26th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– ls the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration aware that a number of newspapers throughout Australia reported Mr Fox M.P. as saying that Italians were imported into Australia to commit crimes? Can the Minister tell the Senate whether Mr Fox has definitely denied that he said that the people imported were Italians, as was first reported? As the first report has caused grave concern to thousands of Italians in Western Australia, will the Minister indicate which report is correct?
– .1 will be pleased to take the matter up with my colleague the Minister for Immigration and advise the honourable senator of the result.
– Obviously Senator Branson’s question should have been placed on the notice paper. I point that out only with the idea of trying to keep question time under control. If it is obvious that a question cannot be answered immediately by the Minister to whom it is addressed, it should be placed on the notice paper.
– Has the Leader of the Government in the Senate noted that both R. W. Miller and Co. Pty Ltd and Coal and Allied Industries Ltd have reported heavy losses due to coal loading delays and demurrage costs at Newcastle harbour? When will the Government treat the modernisation of the port of Newcastle as a work of national necessity and responsibility?
– 1 did not note that the two organisations to which the honourable senator referred attributed losses on coal handling to a particular harbour. I understand that Newcastle harbour is under the authority of the New South Wales Go- vernment and any improvements to harbour facilities, I take it, are the responsibility of that government. I think the honourable senator’s question should be directed to the responsible Minister in the New South Wales Government.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Housing. In view of the Government’s recently announced plans to improve housing facilities for future migrants can the Minister outline the existing sources of housing finance which present inmates of migrant hostels can utilise? Does she feel that such sources of finance will enable migrants now domiciled in hostels to gravitate to other forms of housing at a tempo which will permit the present migrant intake to be maintained?
– Housing for migrants after they leave hostels is, of course, a matter of importance to us all. In fact it is a matter which is given the closest consideration by State Ministers for Housing. Under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement we make money for housing available to the States and they in turn make funds available to assist low income families, including migrant families, to obtain homes. Certain arrangements are also made with building societies from which migrants, like other Australians, may obtain loans. That is another form of assistance in obtaining a home. I believe that the new plans for housing migrants in flat units for six months will give very many of them the opportunity to find the channels through which they will be able either to obtain finance for a home of their own, or a home through the State housing authorities which, with the funds made available under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, provide homes for those on low incomes.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport. Will the departmental inquiry to be instituted by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Shipping and Transport into the container method of handling cargoes look into the question of providing terminals for container cargoes from overseas at ports other than those proposed by the overseas shipping interest, namely, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle? I refer particularly to the port of Brisbane.
– Quite clearly any investigation into containerisation will not be circumscribed. Without doubt, by its very nature the inquiry will have to pay regard to the Commonwealth as a whole. The same will apply, I presume, to the Senate Select Committee on the Container Method of Cargo Handling which will look into all the problems inherent in the proposed change of procedure. No aspect of the matter will be overlooked.
– My question, which is addressed to you, Mr President, relates to a matter of privilege. By way of explanation, I mention that you may recollect that on 23rd February last I directed a question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General, in these terms:
I preface my question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General by reminding him that on numerous occasions during the last sessional period I asked whether the telephones of any members of the Parliament were tapped by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. On the last day of the sessional period the Attorney-General replied that he would not disclose this information. Will the Minister ask the newly appointed Attorney-General whether he will reconsider this matter and assure the Parliament that the rights of members are not being trampled on in this way by the security service?
I have subsequently received a letter from the Attorney-General dated 13th April, the last paragraph of which states:
I am satisfied that the policy of not disclosing the operations of the Organisation is the correct approach and hence I will not, cither by confirmation or denial, disclose what action has or has not been authorised under the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act.
I now direct my question to you, Mr President. Is it not your view that if the telephones of senators, in particular those telephones within Parliament House or in the Commonwealth offices, are being tapped by any person or organisation, there is a breach of the privileges and rights of senators? If you do agree, will you inquire whether this is being done? If it is being done, will you take appropriate steps to protect the rights of senators and to prevent the practice of which I have complained occurring in the future?
– Personally I have no knowledge of any tapping of telephones in Parliament House, but I will confer with the Postmaster-General to see whether that practice is being followed.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry. I refer to the announced policy of the Government to make contributory grants to private industry which will increase its expenditure on research work. The Minister will be well aware of the immense improvement in research and development in the manufacture and use of irrigation equipment. Would the Minister assure the Senate that expenditure on research work by the plastic, steel, aluminium and electronic industries in the area of design and manufacture of irrigation equipment will be acceptable in calculating the expenditure which may attract a Commonwealth grant?
– I have not all the details of the types of firms and industries which will attract this very necessary grant for research in private industry. The Commonwealth Government has announced a policy the details of which, as yet, I do not think have been fully worked out. I should like the honourable senator to put this very important question on the notice paper, and if there are any further details that I can give to him on the matter I shall be happy to do so.
– I ask the Minister for Customs and Excise whether he is aware that wine grape growers in South Australia are concerned about the future of the industry and that some added uncertainty, which is not good for future planning, arises from a current Tariff Board hearing in respect of the brandy excise differential and the excise on other spirits. As this application has been before the Tariff Board for many months, can the Minister advise when it is likely that the matter will be determined?
– It is true to say that there is a Tariff Board reference relating to the excise differential and the whole question of excise as it affects the grape growing industry. It is also true to say that various organisations in the industry are anxious that the Tariff Board report should be handed to the Government and that the Government should give some indication as to what is to happen in the future. It is nol within my competence to make any comment as to when the Tariff Board will in fact hand to the Minister for Trade and Industry its final report on this matter. We arc all aware that there is an excise differential in relation to brandy. On a recent tour that I made of the grape growing area in South Australia, the very question which the honourable senator now poses was put to me. I was unable to give any information then, as I find myself unable to give the honourable senator any information at the present time.
– Can the Acting Minister for External Affairs tell me whether he will be making a statement on Britain’s reported withdrawal of all forces from Singapore in three and a half years time? Does he know whether the British Far East fleet is to bc switched to a new British Australian base at Cockburn Sound in Western Australia? What is the Federal Government’s attitude towards a full scale operational naval base in Western Australia?
– No, I do not envisage making any statement along the lines suggested by the honourable senator. As far as I am aware, the sole basis for the question is a newspaper report which appeared this morning and not an official statement by the British Government or any other government. I am sure that the honourable senator will agree with me that that is not a matter on which one should either comment or make a statement. As regards the Cockburn Sound naval base, honourable senators will recall that a survey is being made in Western Australia at the present time - it has been continuing for some time - as to the facilities required and the advantages which would flow from the establishment of a naval base on that part of Australia’s coastline.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In view of the fact that many Tasmanian ex-service men and women lost their war medals and decorations during the recent disastrous bush fires in Tasmania, will the Minister request the relevant member of Cabinet to make an early statement as to whether, and precisely how, those people can obtain a new free issue of medals and decorations to replace those ruined by fire?
– This is one feature of the bush fire damage to which I do not think any consideration has been given as yet. I shall have much pleasure indeed in referring the question to the Prime Minister or to the T. ..surer to see what we can do in relation to this matter.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Housing. By way of preface, I should like to express my appreciation to the Minister for the visit she recently paid to South Australia to have discussions on housing matters. Can the Minister explain to the Senate whether, on such visit, she ascertained any practices that the Commonwealth Government or any Commonwealth agency, or the Government of South Australia or any State Government agency, could adopt to ensure a greater availability of housing for the people of South Australia?
– I did go to South Australia on Friday and I had very interesting and valuable discussions with the housing industry and the building industry there. It would appear that the problems there are decidedly local and it does seem that a variety of matters are contributing to them; but 1 was also given to understand that the situation is improving and I feel that this is of very great importance. I shall be giving this matter consideration and if 1 can tell the honourable senator anything further at a later date I shall do so.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior. At the referendum to be held on 27th May, when three proposals for the alteration of the Constitution are to be decided, will the ballot paper give electors the opportunity to vote separately on each matter or will it set out the three questions and seek an expression on whether the electors agree or disagree with the proposal?
– I shall convey the question to the Minister for the Interior. I have an idea that I do know the answer to it but I am not quite sure.
– Is the Minister for Supply aware that from time to time Commonwealth car drivers in Sydney are temporarily relieved of their driving duties and given the responsibility of manning the telephone at their depot for the purpose of taking incoming calls? If this is so, will the Minister consider asking his Department to appoint someone who is receiving industrial rehabilitation training at the Commonwealth rehabilitation centre to take the telephone calls, thus enabling car drivers to carry out their normal responsibilities?
– 1 do not know for what length of time car drivers are detached from their normal duties to answer the telephone. I believe that the honourable senator is correct in suggesting that this is done, though I do not think that a driver is detached for this duty for any lengthy period. I believe that the honourable gentleman’s proposal is well worth considering. I shall look into the matter, see what would be entailed and let him have an answer when I have ascertained the facts and gathered all the available information.
(Question No. 81)
asked the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice:
– The PostmasterGeneral has provided the following answers: 1, 2 and 3. Yes.
(Question No. 91)
asked the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice:
– The answers supplied by the Postmaster-General are as follows:
Yes. The code, which came into effect from 1st January 1966 requires that: -
(Question No. 102)
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied me with the following answers:
(Question No. 120)
asked the Minister rep- representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The PostmasterGeneral has furnished me with the following answers: 1 and 3. The recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Products for Television are still under consideration. The Committee’s recommendations covered a wide field. I can say, however, that since the Senate Committee’s report, certain positive action in the way of encouraging Australian programmes on television which constituted a basic concern of the Committee has been taken.
– On the 12th April Senator McClelland asked me the following question without notice:
Has the Postmaster-General been correctly reported as having said that in the appointment of the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission next June age would be one of the determining factors in the choice of a successor to Dr. J. R. Darling?If so are we to take it from this statement that the Government does not intend to reappoint the present Chairman? As the Minister also said that in considering the increase of the number of commissioners from seven to ten he was taking cognisance of one of the recommendations of the Vincent Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television, will he be prepared also to consider the latter part of that Committee’s specific recommendation on this matter, namely, that commissioners appointed be representative of the cultural life of Australia and be either men or women of the highest reputation and experience in this field?
The Postmaster-General has informed me that in his press conference on Tuesday 11th April he said that many factors including age would be taken into consideration in recommending appointments. Other factors were of equal or, perhaps, greater importance. It was also stated that retiring members and other persons would be considered for appointment which was the usual procedure in appointments of this nature. The Minister indicated that Cabinet would be asked to consider the number of members as there had previously been recommendations for increases to 9 and 10.
– by leave - I wish to inform the Senate that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) left Australia on Saturday on an official visit to attend a meeting of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation Ministerial Council in Washington and a meeting of Australian heads of missions in Mexico. He expects to return to Australia about 1st May. The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) will leave on Thursday to attend the 20th Assembly of the World Health Organisation in Geneva and to undertake official visits to the United Kingdom and North America. He will be away until 20th May. During the absence of the Ministers, the Minister for Education and Science (Senator Gorton), and the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) will act as Minister for External Affairs and Minister for Health respectively.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) - by leave - agreed to:
That leave of absence be granted to Senator Tangney for one week on account of ill health.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Statute Law Revision (Decimal Currency) Bill 1967.
Stevedoring Industry Charge Bill 1967. Tasmania Grant (Gordon River Road) Bill 1967.
Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill 1967. Customs Tariff Bill 1967.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) read a first time.
[3.32] - Mr President, I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to widen the scope of assistance the Commonwealth may give by way of grants for homes for the aged by including local governing bodies in the organisations eligible for such grants and accepting contributions by them towards aged persons homes as qualifying for Commonwealth subsidy. The Bill will put into effect the undertaking given by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in his policy speech of the 8th November 1966. The Aged Persons Homes Act has now been in operation for a little over twelve years. At the time of its introduction it represented a new and imaginative approach to a pressing social problem. -
We are all aware, Mr President, that adequate housing in congenial surroundings is one of the greatest needs of old people. In approaching this problem the Government decided that, because of the long experience of churches and voluntary organisations in caring for aged persons, an effective contribution would be made by entering into a partnership with such bodies. This was achieved through the introduction of the Aged Persons Homes Act which has given encouragement and financial help to the religious and charitable organisations and enabled them to expand their activities. The success of the Act is a matter of record. Since its inception, subsidies in excess of $66m have been approved and accommodation provided for more than 25,000 aged persons. Subsidised homes are situated in every State, in the Australian Capital Territory, and in the Northern Territory.
I am pleased to say, Mr President, that we have been able to improve on the original provisions and from time to time new measures have been introduced widening the range of assistance. The Commonwealth Government contribution has been raised from one-third of the capital cost to two-thirds, land has been made eligible for subsidy, and subsidy is now granted for nursing accommodation for aged persons.
An important development in recent years has been the increased interest in aged persons homes shown by local governing bodies, many of which have assisted aged persons homes organisations by grants of land and in other ways. The Government welcomes this interest. In order to enable local governing bodies to participate more directly in the operation of the Act, and as an added means of increasing accommodation for aged persons, it has introduced this Bill which will amend the Aged Persons Homes Act in two main ways: firstly, local governing bodies will become eligible for assistance in the same way as religious, charitable and certain other organisations; and secondly, the Act will bc amended so that both the funds raised by a local governing body towards the establishment of a home of its own, and contributions of money or property by such bodies to another eligible organisation, will be able to attract subsidy.
One restriction will continue to be made. Where the local government moneys are received from the Commonwealth or State Governments they will be ineligible. This is in keeping with the policy applied to other organisations and will ensure that the subsidy under the Act is attracted to moneys raised in the particular local government area. The new provisions of the Act in respect of homes established by local governing bodies and funds contributed by them will be operative as from 28th November 1966, the first working day following the re-election of the Government.
Mr President, there is one other matter covered by the Bill. This is of a machinery nature only and is in relation to the payment of instalments of approved grants. Al present each individual instalment must be approved personally by the Director-General of Social Services, notwithstanding that he has previously approved the grant. Due to the success of the Aged Persons Homes Act this has resulted in a great deal of routine work. The opportunity has been taken to reduce, the time and work involved in these payments by enabling the DirectorGeneral to authorise appropriate officers to approve the payment of instalments. This is not a general power of delegation and it will still be necessary for all grants to be first approved by the Director-General. Mr President, 1 am confident that honourable senators will welcome this Bill and I commend it to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Consideration resumed from 12 April (vide page 757).
[3.37] - -When this Bill was last before the Committee I listened with a great deal of interest to the comments made by the honourable senators concerning the eligibility for naturalisation of servicemen who are discharged on medical grounds before they have served for three months. Most of those comments were directed to the provision that requires a serviceman not only to have been discharged as medically unfit within three months but also to be a person who in the opinion of the Minister for Immigration became medically unfit by reason of his period of service. Without referring to the remarks of any particular honourable senator, I say that listening to the debate T formed the impression that some honourable senators understood the position to be that in all cases in which a serviceman was discharged on the ground of invalidity a determination was made by some Army or other Service authority as to whether or not the invalidity was duc to his service. That is not necessarily the case. Certainly, the Minister for the Service concerned makes no such judgment.
I make these points in order to clear up some of the comments that were made in the debate last week. The position is that the primary concern of the Service authorities when a man becomes unfit is that it should be determined whether the degree of unfitness is such that, whatever its cause may have been, he should continue as a member of the forces. If the appropriate authority considers that he is medically unfit to such a degree that he cannot continue, then he is discharged. I would not wish it to be thought that a serviceman’s medical records would not assist in establishing whether or not his disability was due to service. They may or may not. They would be a factor to be taken into account in answering that question.
When a serviceman made a claim for compensation or other benefit in respect of his invalidity, such as under the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act or the Repatriation Act, it would become necessary to determine what caused the disability. However, the grounds on which compensation or a repatriation pension is awarded are not expressed in the relevant statutes in the same terms as the provisions of the Bill now before the Committee. Therefore, a serviceman who becomes eligible for compensation or for repatriation benefit may not necessarily fall within the Bill. Conversely, a person who falls within the Bill may not necessarily be entitled to compensation or repatriation benefit. As far as the repatriation benefit is concerned, it is very difficult to see how within the period of three months provided for in the Bill a person’s service would be of such a kind that he would be entitled to the repatriation benefit anyway. For those kinds of consideration and because of the lack of authoritative declaration in all cases of discharge of servicemen on medical grounds as to whether their unfitness was due to service, it was felt that in respect of nationality and citizenship the question of whether invalidity had resulted from service was a matter that could reasonably be left to the Minister for Immigration. That was the reason why the clause on which the discussion arose was worded as it was.
I want to make quite clear that there was never any intention that the Minister for Immigration should act in isolation from his colleagues, or from the Army or other Service authorities, or would not refer to other relevant sources for information. It was envisaged that when a person discharged as medically unfit from the Services applied for naturalisation, inquiries would be made into all relevant circumstances and the Minister would make his judgment accordingly.
I believe that those comments explain some of the questions which may have been concerning honourable senators when this debate was adjourned last Wednesday. I felt it to be important that I should give that information, which has been given to me. I appreciated very much the concern shown by honourable senators and I noted the suggestion for the omission of the words in the opinion of the Minister for Immigration’. I have discussed this matter with my colleague the Minister for Immigration and he is quite in accord with the view that I should move an amendment to remove the words causing concern.
My proposed amendment relates to clause 3 of the Bill, which reads in part:
Section 12 of the Principal Act is amended-
In paragraph (b) of proposed sub-section (1a.) leave out’, in the opinion of the Minister,’.
If the amendment is agreed to, a similar amendment to clause 4 will be necessary.
– The Opposition welcomes the attitude of the Government as expressed by the Minister, that the proposal which emanated from a number of speakers in this debate on both sides of the chamber should be adopted. The proposal was made not by way of obstruction but to benefit the Bill and to ensure that the final legislation would be more in accord with common sense and practicalities than perhaps it might have been otherwise. We all realise that there are problems in drafting and that everything cannot be foreseen. The general desire of honourable senators on both sides of the chamber was to see whether the matter could be clarified at this stage. I am a little doubtful, however, that the amendment moved by the Minister carries out all that she intends it to do. As I recall the proposal, it was thought - certainly in relation to the proposed sub-section (2aa.) (b) referred to in clause 4 of the Bill - that the deletion should be of the words ‘and who, in the opinion of the Minister, became medically unfit by reason of his service’. I think that was the intention, rather than simply to take out the words ‘in the opinion of the Minister’. I am open to correction. We did not have the advance copy of this document at the time, but my feeling now is that the Bill would be left in a peculiar fashion if this were not done. The operative portion of the clause at present reads:
If we simply delete the words ‘in the opinion of the Minister’ the operative portion of the clause will read: as medically unfit for service or further service and who became medically unfit by reason of his service.
Is that the intention? There is a further aspect. The Minister mentioned that not all persons who left by reason of being medically unfit were so described on their discharge. This would mean in practice that those persons would not be covered by the proposed amendment.
On reading the matter again, it seems that some effect could perhaps be given to what is proposed by the Minister, but by the deletion of the words ‘in the opinion of the Minister’ one is left with the situation that the amendment will relate to persons who have been discharged as medically unfit for service or further service, with the further qualification that the medical unfitness arose by reason of service. Is that the intention? However that is arrived at, there will be two requirements. The first is discharge as medically unfit for service or further service, and the second is the further requirement that that unfitness be a result of service. It is immaterial how those qualifications are satisfied.
That being so, the proposal seems to us to be some improvement on what was originally contained in the legislation and although, in the light of what the Minister has said, it will not meet all cases, particularly those who although medically unfit for service were not in fact discharged on that ground, we nevertheless support the amendment.
– When this matter was before the Senate last Thursday night I made several attempts to speak on this aspect, but the competition was too severe and I did not have the opportunity to do so. Honourable senators will remember that the debate on clauses 3 and 4 was initiated by Senator Wright, who unfortunately is not here today. Although I have the greatest admiration for Senator Wright’s capabilities of interpretation, I sought to contribute to the debate without in any way trying to impose the interpretation of a layman upon that of a professional man. I did so mainly for the purpose of obtaining Senator Wright’s opinion on my views. In the absence of Senator Wright the opportunity to get his opinion on my views will not be afforded to me today. At the time I believed that Senator Wright was wrong in regard to the question which he raised before the Committee and I found myself in agreement with the Minister. Today I find that there has been an alteration in the Department’s attitude, which is supported by the Opposition. I do not raise the question to show that I have a greater power of interpretation than the legal man who spoke on behalf of the Opposition. I raise it for the sole purpose of learning the opinion of the Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the points raised.
I think it may be wrong to consider the particular clauses of the Bill without relating them to the principal Act. Clause 3 of the Bill seeks to amend section 12 of the principal Act. Clause 4 seeks to amend section IS of the principal Act. Section 12 relates to registration as Australian citizens and section 15 relates to naturalisation. Section 12 (1.) of the Act provides:
The Minister may, upon application in the prescribed manner, grant a certificate of registration as an Australian citizen to a person who is a citizen of a country to which section seven of this Act applies, or an Irish citizen, and satisfies the Minister -
that he is of full age and of full capacity;
that he has resided in Australia or New Guinea, or partly in Australia and partly in New Guinea, for not less than five years during the eight years immediately preceding the date of the application or, in such specified cases as the Minister, upon application in the prescribed manner, approves, for such shorter period (not being less than twelve months) as the Minister allows;
Under section 15, which relates to naturalisation, a person has to comply with the same residential qualifications as are set out in section 12. Clause 3 of the Bill seeks to amend section 12 of the principal Act by inserting after sub-section (1.) the following sub-section: (U.) Paragraph (b) of the last preceding subsection does not apply in relation to -
a person who has completed, whether before or after the commencement of this subsection, not less than three months’ service in the permanent forces of the Commonwealth;
He does not have to prove residential qualification if he has completed three months service. Here is the controversial paragraph:
Under those two paragraphs a person qualifies for registration as an Australian citizen or for naturalisation if he can show that he has completed three months service or, alternatively, having been discharged before completing three months service, if his discharge was because he was medically unfit for service and that such unfitness was by reason of his service. That is the point. If he has a medical certificate which entitles him to repatriation benefits, it is beyond doubt that he does not have to establish residential qualifications under sections 12 and 15 of the Act. If he has not established beyond doubt that medical unfitness resulting, from service is the reason for his discharge, or if he has not a medical certificate to this effect, there is an additional proviso that the Minister - this must be the Minister for Immigration, as he is the only Minister concerned under this Act - may accept that his medical unfitness for service was caused by his service. The Minister for Immigration may accept that, despite the fact that he lacks the evidence, and the serviceman need not comply with the residential qualifications.
The interpretation that I put on the Bill is that it extends leniency to the applicant in that he does not need to have the proof that it appears he will need to have, if we delete the words ‘in the opinion of the Minister’. The Committee will remember that Senator Wright raised the question that it should be not the Minister for Immigration but the Minister for the Army, who would know the serviceman’s record, who should determine this matter. If the applicant is unable to prove that his unfitness after less than three months service is due to war service, or if some doubt exists, under the Bill as it stands at present it is possible for the Minister for Immigration to decide that the unfitness is due to the service. Now it appears that we will be limiting this provision and that it will be essential to have proof. In fact, it will be necessary for the discharge papers to show that a man was medically unfit because of something that happened during his Army service, whereas this did not appear to me to be necessary under the original proposal. I have perhaps come belatedly into the debate on this question after the Opposition has been committed to the proposal of the Minister, but at least I should like to be told by the experts that I do not know what I am talking about.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [3.57] - I should like to mention one or two matters. I direct the attention of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) to the fact that in the debate last Wednesday night one of his own supporters expressed a desire to have the words ‘in the opinion of the Minister’ deleted.
– After examining it, I can see the reason for it now.
– Yes. I should also like to mention another point that relates to matters he has raised. I understood Senator Wright to say that a serviceman discharged on medical grounds after less than three months service will be eligible for citizenship whether or not he became unfit by reason of his service. This is the point that Senator Wright brought forward. The Government’s view is that a period of three months service should bc required except in a special case where the medical grounds for discharge were caused by service. The procedure for national servicemen who have been selected in the ballot is that they are medically examined some weeks in advance of callup by civilian doctors who are engaged for this purpose by the Department of Labour and National Service. The examination then conducted is in accordance with the standards agreed by the Department of Labour and National Service and by the Department of the Army. On reporting for service in response to their final call-up notices, the men selected for service are deemed to be enlisted in the Army as from that time. Within days of their enlistment, they are again medically examined by Army medical officers. At this later examination physical or medical disabilities undetected at the earlier medical examination may be found, so they do in fact have two medical examinations in a comparatively short period. Senator Murphy suggested that a serviceman who passed the initial medical examination before enlistment and failed the second medical examination soon after enlistment before he had undergone any real service would be entitled to the same consideration as a man who served the full period of three months. I think honourable senators will agree that a man who failed the second medical examination should be in no better position than a man who failed the first examination before enlistment, because the interval of time between would be very small.
As I recall the discussion that has taken place the main criticism involved in the question raised by Senator Cavanagh about the Minister for Immigration being the appropriate Minister-
– No. I claim that he is the appropriate Minister. Senator Wright claimed that he was not.
– I am trying to explain the point. Not only Senator Wright but also an honourable senator on the Opposition side of the chamber brought up this point. I put to the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden) the problem that they raised. He has a perfectly open mind on the issue and he believes that the amendment now proposed may represent the best way to resolve a matter about which some honourable senators apparently are concerned. I do not believe that this amendment will create any difficulty in making a decision on the granting of Australian citizenship.
– Mr Chairman, the matter raised by the Minister relates to the question of whether the qualification should be not only unfitness for service but also unfitness by reason of service. The proposal embodied in the amendment now before us is in line with the Opposition’s general attitude that a person should be entitled to become a citizen if he is required to undertake military service, thereby being obliged to take the oath of allegiance and so forth. Our basic approach is that immediately a man becomes a member of the Services he ought to be entitled to citizenship. The Bill, as it will be passed, however, will not embody that principle in relation to all the migrant servicemen involved. We shall not press the view that only the first qualification should be necessary, since the rest of the Bill will give effect to the Government’s policy that a person should not be entitled to citizenship immediately on entering the Services.
Senator Cavanagh rightly raised the position of a migrant serviceman who might satisfy the Minister for Immigration although that person had not the requisite proof. There is, conversely, the position of the person who may have the proof but about whom the Minister may not be satisfied.
– The Minister should not act capriciously.
– We say that he should not act capriciously. Where a person had passed the initial medical examination and been admitted to the Services and had thereafter been discharged as being medically unfit, the presumption would be that his unfitness had occurred because of his service. We believe that as far as possible the entitlement to naturalisation should depend on the facts, not on the opinion of the Minister. We have consistently taken the view that the entitlement of a citizen to anything at law should depend on the establishment of the facts, not on the whim or discretion, or whatever it may be, of a Minister wherever this can be avoided. One of the fundamental principles of the Australian Labor Party is adherence to the rule of law. It is basic to the rule of law that a citizen’s entitlement does not depend, wherever this can be avoided, on the say-so of a Minister. Some matters may be. such as to be impossible of determination with any precision, and in those instances we may be forced to accept that - temporarily, at least - a citizen’s rights may have to depend on the discretion of a Minister. But the philosophy of our Party, as expressed in its policy and the preamble to its platform, is that wherever this can be avoided we adhere to the rule of law. Here is an instance in which the Government wants legislation to operate without dependence on the opinion of a Minister. We concede that this is possible and so we do not oppose the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [4.7] - J refer to clause 4, which reads in part:
Section 15 of the Principal Act is amended -
by inserting after sub-section (2.) the following sub-section: (2aa.) Paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection (1.) of this section do not apply in relation to:
a person who has completed, whether before or after the commencement of this sub-section, not less than three months’ service in the permanent forces of the Commonwealth; or
a person who has been discharged, whether before or after the commencement of this sub-section, from the permanent forces of the Commonwealth, before completing three months’ service, as medically unfit for service or further service and who, in the opinion of the Minister, became medically unfit by reason of his service.’;
Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report adopted.
Bill (on motton by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 13 April (vide page 771), on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I move:
At a later stage in my speech I shall return to the provisions of the amendment, but at this stage, in order to inform my mind and to tidy the matter up from the viewpoint of debate, I should point out what the Government’s proposals mean. The Bill has for its purpose the raising of the limit of means as assessed with respect to income and property by $156. In simple terms, this means that a single pensioner whose assets do not exceed $420 will be allowed to have an income of up to $10 a week instead of the present $7 a week without affecting his pension. I am dealing now with income alone. In other words the permissible income which a single pensioner may earn without affecting his pension is increased by $3 a week. The married pensioner couple whose assets do not exceed $840 may receive $17 .a week instead of the present $14 without any loss of pension. It is at this point that we come to the first stage of discrimination between married and single pensioners.
I think the Senate should be reminded that prior to the introduction of this amendment to the Social Services Act a single pensioner, provided his assets did not exceed the amount provided in the means test, was allowed to earn exactly half of the combined earnings of a married couple. But here this principle is being completely departed from. We now find that whereas a single pensioner can earn $10 a week provided he conforms with the means test with respect to assets, the married couple can earn only $17 a week without affecting their pension, provided they comply with the means test. I want to have very much more to say about this state of affairs later in my .address to the Senate.
Leaving out any question of income, I think we can understand what the proposal means with respect to property. The Government’s proposal, as applied to property, means that a single person may have assets to the value of $5,600, and, provided there is no income, may receive a full pension. The pension entitlement does not completely disappear until his or her assets reach a value of $12,360. The comparable figures for a married pensioner couple are $9,640 and $21,880. In the case of a married couple where only one is a pensioner, the amounts are $9,640 and $23,160. Again we see an instance of discrimination - the same thread running through the provisions relating to property - as we see it with respect to income.
The Bill provides other things. For example, it provides free of cost the items necessary for the rehabilitation of handicapped persons. In cases where a charge is made to a person not eligible for free rehabilitation, it provides for the charge to be abated according to the person’s ability to pay. The Bill also allows a period of three months for the lodgment of a claim for widows pension by a woman whose husband is admitted to a mental institution. I think this is a step in the right direction, and indeed a step that ought to have been taken many years ago. It is only within recent weeks that a woman whose husband had been admitted to a mental hospital came to see me. This woman had no idea as to whether she had any entitlement. She was unable to work. She was absolutely destitute and if I had not been able to take some steps immediately with the Department of Social Welfare in South Australia, it is impossible to imagine just what privations she would have had to undergo. As I have said, her husband had been admitted to a mental hospital. She did not know whether she had any entitlement, and she did not know where to go or what to do about it.
At a later stage in my address I want to revert to what I consider to be one of the most important aspects of social services. I have spoken in these terms on previous occasions. I speak of the utter failure of the Government to make people aware of their entitlement under the various Acts that we pass in this Parliament from time to time. Because of this failure to inform people correctly of their entitlement many undergo privations and poverty when this is not necessary.
– How would the honourable senator suggest the Government could inform all the people more adequately than is being done now?
– I shall come back to that point. I think it is a fair question. As I said, I want to deal with it more fully at a later stage in my address. There I shall touch on the action I believe the Government should take. Indeed, honourable senators on both sides of the chambers will remember that I have raised this issue before on more than one occasion and have made suggestions. I shall elaborate those suggestions later today.
It is worthy of note that the cost of the proposals contained in the Bill will be $2.5m for the remainder of this financial year and for a full year it will be $13.5m. This exemplifies the fact that the Government’s proposal is not a very wide one. But before offering any criticism and dealing with what I consider to be the inadequacies of the Social Services Act I hasten to say that any step which eases the means test to some extent in the field of social services must be commended. I do not want the Senate to think that because I have criticisms to offer in other directions I fail to give the Government credit where credit is due to it. I say that the step being taken towards easing the means test should receive our support and, further, that the Government should receive whatever degree of praise it has earned for any action it takes.
But I am not here to praise the Government. I believe that there are so many inadequacies and anomalies in the Social Services Act that we should, perhaps, direct our thoughts to more pressing things than those which are contained in the proposals before the Senate at the present time. While giving the Government some degree of credit for its action, I point out that this expenditure of $ 13.5m or just over £6.5m in the old currency is not a very generous gesture when we consider the tremendous field of pensions generally and what could be and ought to be done for the people embraced by the Act. I want to refer to what I consider was a misleading statement made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) in his second reading speech.
It is a statement which I believe could contuse quite a large number of Australians.
Let me say at the beginning that I do not think that when he made his second reading speech in another place the Minister for Social Services sought deliberately to mislead the people. I do not think that the Minister for Social Services would do that. I do not want it to be thought that I am suggesting that he has, but I must say that the way in which he phrased this point in his second reading speech leaves the matter open to misinterpretation. It is a very misleading statement and one which must cause confusion. Dealing with the increase in respect of a pensioner’s means as assessed, on 4th April 1967 at page 869 of Hansard, the Minister had this to say:
However every pensioner whose pension under the present law is reduced because of the means lest, will, under this Bill, receive an increase of up to $156 a year.
Honourable senators will note that the statement just is not true. Every pensioner will not receive an increase of up to $156 as a result of the passage of this legislation. What the Minister should have said when he made his second reading speech in another place was that every single pensioner in Australia will receive an increase in his means as assessed of up to $156 per annum and that married pensioners will receive exactly half that increase. That is what the legislation sets out to do. I submit that this statement is misleading in the extreme and that the Minister ought to give some consideration to correcting the impression that will be left in the minds of the public when the speech is read.
Now, I understand that Mr Daly, the honourable member for Grayndler in another place, when preparing his contribution to the debate on the Social Services Bill, sought and obtained from the Department of Social Services figures relating to the number of people who would be affected by the provisions contained in this amendment to the Social Services Act. Mr Daly’s inquiries elicited the information that only 4% of pensioners have incomes of between $7 and $10 per week, thus bringing them within the scope of the Bill, and that about 93% of pensioners generally throughout Australia will be entirely unaffected by the provisions of this Bill.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wedgwood) - Order! The honourable senator will not be in order in alluding to any debate of the current session in the House of Representatives.
– I am sorry, Madam Acting Deputy President. I accept that. I agree that I should not have done this. Let me put it this way: the figures provided by the Department of Social Services - these figures have not been contradicted at any stage of the debate - reveal that only 4% of pensioners in Australia have incomes of between $7 and $10 a week - these pensioners will be affected by the proposal in this Bill - and that 93% of pensioners will not benefit in any way from the passage of this legislation. I apologise for my reference to the debate in another place. I should have known better. I hope I will not offend in this way again.
In referring to the increase concerning pensions with regard to means as assessed, T think it is worth recalling that on 29th September of last year the Australian Labor Party, in proposing an amendment to the Social Services Bill 1966, specifically asked the Government to do something regarding the glaring injustices concerning the permissible income of married pensioners. That request met with no response. It might be of interest if I reminded the Senate of some of the things I said on that occasion. I recall that I had quite a deal to say about discrimination. It would not be amiss if I restated what I said less than six months ago on this very issue. At page 815 of Hansard of 29th September 1966, I had this to say:
The second part of the Labor Party’s amendment claims - I think quite rightly - that the Government has perpetuated a sub-standard rate for married pensioners despite glaring anomalies and injustices. There is injustice in the type of thinking that insists that the combined pensions of two persons should be less than double that of one. What would bc the attitude of the trade unionists if it were suggested that a married trade unionist should receive less than a single trade unionist? If a court were bold enough or stupid enough or unjust enough to make a declaration in those terms, one can imagine what the result would be.
I then went on and asked rather facetiously:
What would parliamentarians think if Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin, Senator Mulvihill and Senator Wood were to receive more than is received by us parliamentarians who are married?
I asked whether those honourable senators would be very happy if they encountered the discrimination that is applied in relation to married pensioners in this regard.
However, it is not a question of what we say that becomes important in this context. What does become important, I think, is what other people say. I wish to draw the attention of the Senate to what the Sydney Daily Telegraph’ of Thursday, the 13th April 1967, had to say regarding this legislation. I wish to put all of the editorial into Hansard because it will indicate to the Government what people outside think of discrimination between married and single pensioners. As honourable senators will see, the heading is quite considerable. The heading reads: ‘Pensioners’ penalty for being wed.’ The editorial reads:
Under the new pensions legislation now before Federal Parliament, the limit for extra earnings by single men and women will be raised by $156 a year.
In the case of married pensioners, however, the legislation goes on to limit them to exactly the same additional amount between them that a single pensioner is to be allowed.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) describes this as “a further liberalisation of the means test.”
Most people would pray to be spared from Mr. Sinclair’s idea of “liberalisation.”
It is, indeed, a miserable sort of concession which seeks to cheesepare a few dollars by differentiating between the living needs of single persons and married couples.
Single pensioners and married couples are to be lumped together - no doubt on the ludicrous assumption that two can live as cheaply as one.
The Government has phrased its restriction so cunningly . . . 1 think that this is a fair comment, too:
. that few people have so far recognised its real meaning - and meanness.
The anomaly was bad enough in the past, when differentiation between single and married couple pension rates, introduced about four years ago, caused bitter criticism from all sides.
When pensions were last increased, the gap between rates for two single pensioners and two married pensioners amounted to $2.50 a week.
This was unfair enough. But the new differentiation in extra allowable income makes the penalty for marriage even harsher.
If pensions are to be “liberalised” in this manner, it would be much more profitable for married pensioners to get a divorce or to “live in sin.”
If they are sentimental enough to remain married, they will now be able to receive a maximum income of $40.50 a week. If they lived together unmarried, they could have a combined maximum income of $46 a week.
The editorial concludes by saying:
No wonder Mr. Daly, MHR, remarked in Parliament that “there must be a person employed from time to time, with fanatical, fiendish ingenuity, to provide a plan with the minimum amount of benefits to the smallest number of people, but willi appeal to as many as possible.”
I do not want the Senate to think that I in any way agree with the reference in the editorial to married pensioners living in sin. I do not. But I think the editorial made its point respecting discrimination. I urge Government members in the Senate to give very serious consideration to what I regard as a very grave and backward step concerning the payment of pensions and with respect to the liberalisation of the means test in which the Government discriminates between the married and the single pensioner.
The Senate might recall that when I spoke on this matter some four or five months ago I pointed out, on the question of discrimination, that two unmarried sisters, if they wished, could live together, pool their resources, pay the rent jointly, enjoy the benefit of each receiving a single pension and be immeasurably better off than a married couple in similar circumstances. That could apply to two widows or to two single males. If that is the case, how can there be a justifiable argument for this discrimination? How can there be a justifiable argument for saying to a married pensioner*. ‘For the purposes of pension assessment we regard you as a second class citizen as compared with your single pensioner colleague’? This seems to me to be out of all perspective. I would be interested to hear an honourable senator on the Government side stand up during this debate and explain why he or she agrees with this type of discrimination and in what way it is justified. I would be very interested to hear the arguments and logic that would accompany such an explanation, because to my mind there would be none.
Another part of the Opposition amendment says that the Government should be censured for its failure adequately to increase pensions to meet the increased cost of living. This legislation will do little or nothing in that direction because the 93% of people who will be entirely unaffected by it will not receive any protection against the added cost of living. It is worthy of note that the Minister for Social
Services, in his second reading speech, made no reference to the people who would not be affected by the legislation or to the erosion of the value of pensions that has been talcing place over the last decade as a result of the ever increasing cost of living. This is something that we should always keep in mind. Leaving aside the question whether members of the Government parties think there is any justification for censure of the Government on this point, the Senate as a whole should always bend its thoughts to relating pensions to the cost of living. In whatever increase may be given from time to time, that should be ever uppermost in our minds.
I come now to the section of the Labor amendment that deals with the holding of a national inquiry into the question of poverty. Last week the Senate devoted a considerable amount of time to the appointment of select committees to deal with two subjects which I suppose honourable senators could say with justification are matters of great concern, namely, containerisation and the metric system of weights and measures. Nobody would disagree that they are important matters. But how much better off would the Senate, the pensioners of this country and other people who are not even receiving pensions be if we saw fit to appoint a select committee to inquire into the whole question of poverty and want in Australia. There would be tremendous scope for such a committee. It seems to me that we are failing in our duty as a parliament when other organisations have to undertake this unpleasant but very necessary task.
I have before me a report by a group from the University of Melbourne which, after a long and careful survey of poverty and want in this country, revealed the startling fact that more than 750,000 Australians are living under substandard conditions. These people are really in need, really in want. They include deserted wives, pensioners who because of rental payments and other factors are not being properly fed, and people who are not being properly cared for. Surely this should stir some degree of sympathy in the heart of every member of the Parliament. Surely it should impress upon us that we have a clear duty in this matter not only to legislate but firstly to find out in what field we should legislate and in what order of priorities we should legislate in the whole field of social services. lt seems to me that it is a clear indictment of the National Parliament of Australia that consideration of an inquiry into poverty should be started by people in the academic field and should not originate from the source from which I believe it should originate - the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. 1 hope that in the near future we will devote our thoughts in an ever increasing way to the alleviation of poverty. There is no point in my reading the cases that this inquiry by the group from the University of Melbourne has revealed. It is sufficient to say that this matter is causing the greatest possible concern to people interested in social welfare throughout Australia. It is all very well to talk about affluent societies, prosperity, the economy being sound and everything going along as it should. Yet we can pick up a newspaper and read, as I have mentioned, that nearly one million Australians are living under conditions that we would rather forget about than talk about. I should like to hear the views of honourable senators opposite on that problem. It is one about which we should be talking more and which we should be doing something to alleviate.
The amendment says that the Government should be censured for its failure to abolish the means test as it promised to do in 1949. That is true. But I cannot see any purpose in going over this matter. It has been hashed and rehashed so many times in this chamber that there is really no purpose in raising it again, other than to say that it is a justifiable part of the amendment because in 1949 the Government did promise to abolish the means test and although it has made some steps in that direction, it has a long way to go. Before I leave the means test, I express my opinion that the time has arrived when members of all parties should direct their thoughts to the introduction of a proper contributory national insurance scheme that will render unnecessary the eternal arguments about the means test, pensions and other things. We have been talking about this for fifty years. But when the time comes for us to do something about it we let it slip out of our minds. Perhaps people in more enlightened parliaments than this one will, in the not too distant future, take some substantial steps towards doing something that we should have done 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Perhaps they will think out a fair and just contributory national insurance scheme that will render all of these arguments and debates unnecessary. Perhaps we lose sight of this matter. We should not do so. I invite the comments of honourable senators on it.
Another point that I believe constitutes an injustice in the field of social services is the amount allowed as legitimate depreciation of income for pension purposes in respect of old people who go into cottage homes. It is well known that the deposits that people pay to go into these homes vary. But in the last three or four years they have increased considerably. Under the present provisions of the Social Services Act, the Government allows $2,000 as a legitimate reduction of assets once a person pays that amount as a deposit to go into a home. Everybody knows that, because of the increased cost of building, many pensioners who go into these homes pay up to $3,000 and sometimes $4,000 in order to consolidate their position and to provide themselves with a home for the rest of their lives. 1 cannot understand the thinking of a government which allows a pensioner to spend $20,000 of his assets in reduction of his legitimate assets to be considered in respect of pension eligibility, but will allow a reduction of only $2,000 for that purpose to a pensioner who enters a church home or cottage home. It seems unjust to me and I. think the anomaly should be remedied. The very least that the Government should do is to double the allowance from $2,000 to $4,000. I cannot understand the purpose of the discrimination between pensioners who enter cottage or church homes and pensioners who build or buy their own homes. It is similar to the discrimination between married and single pensioners. The Government might use the peculiar reasoning that because the cottage and church homes attract a government subsidy, pensioners entering them should bc asked to give something back to the Government. If that is the Government’s thinking, it is a miserable and cheeseparing attitude which cannot be justified. I appeal to honourable senators opposite to use their influence in party deliberations to have the limitation of $2,000 substan tially increased to a more reasonable figure. If there is any argument against that suggestion, I would be interested to hear it.
Senator Morris referred to the question of information about social services. I do not want it to be thought that the Department of Social Services does not issue information; it does. I have two current leaflets of the Department. One deals with age pensions and was issued in October 1966. The other leaflet deals with invalid pensions. The Department issues similar leaflets in respect of widows pension and other pensions. While these leaflets contain very good information, they are more notable for what they omit than what they contain. I say that in a constructive way. I do not think the average person - certainly elderly persons who would be provided with these leaflets - would have the faintest idea of what the scheme is all about because the leaflets are not couched in terms that I consider could be easily understood by the man and woman in the street. I think the Department should give some consideration to action to improve the leaflets.
asked what I suggest ought to be done. The leaflets are obtainable at any office of the Department or at any post office, by people who know they are available.
– I did not ask that question critically; I asked it constructively.
– I agree, and I am trying to give the honourable senator a constructive answer. 1 accept unreservedly that he asked the question in a constructive way. After an average pensioner has obtained a leaflet, he is faced with the task of understanding it. Honourable senators who have studied the merged means test will appreciate that it provides a lot of extra work for the Department of Social Services, and a tremendous amount of extra work for members of Parliament simply because the general public does not understand its operation.
I consider the leaflets to be a totally inadequate means of informing the public. I am not reflecting on the ability of officers of the Department of Social Services. I pay a tribute to them. I do not want to make comparisons between departments. In my dealings with officers of the Department of Social Services in South Australia I have met nothing but the greatest degree of co-operation. I have met people who without doubt have at heart the welfare of the people they are trying to assist. But they are restricted, because the resources of the Department are not placed fully at their disposal to help people become aware of their entitlements.
Why could not the Government use television to inform the public of its social service entitlements? If objection was taken to using commercial stations, the national stations could be used. What is wrong with having a weekly television service to explain to the people the operation of the merged means test, and that people may have assets up to a total of about $23,000 in certain circumstances and still be entitled to a pension? People could be told how much money they may earn while retaining their entitlement to a pension. Illustrations could be given using figures for income and property values, and the relevant pension payment in those circumstances. The average member of the public does not know these things. 1 have no fear of contradiction in saying that not nearly enough is being done by the Government and the various departments to make the people aware of their entitlements. After long and arduous debates, after amendments to legislation are carried and final deliberations completed, we arrive at certain decisions in respect of Commonwealth Acts. We decide on the entitlements of people under social service legislation, but we fail adequately to inform the people of those entitlements. Our work is only half done. It is of no use any honourable senator trying to tell me that the section of the general public which is entitled to a pension understands even partly the ramifications of social service legislation. Any member of Parliament who has specialised in the field of social services will understand why I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who are entitled to a part pension but have an unshakeable belief through ignorance that they have no entitlement at all. They learn by accident or when they raise the matter with a member of Parliament. Then they find that there is no retrospectivity and that they have been penalised because of their ignorance and the failure of the Government adequately to inform them. Because of their lack of knowledge and the Govern ment’s lack of ability adequately to inform them they are prevented from receiving their entitlements.
I have referred already to the possibility of using television. A widow or widower whose total weekly income including the pension does not exceed approximately $11 and who loses a son on active service, regardless of whether he or she was dependent on the serviceman, has an entitlement to a basic pension of $4.50 a week. Where both parents of a deceased ex-serviceman are alive and their individual incomes including a pension are less than $12.50 a week, they can claim a basic war pension of about $3.20 a week. How many people know that? How many honourable senators know it? I think that example illustrates graphically the point I am trying to bring home to the Senate. People find out their social service entitlements often by accident. I found out by accident that provision exists to pay a pension in the circumstances I have just cited. These are the things we should be thinking about.
It is no use making laws and providing benefits for people and then virtually robbing them of those benefits because of their ignorance of the law. I think we have a deeper obligation than we seem to feel at present. Our obligation does not end when we make a law. If a person breaks the law we have every means at our disposal to do something about him, but when it is a question of making a person aware of a law which confers a benefit upon him we are not so active. Not only should we use television; we should use also the Press of this country more frequently than we do. Great use could be made of the country Press, because I find that people in the country know even less about their entitlements than do people in the city. That is understandable. We should use whatever means are available, even to the extent of sending the people the relevant information through the post, as members of Parliament have done from time to time. I have done it myself, but in this instance I think it is a job for the Government.
Now that I have explained this point I hope Senator Morris will give it some consideration and raise it at meetings of his Party. I would hate to have to estimate how much the people of this country collectively are losing, in the field of social services alone, because of their lack of knowledge of entitlements, but 1 would say that possibly it would run into millions of dollars. That fact alone should place a heavy burden of responsibility on every member of Parliament, whether he be in government or in opposition.
I have spoken at length, perhaps longer than I intended to speak, but I believe these matters should be raised. I conclude by returning to the aspect of discrimination. 1 believe the Government has adopted an unwise principle, one to which the Press of Australia has already reacted very adversely, one to which the Opposition has never agreed and one about which the Government should have second thoughts. There should be no discrimination between the single pensioner and the pensioner couple. I hope that whatever remarks 1 have made along those lines in this debate will impress themselves upon the minds of members of the Government.
– 1 could not agree with the amendment proposed by Senator Toohey on behalf of the Opposition. Since this Government took office in 1949 progressive steps have been taken to liberalise the means test, and greatly increased amounts have been expended on age, invalid and widows pensions. I shall elaborate on that aspect later.
Senator Toohey said that there were people in the community who were without knowledge of the help available to them by way of pensions. He also suggested that the Government was at fault for not conducting a survey into the incidence of poverty in relation to age pensions and the assistance given to widows and deserted wives. I worked in the field of voluntary social welfare for a number of years before being elected to this chamber so I am very much aware of the splendid service which has been rendered in the past, and is still being rendered, by voluntary organisations operating in this field. Those organisations in my own State of Victoria, and I am sure in other States, are well aware of the needs of the people who unfortunately arc without income and are completely dependant upon a pension, or those who have very little other income. lt is fitting that the staff of a university should conduct a survey into poverty in Australia. Other groups in the community are also conducting surveys to assess as accurately as possible the number of people who are in dire need. So far as I am aware - 1 am taking a continuing interest in this matter - aged people who are single, aged people who live alone, widows with young children and deserted wives, especially those with young children, are the people who must of necessity be regarded as being either on the poverty line or a very little way above it. Whatever help can be given by the Government must be given to those people. I hope that increasing help will be given to the civilian widow with young children who is unable to work, and to the deserted wife who also has young children and is unable to work.
I refer now to the liberalisation of the means test, as set out in this Bill, as it applies to the age, invalid and widows pensions. lt specifies the limits of both property and income within which such pensions are paid. The limits will be raised by SI 56. Reference has been made to the fact that this amount has not been doubled for the pensioner couple. I shall cite the amounts which have been paid and the amounts which are now available to the single pensioner and the pensioner couple. I have had sufficient experience in managing a home to know that it is possible for each of two people living together in a home to live more cheaply than can. the single person living alone. If it were possible to do so, it would be desirable to increase the rate of pension especially for those who can be proved to be in need, but I repeat that whatever additional help is given should be given to the single pensioner in necessitous circumstances.
In 1949 some 403,000 people were receiving age and invalid pensions. They represented 39 per cent of the number of men and women who would qualify for a pension by reason of age and residence. At that time a single person with an income, including income from property - I stress that point - of $377 per annum was not entitled to an age or invalid pension. A married couple with a total income of S754 per annum was not entitled to an age or invalid pension. Since 1949 the means test has been relaxed and the limits of income have more than doubled so that today it is possible for a single person to be eligible for a pension unless his or her income, ignoring any income from property, reaches $1,040 per annum and, in the case of a married couple, $1,950 per annum. The great difference between the state of affairs now and the state of affairs which existed in 1949 is obvious. That is of course assuming that the value of the property does not affect the rate of pension payable.
Again quoting figures for 1949, the amount expended in that year on aged, invalid and widows’ pensions was $92m which contrasts very greatly with the amount expended in 1966 on the same category of people. More than 640,000 people were receiving age pensions in 1966; that is, 53% of the number of persons qualified by reason of age or residence. In contrast, the proportion was 39% in 1949. The total expenditure has increased to $4 19m. I feel that it is necessary to cite these facts and figures in order to show that that Government has not been unaware of the needs of these people who are receiving age and invalid pensions and those women who are unfortunately widowed or come under the category of civilian class A widows.
I turn to a few more facts and figures to make my point even clearer. The proposed means test extension will mean that a single age or invalid pensioner whose property apart from his or her home, furniture and personal effects is less than $420 in value may have an additional income of up to $10 a week and still receive a maximum standard rate pension of $13 a week, making a total income of $23 a week. If a pensioner has no income but has assets to the value of $5,600, that pensioner may receive a pension at the maximum rate. The figure at which the pension ceases to be paid is $12,360, which is quite a considerable amount.
For a married pensioner couple the combined value of whose property is $840 or less, the income limit that will permit payment of the full pension of $23.50 is $17 a week so that the upper income limit for such a couple is $40.50 a week. Again I point out that these incomes do not include any income from property.
I turn to the widow of whom I have spoken. The liberalising of the means test will mean that a widow with one child will receive the full pension. Including a mother’s allowance and child’s allowances her pension would be $18.50 per week. In addition, she will be able to have an income of $13 a week, which would give her a total income of $31.50 a week. She may also have assets, apart from her home, up to $4,500 in value. I consider that these figures show very clearly the increase in benefits that has taken place. In 1949 benefits under the Social Services Act amounted to $l49m. By 1966 they had reached $694m. As has been stated, the cost of the proposals contained in this Bill will be approximately $13. 5m in a full year and $2. 5m for the balance of the current year. But apart from that, it is estimated that for the current year the total expenditure on social services will be approximately $758m, which is a considerable increase over the expenditure for the previous year.
As we all very well know, social services is only one facet of the work that must be undertaken and the responsibilities that must be carried by the whole community. As I said earlier, I have the utmost sympathy for those who are in need. I hope that by means of the surveys that are being undertaken we will be able to ascertain those people who really are in need and those who need to be helped in other ways in order to augment their incomes. Senator Toohey referred to the fact that so few people in the community are fully aware of the avenues by which help may be obtained through social services. I point out to honourable senators that a voluntary service has been established which has the ways and means of making this information available. In Great Britain during the years preceding the outbreak of World War II in 1939 when conditions were becoming very confused, when families were moving from one area to another and when it was most essential that people should be aware of the help that could be given to them, a citizens’ advice bureau was set up. It proved to be invaluable. At the conclusion of the war this service had become such an essential part of community life that the number of bureaus had increased throughout England and now there are over 700 of them. They are able to give citizens the necessary information as to whether they can obtain help, not only from departments, but from all the social agencies. Similar bureaus have been set up in Perth, in Adelaide, which is the capital of the State from which Senator Toohey comes, and in Hobart. Investigations are being made as to the possibility of setting up a similar bureau in Melbourne. It is to be hoped that through the enthusiasm of voluntary workers who are aware of the need to bring this information to the person in need, such bureaus will be established, not only in the metropolitan areas of the States, but in the country areas as well. So again, in addition to the Department of Social Services, I say how invaluable it is for voluntary social service workers, whether from a church, statutory bodies or other organisations, to work together in an endeavour to bring about an improvement in the condition and standard of living of those who are in want.
I would like to deal for a few minutes with another group of people who are in need of help. 1 refer to those employed in sheltered workshops. It brought great relief and gratification to the people who are working with these deprived people to be able to provide them with accommodation. These people are deprived of the ability to earn money for themselves, by reason of physical disability of one form or another. This legislation was introduced by our Government in 1963. In the last twelve months I have had the privilege of seeing a great number of these sheltered workshops, and I have the utmost admiration for those who are in charge of them and for those who are working in them most courageously, overcoming the most appalling physical defects and cheerfully availing themselves of the help that is given to them in these workshops. Those persons who have the care of these unfortunate people will be most grateful that this Government in this Bill is introducing a special allowance for employees in sheltered workshops and will provide capital and other assistance towards the expansion and establishment of workshops. We look forward to the Bill that will deal with this special form of relief.
The special allowance, which will be known as the sheltered employment allowance, will enable those who are able to work and earn above the amount that is now permitted to them, to earn more. It will give them an incentive to earn more, thereby building up their morale, their courage and their general enjoyment of life. Any pension or benefit payable under the Social Services Act will not be paid to persons employed in these workshops; the allowance will lake its place. To be eligible for the allowance a person must -be employed, we are told, in a workshop and be qualified to receive an invalid pension or to be likely, in the opinion of the Director-General of Social Services, to become qualified to receive an invalid pension if he were not employed in the workshop.
That, I think, is a splendid provision, because it will enable a person still to be employed in the workshop and to use his time profitably, not only from an economic point of view but also to assist his mental health and general wellbeing. It will assist the workshop movement, as well as the disabled employees, by enabling the workshops to provide employment to persons before their disabilities had reached the stage that would enable them to qualify for an invalid pension. The allowance, of course, will be subject to the same means test, except for earnings derived from employment in the workshop. As 1 said before, in the case of an unmarried person, the first $10 a week of workshop earnings, plus half of the earnings in excess of that amount, will be taken into account as income for means test purposes. In the case of a married person, the first $17 a week plus half the earnings will be taken into account. So together the earnings should be between $17 and $25 a week.
I find, too, that there is a proposal that blind pensioners employed in sheltered workshops will be eligible for the allowance free of the means test. I hope that the sheltered employment allowance will be the means of bringing a great deal of relief and assistance both to those who are endeavouring to build up sheltered workshop employment for deprived people and to those who work in these workshops.
I should like to say just a few words, too, about the rehabilitation provisions. We are all aware that help is given to the physically handicapped not only by the voluntary organisations but also under the Commonwealth rehabilitation service. The benefits that are available to people undergoing treatment in the Commonwealth rehabilitation service are provided free of charge to invalid and widow pensioners and to persons in receipt of unemployment and sickness benefits. But some people are not eligible for this free service. They may receive treatment if they pay for the rehabiliation or if they are sponsored by governmental or private organisations. I am very glad indeed to see that there is provision for people who are unable to meet these costs to pay according to their ability to do so. This will mean that quite a number of people who at present are not receiving the benefits of the rehabilitation service will be enabled to carry on their daily lives at a more satisfactory level by means of the rehabilitation service. I sincerely hope that it also means that among those disabled persons who may pay according to their means the housewife who is disabled may be included, or if she is not to be included that she soon will be included. Not only are charges to be met under this Bill but also books and equipment, appliances and tools of trade to those who are undergoing rehabilitation are to be provided. At the present time, this assistance cannot exceed a total sum of $80. The Bill provides that where there is to be more than one year’s training a person may receive this assistance of $80 for each year of the training.
I should like to touch, lastly, upon another matter to which Senator Toohey referred. This relates to a woman whose husband has been committed to a mental institution and who is included under the pension scheme for a civilian class A widow. Under this Bill she is to be brought into the same category as the civilian class A widow, and she will be given three months in which to make her claim for a widow’s pension. It seems to me to be a very great pity that we have to refer to these unfortunate women, whose husbands are committed to a mental hospital for a period of treatment, in spite of the greatly improved methods of helping people who are so unfortunately afflicted, as widows; I wish that we could find some other term to describe them.
I hope I have shown in citing these facts and figures in relation to the partnership between government departments and interested people in our community who work in voluntary services, and find it an honour to do so, that we are giving care, so far as our genera] economy permits, to those who are in need. My final answer to one of Senator Toohey’s statements is that we boast of a sound economy. I con tend that if the state of the economy brought about by the wise administration of this Government were not sound, these increased benefits which are being provided constantly year after year under the social services scheme would not be possible. 1 have much pleasure in supporting the Bill and I deplore the fact that the Opposition has considered it necessary to propose this amendment.
– Madam Acting Deputy President, I support the amendment proposed on behalf of the Opposition. I think that before answering some of the statements made by Senator Breen I should comment on the various paragraphs in the amendment. The first one is self explanatory. Obviously, the Government intends to continue its policy of discriminating between married and single pensioners. If discrimination is to be practised in this way the obvious thing to do is to look at other aspects of social services as well so as to strike >a balance in some way. One of the balancing proposals that comes to mind, of course, is the introduction of zone allowances. All pensioners do not live in the metropolitan areas. The second paragraph of the amendment contains a proposal that has been advocated by the Australian Labor Party for a long time. I refer honourable senators to 1949, when pensions were more closely balanced against the cost of living than at any other time in our history. Those people who are forced to live on fixed incomes today have no hope of coping with the continual inflation which is evident in our economy and which results in a continually rising cost of living. The third paragraph in the amendment is self explanatory. I propose to say more about it later, as I do the fourth one, which contains a proposal that has been advanced by the Labor Party for a long time. Indeed, members of the coalition Parties have hinted at support for it on several occasions when an approach to the electors was forthcoming. The fifth and final paragraph in the amendment proposes something that we have asked this Government to agree to on many occasions - retrospective application of increases in benefits. We propose that the additional benefits provided for in this measure be dated back to 26th November 1966 - the date of the last Federal general election. Pensioners cannot do very much to achieve what we seek to achieve for them by means of this amendment. They cannot go on strike. They have no one to strike against. However, 1 venture to suggest that if price increases that would raise business profits were proposed or an increase in parliamentary salaries were involved the story would be altogether different: the increases would be made retrospective.
I felt very sorry indeed for Senator Breen. She was forced to put up a very weak argument because she had no real case to support. That was the fault not of herself but of her Party and the Government. She appealed to voluntary social workers to participate in various social welfare activities. I venture to say that the cause of the under privileged of this country is the responsibility not only of every individual citizen but also, most importantly, of the government of the day. The honourable senator’s charitable outlook was characterised by the maternal attitude, shall T say, that she adopted towards those who are described in the phrase ‘the poor old people’. If she was voicing the attitude of the Government, it is obvious that pensioners will receive very little more benefit during the life of this Government. The honourable senator then proceeded, as it were, to hand out $10 notes as though they were the first prize in the Sydney Opera House lottery. One can imagine the pensioners zooming about, buying new clothes and living it up on the 50c pieces and the $1 notes and $10 notes that the honourable senator figuratively handed out. But the Government is giving no such handouts. The Bill merely provides for an increase in the limit of the income that may be earned without any effect on the pension. A pensioner has to be physically able to earn by working if he is to obtain any benefit from this.
There is provision in the measure for an extremely minor benefit for physically handicapped persons, who are dismissed as if they were no longer important in the community because they cannot contribute a full day’s work. They are to be handed out, on the side, a few small crumbs from the table. This Government treats them in the same way that it treats physically handicapped returned servicemen. Once a person’s health has been given in his country’s cause, this Government is completely finished with him.
This is the attitude that it will display towards the kids who come back from Vietnam. The Government will do nothing for them. It is happy to send them there in jet aircraft, but they will be forgotten when they return, just as the diggers of the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War are now forgotten by it.
Let us now examine the Bill in a little more detail and see precisely what a magnificent benefit the Government proposes to give to the pensioners. The Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), in her second reading speech, said:
The means test extension in the Bill raises by $156 the amount of means as assessed that will permit the payment of a full pension.
That is equivalent to £78 in our old currency, or the huge sum of thirty bob a week. However, the pensioners are not being given a handout of those proportions. If that sum were being handed out by way of an increase in pension rates, I would say that the Government’s contribution was well worth while. It is merely increasing the limit of permissible earnings by this sum, and if it is criticised for its parsimonious attitude to an important social question it has only itself to blame. The Minister said also:
The effect of the amendment on widows pensions will mean that a widow with one child may receive a full pension, including mother’s allowance and child’s allowance - a total of SI 8. SO a week-
She has to keep herself and child and run a home on that sum - and in addition have income of up to $13 a week, giving her a total income of $31. SO a week. She may also have assets, apart from her home . . .
No young mother who is widowed is able to look after herself and a child on $18.50 a week. In many instances, at today’s rates, this represents the rent for an average suburban cottage or flat. What does she live on? The Government will allow her to earn another $13 a week, if she is able to leave her child and go out to work. I have heard Government supporters say before that she can get work to do at home. Do they know the kind of slave labour that she would have to undertake to get work to do at home? She could address envelopes at so much a thousand or she could sew garments at so much a gross. She could work from daylight to dark to earn the mere pittance that this Government will allow her to earn without any effect on her pension.
– If she is well enough.
– That is true. The aged, the widows and the deserted comprise one-third of those who live in poverty in our community. One would have expected this Government, with its magnificent generosity, to do something at least for widows, even if it was not prepared to do much for other sections of pensioners. A little further on in the speech we see that the Government proposes to make a tremendous concession to those unfortunate persons whose husbands are to be committed to mental institutions for medical treatment. Senator Breen said: T think we ought to find a nicer name for them’. Let us face the plain hard facts of life. The mentally ill need medical treatment just as much as do the physically ill. When they have to go into hospital, do not let us be content merely to find nicer names for them; for heavens sake let us try to give them better allowances and pensions and show in a concrete way that we do have some sympathy for them.
– Like the Labor Government did in 1949!
– Yes. We did look after them in 1949. Later in the speech, when referring to the qualifying period for a widow’s pension, the Minister says:
No such period of grace for the lodgment of a claim is allowed, however, where a woman becomes qualified to receive a widow’s pension by reason of her husband’s admission to a mental hospital; in these cases the pension commences from the date of lodgment of the claim.
That is the magnificent concession this Government proposes to make to this particular section of the community, and I will wager that it will cost about $1,000 to give it. The attitude of the Government to the under privileged, the aged and the ill has not changed over the years. The last time Government supporters were worried about the aged problem was a little while ago, just before the election of the new Prime Minister. At that time, they gathered around the corridors talking about the former Prime Minister, saying: ‘I wonder when the old so-and-so is going to retire’. That is the last time they had any interest in the aged of this community.
Let me now quote some figures from the report of the Director-General of Social Services for the year 1965-66. On page 5 of that report we find that expenditure from the National Welfare Fund on social services reached $694,229,000 for the year 1965-66, which represented an increase of approximately $23im over expenditure for the previous year. On that same page we find a table snowing expenditure under the various headings. It discloses that the expenditure on aged and invalid pensions including supplementary assistance, allowances to wives of agc and invalid pensioners’ and guardians’ allowances, amounted to $442,355,000 for the year 1965-66 which represented an increase of 3.7% over the amount expended last year. Expenditure on widow’s pensions, including supplementary allowance, totalled $50m which represented an increase of 6.3%. These percentage increases are extremely important for they highlight the parsimonious attitude adopted by the Government towards the widow pensioners under this legislation. The increase in expenditure on rehabilitation amounted to 3.5%, which again is a very interesting figure. The Director-General’s comments on the total number of pensioners as a percentage of the population together with the total number eligible to receive the age pension also makes interesting reading. I think we ought to keep these things in mind when legislation such as this is being discussed in this chamber. In his report for 1965-66, the Director-General of Social Services says:
People over minimum pension age in Australia represent an estimated 10.3% of the population. Of these people, 53%-
Or more than half - are receiving age pensions.
Then there is mention of one or two other interesting points that I think ought to be taken into consideration. They relate to widow’s pensions. In his report dealing with this subject, the Director-General states:
Grants of widows* pensions during the year totalled slightly less than in 1964-65. The net increase of 3,208 resulted in 68,606 widows’ pensions being paid at 30th June 1966.
Almost 69,000 widows is a fairly large part of the community, especially when we take into consideration their dependent children. Some idea of the size of this section can be had if one imagines a picture of Canberra, excluding the newer suburbs. These widows would represent quite a number of people if we had them congregated in one area.
By the end of 1965-66, the Department had granted 31,796 class A pensions, a figure which has now been increased, 36,703 class B pensions and 107 class C. Class A pensions granted during the year totalled 7,268, of which 53% were to women whose husbands had died and 33% were to deserted wives. Of the 6,383 class B pensions granted during the previous year, 85% were granted to women whose husbands had died. New admissions to class C pension numbered 321. Women aged from 45 to 49 years comprised the largest quinquennial age group amongst those granted class C pensions. They were followed by the 40 to 44 age group. Twelve of the widows granted class C pensions were under twenty years of age. During this financial year, transfers to class A pensions from other classes were 212, and to class B 1,878. In addition, 4,743 pensions in class B were terminated on the grant of age or invalid pensions, age pensions predominating. When we come to examine a subject such as this, it is essential that we realise its magnitude and the very great need to adopt a humanitarian as well as the legislative attitude which honourable senators opposite take as Government supporters. 1 come now to a report made on 29th July 1966 by Mr G. W. Ford, Senior Lecturer in Industrial Relations at the University of New South Wales, which revealed that 800,000 people in this country were on the poverty line. That number is almost equivalent to the number of people we had in uniform during World War II. This report by Mr Ford received wide publicity in some sections of the Press at the time, and I propose to refer to certain other statements by independent people who give some very interesting figures. On 13th July 1966, the Honourable Arthur Calwell, former Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party gave an address at the Newman College. The figures he used were those for 1964, but we can bring them up to date by adding to them the increases for the various categories. I believe these figures are of tremendous interest not only to members of Parliament but also to members of the community in general. In that address, Mr Calwell said:
In 1964 (he world’s population reached almost 3,300m. Annually, this number at present increases by at least 65m.
This is more than five times the population of Australia. Mr Calwell continued:
By 2.000AD the number will have lept above 6,000m, approximately double its present size. Every day about 200,000 people are added to the world’s population.
In other words, twice every day a population the size of the City of Canberra is born. Mr Calwell continued:
These figures mean that there will bc a lot of extra people to be coped with in the next thirty years. Careful surveys conducted by United Nations personnel reveal that of the present 3,300m people only one third is reasonably well fed, one third suffers some degree of food deficiency, while one third are literally starving.
Many of the pensioners, the people to whom this Government is being so magnificent today, come into this last category. It is interesting to hear members of the Liberal Party laughing at these statements relating to food, but they have always been well fed and are not likely to come into the category of pensioners. Mr Calwell continued:
The last one-third never get enough to eat from the time they are born until the day they die. Consequently, they live short and miserable lives. It has been estimated that 10,000 people in the world die of hunger each day.
I wish to quote to the Senate in support of my submissions a paragraph from the bulletin put out by the National Pensioners Society. It says this:
Does the Government think that a paltry increase of one dollar in the Pension compares with the rising cost of living and its attendant hardships?
The bulletin refers to the last increase in the pension granted by the Government. It continues:
Who, but the majority of Pensioners, can realise the misery and suffering endured through the muddled thinking of the Federal Government? Not all Pensioners are on the -same status, but for those existing on the Pension alone. life has little meaning.
Old age is a national problem. This was stated by Shaun Mcilraith in an edition of the magazine ‘People’ which is available no doubt in the Parliamentary Library and other places to those members of the Government who are interested enough to seek it. I am quoting this article in order to point out and highlight the degree of poverty that exists in this section of the community. Shaun Mcilraith wrote:
In Australia today one in every 12 people is aged 65 or more. He is usually at the end of his working life and potentially someone for whom the State and society will have to assume at least some measure of responsibility.
Throughout the Western world the proportion of old people in the community is increasing as a result of two complementary factors. The birthrate is falling and at the same time, because of better living standards and more efficient medicine, more people than ever before are living a fairly full life-span.
In not many more years the proportion of old people in Australia can be expected to rise to that already existing in some Western countries - one in every eight of the population. lt was this train of thought which prompted Dr Sidney Sax, Director of Geriatrics for New South Wales, to warn during a speech late last year, that Australia had 10 years’ grace to prepare for the new Western population pattern - a society with about an eighth of ils people too old for normal work, almost a third too young for work, and altogether, very neatly half the population unproductive.
This is something which concerns us all, as there is no agreeable alternative to growing old. Indeed, the prospect is that many of the people working now will spend nearly a quarter of their lives in retirement. Improving the condition of today’s old people is also social insurance for about everyone else.
Recently an article was published in a Sydney newspaper, the ‘Sun Herald’, which highlights the points that I wish to make. Not all of these facts are available to us in government publications. But it is obvious that the computerised survey being carried out in Melbourne at the present time will have a very strong impact on the community when the results of the survey are available. This is what Bob Johnson had to say in the article in the ‘Sun Herald’:
In the affluent society of Australia 1967. bleak, empty-belly poverty probably blights the lives of nearly 750,000 people. Poverty certainly affects one in every 16 people in Melbourne.
Later in the article, Bob Johnson says that this figure would apply to Sydney also. He goes on to say:
The Institute of Applied Economic Research at Melbourne University has computerised facts and figures to prove it.
The Institute is now nearing the end of the biggest and most detailed social survey ever made in Australia (three years and SI 00,000 in the making).
It believes its figures could have Australia-wide application.
I wonder whether we will ever see the day when this Government will be interested enough to take a national outlook on the problems concerning this section of the community and whether the Government itself will initiate a survey to see what degree of poverty exists in this country.
It has been said that the United States of America is an affluent society. At least the Government of the United States at the present moment has initiated some sort of war on poverty. Why is it not respectable to do the same here? The Australian Government follows the lead of the Government of the United States in matters like Vietnam but when it comes to looking after the under privileged section of the community, the Government does not want to follow the leader. If it is all right to go all the way with LBJ in one field why is it not good enough for the Government to go all the way with him in the other field? ls this something that the Government does not care about? The Government is more interested in killing people in two directions - one by malnutrition and the other with bullets.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– The Opposition believes that any improvement in social service benefits must be made on a humanitarian basis. I wish to enlarge on that by pointing out - I do not know whether all honourable senators opposite realise this - that Aboriginals who qualify for social service payments, such as age and invalid pensions, very frequently have those payments stolen from them. There is no more descriptive word - no truer word - than that. If it is not done by sleight of hand tricks by station owners and managers in the Northern Territory in particular, it is done through the excessive prices charged for goods bought through station stores.
I implore the Government to look at that aspect, if it wishes to live up to the letter of social justice. Does it want to do that or does it adopt the attitude described by Kath Walker, the Aboriginal poetess, when she said recently that the Government’s attitude to Aboriginals is the same as it was 100 years ago: let them die out as comfortably as possible?
– As they did in Tasmania.
– That is right. I believe that the real answer is in Labor’s policy which is summarised in the points that are included in the amendment nova by the Opposition. Unfortunately for the pensioners of this country, at the last general election we did not secure sufficient votes to enable us to implement this policy. It is set out in very clear terms. 1 quote the following major points from Labor’s policy:
Provide a medical entitlement card for all persons of pensionable age, irrespective of income.
Provide half pension for all persons over 70 without a means test as a first step towards abolishing the means test.
Honourable senators will recall that the fourth point in our amendment says that the Government should carry out its policy of abolishing the means test as promised as long ago as 1949. The Government’s only contribution is to raise the permissible income by the very meagre amount of 30s a week. We also said that we would:
Liberalise deductions on permissible incomes by deducting only $1 on every $2 earned above the permissible income for full pension entitlement.
Double funeral benefit rates.
Provide a capital or rental subsidy of $3 for $1 for sheltered workshops.
Increase grants under the Aged Persons Homes Act to $3 for each $1 raised.
The final paragraph in our statement of policy was:
Labor supports a high basic minimum rate of aged pension for all pensioners whether married or single; plus additional special allowances for those with special needs.
The Government in this Bill has gone nowhere near meeting the requirements of the pensioners. It has said that they may earn a little more income. Senator Breen said that we should find a more respectful description for a woman whose husband was committed to an asylum for mental therapy. But that is not the real answer. The real answer is to ensure that these people receive social justice. Pious platitudes, never-never promises and all that sort of thing do not help the people who should be helped.
I certainly hope that between now and the presentation of the Budget in August members of the Government parties will give this matter much more consideration. I hope that the Government will see its way clear to spend more money on the deserving members of the community and to commit less money to the fighting of wars that we cannot win anyway. 1 hope that it will ensure that more money is spent on homes for needy people and that young Australians in their formative years will see their parents helped by increases in benefits such as child endowment. I wholeheartedly support the amendment moved by my colleague Senator Toohey.
– In rising to support the Government’s Bill further to increase and improve its social service benefits to the people of Australia, and in following Senator Keeffe in this debate, I cannot help reminding him and other honourable senators that the political wheel rolls steadily on. The last time I addressed the Senate on this subject I gave my views, after very deep consideration, on the abolition of the means test and other matters. I was followed by Senator Keeffe. Hansard records that he said: ‘Senator Marriott spoke like a bishop’. I thought that the newcomer from Queensland, the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party, had broken the ice and was going to be pleasant to somebody on this side of the chamber and had inadvertently chosen me. But then he added something to this effect: ‘Senator Marriott makes me sick and he is not worth listening to’. Ever since I have wondered whether he had in mind a particular bishop whom he did not like or whether he had a personality complex and dislikes all bishops. All I say in respect of his speech tonight is that, if he said anything that I consider worthwhile and warranting an answer, he will find that answer in my contribution to this debate.
However, I congratulate Senator Toohey. I believe that he gave us a thoughful and calm exposition of his views and those of the Opposition on this vexed question of social services. As far as is possible in a matter such as this, he left party politics out of it. In his speech there was none of the vituperation and bitterness that came from Senator Keeffe. I cannot agree with all of the propositions that Senator Toohey advanced. I say that only because I speak from the Government side and the Government has to make a review of all the situations and all its responsibilities and decide the extent to which it will yield its taxing power in order to provide increased benefits for the people whom both members of the
Opposition and we on the Government side believe need further help from the public purse. The only way in which anybody suffering hardship in Australia can be helped by any government is by the other people of Australia paying the necessary money into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Senator Toohey moved an amendment on behalf of the Labor Opposition. Some aspects of it will be covered in my speech. At the end 1 will give briefly my views on the aspects that I omit to mention.
Social services are reviewed annually by associations within the community which are working for the many and varied types of people who are in need of assistance. Their ideas and suggestions for improvement come to parliamentarians and to parliamentary committees on both sides of the House. I am certain that they go also to the Minister for Social Services (MrSinclair) and his departmental officers. Finally, the worthwhile suggestions with a possibility of being accepted by the Government and included in its proposals in the Budget Speech are placed before Cabinet and decisions are reached. Each year in this Parliament we have the right and privilege of putting our views on whether we think the Government has made sufficient headway, has made any mistakes or should include more improvements in its legislative programme. At times we may read a particular document by a specialist who is no doubt well informed on a subject and sincerely believes that the subject matter needs urgent, direct and generous help, but such experts differ in knowledge of the other responsibilities of governments and they do not always try to take into consideration a national fiscal policy.
The Bill before the Senate sets out purely and simply to put into operation as early as possible the statement of social services by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in his policy speech before the last general election. This legislation will give the promised policy legislative effect. The Prime Minister stated that the limits of property and income within which pensions are payable to aged persons, invalids and widows would be raised by $156 per annum. This comparatively small improvement will make eligible for pensions a wider range of people. At present about 640,000 Australians receive age pensions, or 53% of the number eligible. That is to say, 53% of Australian men over sixty-five and women over sixty are receiving age pensions, whereas in 1949 when this Government came into office only 39% of the number eligible received age pensions.
The Bill includes three other amendments to the Act, one of which tidies up a loophole in the legislation; the other amendments improve the benefits for sections of the people who receive help through social service legislation. An important part of this Bill - in my view another step forward in the right direction - is designed to help people who are physically handicapped or mentally retarded. I refer of course to the provision in respect of sheltered workshops and the people who are described in the new term coined by the Minister or his Department as sheltered workers. They are the people being rehabilitated in sheltered workshops. Honourable senators do nol need reminding that in 1963 this Government gave great encouragement to church and charitable organisation who were helping to rehabilitate these unfortunate people in the community.
In 1963 this Parliament passed legislation which enabled accommodation to be provided for these people. It provides excellent encouragement to church and charitable organisations in playing their part to get people who are better off financially and in health to club together and assist people who are in need of help. In this respect the Bill amplifies a belief of mine that the Government should not attempt to do everything to help and look after these people. A government must provide the main financial assistance and must give advice, but I believe that it should always encourage the good hearted, community minded people. The Minister for Social Services and another famous Australian, Sir Giles Chippendall, agree with that outlook and appreciate the Government’s efforts. I shall quote briefly from the annual report of the National Old People’s Welfare Council of Australia for the year ended 30th June last. The Minister made a grant - with the approval of Parliament, because he cannot do these things unless he gets parliamentary approval - to the Council. In referring to that grant by the Minister the report stated:
Mr Sinclair said that in making substantial grants to assist the work of the Council the Commonwealth recognised that old people had many human problems that could not be solved by government action alone. Cash payments and material provisions could meet some of the needs of our elderly people, but the Government could not legislate against loneliness and broken family ties. The member organisations of Council could do much to help in these individual personal matters as well as in the provision of material assistance to meet the special needs of the elderly. The Minister added that he was delighted to learn that certain State governments were also assisting the Member Councils in their respective States.
I believe that proves once again the truth of the old adage that example is better than precept. The Minister’s words to the Council apply to all the other community minded church and charitable organisations in Australia. The Minister’s opinion is gratefully acknowledged and supported, as is recorded in the same annual report, by Sir Giles Chippendall, the President of the Council. Sir Giles said, as stated in the report:
The announcement made by the Hon. Ian Sinclair, Minister of State for Social Services, that the Commonwealth Government has decided to make a grant to the National Old People’s Welfare Council of Australia is most gratifying to all those engaged in the work of this Council and its Member Councils in each State of the Commonwealth.
In other words Commonwealth help is giving a boost to the enthusiasm of the people who decide governmental action - I think every honourable senator will agree with the Minister on that count - so that greater help can be given in solving many of the social problems of the sick, elderly and widowed.
In the Minister’s second reading speech he reminded us that when we criticise the Government for its actions we should remember that in the current financial year - taking into account the results of this Bill - the Australian taxpayers will be finding about $760m for social service benefits. That figure is calculated quite apart from the costs of medical and pharmaceutical benefits, repatriation and education. It represents an increase of about $63m on last year’s expenditure from the public purse for social services. Although this Bill has been referred to by some honourable senators as a minor amendment, in a full financial year it will involve additional expenditure on social services of $13.5m. Our social service structure is growing. Mr Duthie, a Tasmanian colleague - political opponent he may be but a colleague none the less - expressed in very clear language views that I would like to express. He spoke on this measure in another place and is reported on page 1104 of Hansard in this way:
The most dramatic development in any field of Commonwealth enterprise has been in the field of social services. This began in 1909 with the age and invalid pensions. Since then the Department of Social Services has expanded its humanitarian work into dozens of additional fields involving personal and family relationships throughout Australia.
I want to be completely fair to the honourable member and not try to indicate, by quoting that small extract from his speech, that he was in any way satisfied with what this Government was doing in the field of social services. He was critical of the Government and he advanced ideas well worthy of consideration. He pointed out that the field of service and responsibility has been very widely developed over the past sixty years.
Whenever social services in Australia are debated, and practically always when any aspect of the subject is written about or referred to by Press and radio commentators, the question of the means test arises and people glibly say that the Government should abolish the means test. As I said earlier, 1 spoke at length of my views on this aspect after the last Budget had been introduced and I will not repeat myself here. I circulated copies of that speech, which was not in favour of the immediate removal of the means test, to people and organisations which had been vocal in criticising the Government for not abolishing the test. 1 have received no comments from them. Perhaps my views were such that they felt I should be treated with contempt. Perhaps as a backbencher, as we are called in the Senate, my views are not worth while commenting upon. But 1 have continued to study the means test and I still am not prepared to say that the Government should abolish the means test, because I believe there are still many questions which must be answered.
I ask these questions of proponents of the abolition of the means test: ‘Do you mean the abolition of the means test in relation to eligibility for age pensions, service pensions, invalid pensions, widows pensions and unemployment and sickness benefits? Do you include in your proposal all the fringe benefits that are now paid?’
Honourable senators know that a wide and expensive range of fringe benefits are available to many social service beneficiaries, for example, supplementary rent assistance and rebates on telephone rentals and television and radio licence fees. Do we abolish the means test in relation to all those benefits? Many questions must be answered before any honourable senator can rightly say here that the Government should abolish the means test.
On 25th August last year the Prime Minister replied as follows to the then Leader of the Opposition in another place, the honourable Arthur Calwell, who said that the means test should be abolished:
Referring to Mr Calwell - must be aware that the complete abolition of the meanstest would cost, on present entitlements, $300m. It would also result in the virtual doubting of expenditure, now running at the rate of $63 m a year, under the pensioner medical service.
I am one who likes to think that a successful, prosperous and economic family life is one of the important features of Australian life and something to be maintained. The abolition of the means test raises another problem. If we increase taxes to offset the cost of abolishing the means test we will place a heavy burden on those who are starting to rear a family, buy and furnish a home and educate their children. Consideration must be given to the way in which the scale comes down. Do we give more to those who already have and take more from those in need? Or do we continue the practice this Government has been following of gradually raising the means test limits and providing more out of the common purse for those who are suffering hardship? The abolition of the means test would provide more money for people to whom it would not mean a raising of their standard of living.
I do not mind going on record as saying that if we have more to give we should give to those who need it, not to those who do not need it, who would have to bear higher taxes to provide for those who need assistance most. This does not mean that I decry the right of specialist writers on important subjects, such as social services, to state their point of view. No person in his right mind would criticise Professor Downing who has written on the means test, and Professor Harper who has written more recently on the incidence of poverty in the community. These specialists do a great job in directing the attention of the Government and the public to their particular field of research. They are people who speak with authority and after deep thought, but I remind the Senate that if they advocate any specific action by the Government they do so without realising the many other responsibilities the Government has to bear in financing the activities of the Commonwealth.
When our Prime Minister first took office he said - I praised him for it - that he had in effect a two-pronged policy for Australia, namely, development and defence. Without development - these are my words - we would not acquire defence, and without defence it would not be worth our while undertaking any development. This Government is following a policy of gradually sharing, with those who are in need, the benefits that become available. When we speak about social service benefits let us not forget the taxpayers of Australia. The Government is spending large sums of money to help people in far worse condition than ourselves in countries to our near north and in other underdeveloped and oppressed countries. The Government must view these responsibilities having before it a clear picture of the position, not merely the writings of specialists.
The expansion of the Senate committee system which is being talked about at present rightly comes within the scope of the debate on this Bill, I believe, Mr Acting Deputy President, for the Opposition’s amendment proposes a national inquiry into social services. I think it would be fair to say that governments, though they do not fear committees, do not look with much pleasure on the establishment of committees that will inquire into something that has or could have vast effects on national financial policy. The Australian Universities Commission is a body of this sort, and there arc many others. Such bodies make their propositions known to the Government. In effect they say to it: ‘After full consideration of this subject we consider that you should spend an additional X million dollars on it.’
Naturally, an Opposition looks to the establishment of committees, either in or outside the Parliament, and sometimes honourable senators opposite have even called on another House of the Parliament to join with them in the witch hunt, for something with which to belt the Government. This is the role of an Opposition in the political life of the country, and if ever I am a member of a party in opposition I shall probably support the same sort of thing myself, because I believe in playing the right role in the Parliament. However, f am not altogether in favour of the appointment of a committee for the purpose of hitting at the Government on this issue. The Australian Democratic Labor Party wants party politics kept out of social services. I believe it is sincere in that. I do not believe that it favours the appointment of the national inquiry proposed in the amendment, for party politics will not be kept out of social services if the kind of committee envisaged is established.
When a Government makes a decision about whether certain benefits should be increased it has a number of considerations to take into account. The first major factor that the Parliament ought to consider is, I believe, how far we should go, in the light of the increasing eligibility for social service benefits, in saying to those who have been newly admitted into the social services scheme: ‘You will also receive the fringe benefits.’ It will be tough if any government cuts off the fringe benefits by easing the means test to a degree. I believe that that is a problem with which the Government and the Parliament will have to deal in the very near future. Uniform taxation is another aspect of government in the Federal sphere. Bad as it is, it is with us. I decry it and deplore it, but it is with us. Under this system what do some of the State governments do when the Commonwealth increases benefits? They charge pensioners higher rents for government homes built with moneys lent at low interest to State governments for the construction of homes for the people. An increase in social service benefits of $1 a week results in rent increases of SOc a week or more. That sort of thing happens in Tasmania, and no one can deny it. Other expenses are involved also. I thought that Senator Keeffe almost came to talking common sense when he brushed quietly over benefits for Aboriginals. He said that when Aboriginals received additional benefits people filched the advantage from them. It is not the
Government’s fault when a small shopkeeper, a petrol station proprietor or -a business man decides to raise his prices in order to meet the increased costs that he incurs. I do not say that it is wrong for State governments to get a little more out of the public purse for their own reasons. But the Commonwealth Government has to face this problem and ask whether in effect, instead of providing more help for those in need, it is supplementing those who are already heeled and pretty well paid. Any government must consider this question.
When pensions were instituted they were intended, as the very term indicates, to meet the needs of those who were suffering hardship. The government of the day recognised that the community was divided into two sections - those who were in favourable circumstances and those who were undergoing hardship. So pensions were instituted to provide financial help for those in poor circumstances, the widowed and the handicapped in order that they might enjoy a decent standard of living. That was the purpose of pensions. It was not envisaged then that each member of the public would pay taxes during his lifetime so that, regardless of his means, income or capital and of his situation on retirement, he would get something back from the public purse. Insurance companies were born to help those who were thrifty enough and who were capable of putting aside savings through private enterprise to maintain a good standard of living in the eventide of their lives. Let us not lose sight of the fact that our first responsibility is to continue as we began in 1909 and to provide, from the common purse of those who are better off, help for those who are in need. 1 now want to say something about poverty, which is being talked about a great deal. I am certain that Professor Harper and others who have looked into this subject never expected that their work would be used as something with which to belt the Government. It was never expected that the findings of the research that has been undertaken would be used as the basis for a charge that this Government keeps 11% of the community living in poverty. This was not intended. The researchers meant only to bring to the notice of the Churches, the charitable organisations and all decent people in the community the fact that in the cities and some country centres people were still living in poverty in this affluent and prosperous country. I honour those researchers for doing what they have done, but I do not give any credit to people who use the results of the research as the basis for an attack on the Government. 1 do not suggest that all members of the Opposition in this Parliament do that, and 1 am not attacking those who do not do it. I give no credit to those who say: ‘Look at what Professor Harper has found. He says that this Government is allowing a great number of people to live in poverty.’
– He is a senior lecturer, not a professor.
– -It sounds as though someone has left a gramophone on, Mr Acting Deputy President. I shall not be diverted from the path that I set out to tread fearlessly. I speak from the heart about poverty. In my community activites and in my work as a politician I have come face to face with it though, thank God, I have never suffered it. I know that there are people living in poverty. But let us be fair, ls this altogether the Government’s responsibility? No, it is not. Poverty comes to some people undeserved. It comes sudden and unheralded. It is self inflicted on some people, through their addiction to drugs, alcoholism or gambling, through crooked deals engaged in by big business men and through the exercise of poor judgment in business by people who are unsuited to the business in which they engage. So hardship is either self inflicted or comes undeservedly to people, and no government can legislate to cover, cure and make up for the poverty in all of the areas in which it is found and for all of the reasons for which it comes in this country. No government can afford, and the taxpayers could not afford, to keep all of those people who suffer poverty in a prosperous way of life. It is not within governmental or departmental ability to legislate and provide for all of the poverty that comes from misfortune, ill health and other causes. We in Tasmania know how it is caused by bush fires. I am glad that this research has been given publicity. I hope that governments, State and Federal, and religious and charitable organisations will give it full consideration. I hope that those in the professions and those who are suc cessful in business will not be slow to come forward with donations when appeals are made for them to help to alleviate something that is a scar on an otherwise very wonderful community.
I conclude with a brief reference to the amendment. I support the Bill. I believe that it improves the social service legislation of this country. I congratulate the Government on putting a part of social services into its policy, lt did not try to run a rat race with the Australian Labor Party Opposition, competing for votes through social services. lt steadfastly said what it would do if it were elected and the people by a vast majority accepted the Government’s policy. Now, a few months after the election, the Government is putting that policy into legislative form, so I support the Bill and congratulate the Government. The Opposition’s amendment is put under five headings. The first implies that the legislation punishes married people to the benefit of single pensioners. I do not believe that this is a statement of fact, but I shall not go into the arithmetic of it for the Senate. A thorough examination of social service benefits, taking into consideration the problems of a person living on his own compared with those of people who are living together, will show that Labor’s amendment does not earn support in that respect because it is not a statement of fact.
The Opposition relies in the second clause of the amendment on the word so loved by Oppositions, ‘adequately’. I thought the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) learned from the Minister for Education and Science (Senator Gorton) how stupid it was to complain that a government’s action was not adequate. What a silly word to use to express a party’s policy. I have already spoken on the third clause of the amendment in relation to a national inquiry. I do not think that that would give benefit to anyone. It would just provide a few talking points. I have spoken about the Government’s carrying out its policy to abolish the means test, as promised as long ago as 1949. It is nice to hear the Labor Party in its own amendment using the term as long ago as 1949’, because it is as long ago as 1949 that the Government came to power. I have given my views on why I do not support that aspect of the amendment.
– It was as long ago as 1938 that a then prominent member of the Government resigned from the Lyons Administration.
– The next clause relates to making benefits retrospective to 26th November, the date of the last election. That sounds like Senator Dittmer - a broken record that the Opposition plays every time that a social services bill is introduced into this Parliament. It is the tradition and the custom for governments, because of accounting procedures and other aspects of social service and repatriation benefits, to make increased payments to take effect from the first pay after the legislation has received the royal assent. Because of that nonsensical repetition of the Labor viewpoint I further oppose the amendment and support the Bill.
– I rise to support the amendment so ably moved by my colleague Senator Toohey. 1 support the five clauses of it in their entirety but I do not propose to speak at length on either of the first two clauses, because Senator Toohey put the case of the Australian Labor Party on them very clearly and precisely. The Labor Party as a party has a very proud record regarding the social service benefits that it has given to the Australian people, both in the Federal sphere and in the State sphere, and it is to be regretted that today the benefits are not as good as they used to be. It is to be regretted that they are not as advanced as those of many other countries. For instance, Senator Marriott spoke of the means test. We find that England, New Zealand and Sweden long ago abolished the means test for social services, so our objective is not impossible to achieve. The insurmountable hurdles that Government supporters seem to think are there can be removed if humanitarian measurements are used, instead of the strict rules of budgets as they may be applied from time to time.
Senator Marriott mentioned that pensions are reviewed yearly. The reviews of the Government over past years have been anything but generous. In fact they have been negative. On a number of occasions nothing whatever has been forthcoming for pensioners. The funds to meet the benefits that are now under consideration will come from the current Budget. It is quite obvious to every honourable senator that if funds are available now within the estimates for that Budget they were available in August and these benefits could have been announced in the last Budget session of the Parliament. The people who will get benefits under this legislation could have had them at least six months earlier. This makes it quite obvious that these proposals were kept for the purpose of electioneering, and the consideration and humanitarian motives that Government supporters are expressing as the reason for this legislation, were put off for nearly six months before the benefits come to the people.
We have a simple proposition in the amendment which will give justice to the pensioners instead of the niggardly approach of the Government in regard to these payments. It is a tragedy that this is the type of thing that has to be debated at this level. It is quite obvious to anybody who observes people who are recipients of social service benefits as closely as most members of Parliament observe them, that something very drastic should be done by this Government very quickly, lt was a very simple proposition, I presume, in days gone by to put people into pigeon holes in relation to pensions. One could satisfy oneself quite clearly that a person was of the age of 65 and had entitlement under the legislation. It was equally simple to apply the maternity allowance. The needs of widows were long apparent before the Curtin Government was able to introduce legislation that provided widows’ pensions. But I suggest that it is not as simple now to put people into pigeon-holes and to decide that this or that is the type of pension that they should receive, and this or that is the amount that they should get. That is why I so strongly support the third clause in the Opposition’s amendment which seeks the setting up of a full inquiry into poverty and social welfare in Australia. I believe it is most necessary that an inquiry should be held to ascertain the needs of the people to whom reference has been made tonight, people who are in dire circumstances.
The plight of widows generally should be fully examined, because widows are not receiving anywhere near the amount of money that is required to enable them to keep themselves and feed and educate a child, if they still have children of school age. 1 think that attention should be given to the position of a widow who is under fifty years of age and has no dependent children. I have seen widows of forty-five or forty-six years of age who have no dependent children and who at that late stage of their lives have, through necessity, to attempt to find some type of employment. This is another aspect that clearly should be examined and the answers to the problem ascertained by a committee of inquiry.
– They are given a miserable six months in which to find a job.
– That is true. They are given six months in which to find a job. A further aspect of this matter is that if they are not in good health but cannot establish that they are 85% incapacitated they are unable to get an invalid pension. I want to refer to that aspect a little later in my remarks. I understand that the Government has already given to the Treasurer and to the Director of Social Services authority to pay compassionate, or what might be called act of grace, payments to people who, although living in poverty, do not qualify under legislation to receive social service benefits. This is another item that could be examined so that we can assess whether we can legislate to apply our pension system to this category of people. I am particularly disturbed at the situation with which I, am confronted from time to time. I meet persons who are not quite invalids but are semi-invalids. We have the situation in which a doctor by an assessment - and doctors have told me that it can be only a guess - can decide by a percentage process whether a person is fit or unfit to do full duties or light duties or is eligible for a pension. There are many examples of persons who have been denied the right to receive an invalid pension and have also been denied the right to work because no-one will employ them in their state of health. This is something that should be examined, because I cannot accept that a percentage figure should be used to decide such an important thing in the lives of people in our community. Senator Toohey has indicated to me one case that has come to his attention. A lady who has had a number of operations, including a serious operation to her leg and an abdominal operation, has been classified as not being 85% incapacitated and therefore is ineligible for an invalid pension. She is completely unemployable. I suggest that any system which uses a percentage system to determine such a matter should be reviewed. The kind of inquiry that I envisage would examine such cases.
– They should use common sense, not statistics.
– That is true. Common sense should be the yardstick when dealing with people in this unfortunate position. I am hoping that an inquiry can find the answers to these problems. 1 am hoping that we will reach the stage when people who are unemployable will be automatically eligible for an invalid pension as a result of a common sense decision of a medical officer. I think also that there should be some system of appeal against the decision of one doctor. Doctors vary in relation to this question of percentage. Some doctors in private practice will suggest that a person can easily obtain an invalid pension, but when that person goes before the Commonwealth medical officer he finds that a pension is denied him. lt is almost impossible for this class of person to get work, particularly in industrialised cities. Jobs involving light duties for men and women are not available in industries in Newcastle, Wollongong and indeed Geelong. Although doctors often say that people have to obtain a job involving light duties, very few industries are willing to employ people unless they are able to do a 100% job for forty hours a week. This is another matter at which we should look very closely.
I want to touch on another matter that Senator Toohey raised. I refer to the complexity of the legislation that is operating at the present time. I myself am besieged with inquiries from persons who believe they may be entitled to a pension. They seek to learn the qualifications for a pension. I am surprised to find that a number of people firmly believe that the maximum amount that they are actually permitted to have and still obtain a full pension is the amount which would disqualify them from obtaining any pension. A number of people have come to me and said: ‘Will I be eligible for a pension after this means test legislation is passed through the Parliament?’ When one asks them what their situation is, one finds that they have $5,000 and that for months they have been under the impression that $5,000 disqualifies them completely from receiving any pension.
– Sometimes they have been under that impression for years.
– That is the case. I think it is the responsibility of the Government and the Department to advertise this matter as freely and as often as possible so as to ensure that every person who is eligible to receive a pension knows of his or her eligibility as a result of information which has come from the Department. 1 agree with what Senator Toohey said as regards television publicity on this matter. It could be done at very little expense and people could receive justice in these fields. This is another matter which I think an inquiry such as the one we have suggested in our amendment could adequately cover. The need to consider the position of another category of pensioners is exemplified in a case in Geelong that has come to my knowledge. A lass looked after an invalid father and mother for ten years. The mother died and the father is still in a wheel chair and is unable to do anything for himself. Because that lass is of working age she was not entitled to any type of pension until I prevailed upon the Department of Social Services to give her a part special benefit, which I think amounts to $3.50 per week. °I think that a person who has dedicated herself to her parents, as this lass has, should be automatically entitled to receive at least the equivalent of the pension that the mother would have received had she been looking after her invalid husband. I do not see any great difficulty in including such a provision within the Social Services Act.
We have to look closely at some problems associated with unmarried mothers. 1 know that a special benefit is available to an unmarried mother who is bringing up her child. But we have the situation in which the Department from time to time examines the current position of unmarried mothers. In one instance an unmarried mother was told to go and find work, when her child was only three years of age. She was told that she should now be able to find work and that the child should be placed in a child minding institution while she was at work. This matter was decided on the report of a social welfare officer who visited this woman. The welfare officer was in her very early 20s and had no conception of the problems facing this woman who was rearing a child. Representations were successful in having the matter deferred for another twelve months. The Act refers to a child of tender years. In my view a child is of tender years at least until it goes to school. Until the child starts school I think that it needs its mother and I think that the mother needs the child. This is so particularly in the case of unmarried mothers. The position of the child of an unmarried mother is so much different from that of a child who has both parents. I ask that this point be examined with a view to being more generous in the interpretation of those sections of the Act which confer rights for special benefits. I suggest that this is one matter that might be kept in mind when any further amending legislation is brought forward in the future.
I wish to speak finally about the complexity of the legislation. At the moment it is extremely difficult for members of Parliament and others to understand just what the Act means. When people come to us with their problems, we should be able to advise them without any difficulty as to what they are entitled to receive under the legislation. For many years in my capacity as secretary of the Trades Hall Council at Geelong I was able under the provisions of the former legislation dealing with age and invalid pensioners to explain to people in simple terms just what they were entitled to receive. Under this legislation, however, it is almost impossible to answer even the simplest question. There is no longer any simple answer to any of the queries. All too frequently it happens that, because of their lack of knowledge and understanding of the Act, pensioners are required to refund money that they have been paid by the Department. They have been required to make these refunds not because they have tried to cheat the Department in any way but simply because they have completely misunderstood or misinterpreted the forms that they have been required to complete when applying for a benefit.
We must have a more simple form of legislation relating to social service benefits.
We must have something that is readily understandable to lay people and to officers of the Department. I am quite certain that at least many of the junior officers of the Department do not understand exactly what the Act means with relation to the eligibility of persons seeking pensions, particularly if those persons are earning any income at all. This aspect needs very close examination. If we can make the Act easier for these officers to interpret, then it will be much easier for them to give both courteous and efficient attention to the people attending the Department. I have the greatest respect for all officers of the Department of Social Services with whom I have had any dealings. I have had nothing but the utmost courtesy from them, but they are becoming a little overloaded with work and this, coupled with the complex nature of the legislation which they are expected to interpret and administer gives them little time for clear and detailed explanations to people at the counter as to what their entitlements are. I believe that people seeking information from the Department receive less than courtesy not because the departmental officers do not desire to be courteous but simply because they are unable to give answers on the spot.
I suggest that the time is long overdue for a complete examination of the Department. I believe that under section 17 of the Public Service Act the Minister himself can make a complete examination of his Department to see whether it is working efficiently and well. I am confident that if he did make the examination he would find many ways in which his officers could be assisted in carrying out their duties. First 1 feel that they could do with more staff, particularly in the provincial cities. They could be helped enormously if the legislation passed through this Parliament were less complex and easier to interpret.
– They should have a publicity branch.
– They should most definitely have a publicity branch so that people might be made fully aware of their entitlements. In conclusion, I feel that the Department of Social Services should operate with simplicity, generosity and courtesy.
Senator GAIR (Queensland - Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party [9.4]
The amending legislation now before the Senate may be likened to the proverbial curate’s egg. It is good in parts. For the good parts in the legislation, I commend the Government. For the parts of the legislation which I believe are unrealistic in view of the needs of the recipients of social service benefits, I condemn the Government. I have listened attentively to the discussion of this measure and I hope that I shall apply myself in a responsible manner to this question of social services which, of course, is one that must inevitably arouse the sentiments of all people with any sense of humanity, understanding and sympathy for the less fortunate section of our community.
Nevertheless, we must have regard to the fact that our social services structure is growing rapidly into mammoth proportions. It is only when we are discussing legislation such as that now before us, or perhaps when we are debating the estimates for the Department of Social Services, that we realise just how much is being expended on social services today as compared with twenty-five years ago. It is then, too, that we realise with some measure of regret that governments of all political colours have failed over the years to grapple with a problem which is growing to such huge dimensions that some government one day will be compelled to do what governments have failed to do hitherto - introduce a national insurance scheme.
Over the years, we have heard from all parties, irrespective of their political colour,o of the necessity for a national insurance scheme, soundly and properly based, a scheme of mutual benefit, a scheme that will give to the less fortunate in our community some measure of subsistence consistent with the standard of living of the time. I repeat that hitherto all governments have failed to do this. Because of timidity, or because of some exigency of the time, they have turned their backs on their responsibility to the Australian people. Indeed, does not history tell us that the former Prime Minister of Australia, Sir Robert Menzies, walked out of a meeting of the Cabinet of the Lyons Government because that Government refused to face up to the undertaking of a national insurance scheme? Yet, for the seventeen years or thereabouts that he was Prime Minister and head of the Government in this country, he failed to implement a national insurance scheme. I repeat that at one time he felt that failure to introduce such a scheme was important enough to justify his walking out of a meeting of the Cabinet of the Government of which he had been a member for some time.
– He just talked about it during his term of office.
– No doubt he did, just as many others have done. But, unfortunately, we are in the position today where we have a scheme of social services that is growing, and growing, and growing. This scheme is becoming an embarrassment to not only the Government but also the taxpayers of this country. 1 commend the Government for the good parts of this legislation. The good parts of this legislation have been referred to as being of lesser importance. The Minister has elected to call the good parts of this legislation as being ‘of lesser importance’. But the parts of lesser importance are the ones that appeal to me as having good value and ones for which I am prepared to commend the Government even though these provisions represent the correction of anomalies, in one instance particularly, that might have been corrected before. I refer to the period of three months for the lodgment of a claim for a widow’s pension by a woman whose husband is admitted to a mental hospital. This is something that should have been done long before this. However, it is to be done now. I do not propose to dwell on it unduly, but I say that the Government is entitled to some credit for having corrected it. The improvement proposed by the Government in the conditions of the rehabilitation of handicapped . persons and the lifting of charges and costs will be appreciated, I am sure, by those whom it concerns intimately. I also refer to persons in sheltered workshops who will benefit from the passage of this legislation. Again I say, very rightly, that the Government is to be commended for what it has done in this connection.
But then we come to the main parts of the legislation. I refer to them in this way as the other sections of the legislation have been described as the parts of lesser importance. They are pensions and the means test. I expected that this legislation would contain an increase in the pension for all pensioners. Of course, that was a bit much to expect, Mr Acting Deputy President, because, after all, 1967 is not an election year. It would appear from the record of pension increases that they sort of synchronise with elections. I do not want to appear cynical. Whether this is coincidental or not I do not know. But it happens. The pensioner gets an increase at election time.
– This increase was proposed before the election, was it not?
– What was proposed? I am talking about pension increases, not the question of an improvement in a small way of the means test.
– These were proposed before the last election. These were the propositions that the Government put forward and which it is now implementing.
– I am talking about the failure of the Government to provide in this legislation an increase for pensioners. I am not in a position to argue whether a single pensioner is entitled to more than a married pensioner per head. Senator Breen tells me as a housekeeper that it is much easier to keep two than to keep one.
– It is easier for two to keep warm than it is for one.
– I must concede that would be right particularly if one was a cuddlesome type. But I am not going so much into that detail of the case. Every pensioner today, in spite of the unarrested increase in the cost of living, is entitled to a rise in his or her pension. This Bill provides for an increase in the allowable assets that a pensioner may have. This improvement in the means test is $156 per year or $3 per week, provided of course that all pensioners or pensioners in the main are able to earn $3 per week. A very big percentage of our pensioners is not in a position physically to earn anything. So this improvement will not benefit them a great deal. In respect of the married pensioner couple, the permissible income is to be divided between a husband and wife. If the wife is unable to get a job and earn her share of what she is allowed to earn in relation to the means test, it is just too bad. The husband has to be content to earn half of the $17 allowable. I think that that is an anomaly and one that merits some criticism. The means test - I have said it before and I say it again - is iniquitous and a penalty on thrift. It is a penalty on people who are prepared to make sacrifices and to invest their meager savings to build a source of income for their retirement. By so doing they relieve the Commonwealth of the liability to pay the pension to which they would be normally entitled. These people invest themselves, as it were, out of the pension to which they would be entitled if they were prepared to squander their income whilst they work in active life. There is no disputing that fact.
Let me make myself clear particularly for the benefit of Senator Marriott who unfortunately is not here at the moment. I am not one who comes into this Senate with a brief for the rich or the very rich. But I definitely speak on behalf of a big section of our people who are not qualified to receive the pension and who are in receipt of an income that could not be regarded by the greatest stretch of imagination as being princely. These people include former Crown employees, employees of companies and private enterprise generally who, during their active life when they were required to pay taxation as everybody else was, made sacrifices in order to contribute to insurances, superannuation schemes and pension schemes. Because they were prepared to do that and put away their savings in government loans and other forms of small investment, their income is such that they are debarred from receiving any pension and all the fringe concessions that a pensioner receives today. The people about whom I am concerned are those who are being treated unjustly under the present means test - people who have been honest to God citizens, have looked to the future and to the years of their retirement and have said: ‘I must provide for those who are dependent upon me. I do not want to be a charge on the Government and the pensions scheme’. These people have put their money into superannuation schemes and private pension schemes and invested their small savings. They represent a large percentage of our people. They are the people for whom I plead in this debate.
This increase of $156 in the means as assessed is just tinkering with a problem that is calling out for urgent remedy. I am not one of those who believe that the means test can be abolished overnight. I have endeavoured to apply myself res ponsibly to this matter. I believe that a much better attempt than has been made in this legislation should be made to remedy the situation and to ensure that provident, responsible people are not penalised because they have been provident and responsible. Is not the present system only encouraging people to squander their money? They see what happens to the fellow who saves his money. Is not the present system an encouragement to people to spend their money unnecessarily? I have heard this advice given to people who have saved some money: ‘Why do you not take a trip abroad? Why do you not spend your money on a holiday? When you no longer have that money you will qualify for a pension.’ That attitude is wrong.
– Many people are doing just that.
– That is so.
– Why should they not have a holiday?
– There is no reason why they should not have a holiday. I am not condemning them for doing that.
– The honourable senator is suggesting that there is something immoral about it.
– No. Senator Prowse has gained the wrong impression. I am not suggesting that it is immoral.
– The significance of the action is that they are doing it in order to receive a pension.
– That is so. They may not want a holiday. They may be disinclined to go abroad. They are being penalised because they have been thrifty. As morality has been introduced into the discussion, I ask: Is it moral to victimise or penalise a person because he has been provident and responsible? Of course it is not.
I may have said this in a previous discussion. This point was brought home to me very forcibly during the time I was Premier of Queensland. In the absence of the Minister for Lands I was invited to make presentations to two men who had joined the Department of Lands at the same age and who were retiring after completing fifty years of service in that Department. I made the presentations and the usual speech. Afterwards I learned that one of the men was married but had no family. He did not own the home in which he lived. It was mortgaged to the Public Curator. He had one unit of superannuation - the compulsory unit - and no more. The other man had four children. He had taken out as many units of superannuation as he could afford - many in excess of the compulsory unit. He had educated one boy for medicine and one girl for pharmacy. He had a nice, well educated family. Over the years he had acquired a bit of property as well as the home in which he lived.
Because of his superannuation and property, he could not receive any pension at all. But the first man was able to go to the Department of Social Services, put in his application and receive a pension. That is not a unreal story. It is a true story. Does anyone believe that that system is just? Does anyone condone and support a system that discriminates against a person-
– Did the honourable senator ever hear of the parable of the prodigal son?
– Yes. I did not have to live as long as I have and to come here to learn about the prodigal son. Surely Senator Prowse is not trying to inform me on biblical matters. When I was interrupted by that irrelevant interjection, I was saying that any system that encourages a situation such as that is wrong. We have to try to teach people to be provident. I know that some people have never had an opportunity to save anything. They have reared big families. They have suffered from unemployment in the bad days. They have experienced illness and other difficulties. I have the utmost sympathy for such people. But there are many other cases in which the present system encourages improvidence and penalises people who are prepared to do the right thing.
All the talk in the world by any member of a political party of abolishing the means test in the present circumstances is just an attempt to pull the legs of the people. But we have excellent examples in the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, where real attempts have been made to get rid of this iniquitous system. The party to which I belong has advocated in its policy speeches a phasing out or a policy of gradualism - nol as gradual as that of the present Government.
– The Labor Party advocated that before the honourable senator’s party was born.
– Senator Dittmer having made that statement, I am entitled to reply to it. I recollect that a former leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party promised to get rid of the means test in twelve months.
– No, in three years.
– All right. I will concede three years instead of one year. The leader of the Labor Party knew very well, as did Senator Dittmer, that that was not practicable either.
– How does the honourable senator know that it was not practicable?
– Because I have sufficient ability to examine the position for myself and to know-
– The honourable senator would not know what the facts were.
– I know the facts. Senator Dittmer should know that his attempts to interrupt me are futile. He knows me from other days. I was born with a bigger and stronger voice than he has. I can deal with competition from him any time. So he can keep up his interjections; he can snap at my heels like a fox terrier. Eventually he will give up.
There are two ways of dealing with abolition of the means test: Gradual reduction of the means test for all age groups of pensioners, or complete abolition of the means test for one group of age pensioners, then the next group and so on. The first method might be more equitable because the burden is simultaneously reduced on all age groups. The second method, for abolition of the means test for people in the 80 years and over group, would cost S29.7m; for the 75 years to 79 years group $4 1.7m; for the 70 years to 74 years group $7 1.1m; for the 65 years to 69 years group $132.2m; and for women in the 60 years to 64 years group $96. lm, making a total of $370.8m.
Ultimately a system similar to that 1 have detailed must be adopted to render justice and proper consideration to the people in need of consideration in the community. I said at the commencement of my speech that I believe that pensions should be increased. When I refer to the means test, I am concerned with people who are just outside eligibility for pensions. Fringe concessions - if that is the correct term - are available to pensioners. 1 refer to medical and pharmaceutical services, rebates ot rates, reduced telephone rentals and television and radio licence fees, and reductions in tram fares in many municipalities. All these benefits are being denied to people ineligible for pensions because their incomes are a little in excess of the allowable income. The Government surely must be conscious of this fact, yet it has brought in a Bill designed to extend the limitations of the means test only by $156 a year, or in the old currency £78 a year - 30s a week.
– But they have to earn that.
– That is so. It is presupposed that all pensioners are able to earn that amount.
– And that they are able to get a job.
– Yes, that they are able to get a position to earn that amount. Senator Webster was at great pains to remind me that this amendment to the legislation was referred to in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt). If it was, I am sure that it would not have attracted many votes to the Government. It simply means that provided a pensioner is able to work, he can earn an extra 30s a week and that would not attract much support.
– That proves the point. The honourable senator was putting that the proposal was first made in an election year and I put that it was done prior to an election.
– It was a promise in an election year, anyway. The Government must be conscious of the necessity to do something for the people who are just outside the pension eligibility provisions. What can the Government hope for from the average members of the public if by its policy it disregards people who wish to act responsibly and do not want to be charges upon the taxpayers? In a Bill that will be introduced later we will be able to discuss the taxation that those people are required to pay on the little income that prohibits them from receiving a pension. I repeat that the bulk of that income is the result of their sacrifices and investment in superannuation, but they are still required to pay tax on it.
– And it is the result of their thrifty habits.
– Yes, but they are still required to pay tax on it. Is that any encouragement for people to do the right thing in the community? Of course it is not. That situation should not be the aim of the Government. We do not and should not want to breed a spirit of mendicancy in the community. We should be inculcating a spirit of independence. I am satisfied that if the Australian workers have a decent living standard and an income which will permit them to save, they will save. I think the figures published by the Commonwealth Savings Bank show that a good number of workers save, but they will not save if they find that they will be penalising themselves by being prevented from getting a pension that can be had by people who do not make sacrifices and do not go without some of the luxuries of life.
I think the Government’s approach is wrong. In referring to an improvement in the means test I want to make it very clear that I agree with Senator Marriott’s statement that it is better to give to the people in need than to give to the people who do not need help. I go all the way with that statement. I do not hold a brief for the rich or the very rich. Most of those people would not be very much concerned about the means test. But I am concerned about an intermediary group of people, and the Government should be concerned about them. I refer to good, responsible citizens who have given great service to this country but today have incomes of about $40 a week and are prohibited from receiving pensions or any of the concessions that go with pensions today. Mark you, I am not unmindful of the improvements effected by the Government in the field of medical and pharmaceutical concessions for pensioners and I am not slow to give credit to the Government for those improvements.
– They were inevitable.
– The honourable senator claims they were inevitable.
– The pensioners could not be denied medical and pharmaceutical justice.
– They were denied it for a long time, so do not let us have any argument about that aspect. The benefits exist today and the pensioner enjoys them today. If it were not possible for pensioners who do not have good health to call in a doctor and to receive at little or no cost the pharmaceutical needs prescribed for them many of them would not be alive today. On the other hand, the people about whom I speak are required to pay for the doctor, are required to pay for their pharmaceutical needs, are required to pay full council rates and are required to pay full telephone rentals and television and radio licence fees, in addition to the taxation they must pay on the income they receive.
This legislation disappoints and surprises me because I thought the Government would do something about this important matter. 1 am also disappointed and surprised that something has not been done for a woman who is not yet sixty but whose husband has reached the age of sixty-fiv(e years and has been put on the scrap heap, if I can use that term. Such men have carried out their moral and legal responsibilities to their spouses, but when they reach the age of sixty-five and are put out of employment they are expected to maintain themselves and their wives on a single pension. That anomaly should not be allowed to continue.
I know the Government claims that a young woman of thirty or thirty-five who is quite capable of going to work might marry a pensioner. The Government believes that such a woman should not receive a pension, but the number of such cases is small and I cannot understand the Government being so mean and paltry. The cases which have come to my notice are of women approaching the age of sixty years. It is not unusual to have an age difference of seven or eight years between a man and his wife. Many of these men have worked hard and have never been able to build up a nest egg, yet they and their wives are expected to eke out an existence on a single pension. I do not know why this anomaly has been allowed to continue. I am puzzled why the Government would go out of its way to be so paltry to such a very small percentage of pension recipients.
There are other anomalies in our social services legislation which cause people to wonder why there is an apparent discrimination against sections of our community. I do not propose to detail all of those anomalies tonight but I take the opportunity, as I have done previously, to mention them. I am certain that officers of the Department whose responsibility it is to administer the Act must be not only puzzled but also embarrassed by the attitude they are required to adopt in many cases.
I return to the question of the means test. I, like most honourable senators, realise that the abolition of the means test by a sweep of the hand or the signature of a Minister is more than we can hope for or expect.
– Does the honourable Senator think there is no hope of the means test being abolished?
– I say without hesitation that there is no hope of the means test being abolished.
– While the present Government or governments of its political colour are in power?
– Even if this Government were not in power the government of the day would not abolish the means test in the present circumstances. I am asking the Government to do what has been done in other countries and adopt a more definite and positive policy of gradually throwing this iniquitous means test overboard.
– Well, that means its ultimate abolition.
– I was referring to its abolition overnight. The Government should do now what it should have done long ago. It should grasp the nettle and introduce a sound and just scheme of national insurance.
– Did not Menzies promise that twenty years ago?
– 1 have mentioned that, and it is not yet too late. I predict that a Commonwealth government, irrespective of its political colour, ultimately will be forced to do something in this connection because the burden of social services under the present set-up will grow to such an extent as to be unbearable. There will have to be some form of national insurance. Then and then only will we get away from the bartering that goes on in the political sphere, particularly at election time but in the intervening periods as well, when we hear so much about what the Government has failed to do and what the Opposition would do if it were in power.
Let us be fair and consider the pension as a proportion of the basic wage. If we do so we will see that the position was no better before the advent of the Menzies Government than it is today. I am prepared to go further and say that the Menzies Government has been responsible for many concessions which did not exist prior to its advent. We must be honest in these things. We must not allow ourselves to be carried away by party politics. The pressure of party politics is the reason why we have been unsuccessful in our repeated submissions to the Senate for the establishment of an independent tribunal to determine the justice of the claims of pensioners. Let me say in conclusion that whilst I do not agree with the amendment in many respects technically - there are many corrections that 1 should like to make in it - I propose to support it because I am in agreement with it substantially.
– It is because of the justice of the cause.
– If I am to be converted away from the amendment the honourable senator is doing a very good job in that direction. To talk about abolishing the means test as promised without stating how and when is to leave it a bit too broad for my way of thinking. There are other features of the amendment that I think could have been greatly improved upon. Nevertheless, substantially it conveys what I believe. Let us examine whether there is any discrimination in the rates of married and single pensioners. There seems to be a grave difference of opinion in this connection. I have already indicated my feelings in relation to an increase in rates of pensions. I think that pensions should be increased. How people live on the pension today, having regard to the ever increasing cost of living, is a mystery to me. I do not know whether we need a national inquiry into poverty. It is not hard to determine that there is a pocket of poverty in our community and the pensioners would represent a big section of that.
Those who have made a study of this - academics and welfare authorities - estimate that there are now at least 125,000 pensioners living in poverty and another 180,000 living in relatively severe need. There are approximately 1,500,000 old people in Australia, about 750,000 women over sixty and 400,000 men over sixtyfive. The leading Australian pensioners association says that at least 450,000 pensioners are entirely dependent on the pension. That contrasts with the Government’s attitude that the pension is not designed to maintain a person completely. The Government should recognise the fact that some people are entirely dependent on the age pension. Surely we do not need a commission to tell us that pensioners in the main live solely on the pension. They have no other avenue or channel of income, except what they earn if they are physically able to earn anything at all. They might earn for a few years, hut once they reach the age of seventy years or thereabouts many of them are not able to earn anything. Their health has gone and because of their meagre pension and their standard of living they are suffering for want of nutrition and they are not strong enough to do even a light job of work.
So really we do not need a national inquiry into poverty, but at least it would have the effect of giving us something authentic on the magnitude of the poverty that exists in this fair land of Australia which is so wealthy. The people who live very comfortably should be disturbed by the suggestion that there is any poverty in our midst. It is of little use for Senator Marriott to extend himself on the improvidence of people, people who drink in excess, people who gamble to excess, and people who waste their money. After all, I suppose it can be said of them that they paid a hell of a lot of tax in the way of excise duties and probably they are only getting back in the form of pensions what they have contributed. But this is no argument against the relieving of poverty. If we are Christian, as we claim to be, we have a moral and a Christian obligation to help these people to the best of our ability. But for the grace of God we could be like them. That is the attitude of mind that we should possess.
In an affluent country such as Australia, which is ready and which should be ready to assist the less fortunate people in countries contiguous to Australia to lift their standards of living, and to provide them with the things which we enjoy and which they have not, we should at the same time lift the less fortunate section of our people on to a reasonable standard of living. We can do that only through measures such as this and through our Department of Social Services. That is why I say again, with all of the feeling 1 have, that I am disappointed with the legislation because it does not improve the pension rates. Its attempt to improve the means test is just tinkering with it. It means nothing.
Until the Government does something to assist that section of the people who are suffering as a result of their own decency, their own sacrifice, their spirit to do without to provide for the days of their retirement, it is failing and failing badly to recognise its moral obligation and duty. However, it is to be congratulated on the good parts of the legislation and the improvements that are effected in other spheres.
– I am pleased that Senator Gair has seen the wisdom of supporting the amendment that has been proposed by Senator Toohey on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, because there can be no doubt that much has to be done to overcome the great number of problems complained of by the elderly and infirm of the Australian community. The amendment proposed by the Opposition to this very important measure sets out in very plain language the failure of the Government adequately to meet the wants and requirements of and to provide justice for those who are the elderly citizens of the Australian community. I am glad to know that at long last Senator Gair is prepared, along with the Labor movement, to condemn the Government because it has failed to carry out the five specific matters enumerated in the amendment that was moved by Senator Toohey this afternoon. f have read and re-read the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) relating to the proposals now being made by this Bill. The more one reads the legislation the more one becomes confused about it. It is simply beyond my comprehension how any ordinary member of the Australian community who is about to reach retiring age will be able to ascertain his entitlement to a pension upon retirement. I suggest that if we took this Bill outside the chamber and gave it to an ordinary layman who was about to retire and who was anxious to know his entitlement he literally would have to be a Queen’s Counsel to be able to interpret the legislation, and having worked out an interpretation he again literally would have to be Einstein to assess the value of his pension.
As Senator Toohey said earlier this afternoon, simplicity of language is essential in matters of this kind. After all. those who have retired and are now receiving a pension and those who are about to retire and hope to receive a pension are in the main people who through no fault of their own have had comparatively little education. They have lived through a depression, they have reared their children, they have lived through two World Wars and now they come up against a Bill of this nature and wonder what their situation is. 1 believe that the Department of Social Services should take cognisance of what members of the Labor movement have said on this matter and should at least prepare plain, simple explanatory notes for the guidance of those who are seeking a simple yea or nay as to whether they are entitled to receive some pension from the Government.
The Minister in his second reading speech said:
The means test extension will enable persons now excluded whether by property or income to receive some entitlement.
Quite conveniently, of course, the Minister does not say actually how many will be included who at present are excluded, nor can he say what will be the entitlement of certain individuals. Yet despite this, towards the end of his second reading speech the Minister is able to say:
It is estimated that the cost of the proposal in this Bill will approximate $13.5m in a full year and $2.5m for the balance of the current year.
The Minister has told us, again in his second reading speech, that:
Under the existing means test there are some 640,000 age pensioners in Australia constituting 53% of all men and women in Australia qualified by age and residence for age pension.
But it took the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) to ascertain from the Department of Social Services the number of beneficiaries who will become entitled to a benefit under the scheme now before the chamber. According to the information supplied by the Department to the honourable member for Grayndler, some 40,000 new beneficiaries will be covered by this means test proposal and some 100,000 persons who are now in receipt of a pension will receive an additional benefit entitlement.
– Surely that is something that warrants the congratulation of the Government.
– Let me go a little further. Surely the Minister in his second reading speech could have said what was actually involved, because if one takes the total number of pensioners to whom the Minister has referred in his second reading speech, it will be seen that only about one in ten of those who are entitled to a pension or those who at present are excluded from pension entitlements will be affected by this legislation. That is why I will show later on that in our opinion the legislation discriminates one against the other so far as elderly people are concerned. Further, according to information supplied by the Department and in further amplification of Senator Webster’s interjection, the legislation will not cover 93% of existing pensioners. As I said in reply to the interjection, if the Minister can tell us that there are some 640,000 age pensioners in Australia, that they constitute 53% of all men and women in Australia who are qualified by age and residence to receive a pension, and that the estimated cost of the proposal in a full year is $13.5m and $2.5m for the remainder of this year, surely in a second reading speech of this nature he could have told us everything that is involved. He could have done better than simply saying that many persons now accepted will receive some entitlement.
But, of course, this attitude seems to be consistent with the Government’s policy regarding legislation of this nature. At elec tion time ambiguous undertakings are made to the Australian people and then after the election is determined and the Government is re-elected a restrictive interpretation of the programme that has been put to the Australian people is applied by the Government in its legislation. So far as I can see, the only way in which the Government is consistent in its attitude towards the question of social services generally is in its hoodwinking of the Australian people. I believe that I too can show, as my colleagues have shown, that this Bill is a typical example of the Government’s attitude on this matter. The Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) in his election policy speech delivered last November said this in relation to social services:
That is the present Government: have liberalised the means test progressively. We now propose further liberalisation. I shall elaborate on this in a supplementary statement.
Then he went on to say:
We will raise by $156 the limits both of property and income, within which pensions will be payable to the aged, the invalid and the widows.
The Minister for Social Services in his second reading speech, as reported at page 868 of the House of Representatives Hansard, said:
Honourable members will recall that in his policy speech the Prime Minister stated that the limits both of property and income within which pensions are payable to the aged, invalid and widows would be raised by SI 56.
Now we find in this legislation that the limits will be raised Si 56 for single pensioners and for a married couple too.
– In other words, $78 each.
– As Senator Toohey interjects, $78 each for a husband and wife who are living together and who are both receiving the age pension. The Minister in his second reading speech also said:
However every pensioner-
And 1 emphasise his use of the word every’: whose pension under the present law is reduced because of the means test will, under this Bill, receive an increase of up to $156 a year.
When one compares those two statements in the Minister’s second reading speech with the election policy speech of the Prime
Minister, and then sees the legislation that is before this chamber this evening, it is certainly fair to say that a large section of the Australian people, particularly a great number of married pensioners, could well have been hoodwinked by the Government at its last election campaign. Surely the understanding intended to be conveyed by the Government is that the means test provision would be expanded by $156 for each and every individual person. But no. As I have pointed out, this is not the case. In fact, it is to be expanded by $156 for a single pensioner and by $78, in plain language, for each partner of a married couple. Surely this is nothing more nor less than a statement by the Government that in its opinion two can live together cheaper than one person can live by himself or herself.
It is discrimination of the worst possible kind between one set of pensioners and another set of pensioners. Surely people are entitled to expect some equity in the welfare treatment accorded to them by the Government. But apparently, so far as a great number of married pensioners are concerned, they have made the mistake of growing old together. Then the Minister goes on to explain the discrimination in actual monetary terms. I think it is convenient to restate the passage to show the extent of the discrimination that can and, in fact, will take place between single pensioners and married pensioners when this legislation becomes law. The Minister said:
Expressed in terms of income this means that a single person whose property is less than $420 in value may have income of up to SIO a week and still receive the maximum standard rate pension of $13 a week; some pension will be payable until his income reaches $23 a week.
The Minister then went on:
A married couple whose properly is less than $840 in value may have a combined income of up to $17 a week and still receive maximum rate pensions.
Which, if my memory serves me correctly, are $11.75 each per week. The Minister continued:
Some pension will be paid to each until their combined weekly income reaches $40.50.
So under this arrangement two single pensioners - a brother and sister living together, as often happens - can between them earn $20 a week and receive between them $26 a week by way of pension. But living next door to them there can be a married couple, a husband and wife, both pensioners, and that married couple can earn $17 a week as against $20 for the others, and receive between them only $23.50 a week by way of pension.
– A difference of $5.50.
– I was about to say that if such a case occurred - and doubtless there are thousands of them - the difference between the incomes of the single brother and sister pensioners on the one hand and the married couple pensioners on the other is $5.50 a week. Therefore it is quite fair to say that this sort of legislation is discriminatory, unfair, and unjust. It can only come about when governments - conservative governments in particular - use social service proposals to hoodwink the people at election time and not to ameliorate some of the grave injustices and hardships which are being inflicted on a great number of Australian citizens.
It is this type of discrimination that 1 have instanced and of which other honourable senators have given other illustrations that cause irritation and dissatisfaction and which, in some cases, cause bitterness. While governments view social service payments only in monetary terms for election purposes and have a complete disregard for the human values that are involved in the term ‘social services’ and continue to perpetrate this kind of legislation we are for ever going to come up against anomaly after anomaly.
Let me cite another illustration to give some indication of the discrimination that is involved in this very legislation. I myself know of a widow who because she is renting premises and living alone is entitled to receive the supplementary allowance of, I think, $2 a week. Nearby, there lives a young woman who has three children, one sixteen years of age, one fourteen years of age and one ten years of age. Her husband died last year, from a heart attack. He served five years in the Navy during the last war but, despite that, her application for a war widow’s pension has been rejected. Prior to the husband’s death, the husband and wife were paying off their home. This unfortunate widow, who is a comparatively young lady, is still desperately trying to do so. Because her premises are not rented, because she is trying to do the right thing by herself and her children in paying off the home and not renting it, she is not entitled to any supplementary rent allowance. She is restricted in her earning capacity under this very legislation, whereas, if she were recognised as a war widow and if she were receiving a war widow’s pension, she would be eligible to go out and earn any amount of money at all. In addition to these responsibilities that are cast upon her, she has to maintain in repair the home she is paying off. She is also responsible for the water rates that are charged to her by the Metropolitan Water Sewerage & Drainage Board although the local council waives payment of local government rates in such a case. But, of course, the local government rates are something that the single widow pensioner who is living in rented premises and who is receiving $2 a week because she is renting premises does not have to pay either. And what is the trifling sum awarded by this Government to the widow with three young children who is trying to pay off her home and who is faced with the very responsible task of maintaining herself and her three children while at the same time trying to obtain a job whereby she can earn the amount that she is entitled to earn over and above the pension as well as educate her children, keep her home in repair and meet all the normal family commitments? She gets the niggardly handout of $21.50 a week consisting of $13 pension for herself, $4 by way of mother’s allowance and $1.50 for each of the three children. How just, how equitable can this lady think the present social services legislation is?
These are only some of the anomalies to which one has time to refer. Doubtless there are countless others. As I said, it is legislation, which by the very discrimination implicit in its verbiage, must bring about other types- of discrimination as between one set of pensioners and another set of pensioners. I rather suspect that these proposals were thrown together haphazardly and suddenly put into the policy speech to be delivered by the Prime Minister without very much, if any, serious consideration being given to their ramifactions
It is interesting to note in the second reading speech delivered by the Minister that only 53% of all men and women in Australia who are qualified by age and residence for age pensions are in receipt of the existing social service benefits. In other words, 46% of Australians who are qualified by age and residence to pensions are debarred by means from receiving financial assistance from the Government despite the fact that this Government has been in office for some eighteen years.
Back in 1949 the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Menzies as he then was, had a good deal to say in his policy speech on the matter of social services. As a result of that election he became Prime Minister, but as Leader of the Opposition he went on record as saying:
Australia still needs a contributory system ot national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment, and old age. It is only under such a system that we can make all benefits a matter of right and so get completely rid of the means test.
He went on to say:
During the new Parliament we will further investigate this complicated problem, with a view to presenting to you-
You’ being the Australian people - at the election of 19S2 a scheme for your approval.
– The Government is still investigating it.
– Is the Government still investigating it? We shall see what has happened since then. Mr Menzies continued:
Meanwhile, existing rates of pension will, of course, be at least maintained. We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
We all know about the inflationary spiral that took place immediately after the advent of the first Menzies Government. Later in the same policy speech, Mr Menzies had this to say:
Without an all-round contributory system, there are enormous financial barriers to an immediate abolition of the means test. Indeed, the vast sums involved (not less than £70 million a year) would add to the present devaluation of money, and would, therefore, reduce the total value of the benefits now being paid. 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.
That was in 1949. Here, in 1967, we still do not have a contributory scheme of which mention was made at that time. More anomalies exist now than we had then. Great human problems are involved. Let me take the matter a little further. In 1951, on the issue of social services, among other things, Mr Menzies said this:
But we do say that we understand the difficult problem of the pensioners in a period in which prices are rising.
– Is this Sir Robert Menzies?
– This was the Prime Minister, Mr Menzies, as he then was in 1951. The Senate will recall that in 1949 Mr Menzies said that his Government would keep increasing pensions in accordance with the increase in prices. But in 1951, two years later, he said:
But we do say that we understand the difficult problem of the pensioners in a period in which prices are rising. The pensioners need not be led away by election cash offers. We will look after them. We may be relied upon to do full justice to their needs, as we have done before. Meanwhile we are, as we promised, working on the important problem of providing national retiring allowances on a basis which will not discourage thrift.
That was in 1951. It is interesting that, although Mr Menzies said in 1949 that Australia needed a contributory scheme of national insurance against sickness, widowhood, unemployment and old age, in his 1954 policy speech some five years later, he said in relation to social services:
Apart from ‘indirect’ taxes, there are now 34 million income tax payers. Tax includes the cost of social services. We therefore have, broadly, a contributory system.
Surely the contributory system of taxation of which Mr Menzies was talking in 1954 was in existence in 1949. Yet, in 1954, he virtually said that because we had a system of taxation we broadly had a contributory national insurance scheme.
– The scheme died of wounds.
– The Liberal Party says apparently that we have always had a contributory scheme and that we still have a contributory scheme on the basis that each and every member of the Australian workforce has contributed to Consolidated Revenue by way of taxation. But the true position is that, because of the discrimination exercised by this Government under its social services legislation, only some people are receiving benefit from it.
Very little, if anything, was said of social services in the policy speeches of the Government parties in 1955, 1958 and 1961. I do not know whether this was because the Government thought that at that time it had reached the millennium as far as social services were concerned or that at those elections there were probably no votes to be gained in making proposals about social services.
– The Government Parties had the Communists on their side then, had they not?
– The honourable senator has said it; I have not. I am strongly suggesting that those elections were fought on the old Communist hysteria bogey. In 1963 the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, said:
We have been greatly impressed by the old people’s welfare work which is being done by voluntary organisations. They have directed attention to human problems which are above and beyond the provision by Government of pensions, aged persons’ homes, and such general benefits.
He then went on to say:
We strongly support what such organisations are attempting to do to meet individual problems which cannot be dealt with by either complex or uniform legislative provisions. We will confer with the State Premiers to see what can be done to assist this valuable work.
Despite this statement in 1963 the present Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) came before the Australian people in 1966 and said:
We will make annual grants to certain national voluntary agencies working in the field of social welfare.
Citizen Military Forces - Shipping in Darwin Harbour
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I do not desire to detain the Senate unduly, but there is a matter which I consider rather important and which I wish to bring before the Senate at this time. I refer to what I consider to be the very shabby treatment by the Army of members of the Citizen Military Forces in Hobart. 1 have been rather disgusted with the attitude of the Army on this issue over a period. I have had occasion to make complaints to the Minister for the Army. I have not received the satisfaction to which I believe these members of the CMF are entitled. That is why I bring the matter before the Senate tonight.
On 11th January 1966 I brought to the notice of the then Minister for the Army, the Honourable A. J. Forbes, a matter relating to the payment of members of the CMF in Hobart. On that date I wrote him a letter in these terms:
I have received a number of unfavourable comments concerning undue delay in the payment of half-yearly pay cheques to members of the CMF in Hobart, more particularly for the half-year period ending in December.
I should appreciate it if you could have this matter investigated and, in due course, advise me of the result.
If my memory serves me correctly, the pay period concerned ended at the end of November or early in December. The members of the CMF give up a lot of their spare time and many of their weekends to attend parades and to go to camps at certain periods of the year. They are paid only twice a year. Many of them look forward to receiving their cheques at Christmas time so that they will have a few extra shillings to enable them to take their wives and families away for a holiday. 1 wrote the letter to which I have referred on 11th January. I know from information that I received that these men did not receive their pay cheques until February. I admit that the Minister replied to my letter on 17th January. He said that he would look into the matter immediately. After the matter had been looked into, his successor, Mr Malcolm Fraser, replied on 4th February, as follows:
I refer to your recent approach to my predecessor concerning the delay in the payment of cheques to members of the CMF in Hobart for the half-year period ending in December last. My inquiries reveal that home training pay cheques for CMF units in Tasmania are processed and issued by the Command Paymaster in Melbourne. During the December period pay cheques were being processed also for the 34 CMF units based in Victoria.
The resultant volume of work, when taken in conjunction with the short working month of December and the number of staff on leave during the Christmas period, resulted in the despatch of pay cheques being delayed until January, 1966. Appropriate action is being taken in an effort to ensure that future pay cheques are despatched to CMF members in Tasmania in December each year.
The position would have been all right if the conditions laid down in that letter had been carried out. But on 9th January 1967 I had to write to the Minister for the Army again in these terms:
I refer to your letter of the 4lh February, 1966, concerning the delay in the payment of cheques to members of the CMF in Hobart for the halfyear period ending December 196S. You advised that appropriate action was being taken to ensure that future pay cheques would be despatched to CMF members in Tasmania in December each year.
I regret to advise that once again cheques to CMF members for the half-year period ending in December 1966 had not been received by some members in early January 1967 and therefore the effort made to correct the situation has apparently not proved successful. I consider this to bc most unsatisfactory and I again request that the matter be investigated with a view to correcting what I consider to be a penalty imposed on persons who devote a lot of their spare lime to this important phase of Army activities.
I received an acknowledgment of that letter; but naturally at that time the Minister had not had an opportunity to investigate the matter. On 8th March this year I received a letter from the Minister in the following terms:
I refer again to your personal representations concerning the delay in payment of cheques to CMF members in Hobart for the six months’ period ending in December, 1966. Although, as I advised you last year, it was hoped it would be possible to ensure despatch of cheques in December each year, this did not turn out to be practicable.
As you know, the Citizen Military Forces Home Training pay sheets for both Tasmanian and Victorian units are processed by the Command Paymaster, Melbourne. The Tasmanian units’ pay sheets were received between 5 th and 8th December, 1966, and examined during the following week. As a result of this examination, the pay sheets of four units were returned because they failed to show separately attendances prior to 22nd July, 1966, when the pay rates were varied. The delayed issue of pay cheques in respect of the balance of the unit pay sheets was duc mainly to the short working month in December, 1966.
Other contributing factors during this period were the competition-
I particularly stress that word - for accounting machine time with other urgent tasks, the heavy flow of Citizen Military Force pay sheets and the request by Sub-Treasury to nil Commonwealth Departments to reduce the volume of payment authorisations after 20th December, 1966.
A possible solution may lie in varying the half yearly payment cycle away from June-December in respect of the Tasmanian units. There are certain difficulties in this but the implications are being examined and I shall write to you again to let you know what course of action is ultimately decided upon.
It is significant that the letter that I received in March 1967 and the one that I received in February 1966 are couched in very similar terms, with the exception of the reference to a competition that was being conducted at the time. I was not happy about the situation. On 23rd March I replied to the Minister for the Army in these terms: 1 acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 8th March, 1967, relative to the delay in the payment of cheques to CMF members in Hobart for the six months period ending in December, 1966. I am sorry thatI cannot accept the excuses you have advanced as being a legitimate reason for the delay which occurred. I contend it is the responsibility of every employer or employing authority to ensure that wages or salaries are paid in accordance with recognised practices, and those to whom money is due should not be kept waiting for their payment because a competition for accounting machine time is being conducted.
Further, I do not accept that the short working month of December is a legitimate excuse either, because private enterprises have to face exactly the same situation during that month and they always seem to cope with the situation, therefore the question arises immediately is private enterprise more efficient than Government Departments,
I have previously pointed out that I consider members of the CMF devote a lot of their spare time to Army activities, consequently I consider (hey should be entitled to receive payment for their services when same is due and not have a continuing problem at the end of each year.
Today I received a letter from the Minister for the Army. In short he informed me that the pay period for Tasmanian members of the CMF has been varied and that the pay training year will now be from 1st October to 30th September.
Probably most honourable senators are aware that a member of the CMF is prohibited by Army Regulations from approaching a member of Parliament when he has a problem. He is absolutely debarred from approaching a member of Parliament. If he does so, he commits a breach of Regulations. I have not been approached by a member of the CMF, but by the wife of a member and she is sitting in the gallery at present. Her husband, who lives in Hobart, went into camp at Buckland on 4th February last. I ask honourable mem bers to note particularly that date, because the disastrous fires occurred in Tasmania on 7th February. On the night of 7th February this member of the CMF received word at Buckland camp to return to his home because it had been burned. Everything he owned was lost except his motor car. Fortunately for him and his wife, she went to a school to pick up one of her children. Otherwise the motor car would have been burned. This man has risen to the rank of sergeant in the CMF. He has now received a dismissal notice which reads as follows:
After seven years service in the CMF during which period he rose to the rank of sergeant, he has been told that his retention is not in the best interests of the forces. I can only say that it has taken the CMF a darned long time to wake up to the fact that the man is no good.
– It is victimisation.
– I agree wholeheartedly. I am of the opinion - but I have nothing to back it up - that somewhere along the line there has been a leak that this man or his wife approached me regarding the payment of cheques to members of the CMF.I am of the opinion that that is the reason why he has been victimised. Events have justified the words I used when I opened my remarks - that the CMF in Tasmania is treating this man in a shabby and despicable way. I cannot describe it in any other way. The dismissal notice continues:
Your discharge from the Australian Military Forces is not finalised, so far as I, your Commanding Officer, am concerned until you have been given, and signed for a copy of this document
QM 10 Field Ambulance is to receive from the member all clothing and equipment due for return to the unit.
Librarian 10 Field Ambulance is to receive from the member all pamphlets, books etc on issue.
When the unit discharge procedure has been completed Sgt - is to be given a copy of this document, for his retention, and is to sign a second copy of this document in the space provided below.
On the back of the dismissal notice is a discharge order which states:
The number, name and rank of the man are then stated - for the reason specified in-
Then follows a series of numbers -
That the retention of the soldier in the Military Forces is not in the interest of those forces’.
Sgt - is to be discharged on 18 April 1967.
That is today. The letter is signed as follows:
This man has a right of appeal for redress and he has exercised that right. But to whom does he appeal? None other than Lieutenant-Colonel N. D. Abbott.
– From Caesar to Caesar.
– Exactly. Just where do we get? Is it any wonder that men will not give up their time to enter sections of the Services when such treatment is meted out as I have detailed. I was hopeful that I would not be forced into bringing this matter before the Senate, but I believe the stage has been reached where something must be done to protect people in such circumstances. Why is a person not permitted, because he is a member of the military forces, to approach his representative in Parliament with a complaint? He is forced by law to vote at election time to elect a member of Parliament and he should be allowed at all times to exercise the very definite right of approaching his representative in Parliament after having voted for his election. I think that is logical.
This man returned home from Buckland camp at 8 p.m. on 7 th February. He did not desert because the camp broke up owing to the fires. He reported to Anglesea Barracks on the morning of 8th February and was permitted to go home. He returned to Anglesea Barracks on the very first parade held after the fires; that was on 21st February. Many honourable senators will appreciate that an injustice has been done to a private person who is a respected member of the CMF. I think I have done a service to that man and to the Army in general in bringing this matter before the Senate.
– I will bring the matter raised by Senator Poke to the notice of the Minister for the
Army (Mr Malcolm Fraser). I remind Senator Poke that we cannot judge a case until we have heard both sides. As yet we have not had an opportunity to do that. We have heard Senator Poke’s account of the situation. I am not suggesting for one moment that it is not correct, but we should have an opportunity before we make a final judgment to hear the other side of the story as well. I do not propose to say any more at this juncture.
– 1 want to raise matters of importance associated with three ships which have been in Darwin Harbour during the past few days. Although some of the problems I am about to mention have been solved on a departmental basis, I believe they should be raised in this Senate in the hope that similar problems will not arise in the future. I am impelled to take this action because of the lack of local political representation and the degree of disinterest of the Minister concerned.
My first complaint relates to the ‘Dumai Trader’, a ship registered in Liberia and having a Chinese crew and a Norwegian captain. Being registered in Liberia, it carries a flag of convenience. This is not the first occasion on which problems of this nature have arisen. This particular captain apparently is not the kind of person who has the interests of his crew at heart. To show his irresponsibility it is only necessary to say that on one occasion he was picked up by the police in Indonesia for carrying a conceal able weapon and that his main occupation at sea is to shoot seagulls on the deck with his pistol.
This ship was in Darwin Harbour on 14th April unloading cement which, as far as we know, came from Japan. When the hatch was removed by waterside workers preparatory to unloading many rats were observed in the hold, so the watersiders refused to work until the ship had been fumigated. Subsequent to the fumigation eighteen dead rats were found. I have here photographic evidence to support my complaint about conditions on the vessel. The first shows a rat which was killed in the hold. It is as big as a wallaby. The second photograph shows another dead rat which is as big as a kangaroo. The third photograph is of the firemen’s galley, which has cooking facilities for eleven men in an area 6 feet by 6 feet. This Government tolerates this kind of thing. It must be remembered that Darwin is a port where some kind of health regulations should be observed. The fourth photograph shows the mess room 15 feet by 12 feet in which eleven men are required to eat. The fifth shows a cabin with a bunk without mattresses. The sixth shows the firemen’s bathroom, and it is most noticeable that there are no inlaid tiles on the floor. The eleven firemen are required to bathe in a forty-four gallon drum. The seventh photograph shows some members of the crew who are forced to live under these conditions.
At least four of the dead rats were positively identified by a number of witnesses as of the type which carries the bubonic plague germ. This vessel had called previously at Hong Kong, Japan and other Asian areas where the existence of bubonic plague has been established. In the Senate today I asked a question in these terms of the Minister representing the Minister for Health:
Will the Minister inform the Parliament if the Government is completely satisfied with present health arrangements for the prevention of the entry of rats into Australia which may carry bubonic plague germs? If the Government is not satisfied, what steps are being taken to ensure that laws in this regard are strengthened?
With all respect to the Minister, I was told to put my question on the notice paper.
– So what?
– It shows that some Ministers are not sufficiently familiar with the work of their departments to know what is going on. No arrangements were made by the North Australian Stevedoring Co. about the disposal of garbage until the watersiders complained, yet it is an acknowledged fact that these arrangements should be made before a ship comes into port. The firemen, therefore, refused to move the ship.
Why could the ship not have been quarantined prior to the wharf tie-up? Why could the ship not have been fumigated away from the wharf? It is true that certain precautions are taken when a ship is tied up to ensure that rats do not get ashore, but it is significant that on this occasion the gang plank was laid in such a way that the rats could have got ashore, if they wanted to, before the ship was fumigated.
In addition, seamen were allowed ashore before that. I remind honourable senators that the rats on this ship, or at least some of them, were known to be the kind which carry the germ of bubonic plague. It has also been reported that the Department of Health said that it was unnecessary to carry out quarantine precautions for the destruction of the vermin.
I want to refer now to another dispute which probably is going on at this moment. This one relates to the ‘Boonaroo’. I want to know who runs Darwin when a problem such as this arises. Is it the appropriate Department which is taxed with this responsibility or do a few local business people, ship owners and what have you, decide to take affairs into their own hands? To bring the Senate up to date, let me point out that the ‘Boonaroo’ is in port loading explosives to be transported to Sydney for use, as far as we know, by the Services. Maybe the Government expects the North Vietnamese to land in Sydney. In any case, the ‘Boonaroo’ is taking explosives south.
Under the terms of the Navigation Act explosives cannot be loaded or unloaded between sundown and sunrise unless a special permit is secured from the responsible department. In this case Burns Philp and Co. Ltd, which is said to be the Navy’s local agent, is handling the ‘Boonaroo’ on a cost-plus basis. I emphasise that. The company was able to secure a certificate, but this was not shown to the waterside workers until they had walked off the vessel at 6.45 p.m. yesterday. In the circumstances I agree with the waterside workers. It was reported that a certificate had been obtained, but it was not shown to them. I am a doubting Thomas when it comes to operating under these conditions. I must see the certificate for myself. The certificate was eventually shown to the waterside workers and they returned to the ship but then, at 7.30 p.m. last night, the boss decided to sack them. Special permits are supposed to be granted in an emergency. Whatever the emergency was on this occasion, the permit was granted.
The waterside workers also complained that safety lights were not provided. It is understood that these are not even available. The Harbour Master, who in this case is acting for the appropriate Government official, claimed that sufficient lighting was provided by cluster lights. For the information of those who do not know, cluster lights have no safety grilles. The authorities further claimed that the bombs were not dangerous. If they were not dangerous why were fire tenders standing by while loading was proceeding? Why was smoking forbidden on the ship? Why was smoking forbidden on the wharf? Yet they claimed that the bombs were not dangerous. It is obvious that Rafferty’s rules prevailed on this occasion.
Yet another complaint associated with Darwin Harbour relates to the motor vessel Norango’ registered at Montreal, Canada. If anyone wants to check on this, the address of the Darwin agents for the vessel is PO Box 1638, Darwin, Northern Territory. I refer in particular to the saloon boy named Fui Hei Fai. Incidentally, the captain of this ship is English and the crew is Chinese. Last week the saloon boy was ill and his illness was diagnosed by a private doctor as a bad case of neurosis. Unfortunately, the departmental doctor was a junior. I am not casting any reflections on the Department of Immigration in this case, because the local officials in Darwin did a splendid job. I make that comment also about the officials of the Department of Health. What I am complaining about and what the people of Darwin are complaining about is the fact that at the top there is too much deadwood and nobody knows what is going on, but always when decisions are made they are not in the interests of the great number. The departmental doctor agreed with the diagnosis but suggested that the hours be broken down, and the man remained at work.
This is what the hours were broken down to - a total of nine hours plus. From 0600 to 0700 hours he was required to clean up the saloon and prepare for breakfast. From 0700 to 0730 hours, he was given thirty minutes for breakfast. From 0730 to 1200 hours he had to serve breakfast and then proceed with the cleaning up. From 1200 to 1230 hours he had time off for lunch. From 1230 to 1400 hours he was required to serve lunch and clean up the saloon area. From 1400 to 1800 hours was a rest period. From 1800 to 2000 hours he was required to prepare tables and assist with the serving. As is usual on vessels of this type, at 2000 hours the officers decide to continue with their parties which may go on till three o’clock in the morning, and the saloon boys are required to remain on duty.
The immigration people did a splendid job in dealing with this case, but it has to stop somewhere. If this matter had not been brought to our attention politically, probably nothing would have been done about it. I agree with what Senator Poke said a while ago. Unless there is political intervention, many of these cases are treated with contempt. Darwin is the home port of this ship which is working in and out of this harbour, so I ask with all due respect that this sort of thing be not allowed to go on in this area, which virtually is the front door of Australia. If there is a danger of diseases being brought in from overseas, surely to goodness the onus is squarely on the shoulders of this Government and its senior officials, its departmental administrators, to see that the opportunity is not provided. If precautions have to be taken, there are laws that provide that they are to be taken, and these should be carried out, otherwise not only bubonic plague but also other diseases probably as bad or worse can be introduced in this manner.
[11.2] - Much of the matter of the honourable senator’s speech tonight has been directed to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) and the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden). I represent both Ministers but I am quite certain that the honourable senator will understand that I could not possibly give him answers to these questions. However, I assure him that I shall bring them to the notice of the two appropriate Ministers and advise him of their replies.
– Insofar as any matter to which the honourable senator has referred may be associated with the Navigation Act or be otherwise within the administration of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Freeth), I shall bring the honourable senator’s remarks to the attention of that Minister.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.3 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 18 April 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1967/19670418_senate_26_s33/>.