus to distribute it? 1 take it that ultimately the Minister will answer that statement.
– I am making the point that the Actuary is the person to whom we should look. I ignore such silly interjections as that because I am about to refer to the report of the Eighth Quinquennial Investigation of the Superannuation Fund as at 30th June 1962, having emphasised the position that the Actuary should occupy in the minds of honorable senators. As required by statute, he made his quinquennial report to the Superannuation Board in 1962. I referred to part of the report when I said that on the Actuary’s evaluation of assets and liabilities there was a surplus of £5.6 million. In his report the Actuary said -
Probably the most difficult aspect for contributors and pensioners to understand in connection with the administration of the Fund is the reason for the existence of the substantial assets possessed by the Fund. The fact is not generally known, or clearly understood, that the Fund is presently made up of three portions -
The largest portion consists of assets representing the accumulation with interest of the contributions paid by the present contributors . . .
The next largest portion consists of assets representing the reserves required to ensure the payment of the Fund’s share of existing pensions . . .
The remaining portion which, as will be shown later in this report is relatively small, represents surplus assets held by the Fund.
It would be possible to calculate a rate of contribution payable by a contributor for one year for each unit of pension . . .
And to go through the silly business of allocating the whole of the £80 million of amassed wealth among the present contributors and pensioners. But the Actuary went on to say -
The Superannuation Act avoids this problem by requiring payment of a level rate of contribution throughout service for each unit of pension, calculated according to the age . . .
Then he said that that is necessarily a long term process. Anybody who has experience of the investment of funds and of how people depend on them for their pensions will take a long term view. The Actuary also said -
The simplest way to define the Fund is, therefore, to say that it is the amount of assets which, together with future contribution receipts and interest earnings, will be required to enable the Superannuation Board to meet its share of the payments to be made in respect of pensions which have already arisen and to pay its share of future benefits for contributors as claims for such benefits are made.
I do not want to weary the Senate with these quotations. But the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) has not seen fit to bring this report to the attention of the Parliament either in respect of this Bill or in his speech on 26th March last in which he adumbrated this proposal and to which I will refer later. So 1 believe that I am entitled to put on record the fact that somebody takes notice of the Actuary in the interests of the people covered by this Fund.
– Did not the Actuary submit that the surplus should be distributed?
– No. I shall refer to that section of the report, if the honorable senator will have patience. The Actuary went on to say -
It is fundamental, in view of the very long term nature of the pension entitlements arising under the Superannuation Act, that the assets held in the Fund be carefully safeguarded to ensure that the Superannuation Board will, at all times, be able to carry out obligations imposed by the legislation for the payment of a prescribed share of pensions and other benefits.
He referred to life insurance companies and practices throughout the world and then went on to make his recommendations, as required by the statute. Before coming to them specifically, let me quote paragraph 23 of his report, which says -
Over the years, the interest rate earned by the Fund has shown a marked propensity to fluctuate and it would be imprudent if consideration were not given to means of insulating the Fund against future variations in the yield obtained. The problems arising out of recent increases in the level of the interest income, which could not have been foreseen in earlier investigations, are still new to this Fund and have to be dealt with in a manner which will protect members from the hazards arising from subsequent changes in interest earnings, which eventually form an integral part of each benefit payment.
Paragraph 24 reads -
After a detailed examination of the likely effects upon the Fund of different levels of projected interest earnings, I have decided to assume that the Fund will continue to earn not less than 31 per cent, per annum . . .
Then the Actuary spoke about the proper course to follow and said -
The liabilities of the Fund are mainly long term liabilities, many of which will not emerge for another 30 years or more but which will then require payments for extensive periods. As a result, the rate of interest now being earned by the fund is not of paramount importance in determining the basis to be used in measuring the ability of the Fund to meet the liabilities with which it is charged.
Let me interpose here to point out that, whereas the Actuary’s opinion was that a proper and prudent basis of assessing this Fund would be to adopt an earning rate of 3i per cent., the actual earning rate was £5 5s. per cent, or £5 9s. per cent.
– £5 9s. per cent.
– Yes, £5 9s. per cent. Let me remind the Senate that in this flush of inflation we are asked to distribute paper that has no value and to disregard the future dependence of our public servants on a secure fund after what we did in 1963 when, M.L.C.-like or H. G. Palmer-like, we rushed into print and added the following to the more normal security portfolio in which this Fund was entitled to invest -
And added this provision -
In this section, “debenture”, in relation to a company includes debenture stock, bonds, notes and any other securities of the company, whether constituting a charge on the assets of the company or not.
– Did not the honorable senator deny that the Actuary recommended in his report that the surplus be distributed?
– If the honorable senator will pardon me, I am trying to give the sequence of a rather difficult financial problem. I am trying to develop a reasoned argument. The last passage that I quoted from the Actuary’s report was to the effect that we should not attach much importance to the present upsurge in interest rates and that the proper basis is an earning rate of 3£ per cent., although the actual rate at the time was £5 9s. per cent. I am pointing but that since that time, in pursuance of higher interest rates, we gave the Superannuation Board power to invest in securities which are not strictly of a trust nature. In this morning’s Press we saw that the New South Wales Public Service Superannuation Fund invested in the H. O. Palmer company to the tune of £200,000, I think it was. I am saying that the Actuary is using sound business sense when he says that we cannot ignore things like that and we cannot Ignore the very high interest rates on first mortgages at the present time.
– There is a normal value of a portfolio, just the same.
– I am making my submission to the Senate. I hope that the Minister, if he has a point of view, will stand up and justify it to the Senate. I am saying that the Actuary takes a long term view on a sound investment basis and adopts an earning rate of 3$ per cent. Now I come to the point on which Senator Murphy has addressed two interjections to me. I will proceed to show what the Actuary’s recommendations were with regard to the surplus. After making some recommendations for increased benefits-
– That is right.
– Yes, after making some recommendations, of very small consequence, for increased benefits, the Actuary said -
Section 17 (3) of the Superannuation Act 1922- 1959 states- “The actuary shall report to the Board the result of his investigation and … he shall also state what additional benefits (if any) could, in his opinion, be provided out of the surplus.”
The first certificate required by this section relates to the rates of contributions payable by contributors. It would not be possible to recommend a reduction in the rates of contribution which would be worthwhile, equitable and practicable, as between individual contributors, having regard to the ages at which units have been, or arc, effected and the rates of contribution paid. 1 certify, therefore, that no reduction or increase is necessary in the rates of contributions payable to the fund.
He then said that he was required to say whether any reduction or increase was necessary in the proportion payable by the Commonwealth. He said -
I am satisfied that no reduction or increase is necessary and certify accordingly.
The statute places on him the obligation to stale what benefits, if any, can, in his opinion, be provided out of the surplus. The Actuary continued -
I am satisfied that the amount of the surplus found at this Investigation is sufficient in size to warrant the provision of additional benefits to contributors and pensioners.
He does not refer to cash distributions. He refers to additional benefits to contributors and pensioners.
– You denied this before.
– Does the honorable senator oppose the cash distribution as proposed by the Government?
– An honorable senator interjects interminably and, amongst it all, another honorable senator says: “ You denied this before.” I gave the lie direct ;o that interjection. I did not deny it before. I denied that the Actuary had recommended a cash distribution. When repetitive interjections were addressed to me, I said I would come, to what the Actuary said. I am now quoting what he said. I hope that the integrity and the honesty of debate in this place are such that I am entitled to resent, by interjection or otherwise, a statement that I am now asserting a fact the truth of which I have previously denied. The Actuary then went on to make recommendations for improvements in pensioners’ benefits, widows’ pensions and children’s pensions. Then he made calculations regarding contributors, added a paragraph regarding retrospective benefits to pensioners as at 30th June 1962, and referred to the Provident Fund. There is not a word recommending a cash distribution.
The Actuary’s report was submitted to the Superannuation Board. The Superannuation Board prepared its report to the Treasurer upon the Actuary’s report. At page 4 of the Board’s report there is this passage -
The Board welcomes the healthy stale of the Fund revealed by the investigation and is satisfied that the amount of surplus found at this Investigation is sufficient in size to warrant the provision of additional benefits to contributors and pensioners. A situation where surplus is- available for distribution has not occurred frequently and the Report sets out in some detail the main factors which should be examined in determining the additional benefits which should be provided and goes on to make recommendations in this matter.
Further on the Board said -
The Board, by majority, therefore endorses tha recommendations contained in the Report. The proposal that any distribution of surplus adopted as a result of the present Investigation should provide for interim distributions pending the next quinquennial Investigation, which will not be conducted until after 30th June 1967, is also agreed.
The Board recommends that the proposals submitted by the Actuary for the distribution of surplus be adopted and that the necessary amendments to the Superannuation Act be brought in as a matter of urgency. lt refers to the distribution of benefits, not to the distribution of cash. The internal politics of this matter are that these forceful and prudent conclusions were finally eroded and emerged in a statement which the Treasurer made in another place on 25th March 1965. He said that he had in hand a proposal to make some distribution. I need not detain the Senate with that reference because the matter took shape in the second reading speech which is before us. The Treasurer made provision for a cash distribution to eligible contributors and pensioners.
– What is the complaint? If the honorable senator said that the Fund ought to keep a reserve, we could understand that. But why is he quibbling about giving cash instead of making a distribution in other ways?
– lt may be that these things are of no importance to some minds. I am submitting to the Senate a prudent view that will ensure independence for retired public servants in that they can be assured of the continued solvency of the Fund. If there is a balance of £5 million, it could be adjusted by way of benefits which would accrue to present and future contributors over the next five or 10 years. If the interest earning rate went down in the next decade, the contributions could be adjusted, not immediately according to the decline in interest earning rates, but remembering that there was some fat in hand. To anybody with any experience in the commercial world - I hope that Senator Murphy includes himself in that category - it is clear that funds of this sort must take a comprehensive view of investment and a continuous and forward looking view of the economic market, so that in times of fat they do not indulge in squandermania, distributing surpluses in cash, and in times when interest rates are low have at their disposal a reserve that will enable them to maintain the pensions of contributors at a. worthwhile rate.
I rely upon the Actuary’s report and the Board’s decision. My proposition is that it is wholly imprudent to distribute this midget surplus in cash. We have been told that the staff of the Superannuation Board has been increased in order to carry out the calculations relating to this distribution. The Public
Service Board approved further high level positions as part of the total new establishment of 230, which is an increase of 87 over the year. From reading the Superannuation Board’s report and the report of the Public Accounts Committee upon the Superannuation Fund, one would think that the chief preoccupation of Canberran Government activity was to run a few electronic statistical machines somewhere over the other side of the Molonglo River, I believe it is. We read of the overtime that is being worked in order to carry out 2 million individual calculations to enable the cash distribution to be made. Because the Board cannot reach finality now, it is going to make an estimate and give a payment on account for Christmas.
I sought from, the Treasury an indication of what might be expected as the mammoth yield of this complex and unique undertaking. I have it upon authority from the Treasury that this division of the Superannuation Fund moneys has no precedent in any other Public Service superannuation fund in the world. There is no precedent for a cash distribution of this sort in any public service fund in the world or for that matter - my informant- stated - in any private superannuation fund, either.
I shall just take time to refer to four cases, in relation to the total product of all this. I want to indicate what would be involved for people on, say, £1,500 a year, £3,000 a year and £5,000 a year. I shall refer to the actual cases only by numbers. The first is of ari officer on a salary of £1,454. On one basis his dividend of excess contributions to 25th November 1965 will be £47 and on another basis it will be £64. The second case is that of an officer on a salary of £1,505. On one basis his excess contributions, will amount to £54. On another basis they will amount to £86. The third case is of an officer on a salary of £3,067. On one basis his excess contributions will be £90 and on another basis they will be £108. An officer on a salary of £5,205 will have credited to him on ohe basis £154 and on another basis £172. In case I have misinterpreted the table in any way, I incorporate it in “ Hansard “, with the concurrence of honorable senators, so that it will be there for consideration by those who wish to peruse it.
As I have said, a cash distribution of this sort is without precedent, lt will be an unimportant individual contribution to the person concerned. It would be much better used to evolve improvements in benefits for those who become entitled to benefits over the next five or ten years. It is only in that way that a superannuation fund such as this can be built up. It is not looked at as a cash bank account. It is looked at as a well managed fund which provides mutual benefits that are permanently available, not to return contributions to contributors but so that, if they are fortunate enough and good health enables them to survive they may receive pensions for many years, or if they do not live long after retirement, others will get the benefit of their pensions. It is a mutual fund, and therefore any surplus that arises from time to time should be so managed as to be built back into the Fund for the mutual benefit of those pensioners now drawing from the Fund, and those pensioners who hope to have their dependants secured by the Fund in future. I very much regret that this precedent is being established for making an inroad into the Public Service Superannuation Fund by way of cash distribution to persons who are contributors to and pensioners of the Fund.
– I do not intend to speak at length on this subject, but having been a
Commonwealth public servant and a contributor to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund I feel that I should make one or two remarks on this very important legislation. Senator Wright, at the opening of his address, said that he deplored the passage of this legislation. He said that interjectors from the Opposition side appeared to be speaking a lot of nonsense, but I listened with a great deal of interest to the honorable senator and, with great respect to him, I thought it was the most nonsensical speech that I have ever heard fall from his lips in this chamber. I can understand his wanting sound reserves in a fund of this nature, but surely the Commonwealth Actuary has said in his report that after distribution of this amount of £5,600,000 odd the Fund will still be in a very healthy position. I am more convinced that Senator Wright is concerned rather that Commonwealth public servants are to receive some benefit in cash at this stage than that this amount in cash is to be distributed.
Senator Wright seems to think that public servants are treated generously in connection with the Superannuation Fund, but I remind him that these people who are working in government departments and instrumentalities, are on minimum wage standards determined by the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator, or agreed to in negotiation between the employee organisation and the employer, namely, the Commonwealth Public Service Board. They are contributors to this fund at a time in life when they need every penny that they can get their hands on. They contribute rather heavily to the Fund at a time when they need the money in order to rear, educate and clothe their children. When I say this, I am referring in particular not to the tall poppies in the Public Service but to the humble wage and salary earners, who are the overwhelming majority of the contributors to the Fund.
Senator Wright put his case and, in support, cited certain figures from the report of the actuary. I shall use some of the same figures later on in support of the case that I intend to make. Senator Wright also cited a number of passages from the Actuary’s report in support of his case that cash benefits were not intended as a result of the recommendations of the actuary and of the Superannuation Board. Senator Wright referred to paragraph 33 of the Actuary’s report wherein, after setting out his statutory responsibilities, he stated -
I am satisfied that the amount of surplus found at this investigation is sufficient in size to warrant the provision of additional benefits to contributors and pensioners. 1 ask: If an additional benefit to the contributor is not to be given by way of cash, how is it to be given? In paragraph 34, the Actuary states -
The interim benefits which I propose are payable up to 30th June 1967 only. The results of the next Quinquennial Investigation, to be made as at 30th June 1967, will determine whether or not these particular benefits can be converted into permanent benefits and whether or not further interim benefits, in the same or another form, can be granted to cover the five years following that Investigation.
Surely the Actuary was recommending that interim benefits - certainly of a cash nature - be made available to contributors ‘ to the Fund at this time. After the Actuary’s report had been submitted to the Commonwealth Superannuation Board, the Board reported -
The Board, by majority, therefore, endorses the recommendations contained in the Report. The proposal that any distribution of .surplus adopted as a result of the present Investigation should provide for interim distributions pending the next Quinquennial Investigation; Which will not be conducted until after 30th June 1967, is also agreed.
The Board recommends that the proposals submitted by the Actuary for the distribution qf surplus be adopted and that the necessary amendment to the Superannuation Act be brought in as a matter of urgency.
My complaint, and I speak on behalf of humble members of the Commonwealth Public’ Service, is that that report having been tendered to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) on 18th February 1964, the Government has been too slow in bringing down the present legislation. Senator Wright also said that he had it on good authority that this measure would form a precedent so far as superannuation funds are concerned. My colleague, Senator Bishop, assures me that the South Australian Superannuation Fund has distributed a bonus to contributors to the Fund twice in each of the last two years, so how this legislation could be taken as a precedent for such a course of action, I do not know. But if the Fund is actuarially sound and the Actuary has recommended a distribution of this surplus then, quite frankly, I think that is the right thing to be done.
Commonwealth public servants have long awaited this legislation. The Bill is not a general amendment to the Commonwealth Superannuation Act, but is merely a machinery measure designed to distribute a surplus in the Fund amounting, to be exact, to £5,674,325. That surplus was found to exist and it was decided that it was safe to be distributed after the eighth quinquennial investigation into the Fund conducted by the Commonwealth Actuary, Mr. S. W. Caffin, who was at the time, and I think still is, a member of the Commonwealth Superannuation Board.
I have already mentioned that in its recommendations to the Treasurer the Board suggested that this course be adopted as a matter of urgency. But it is interesting to note that in the first page of the Board’s report to the Treasurer, the sources from which the surplus is derived are set out. The report states that paragraph 30 of the Actuary’s report shows the principal source as being £3,898,000-
Arising from the investment of the moneys- of the Fund, being the net excess earnings over the assumed- valuation rate of 31 per cent.
The Actuary’s report was submitted on 18th December 1963 and the Treasurer made a statement in Parliament about the distribution of the surplus in, I think, February or
March 1964. That was about one month after the Board’s report was received and only now, nearly December 1965, has the Government brought down this legislation. A period of two years has elapsed between the time of the Actuary’s report and the time when Parliament has been able to move in the matter. 1 know that the Treasurer has said that existing pensioners of the Fund will receive first priority in the distribution, and it is hoped that many of them will receive cheques before Christmas this year. 1 hope they all do and I also hope that provision can be made so that every other existing contributor to the Fund, who will gain some benefit from the distribution of this surplus, will receive his portion of the distribution in the very near future.
J can well appreciate the enormity of the task involved in assessing the amount due to every person who is entitled to receive portion of this £5,600,000 odd, but nonetheless and despite the difficulties of computation, I hope that every step will be taken to speed up the assessment of these amounts. There arc two reasons, in particular, for my saying this: Firstly, the great bulk of the 125,000 contributors to the scheme are in the middle and lower income brackets. Most of them would certainly be in the bracket receiving less than £1,500 per annum. Because the Postal Department is - by far the largest Department involved in regard to this Fund, there are a great number of ordinary workers who contribute to it and who, because of the continual rise in the cost of living could certainly make use of the money at this stage. Secondly, there are problems to be faced in two or three months time in the changeover to decimal currency on “ C Day” as it is known, in February 1966. This changeover to decimal currency is likely to complicate the mathematical computation of the amount of the entitlement of each contributor to the Fund, thus causing further delay in payment.
J have mentioned these matters in the hope that cognisance will be taken of them because, as 1 have said, they are important te the overwhelming majority of the 125,000 contributors to the Fund, who feel that, basically, this is their money and their Fund. I have already referred to the delay of two years which has taken place and I sincerely regret it on behalf of the contributors, because in making its report to the Treasurer in February 1964 the Superannuation Board –as I have already mentioned in reply to a comment by Senator Wright - suggested that the necessary amendments to the Superannuation Act bc brought in as a matter of urgency.
Now let me say one or two things about the Fund in general. Firstly, after 43 years of operation the Superannuation Board still consists of only three members. They are a Chairman appointed by the Government, the Commonwealth Actuary and a person nominated by the contributors - Commonwealth public servants. Certainly in the 43 years that the Fund has been administered by the Board, times have changed. The number of contributors has increased greatly and the types of investment open to the Board have changed. Money values certainly have changed, and so also have the skills and standards of the contributors to the Fund. There are today some 182,000 Commonwealth public servants, in toto- -permanent public servants, temporary public servants and exempt public servants. But of the 182,000 people employed in the Commonwealth Public Service there are only 125,000 contributors to the Fund. In addition to that there are, according to the Superannuation Board’s last report to Parliament, 22,323 recipients of pensions. I certainly think the time is near when the Government should take cognisance of the situation and when the contributors to the Fund should be given wider representation on the Board than they enjoy now.
As I have said, public servants, rightly or wrongly, take the view that this is their Fund. They make contributions to it according to their salary ranges, in the hope that ultimately upon their retirement they will receive - and that when they are dead their families will receive - a pension to keep them in some form of security. The Government, as the employer, makes its contribution to the Fund, but the attitude of public servants generally is that this is more their Fund than a fund belonging to the Commonwealth Government.
Despite what Senator Wright has said, I think it is fair to say that, having regard to the nature of this legislation, public servants have been overcharged in their contributions for years. Many of them expressed to me the hope that they would be allowed to take their share of the surplus in the form of higher pensions, but it has been decided that for the time being the distribution will be made in cash. However, bearing in mind the report of the Commonwealth Actuary, it could well be that when the next quinquennial examination takes’ place in 1967 further benefits will be converted into some permanent form.
The point I want to make is that public servants as a body were not asked to express an opinion on the manner in which they would like this surplus to be distributed. To use an illustration, may I point out that a poll was conducted recently, or is in the course of being conducted, to give wool growers an opportunity to say how they want their wool to be sold. I believe that contributors to the Superannuation Fund, who comprise a large section of the community, are entitled to have their views considered in this matter.
As has been mentioned by Senator O’Byrne, all Commonwealth public servants are obliged to contribute to the Superannuation Fund or to the Provident Account’. Sometimes a public servant sees an opportunity outside the Commonwealth Public Service and decides to give it a go. He tenders his resignation from the Service and the resignation is accepted but all that he receives from the Superannuation Fund is a lump sum payment equivalent to the total of his contributions during the period of his employment in the Service. He could well have been a public servant for 20 or 25 years and in that time have contributed a great deal by way of deductions each fortnight from his pay packet. However, as I have said, when he resigns he receives a lump sum payment amounting to the total of his contributions. He does not receive one penny of the interest earned on his contributions up to the time of his resignation. I think a contributor to the Provident Account receives a small additional amount, computed on a compound interest basis. The present practice could well be looked at by both the Board and the Government.
– That practice is not general, is it?
– It is in the
Commonwealth Public Service and I think it is in the New South Wales Public Service.
When a man resigns from the Commonwealth Public Service and goes into outside industry he receives only a refund of his contributions, despite the fact that they have been earning interest Over a considerable number of years. The same remarks could well apply to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund.
I wish- to comment now on the investments of the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. It is interesting to note from page I of the last annual report of the Board that only 25 per cent, of the Fund’s investment arp in Commonwealth Government securities and that 64 per cent, are in local government and State Government instrumentalities. .This is something that could well be investigated. Obviously 64 per cent, of the Fund’s investments are in local, government and State Government instrumentalities because these investments attract one-half per cent, more interest than do investments in Commonwealth securities. Nonetheless, it is interesting to observe that in a Commonwealth fund amounting in all to nearly £131 million, only about £33 million or 25 per cent, is invested in Commonwealth Government securities.
Now let me refer to regulations made under the Commonwealth Superannuation Act. It is rather humorous to note that section J 6a of the regulations appearing on page 4919 of the Commonwealth Statutory. Rules provides that the Superannuation Board may require a person to whom or in respect of whom a pension is payable to. submit evidence to the satisfaction of the . Board that he is alive. It is unbelievable that such a regulation should appear. One wonders how a person goes about proving to the satisfaction of the Board that he is alive. If he- tenders evidence to the Board to prove that he is alive and the Board rejects such evidence, is it presumed that he is dead? This is a completely laughable state of affairs. This regulation denotes bureaucracy at the highest level. Is a man expected to go before the Board and say: “ I am sorry, but I have not had time to go to the registry of deaths and obtain a death certificate. Because I do not have a death certificate, I am tendering evidence to prove that I am still alive “. To my mind, this regulation indicates real bureaucratic thinking. I cannot think of one justifiable reason for a regulation of this kind. As I understand, all payments made by the Superannuation Board to pensioners or to beneficiaries under the scheme are by cheque and thus necessarily must be paid into a bank account. Why on earth the Board may require a person to whom or in respect of whom a pension is payable to. submit evidence to the satisfaction of the Board that he is alive is completely beyond my comprehension.
Now let me refer to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. According to the Minister’s second reading speech, an actuarial investigation of this Fund is incomplete at this time. Servicemen generally have been expressing concern over a number of years about their situation, both in relation to contributions and to benefits, and 1 would urge the Government to ask the Commonwealth Actuary to expedite his investigation of this Fund so that servicemen will know the situation in regard to it. We notice also that the Bill increases children’s benefits from £1 to £2 per week, where the father of the child is deceased but the mother is alive, and from £3 per week to £5 per week for the child who has lost both parents. It also extends the payment of pensions from the age of 16 years to the age of 21 years with respect to children undertaking full time education. Whilst the Opposition welcomes the increases that have been granted under the Bill in relation to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund, nonetheless we on this side express the view that in these days, having regard to the ever increasing cost of living, the increases granted are meagre, niggardly and certainly insufficient to deal with present day costs.
I conclude my observations in general by saying that in my opinion superannuation is a good thing for Australia and for the Australians who participate in it. It gives them a great measure of security. For the families of the contributors it provides a great measure of security. It gives to those who have contributed and who are contributing to the expansion and development of this nation - public servants, generally - a feeling of security in their later years. I trust that the distribution to be made under the terms of this Bill will be carried out expeditiously and that the Government will heed all the recommendations which have come forward from this side of the chamber from Senator O’Byrne and myself during the course of this debate.
– I wish to speak briefly on this Bill. I feel that the aspect to which Senator Wright has directed attention has some merit and deserves consideration. One must have some concern about the proposal to pay this dividend, as it were, from the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. Speaking from my knowledge of superannuation and provident funds I have not heard of such a distribution as this before. Senator Bishop mentioned that South Australia has made such a payment on two occasions. Whilst we speak of this amount for distribution as being the contributions of the people in the Fund I think we have to recognise the fact also that this Fund attracts a contribution from the Commonwealth Government. Therefore, I do not know that it can be claimed that this dividend represents the moneys that have been contributed by the people who are to participate in the distribution. Senator Wright drew attention to the necessity to keep these moneys in order to make sure that in bad times any decrease of interest payments on investments will not affect the ability to make continuing payments of good value to pensioners.
I cannot think of any reason why a person who is contributing to a superannuation fund should receive from that fund a distribution of portion of the money that he has subscribed to it. After listening to what Senator Wright has said I feel that the proposed distribution is contrary to what most of us have thought to be the purpose of a superannuation or provident fund. It does strike me as a new track. It makes me wonder whether this is the most provident way of dealing with our Superannuation Fund. It gives rise to the question as to why this money cannot be utilised to better effect, such as an investment which, in the long run, could provide an improved benefit to subscribers. That is the very purpose for which the Fund was created. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) who is in charge of the Bill, may be able to give us a satisfactory explanation of this matter and clarify the present position.
Senator HENTY (Tasmania - Minister listened to the debate with a great deal of interest. I listened particularly to the contribution made by Senator Wright. I should like to place on record that I for one totally disagree with what he has said. There is no question that the Superannuation Fund has a surplus of £5.6 million. The difference between the Government’s proposal and the suggestion put forward by Senator Wright is that the Government has decided that the surplus of £5.6 million should be paid to contributors while Senator Wright suggests that the money should be retained and later paid in benefits. The Government has made its decision bearing in mind the contributions that have been made to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund by contributors and the money that has been earned by those contributions when they have been invested. I do not think it is very satisfactory to those who have contributed to the Fund and whose lives are drawing to a close to know that what they have done is to provide additional benefits for somebody else in the future. The more humane and better course is to distribute the surplus among those who have provided it. I refer to the pensioners who are nearing the end of their lives and to whom a .cash distribution will be of some real value. It is better to do this than to hoard the money for the payment of additional benefits in the future. The assets of the Fund are well invested. The honorable senator made the suggestion that debentures and securities which were of questionable value were held and he mentioned the -names of some firms which have recently bitten the dust as being firms in which the Fund has an interest.
– I did not suggest that the Fund had invested in those firms. I drew attention to the fact that we had given the Fund power to invest in them.
– The Fund has that power, but it has not done so. In that respect it has shown pretty good acumen. The honorable senator used the names of these firms and one of the suggestions made by the honorable senator as to why the Fund might not be as sound as it -appears to be on paper is that it had the power to invest in these questionable debentures. It has not done so. Commonwealth Government stock held by the- Fund stands at £32.8 million. Local government and other securities represent £97 million. Loans to co-operative building societies total £146,000. There are assurance premiums of £15,000 and a small amount of investment in insurance premiums and the deferred contributions of £1.7 million. The total is £133 million, to the nearest million. The money is well invesetd. There is no sign of the questionable investment to which the honorable senator refers, although he did not say that the Fund had actually invested in the firms he mentioned.
The table to which Senator Wright referred was drafted for him by the Treasury. There is no question as to the accuracy of the figures supplied in it. The table, which has been incorporated in “ Hansard shows that a contributor who is 30 years old has been paying 15s. a fortnight in excess of the contribution required. I feel that the decrease of 15s. a fortnight will be of real benefit to the contributor who probably is married and has a’ young family. He will receive the money at a time when he needs it. There is no need for him to pay 15s. a fortnight in excess of what’ is required to secure his benefit.
– Do those figures show the benefit in reduced contribution - and not the cash distribution to the officer?
– The table refers to “Excess contributions to 25.11.65 inclusive “. It shows this in two ways. It presents the reduced contribution and the cash contribution.
– I took the excess contribution to be the amount that was to be refunded in cash to the contributor. I thought that that was what was intended.
– The table is in two. parts. I will refer to “ Active Units Only.” The contributor to whom Senator Wright referred is in receipt of a salary £1,454 and his year of birth is 1935. The current fortnightly contribution for 22 units is £2 9s. 9d. At the reduced rate it will be £1 18s. 9d.
– I am sorry to trouble the Minister. I take that to refer to excess contributions from 1962 up to 1965. I take it that that will be refunded in cash. However, if it will accrue by way of reduced contribution, I have no criticism.
– It will accrue in both ways - a payment of £47 in cash and from then on a reduction of contribution from £2 9s. 9d. to £1 18s. 9d.
– It is the cash refund that I take exception to.
– As the honorable senator has said, the Actuary says that the Fund is in surplus. He recommended that that surplus should be dealt with in a particular way. Briefly, his proposals were as follows -
That is what the Actuary suggested. The Government does not agree with that suggestion. Senator Wright is perfectly entitled to agree with the Actuary, just as the Government is entitled to its own opinion. It ought not to be charged with squandermania. We should not have to listen to exaggerated statements about this Bill having been introduced by the weakest Treasurer that the country has seen. All this exaggeration, which the honorable senator is so prone to indulge in, is quite unnecessary. Very often he destroys his case by exaggeration.
On 25th March last the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), in a statement to the House of Representatives, set out the Government’s thinking on this matter. He said -
These decisions not only will result in distribution of the surplus already accrued, but also will accept the position that the higher earning rate recently achieved is likely to continue.
I agree that it is likely to continue. I do not think we will ever see a return to the low interest rate of 33/4 per cent, on which the Fund is. based. Those days are past.
I believe that these investments will earn more than that. The Treasurer continued -
The Government clearly could not wish that contributions should continue tobe paid at rates higher than those judged to be necessary to ensure that the Fund is able at all times to provide the benefits prescribed.
The Government thinks one thing; Senator Wright thinks another. The Treasurer said further -
The difference between the newly calculated contri butions and the contributions already paid after 30th June 1962 will be rebated or refunded if contributions have not already been refunded;
That is the position as I see it. I am quite satisfied that the Fund is in surplus and that when the position is re-examined in two years time it will again be shown to be in good shape and will probably be in surplus, although not to the same extent.
– The position will be re-examined in 18 months time - in June 1967.
– That is right. Whilst there is room for a difference of opinion, I deplore the exaggeration that has been used in an endeavour to substantiate a case on something which is merely a matter of opinion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 24th November (vide page 1758), on motion by Senator Henty -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
.- I should like to know what is meant by extending the option to take out additional pension entitlement. In the second reading speech of the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) reference is made to the fact that the Bill extends the option that was given, I think in 1959, to officers to take out extra units. I should be most obliged if the Minister would explain to me what officers are entitled to this option and what are the circumstances in which it is extended. Is it available to all members of the forces or is it restricted to a particular class of officers?
– This dates back to 1959, when officers were given an option to pay a higher contribution to provide, in the event of their death, for their widows to receive a pension equal to five-eighths of their own pension, instead of four-eighths. After the option had closed it was found that some officers had not fully understood the position and had not availed themselves of the opportunity. The Bill extends the option to those officers.
– Can the Minister indicate the class of officers who are entitled to the option?
– As far as I can ascertain the position, it extends over the whole range of officers who contribute to the Fund.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Henty) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 25th November (vide page 1840), on motton by Senator Gorton -
That the Bill bc now read a second time.
– The Opposition supports the Bill but, at the same time, regrets very much that the Government has not accepted the whole of the second report tendered by the Committee on the Teaching Costs of Medical Hospitals to the Australian Universities Commission. I move as an amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time -
At the end of the motion add: “ but the Senate is of opinion that the Government should adopt the recommendations concerning University dental schools by the Committee on Teaching Costs of Medical Hospitals.”
The Bill has two purposes, the first of which is to make grants for capital works to universities which are concerned with the teaching of medical students. The second purpose is to make grants in respect of recurrent expenditure incurred in conducting medical schools within teaching hospitals.
Although the report of the Committee on Teaching Costs of Medical Hospitals was presented to the Government last may, it was not tabled until August. It refers to capital works which were to be undertaken during the triennium of which we are now at the end of the second year. It is stated that some of the grants may not be taken up by universities. In that case, the Government does not make a grant. The reason why all of the grants authorised by this Bill may not be taken up by universities is the long delay in presenting this measure to Parliament for approval. I hope that for the next triennium the full submissions that are made to the Government will be presented to this Parliament in sufficient time for universities to obtain full authorisation of the grants that the Government is prepared to make.
The Opposition appreciates the interest in university education taken by the Government. It would be very remiss of me not to make that comment. However, I think that interest is really a token of the times. This is an age in which education counts for a great deal. The burden of education on the States is such that it cannot possibly be borne by them and the Commonwealth has a very great responsibility in this respect. Perhaps it has a greater responsibility in the field of university education and particularly in the faculties related to the human side. I refer, for instance, to the medical faculties for which the Government cannot possibly escape responsibility.
In this Bill we are to authorise capital expenditure of £1,555,850 for capital works. We are also to enter a new field by granting £184,900 for the recurrent cost of hospitals directly attributable to the teaching of undergraduates. I think it is a weakness of this measure that no provision whatever is made for postgraduate research. That defect is particularly noticeable in view of the section of the report tendered by the Australian Universities Commission dealing with dental hospitals. I fail to see how the Government can accept the major part of the report and yet hot accept the very important section of it devoted to the need for vast improvements in our dental services. I cannot understand why the Government does not view dental treatment as a medical service, lt is true that dentists may not appear to be. as glamorous as the doctors we see on television programmes. lt has been suggested that the reason is that dentists are always looking down in the mouth. That may be so, but I do not think it is a good reason for the Government simply to wipe off such an important section of the report.
Professors from overseas visiting Australia have commented on the sad state of the teeth of Australians. They are supposed to be among the worst in the world and the reason is not far to seek. We have one of the lowest ratios of dentists to population of many countries. In the Scandinavian countries, New Zealand and the United States of America the ratio of dentists to population is very much higher than it is in Australia. The ratio has become steadily worse in Australia since 1946, particularly in the last three years. In 1963 the ratio was one dentist to every 2,531 Australians. In 1964 the ratio was one dentist to 2,551 Australians. In 1965 the ratio had fallen to one dentist to 2,585 Australians. The Army states that the ideal ratio is one dentist to every 1,000 people. The figures appear even worse when dissected into States. The results are alarming. For instance, in 1963 in Tasmania there was only one dentist to every 4,002 people. At present the ratio in Tasmania is one dentist to every 4,113 people. In Victoria in 1963 there was one dentist to every 2,998 persons and this year the ratio is one dentist to every 3,136 persons. In 1963 in New South Wales the ratio was one dentist to every 2,154 persons; this year it is one dentist to every 2,260 persons. The ratio has improved slightly in Western Australia where in 1963 there was one dentist to every 2,624 per-: sons; this year it is one dentist to every 2,530 persons. In South Australia in 1963 the ratio was one dentist to every 3,350 persons; this year it is one dentist to every 3,390 persons.
The dental facilities available in Queensland and South Australia are very poor.
The Committee on Teaching Costs of Medical Hospitals found that there was an urgent necessity to improve dental facilities in Queensland and South Australia and recommended accordingly. The cost of implementing all the recommendations of the Committee which are designed to bring about a vast improvement in dental services in Australia amounts to less than £1 million a year. Here we talk of £1 million as if it were 2s. lid.. We could improve the dental services of this country by the expenditure of . less than £1 million a year; but thoserecommendations have been shelved completely. They are not even mentioned in. this Bill, in which the Government purports to be acting on the report that was presented by the Universities Commission.
One member of the Commission must be getting quite used to being snubbed in connection with his reports. I refer to Sir James Vernon. With the fate of the report of the Vernon Committee still very much a live issue - perhaps it is a dead issue - the fact that part of the report that I am now discussing has been ignored would not bring very much satisfaction to him. The members, of the Commission are men of very high standing in the community. They give of their time, talents and very great skill to produce reports at the request of the Government, only to find that their reports are ignored when eventually they are brought before the Parliament. When I say “ eventually”, I mean it, because sometimes a long period elapses between the time of the presentation of a report and the time of its discussion in the Senate.
We are not satisfied with this Bill. We are pleased that it gives something towards the costs of teaching hospitals and the work that they are carrying out for the universities. We regret that the Bill does not make any provision for research work or for work at the undergraduate level in hospitals. We also regret that there is no provision whatever for dental education, which is a vital part of our medical education. This lack of any appreciation of the importance of dental services to the community is detrimental to making the national health programme really and truly effective. I do not know whether the Government has any intention of dealing in the next triennium with the conclusions that were arrived at by the Commission. If honorable senators have not studied those conclusions, I think they should do so. If they did, I am sure that they would protest just as strongly as 1 am protesting at the fact that those conclusions are being completely ignored by the Government.
Another very important matter which should alarm the Senate is the great wastage in the training of dentists. At least SO per cent, of the people who begin courses in dentistry do not complete their courses successfully. The high failure rate, not only in dental courses but also in other courses at our universities, is of vital importance to this Parliament, which each year makes available many millions of pounds for university education. I believe that it is about time an investigation was made not only of the reasons for the high failure rate but also to ascertain what remedial steps can be taken to ensure a better result.
– Did not the report of the Martin Committee deal with this matter fairly fully?
– That Committee dealt with it in part. But again nothing has happened since the presentation of that report. One of the facts that emerges from the report that we have before us tonight is that there is not enough staff to teach dentistry students. Dentistry is very different from any other field of study. The ratio of staff to students has to be much higher than in any other subject. When the students are doing practical work there cannot be 20 students at one demonstration because only one mouth is being operated on at a time. For that very practical reason there must, be more staff than in any other branch of the teaching profession. That factor was mentioned by the Universities Commission in its report.
It suggested that the University of Sydney I think it was, should instal closed circuit television in one section of its hospital in order to help with the teaching of dental science. Not only was the closed circuit television proposal wiped out altogether, but the whole scheme was simply ignored. The members of the Universities Commission stated in their letter accompanying the report that they were not certain whether this matter came within the ambit of their investigation. They said -
That is the task of investigating dental education -
This is the important sentence -
We would point out, however, as emphasised by our Committee, that assistance for the dental schools, particularly of the Universities of Queensland and Adelaide, is urgent.
That very special note was made by the members of the Commission, who are all men of great learning and great ability in their professions. They investigated this matter and presented a very detailed report to the Government. Yet there is not one word in this Bill to show that that section of the report was even dealt with. We maintain that the Government has a duty to extend the national health scheme to cover dental care and to extend the area that is covered by this Bill to include the dental hospitals that are attached to universities for teaching purposes.
In all, the Universities Commission made about six recommendations to the Government. Some of those recommendations were rejected; some of them were accepted. One that was rejected was for the payment of honorary medical staff in teaching hospitals. Every body in the community realises the great debt that we owe to the honorary doctors in our public hospitals for the great work that they do. We know how many lives they save. We know how they make available their great skills to people who need them, without the payment of any fee at all.
But that is entirely different from doctors teaching university students to become doctors. They really become part of the university staff; but is there any other member of the community who would expect to work in this way? They are not only giving a service to the community as doctors in our public hospitals but they are also really doing a teaching job without receiving any remuneration. This was the subject of another recommendation by the Commission which has not been accepted by the Government. Whilst we are not absolutely wedded to the recommendation, we believe that in justice to these doctors, who are engaged in the actual teaching of medical students in teaching hospitals, they should be recompensed for their work, just as are the lecturers who lecture on the theoretical side of medicine to students in the university lecture halls.
From a cursory glance at the Bill, the various amounts which are to be made available to teaching hospitals look very impressive. But when one realises the benefits that the community is to receive from the Government’s expenditure, one sees that this is a very good investment. There are three hospitals which will be affected in Western Australia. They are the Royal Perth Hospital, the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children and the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, which is the site for the proposed medical centre at Hollywood. The amount that is to be provided in Western Australia, which is conditional upon a similar amount being provided by the State Government, is £31,675. As I have said before in the Senate, we Western Australians are very proud of our medical school. We did not have a medical school for many years. Our medical students had to go to the universities at Adelaide or Melbourne to do their medical courses. As the number of students increased in those States, it became evident that students from Western Australia could no longer rely on entry to those universities.
Something had to be done about the matter. The State Government in Western Australia had no money, so the people came into the picture. An appeal was made for funds to establish a medical school in Western Australia. I think it is the only medical school in Australia which has been completely financed from public subscription. Everybody, including the people in little towns in the backblocks had a finger in the pie. Everybody made a contribution. People in the outback areas did a magnificent job. They realised that one of the greatest disadvantages of their isolation was their lack of medical services. They foresaw the time when Western Australia would be able to produce enough doctors to provide for the needs of the outback areas. Within a short time about £750,000 was subscribed, which was sufficient to establish a medical, school. Many of the early graduates from the school have already done magnificent work in the community. They have filled posts in the outback areas, where there is still a great need for doctors.
One of the things which I simply cannot understand is that in a country such as Australia, which has a great need for doctors and dentists, we have to apply a quota system at most of our universities. Because of lack of accommodation and clinical facilities we reduce the number of young people who can train for these professions. Quotas for - dental students have had to be cut in Queensland and in South Australia. In Western Australia next year we will be able to accommodate only 25 dental students instead of 50 because we have not the facilities for their practical work. I think this is a tragedy. I was hoping that the Commonwealth Government would pay some attention to the report of the Universities Commission and provide finance for dental schools. These should be an integral part of our health scheme, so that we can help people when they are in need. I hope that in the next triennium the Government will give due heed to dental schools, which play a vital part in the lives of our people. I do not wish to detain the Senate any longer. We support the Bill, but we think that it could be improved.
– I join with Senator Tangney in congratulating the Government generally upon the terms of the Bill, but I also join with her in expressing regret that the Government is not doing more on this vexed question of providing dental services. Surveys which have been carried out in recent years show that the teeth of Australian children in particular are of a very low standard. By comparison with children in other countries, we do not shine at all in this respect. This indicates that the dental survices available in Australia, particularly for our children, are far from what they should be. Not so long ago, after asking a question in the Senate on dental fees, I wrote to the Minister for Health (Mr. Swartz). I pointed out that dental fees were very high and were probably a deterrent to parents who were not very well off taking their children to dentists. As many other honorable senators have done in the past, I sought the inclusion of dental benefits in the national health scheme. The answer which I received from the Minister expressed sympathy with the idea but, if I remember correctly, he said that because of increased expenditure on defence it was not possible to do anything.
I am sorry that that answer was given, because I think that the health of the Australian community is going to suffer through a lack of adequate dental services. 1 hope that something can be done, not only in relation to dental benefits but also in relation to training dentists. The number of dentists who graduate from our training institutions each year is by no means adequate for Australia’s needs. However, there is another matter that we have to consider, and that is that many of the dentists who graduate here each year do not stay in Australia. Many of our young dentists, having graduated, are keen to go to Britain because under the British national health scheme they can earn considerably more money than they can in Australia. A similar position applies with engineers. We are losing our engineers to Canada because Australia will not pay them adequately. A large percentage of Australian dentists, when qualified, go to Brirtain because they can earn a lot more money there.
– Would that be the only reason why they go there?
– I think they go there mainly for that reason. They are able to earn more money and enjoy a better standard of living and a higher status.
– Queensland produces dentists and they go to Victoria.
– No matter which State produces them, far too many do not stay in Australia. They go to Britain because they can earn a lot more money there. Big inducements are offered to them to go to Britain. Firms which provide dentists’ supplies are prepared to offer to any young Australian graduate dentist sufficient money to set him up in practice in Britain if he is prepared to go there. There is a situation that must cause us a lot of concern. We have not enough dentists. The teeth of our children are in a very bad way compared with the teeth of children in other countries. When many of our young dentists graduate - I suppose it costs Australia quite a bit to assist in their training - they are induced to go to England by the attractiveness of the health scheme there and by the fact that certain firms are prepared to set them up in practice, whereas in Australia they might have to struggle.
– About 700 are over there.
– Senator Ormonde says that the number of Australian dentists in Great Britain, according to his information is about 700. I do not doubt it, on some of the figures that I saw a couple of years ago. There is a serious situation for Australia to contend with. While I commend this Bill generally, I am sorry that it does not take. a really essential step in the direction of providing Australia with a dental service that she needs.
– The Senate is debating - though this may be confused a little by the last two speeches - a Bill for the extension of assistance for medical teaching services, not for dental teaching services. The Committee on Teaching Costs of Medical Hospitals, the report of which we are considering, was asked to bring in suggestions as to how we could assist teaching in medical hospitals. It was not asked to make any comments on how we could assist teaching in dental hospitals. The Bill which the Government has brought down deals with teaching in medical hospitals. It provides for grants amounting to £1,555,850 from the Commonwealth, to be matched £1 for £1 by the States, for capital works required at medical teaching hospitals - the Commonwealth, be it noted, being prepared to provide all of the money suggested by the Committee for this triennium - some £400,000 - and the States finding themselves physically unable to spend the full amount of money recommended by the Committee for expenditure during the triennium.
– Does the Minister not think that that is because this report has come in two-thirds of the way through the triennium?
– It may be; I do not know. But if it is, that is because the Australian Universities Commission itself has had so much other work to do and not because the Government controls the time at which the Commission brings in its report.
– It was brought in last May.
– It was brought in last May which, as the honorable senator says, was half way through the triennium. The Government’s announcements of what it was prepared to do were made last August. There was some months difference between the dates. Incidentally, the Senate might be interested to know that we have asked the Commission to bring in, in future, its recommendations as to medical teaching hospitals at the same time as it brings in its recommendations on other university activities, so that the Parliament may get all of these recommendations together. The Commission has said that it will be able to do this in future.
– Does the Minister not think that dental treatment is an integral part of medical services?
– No, I think that dental services are an important but separate part. Dental teaching is separate from medical teaching, because dental hospitals are separate from medical hospitals, and the faculty of dentistry is separate from the faculty of medicine. There are separate teachers. I am not denying the importance of dental teaching, but there are medical teaching hospitals and there are dental teaching hospitals. We asked for a report on medical teaching hospitals and we have received it. We have accepted it, except in relation to payment of honoraries. We have accepted it in relation to capital grants and recurrent grants. Those are what the Senate is being asked to endorse. I do not wish to speak at any length on the recommendation on payment of honoraries, which the Government has turned down. There is no requirement for the Government or the Parliament to accept the suggestions of any committee on anything. All that is required is that the recommendations be tabled in the Parliament and that the Government’s decisions and the reasons for those decisions be given to the Parliament. If we are to accept the proposition that any recommendation made by any committee is to be automatically accepted, we might as well give up being a Parliament altogether.
The second point that I wish to make is on the matter of dental teaching hospitals. Indeed, I made it in my second reading speech. The Government not having asked for any recommendations on this matter, the States being quite incapable physically of expending in this triennium all of the money in relation to their medical teaching hospital requirements, and some States - Queensland, for example - not having decided where they want to build their dental teaching hospitals, the Government is prepared to consider this matter if the Commission brings in recommendations on it during the next triennium. Therefore, the Government cannot accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be added (Senator Tangney’s amendment) be added.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the negative.
Amendment negatived. Debate interrupted.
– Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through, its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Senate adjourned at 10.33 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 30 November 1965, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1965/19651130_senate_25_s30/>.