26th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 1 1 a.m., and read prayers.
Senator MURPHY presented a petition from the President and Secretary of the Australian Capital Territory Trades and Labour Council praying that Parliament will institute a judicial inquiry into the cost of living in the Australian Capital Territory.
Petition received and read.
– I address a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, lt refers to the resolution passed by the Senate the other night for the tabling of papers. Will the Leader of the Government inform the Senate what action the Government is taking in the matter? Or does he propose to leave it to honourable senators to learn by reading in the daily newspapers statement.! made by other people outside the Senate?
– There is provision in the standing orders under which the Clerk must inform me of the resolution that was carried in this place. I have now received that information from the Clerk. That is the formal procedure which applies in these cases and I have no further comment to make at this stage.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the Minister any information concerning quotas for the export of beef from this country to the United States of America? Can he say whether the quotas have been filled and whether, for a time, only a limited supply, or no beef at all, can be exported to the United States of America from this country?
– Did 1 understand that the honourable senator was referring to New Zealand or Australia?
– I was referring to the quota which has been operating in relation to the export of beef from this country to the United States of America.
– In the House of Representatives this morning the Minister for Primary Industry was asked whether, in view of the conflicting and vague accounts of the situation relating to beef exports to the United States, which might lead to panic unloading of cattle, he could issue a statement on the matter as soon as possible. The Minister replied that the matter was being considered by the Australian Meat Board today. 1 understand that the Minister will issue a statement after receiving the report of the Board.
– 1 direct a question to the Minister for Customs and Excise. In view of the latest seizures of narcotic drugs by the Customs Narcotics Bureau in Sydney, does the Minister consider that a ring has been organised to smuggle and distribute drugs in Australia?
– Over the last few weeks the Customs Narcotics Bureau has seized significant quantities of drugs at Griffith, Melbourne and Sydney. Recently people were arrested on the ‘Eastern Star’, which was at thai time trading between Hong Kong and Sydney. These people were in possession of a quantity of heroin valued, I think, in excess of $50,000. lt is quite apparent that somebody in Hong Kong must have given the drugs to these people and that somebody at this end was waiting to receive the drugs. Whilst the Department has no definite proof that smuggling rings are operating in Australia, I am confident that there must be collusion between people in Asian countries and in Australia in regard to the handling of drugs. At this stage I would like to congratulate the members of the Customs Narcotics Bureau for their endeavours in preventing drug smuggling in Australia. I assure the Senate that the Bureau will take all necessary steps to prevent the development of drug trafficking to Australia from other countries.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the
Attorney-General. 1 ask: Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to remarks made by Mr Justice Selby in an address to the Family Welfare Bureau in Sydney in regard to maintenance in matrimonial causes, and particularly the enforcement of maintenance orders? Will the Minister discuss with the Attorney-General the remarks attributed to His Honour with a view to considering them in the light of Australia’s matrimonial causes laws?
– 1 saw the remarks of Mr Justice Selby. I think that they are of such a nature that they will interest the Attorney-General. 1 shall certainly adopt the honourable senator’s suggestion and will draw the Attorney-General’s attention to those remarks.
– My question is addressed to the Leader. of the Government in the Senate. 1 ask: Can he advise what action will be taken by the Government to overcome the threats by the Premier of New South Wales, who is anxious to gain a better financial deal from the Commonwealth for his State? ls it true, as was claimed by the Premier, that he is unable to provide proper services to the people of New South Wales in the fields of education, health, transport, roads, agriculture and so on under the present Commonwealth-State Financial Agreement? In view of all the circumstances, what action is contemplated by the Government to correct this financial injustice to the State of New South Wales?
– On Tuesday, I answered a question which contained many of the ingredients of the question now asked by the honourable senator. I made the point, as I recall, that the question of CommonwealthStale financial arrangements is a matter that is dealt with at the level of the Premiers Conference and the Australian Loan Council and that the place to resolve those matters is at those meetings and not in the forum. I pointed out then that any Premier or indeed any person was perfectly free to express views concerning the financial arrangements. I recall hearing the Prime Minister say during question time in another place this morning that he had received no communication on these matters from the Premier of New South Wales since the last Premiers Conference.
– The Minister was written to personally.
– I make the categorical statement that I have not received any communication on these matters. I hope that clears the air on that issue. The fact is that this is clearly a matter that is determined at the Premiers Conference and the Loan Council in June of each year. If a Premier has a point of view to express it is perfectly competent for him and, indeed, more appropriate, to address bis communication to the Prime Minister.
– My question is directed to the. Minister representing the Minister, for Primary Industry. Is it a fact that New Zealand has, an agreement with the United Kingdom in respect of lamb and mutton sales which provides that 85% of New Zealand meat exports shall .be marketed in the United Kingdom and 15% in other markets? Is it also a fact that the New Zealand Government is reimbursing to meat exporters the amount by which prices for the 15%. of sales fail to reach the United Kingdom price? If these arrangements are operating, are they putting New Zealand in a position to undersell Australian meat in markets outside the United Kingdom?
– I understand that the New Zealand Government has decided to rationalise its export sales of meat as indicated by the honourable senator. The means by which it is doing so are not known to me. I shall see whether I can get some information for the honourable senator re,garding the .question that he has raised.
– With regard to book production in Australia, is the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry aware of a document entitled the Florence Agreement’? Have the terms of such Agreement been ratified by the national Parliament? If the Agreement has not been so ratified, is the Government observing the terms of the Agreement? Is a copy of the Agreement available and will the Minister advise where a copy of it may be obtained?
– For my sins, 1 must admit that 1 am not aware of the terms and conditions of the Florence Agreement. 1 shall seek some information after question time today and if the Agreement is an available public document I will let the honourable senator know during the day so that he may have access to it. If it is not, 1 shall obtain the information subsequently and reply to the question at question time on a future occasion.
– My question is addressed to you, Mr President. Will you consider calling in an outside expert to have a look at the public address system in this chamber? It does not seem to be improving at all. In fact, it has been particularly poor in some parts of the chamber in the last few days. Perhaps there are not enough microphones. I do not know the cause of the problem but 1 ask: Will you consider the matter?
– This matter is under examination at the present time. Whilst 1 agree that the system may have some weaknesses I point out that some honourable senators themselves are’ to blame because they are not projecting their voices forward. Because of this, it is at times difficult to hear them. The microphones may be at fault, but I think part of the trouble rests with some honourable senators and the way in which they make their remarks.
– Can the Minister for Customs and Excise comment on submissions made to him by Australian glass manufacturers expressing grave concern about repercussions of dumping on the Australian market of large amounts of flat glass from nations with inferior industrial conditions? The views expressed to the Minister are shared by the New South Wales Branch of the Glass Workers Union.
– Representations were made to me by Mr Cope, a member of another place, in relation to this matter. I had officers of my Department conduct an examination. They found that there was not a prima facie case of substantial injury to the company concerned, Australian Window
Glass Pty Ltd. Therefore, anti-dumping action was not justifiable.
– ls the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry aware that imports of peas from New Zealand into Australia have increased to such an extent that the average weight of peas imported in each of the months of March, April and May 1968 was approximately equal, to total imports of similar peas from New Zealand for the whole of the year 1966-67? Will the Minister ascertain the total sales of peas in Australia as described in statistical item 054203? in each of the past 30 months, and the percentage of such sales that relates to imported peas?
– Several days ago I answered a series of questions on this subject. I supplied statistics,: as I. recall, to Senator Lillico. I am not personally aware of the figures now sought ‘by the honourable senator. If it is possible to get the information, I will do so and have it conveyed to him. 1 repeat that there is provision in the New Zealand-Australia’ Free- Trade Agreement for organisations interested in this particular industry to make representations to the Minister for Trade and Industry, In reviewing the situation’ the Minister would need to consider, in the light of the Agreement, whether there would be justification for consultation between governments.
– My question, which 1 direct to the Minister for Customs and Excise, relates to the answer given by the Minister to Senator Ormonde’s question about the discovery of drugs on the Eastern Star’. As that vessel is now proceeding from Sydney to Melbourne. 1 ask the Minister why the vessel was allowed to proceed while the investigations of his officers on that vessel had not been completed? Is the Minister satisfied that there is sufficient security on the vessel while it is travelling from Sydney ‘ to Melbourne? What action is being taken to ensure that there is security if no’ officers of the Minister’s Department are present on ‘ the vessel?
– I know that the Eastern Star’ . is proceeding to Melbourne and that a further search of the vessel . is warranted. To prevent a delay in the vessel’s proceeding to. -another port, an assurance was given .by the captain that the hold in question would remain sealed. The hold has been sealed by customs officers and no member of the crew is allowed to enter it. We have that assurance. I can give the honourable senator an assurance that nothing will be done to that hold until it is reopened by customs officers when the ship arrives in Melbourne.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry assure the Senate that the Government is alert to the problems which beset butter fat producers within the Australian dairy industry? Does the Minister consider that the devaluation of sterling in 1967 is a factor to which a large proportion of the problem can fairly be attributed? Can the Minister indicate what action the Government may have in mind to assist and protect the Australian dairy industry?
– The information I have been able to obtain from the Department of Primary Industry is as follows: On 29th August last Senator Webster was informed that on this matter the Government had announced that for the 196S-69 season it would underwrite the Commonwealth dairy produce equalisation s:heme at a level which would give the same guarantee as last year, namely, 34c per lb commercial butler basis. The Government has also maintained the initial subsidy rates on butter at a level slightly better than last year’s opening rates. The Minister has informed me that he will be seeing a deputation from the Australian Dairy Industry Council this afternoon when he will be discussing, among other things, the general economic position of the dairy industry, including problems associated with obtaining an increase in the return to dairy farmers to meet rising costs.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Science by saying that on 2 1 st August last I asked the Minister whether it was a fact that some 800 school teachers who had been trained at the expense of the New South Wales Government were teaching in schools in the Australian Capital Territory and whether it was also a fact that as from 1st January of this year the Commonwealth had withdrawn permission to holders of New South Wales teacher training scholarships to attend the Australian National University. The Minister said at the time that he would refer the question to the Minister in another place. I now ask: Has he been able to do this and has he received any information on the subject from the Minister?
– I am happy to advise the honourable senator that the Minister for Education and Science has informed me that he is well aware of the contribution made to education in the Australian Capital Territory by teachers from New South Wales. The Commonwealth’s role in reimbursing New South Wales for the provision of these teachers is not confined simply to the payment of their salaries; payments also arc made for certain administrative overheads, including payroll tax and superannuation contributions.
In answer to the second part of the honourable senator’s question, it is not true that the Commonwealth has, as from 1st January this year, withdrawn permission to holders of New South Wales teacher training scholarships to attend the Australian National University. Such scholarships had for a time prior to 1967, under an informal arrangement between the New South Wales Department of Education and the Canberra University College, and later the Australian National University, entitled their holders to a remission of university fees. Last year it was established that this was in breach of the Australian National University Act. An examination of the fee charging provisions of the Australian National University Acf was conducted, including an examination of fee charging policies at other Australian universities, with a view to clarifying the position. It was decided that the remission of fees, other than for staff members, should not be authorised. As a result, remissions are no longer available to students sponsored by Commonwealth authorities or the New South Wales Department of Education and others. An amendment of the Australian National University Act which made this clear- accordingly was passed last year.
The New South Wales Premier and Minister for Education were informed in the first half of last year of the Commonwealth’s intention to amend the Act in such a way as to discontinue the concession for New South Wales teacher training scholarship holders. The amendment of the Austraiian National University Act concerned the charging of university fees and not the right, of persons from any Stare to enrol at the university, which remained unaffected. The New South Wales Department of Education has decided, however, that holders of these teacher training scholarships must enrol at New South Wales universities which. I understand, remit the tuition fees of such trainees. I can assure the honourable senator that the Commonwealth is perfectly happy for the New South Wales teacher trainees to attend the Australian National University, provided that the New South Wales Government is prepared to pay the fees, as it would have to do if the students were to study at any university outside New South Wales, and provided that the students meet the university requirements.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, ls it not a fact that several weeks ago a statement was made by the Minister for Primary Industry about the extremely important matter of the wheat stabilisation scheme in which he indicated Government, proposals to alter that scheme. Does not that statement affect many tens of millions of dollars of public money? Why was it made outside the House during a period when the House was sitting almost daily, and why has it not been presented to the Senate?
– I answered a question along these lines the other day. Negotiations have been proceeding with regard to the new wheat agreement for some months past. First of all, Cabinet had to make a decision on what the new basis would be. Then the Minister was authorised by Cabinet to start negotiations with the representatives of wheat growers and the Ministers for Agriculture. It was understood that these negotiations were to be held on a confidential basis and that no statement would be made until they were almost com pleted. Unfortunately, although for a while this confidence was respected, leaks did occur - not from the Ministers for Agriculture and certainly not from (he Minister for Primary Industry. As a result of this the Minister decided, again after consultation with Cabinet - I think at the last meeting that was held - that he would make a full statement on negotiations regarding price. With regard to the query as to why the statement was nol presented in the Senate-
– Or ia the House of Representatives, for that matter.
– The position is that even at this stage Victorian representatives of wheat growers are, as 1 understand it, once again to meet, first of all, the Minister for Primary Industry and then the Prime Minister. I am not in a position to say that negotiations have been completed. When the final arrangements are decided I shall certainly do my best to see that an announcement is made to that effect in this place.
– Does the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Science recall my making a request in the Senate some time ago regarding the possible computerisation of student records in both Government and private schools? I suggested at that time that his Department carry out a survey, or at least provide the finance for a study to be made of the benefits to be derived from such use of computers, so that qualified teachers could bc released to do more valuable work than work in the clerical sphere in schools? Can the Minister give the Senate any further information on the problem?
– .1 referred the honourable senator’s question to the Minister who has now advised me that it is doubtful whether there would be a saving of skilled manpower in the application of automatic data processing at the individual school level and in the keeping of student records, as suggested by the honourable senator, lt would be necessary for the information on. say, students’ examination results to be coded in a format which would be suitable for computer input, while the up-dating of these records would still require qualified teaching staff to perform clerical duties. There would seem to be some benefit, however, from the use of computerisation in education planning and (he extraction of comprehensive statistics. In fact, there are several State departments using automatic data processing in their research and in some cases their statistical work. For example, the Western Australian department is computerising comprehensive data on all teachers in its primary and secondary schools.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Customs and Excise and remind him of his announcement the other day that there had been a find of contraband transistor radios on the Orient liner ‘Himalaya’. What procedure does his department follow in offering smuggled transistors for sale to the public? ls he satisfied that the public - I mean the man in the street - is paying a fair price for these transistors after they have passed through the trade?
– When attempts are made to smuggle goods .into the country and the goods arc found, they become the property of the Crown and are held for a specified period during which an opportunity is given for people who claim to be the rightful owners to make a case for return of the goods. .If no such action is taken the goods are sold by auction.
– My question is adressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, ls it a fact, as reported in some sections of the Press, that the United States has withdrawn from the world sugar conference to start in Geneva next week? As the United States is the world’s biggest importer of sugar what possible effect will its action have on Australia’.’
– 1 understand that there was considerable doubt about whether the United States would attend the meeting. 1 do nol know whether that position has changed. The absence of the United States from the meeting would have a very important effect on the outcome of the agreement with consequent repercussions on consumers of sugar throughout the world.
– I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry to an article which appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Tasmanian newspaper ‘Advocate’ under the heading: ‘Pea Industry Could Die’. The article goes on:
Tasmania’s pea industry could ‘dic’ next year if amendments were not made to the AustralianNew Zealand Free Trade Agreement, Mr Geoff Chisholm told the House of Assembly last night.
Predicted imports of peas from New Zealand would amount to 20 million pounds weight. ‘An import of this magnitude at cut prices would kill the Tasmanian industry’, Mr Chisholm said.
In view of the fact that devaluation of sterling basically altered the foundation on which the- New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement relating to the import of beans and peas was based, is the Minister aware that the 20% phasing out of protection due to take place next year, plus the 20% devaluation, plus the New Zealand subsidy will put those engaged in the growing of these products in Tasmania out of business? In view of these changed conditions will the Minister urge his colleague, the Minister for Trade and Industry, to renegotiate this section of the New ZealandAustralia Free Trade Agreement in order to prevent yet another Tasmanian industry from going down the drain?
– I. did not soc the the article referred to by the honourable senator. 1 mentioned in this place only this week that representatives of any industry affected by the import of New Zealand produce have the right to approach the Minister and present their case to him wilh a view to invoking the protection which.as I understand it, is in the Agreement. I hope that will be done in this case. How-, ever, I will convey the honourable senator’s request to the Minister for Trade and Industry to sec what action he proposes to take on it.
– 1 address a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate relating to the Senate order for the tabling of papers in connection with the Fill, aircraft. Does the Minister under-‘ stand’ that the Senate would expect him to deal promptly with the order which was made by the Senate?
– In reply to the honourable senator’s second question on this subject, I would remind him that the matter was resolved at about 2 a.m. yesterday. Following the resolution, the Clerk of the Senate has a responsibility under standing order 358 to acquaint me of its passage. I received that information last night at 8 o’clock. The honourable senator seems to me to be like the pony that goes into a hurdle race and starts to rush its jumps. He is a little ahead of himself. 1 always deal promptly and to the best of my ability with all matters that come before me as Leader of the Government in the Senate.
(Question No. 347)
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Minister for Health has advised -
Yes. 2 and 3. On the understanding that the honourable senator is referring to the medical and legal problems associated with organ and tissue removal and transplantation, these and other aspects were discussed by the Commonwealth and State Health Ministers at a recent conference in Darwin.
The Ministers considered an interim report by a special sub-committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council, which is currently studying the medical, ethical, legal and economic aspects of transplants, and agreed to wait for the report of the Council.
It was further agreed at the Conference that the final report of the Council should be referred to the Standing Committee of AttorneysGeneral with a view to obtaining advice as to whether any legal issues are involved which require a uniform approach by the Commonwealth and the States.
The need for Commonwealth legislation on the subject in respect of its own Territories will be considered in due course, in the light of the findings of these and other interested bodies.
(Question No. 369)
asked the Minister rep resenting the Minister for Education and Science, upon notice:
– These two questions can most conveniently be answered together. The answer to them is as follows: 1, 2 and 3. The statistics of teacher training for the private sector of education which would be necessary to provide the information asked for are not at present available. The Department of Education and Science has had discussions with the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics on this matter and the possibility of obtaining such statistics on a regular basis is currently being investigated. (Question No. 374)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Science, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
(Question No. 387)
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The Postmaster-General has supplied the following answer:
(Question No. 424)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
– 1 have received the following answer from the Minister for Civil Aviation:
(Question No. 426)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation; upon notice:
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has furnished the following answer to the question asked by the honourable senator:
(Question No. 433)
Senator BISHOP (through Senator
O’Byrne) asked the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice:
Mas the PostmasterGeneral’s attention been drawn to a recorded ‘News Headline’ service which is available by ringing the telephone number of an Adelaide broadcasting station, and which ends with the reading of an advertisement by the recorded voice?
Have such telephone services been approved by the PostmasterGeneral?
Are these special facilities to advertise over the PostmasterGeneral’s telecommunication systems being provided on the basis of special rates, or is the PostmasterGeneral’s Department at a financial disadvantage as a result ofthese methods?
If special approval was granted for such services, did the PostmasterGeneral have regard for the reasonable and just competition conditions for all interests in the broadcasting and Press sectors of the community, and for the interests of journalists employed in news reporting?
The service described commenced operation in 1963 and has its counterparts in the other mainland capital cities and in many overseas countries.
Facilities for privately operated recorded information services are provided by the Department at a rental which has been determined as an equitable charge for the Post Office equipment employed. The lessee provides and maintains his own recording and announcing equipment.
Subject to certain conditions aimed at avoiding congestion in the telephone network, the Post Office will, wherever practicable, provide facilities for any interested organisation to establish a recorded news service.
(Question No. 434)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answers:
(Question No. 486)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for External Affairs has furnished the following reply:
(Question No. 494)
asked the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice:
– The answers are as follows:
I can best answer the honourable senator’s question by referring to the prices of urea prior to the recent increases. These were:
Supplier ‘A’- $53.20 ex store.
Supplier ‘B’ - $49; ex wharf; $78.20 ex store.
The currant prices are:
Supplier ‘A’ - $68.40 ex store.
Supplier ‘B’ - $73.50 ex store.
– On 18th September Senator Gair asked me, representing the Minister for External Affairs, whether the Minister had been correctly quoted on page 247 of the June issue of ‘Current Notes’ in a reference to the need of Asia for external assistance, including not only the United States of America but also the beneficent interest of the Soviet Union.I have been informed that the report is accurate. The Minister has informed me that it still expresses his view.
– On Tuesday, 1 7th September, Senator Poke addressed a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson) with regard to a statement attributed to Mr Hay, the Administrator of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. I am now informed that reports that the Administrator had advocated a wage freeze in the Territory were a gross misinterpretation of what the Administrator actually said. Mr Hay was merely stressing the importance of wages in the cost structure of the Territory’s main export industries copra, coffee, cocoa, rubber, etc. He did not advocate a wage freeze.He urged, however, that any wage rises should be related to increased productivity. Nowhere in Mr Hay’s speech did he suggest that the Territory’s House of Assembly would be asked to approve legislation which would peg or freeze wages.
– I ask for leave to make a statement relating to fisheries negotiations with Japan.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman) - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– Honourable senators are aware that, following the entry into force of the Fisheries Act 1967, a general prohibition of foreign fishing operations has been established up to a limit 12 miles fromthe coast of Australia and the external Territories. During the course of this year discussions have taken place between delegations of Australian and Japanese officials with a view to reaching agreement with respect to Japanese tuna longline fishing in waters off Australia and certain of the Territories, including Papua and New Guinea.
I wish to inform the House that the two delegations have now. submitted a report enclosing a draft agreement for the consideration of their governments. The Australian Government will be giving early consideration to the draft agreement which is concerned only with the operations of Japanese tuna longline vessels. A further statement will be made as soon as possible.
Motion (by Senator Scott) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to Customs.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing orders suspended.
– I move:
Before 1 refer to the more significant of these amendments I should mention that some of the procedural changes covered by this Bill have equal application in the excise field. I will therefore be introducing a number of Excise Bills which provide for similar amendments in that legislation. Honourable senators will be aware of the tremendous changes which have taken place in Australia’s commercial and industrial activity in recent years. The general expansion and development of commerce and industry have been coupled with major refinements in commercial accounting systems.
The Customs has a close association with many’ major commercial and industrial activities. Hence, these developments have presented a challenge to the traditional role of the Department of Customs and Excise. Some of the changes I have in mind are concerned with containerisation of sea and air cargo, jumbo jet and supersonic aircraft, the speed of modern transport facilities and computerised central accounting systems. These factors, coupled with the overall increase in activity, have pointed to the need for Customs to review its operations in order that the growing demands of industry and commerce may be met. Indeed, such a review was undertaken and it pointed to the desirability of a number of major changes in customs procedures.
The main purpose of this Bill is to provide for the introduction of new stream lined procedures. The present system has three main elements: detailed supervision by an officer of all operations: maintenance of independent records by the Department without regard to the client’s own commercial records; and the obligation on business enterprises to present individual customs entries and/ or specific requests for approval for each operation.
The new system of control known as commodity control calls for planned checking by officers of normal commercial records and accounts maintained by those engaged in the production and distribution of customable and excisable goods. Planned random checks of associated physical operations supplement those of a documentary nature, lt is proposed to abandon full time, detailed supervision by officers or all operations and maintenance of unnecessary independent records, lt is also proposed to replace individual entries or permits by a continuing approval system wherever possible.
The Department’s plans for the progressive introduction of commodity control to other areas following its successful application to the petroleum industry have been the subject of scrutiny by the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts. Following its examination, the Committee asked the Department to hasten with its expansion of commodity control procedures and the amendments proposed in this Bill will enable it to do so. As envisaged by the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts in its examination of excise activities, the Department has extended the commodity control principles into the warehousing, shipping, airline and general customs fields.
These procedural changes will result in a twofold advantage to the economy as a whole. Firstly, the new procedures will permit a more efficient customs control with a minimum of administrative cost. Already some of these changes have resulted in some savings in staff whereas continuation of traditional customs practice would, of necessity, have required additional staff. Secondly, the changes will confer a number of advantages on commerce and industry. Customable goods will be cleared or moved with minimum customs formality. Furthermore, customs procedures have been adapted to conform more closely with current commercial practice.
I am taking advantage of this opportunity to introduce a number of other amendments to the Customs Act. These amendments also follow a comprehensive review of systems of operation and control which showed that there were other procedures which, while not directly related to the proposed commodity control concept, could also be improved. They will provide the flexibility necessary if departmental requirements are to be progressively adapted to mee! the changing circumstances of industry and commerce.
The measures proposed in these amendments are presented after detailed discussions with various industry bodies such as airline and shipping companies, customs agents, importers and commercial and manufacturing interests. Every endeavour has been made to introduce, where practical, innovations to procedures to enable the Department to fulfil its function of protecting the revenue with a minimum of interference to the free flow of commerce. One of the more important of these amendments provides for the removal of specified goods direct to the importer’s premises before presentation of all related customs documents. This procedure will obviously do much to reduce costs and to avoid port congestion.
Another provision will enable goods subject to customs control to be removed under a continuing approval system. This will obviate the need for each removal to be individually documented, thus relieving commerce of unnecessary inconvenience. A further amendment will enable importers to pay duty prior to the arrival of imported goods. This provision should facilitate immediate . delivery of goods on arrival. The Bill also includes provisions which will enable Australia to accede to the European Convention on Customs Treatment of Pallets Used in International Transport.
Another amendment provides for the streamlining of ships stores controls in the interests of tourism. The need for carriers to be licensed to carry under bond goods has also been abolished by this Bill. The Bill includes a number of amendments which are of a minor drafting or technical nature or are consequential ‘ on the major amendments to which T have already referred. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne adjourned.
Motton (by Senator Scott) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to Excise.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing orders suspended.
– I move:
The Bill I have just introduced provides for amendments to the Excise Act 1901- 1968. The amendments contained in the Bill fall ‘ within the following categories, namely, provisions complementary to those in the Customs Bill (No,- 2) necessary because of procedural changes to which I have previously referred; . rectification of existing deficiencies in the Excise Act; incorporation in the Excise Act of special provisions relating to beer and canned fruit consequent upon the proposed repeal of the Beer Excise Act and the Canned Fruit Excise Act; and repeal, of redundant provisions.
Some of the amendments sought in this Bill will permit the full application of the commodity control procedures in the excise area. For example, clause 15 remakes the existing section 50 relating to a manufacturers responsibility to keep records and submit returns. The proposed new section follows the lines of section 92< of the Customs Act and will permit the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs to accept the commercial records of persons producing or dealing in excisable goods as an accounting medium for those goods.
Provisions relating to delivery of goods without entry, which forms part of the simplified procedural arrangements, will be found in clause 24. The responsibility for persons to account for goods subject to the control of the customs is contained in clause 22. To indicate the potential saving in time and paper work involved in controlling, for example, transactions involving removal under bond of excisable goods, I mention that during 1967-68, there were some 15,000 removal entries prepared by persons dealing with excisable goods and processed by the Department of Customs and Excise.
In proposed section 6 lc of clause 24, special provision is made to cover circumstances such as operations of licensees of excise establishments in country areas, lt is proposed to implement suitable arrangements for payment of duty whereby such persons will be permitted to deliver goods for home consumption on terms no less favourable than those applying to persons who conduct their excise business within reasonable proximity to Customs Houses. The Bill also takes account of deficiencies in existing legislation in relation to approved places by prescribing conditions regarding their operation. These places -are storage points, including customs warehouses for excisable goods situated away from manufacturing premises and always have been, and will continue to be, an integral pan of the marketing system for excisable goods. Reference to approved places will be found in clauses 4, 5, 15, 20, 24, 27 and 29. 1 mention at this stage that I will later be introducing a Bill to amend the Distillation Act repealing certain provisions in that Act which are covered by the existing Excise Act or by amendments proposed by the Bill under reference in relation to new procedural arrangements. 1 will refer to other aspects of this further Bill at a later stage.
Honourable senators will note that clause 27 of the Bill incorporates into the Excise Act certain special provisions relating to beer and canned fruit. The provisions, which have a particular application to those commodities, are amongst those already contained in the Beer Excise Act and the Canned Fruit Excise Act. lt is proposed to repeal those Acts as the sections remaining after the incorporation of the particular provisions referred to are merely duplications of similar provisions already contained in the Excise Act itself or are no longer necessary. I will be introducing later, therefore, repeal Bills in respect of the Beer Excise Act and the Canned Fruit Excise Act.
Other principal features of this Bill are the provisions in clause 28 of authority to call up refunds or drawbacks of excise duty incorrectly paid, and the re-making of provisions exempting from excise duty, subjecting to regulation requirements, ships stores and aircraft stores. At present, the provisions relating to aircraft stores are contained in the Excise Act whereas those relating to ships stores are contained in the excise tariff. Clause 38 of the Bill deals with this matter and follows the lines .of similar provisions contained in the Customs Act in relation to imported goods. 1 would like to point out also that amendments to a number of existing sections of the Excise Act have been made because of the altered definition of ‘material’ as indicated in clause 4 of the Bill. Some of the sections involved are referred to in clauses 6 to 12.
There is provision also in the Bill for duty free access by manufacturers to small samples of excisable goods, subject to the approval of a Collector of Customs, for purposes such as quality control. The proposed section, outlined in clause 25, corresponds to a similar provision in the Customs Act in relation to imported samples, and will replace a long-standing regulation of doubtful validity which is limited to samples of spirits.
I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Scott) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to distillation.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing orders suspended.
Senator SCOTT (Western Australia-
Minister for Customs and Excise) [12.20] - I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
In introducing the previous Bill relating to Excise Act amendments I made mention of the intention to seek amendments also to the Distillation Act 1901-1968. The amendments proposed in this Distillation Bill relate principally to the repeal of provisions from the Distillation Act which are now to be provided in the principal Excise Act and to revised provisions relating to the possession and use of stills.
Honourable senators will note that, under clause 5 of the Bill, Parts V and VI of the Excise Act are now incorporated and are to be read as one with the Distillation Act. Inclusion of those Parts, which relate to excise supervision, records and removal of goods, renders the comparable sections of the Distillation Act unnecessary, such as those sections enumerated in clause 13. The existing provisions relating to stills and the definition of an illicit still have been redrafted to present the intention of the legislation in more precise terms. References to these amendments will be found in clauses 4, 6,19, 20 and 21.
The Bill also removes from the Distillation Act certain redundant provisions, as, for example, those referred to in clause 9 which relate to distillers’ plant operating prior to the commencement of the Act in 1901.
A further feature of the Bill, as indicated in clause 16, is the application of a common penalty for unlawfully dealing with spirits irrespective of the type of licence under which a distiller operates. I commend the’ Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Scott) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to repeal the Beer Excise Act 1901-1968, and for purposes related thereto.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing orders suspended.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill, the introduction of which 1 foreshadowed earlier, seeks to repeal the existing Excise Acts relating to beer, as the necessary legislation relating to control over this commodity will be covered by the provisions of the Excise Act 1901-1968 as proposed to be amended.
Clause 5 of the Bill is an interim measure relating to licences issued and securities given under the existing Beer Excise Act 1901-1968, whilst clause 6 is a saving provision to give the Department of Customs and Excise control over beer that may remain on a brewery premises in the event of cancellation of a brewer’s licence before the provisions of this Bill become operative. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Scott) agreed to:
That leave be givento introduce a Bill for an Act to repeal the Canned Fruit Excise Act 1963- 1968, and for purposes related thereto.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing orders suspended.
Senator SCOTT (Western Australia -
Minister for Customs and Excise) [12.25] - I move:
This is the final Bill in the Excise series and seeks to repeal existing provisions in the Canned Fruit Excise Act 1963-1968 for reasons similar to those which I have already explained in relation to the Beer Excise Act Repeal Bill.
In addition, clause 6 of this Bill provides that deposits of money or guarantees already taken against excise duty commitments under the Canned Fruit Excise Act shall be deemed to have been accepted under the Excise Act as proposed to be amended. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Scott) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to give effect, in relation to Sales Tax, to the European Convention on Customs Treatment of Pallets used in International Transport.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing orders suspended.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to amend Sales Tax Assessment Act (No. 5), to enable Aus tralia to accede to the European Convention on Customs Treatment of Pallets Used in International Transport.
The Bill is complementary to clause 31 of Customs Bill No. 2 and inserts section 6c, which provides that if collection of sales tax on pallets would be in contravention of the Convention, then sales tax is not payable. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) read a first time.
[12.30] - I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill, Mr President, is to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act to adjust certain postal charges. Other postal tariffs, not included in the Act, are also being adjusted. For the information of honourable senators, I shall outline these proposed variations as well. Under the bulk pre-sorted mail service the customer must comply with a number of conditions which result in substantial economies in the mail handling and conveyance costs for the Post Office. The Bill provides for lower rates to apply to this service so that the customer, in return for complying with the conditions, benefits by receiving a proportion of the economies through lower postage rates. The Post Office’s share of the economies assists in offsetting the losses incurred in uneconomic services.
Facing and postmarking operations normally performed by the Post Office are avoided with bulk pre-sorted mail because the items must be presented by the customer already faced and bearing a ‘postage paid’ imprint which does not require cancellation. They must also be pre-sorted so that the number of Post Office handlings is reduced. Surface transmission rather than the usual air conveyance is used in this service, and delivery by the postmen may be delayed for several days. Since this service was introduced last October, a substantial volume of new business has been created for the Post Office. This business, which would not have otherwise eventuated, amounts to about 10 million items annually. This new business expands the employment opportunities for postal workers and also means more business tor such industries as printing and envelope manufacturing.
By taking advantage of the modern mailing systems in the offices of its customers, the Post Office is also able to obtain important cost reduction benefits. The new bulk pre-sorted mail service is one example of the efforts being made to improve the financial position of the postal service. It is believed that the proposal to reduce the rates slightly will encourage the greater use of the service. Market studies indicate that there is still considerable potential for further new business and even at the new levels the rates will be profitable to the Post Office.
In the case of letters up to 1 ounce and other articles up to 2 oz, the proposed rates for bulk pre-sorted mail are between ic and c less that at present, the postage payable being 3c to Aic, depending on the size of the mailing. There are proportionate decreases on heavier items, lt is also proposed that the bulk pre-sorted mail service be extended to cover registered books, due to the intensive competition in this field. Rates for parcels will be prescribed by regulation. With the rapid development of exports, mailings of sales promotion material to countries in the Asian and Pacific areas are increasing. It is proposed to extend the bulk pre-sorted mail service to cover mailings to these areas. As the necessary arrangements are made with individual countries, necessary executive action will be taken. As a first step, pre-sorted postings to New Zealand will be eligible for the lower rates on similar conditions to mailings within Australia.
There is considerable scope for the Post Office to attract a greater share of the business of delivering unaddressed material into private letter boxes. The ‘householder’ service requires little work on the part of the Post Office since there is no processing and, as delivery may be delayed several days, this mail is virtually ‘filler’ traffic which adds little to costs. There is benefit in encouraging business in this area because it is highly profitable and assists in keeping the prices of other services down. At present the postage, on ‘householder’ printed matter is 3c on an item weighing up to 2 oz and 3.6c on an item weighing up to 4 oz. Tt is proposed that a rate of 2c for each 4 oz should apply to items for delivery within the city of posting - including its suburbs - and (hat a rale of 3c for each 4 oz should apply to postings delivered to other places. f turn now, Mr President, to increases in postal charges not covered by the Bill. In 1967-68 the provision of the postal service incurred a financial loss of about $20m and it is expected that at the present tariffs this loss would rise lo $23m in 1968-69. In 1967-68 earnings were well below expectations because of the drought conditions in many parts of Australia and higher awards and determinations adversely affected the postal trading results by adding S6m to the wages bill. The unfavourable financial trend is causing concern and it is necessary Cor this loss to be reduced by raising the prices of selected services.
To a substantial extent, uneconomicservices, such as concession rates on registered newspapers and periodicals and delivery services in sparsely populated areas, continue to affect the financial viability of the postal services. Continuing attention to the improvement of productivity of the postal service has achieved very satisfactory results in recent years and. since 1959-60, a traffic growth of 38% has been handled by a staff increase of only 18%. la the last 9 years the salaries of mail sorting staff have increased by 48% and rail and freight charges have risen by 19%, yet parcels rates have not increased in that time and operating costs are well in excess of the revenue received. It is therefore proposed that charges be increased by about 20% overall, although the rises in respect of light weight parcels will be somewhat higher than this and in many cases the charges for heavier weight parcels will in fact be cheaper than at present. The proposed charges have been set after a close study of costs and competition.
The proposed domestic parcel post structure also incorporates changes in respect of interstate parcels. Far distant States have been grouped into a separate new scale because of the heavy transportation costs involved. In addition, a per lb. basis of charging is proposed to give a graduated schedule rather than the present grouped weight structure in which small increases in weight can result in a substantial increase in price. The per lb. basis requires a minimum charge per parcel, which has been set at an average cost.
The fees for private bags were last varied in 1951 and, for private boxes, in 1956. Since 1951 the wages of mail sorting staff have increased by over 100%. lt is proposed to increase the fees for private bags and boxes in line with those wage increases. However, holders of small private boxes who are not served by postmen or mailmen will continue to pay only $2 per annum. The clearance of private posting receptacles, mostly sited in large office buildings, is a very costly service to provide and the provision of such receptacles allows only marginal savings in the provision of departmental letter receivers. Parking problems in inner city areas are also accentuating the difficulties associated with this facility. The fees for the clearance of these private receptacles has not been increased since 1951 and prior to that had remained unchanged since 1911. As an initial step towards placing this facility on an economic basis, it is proposed to increase the rates approximately four fold while at the same time limiting the clearances to no more than two on weekdays and one on Saturdays. The new rate is still quite modest and does not cover costs, so it cannot be expected that the previous long intervals between increases will be repeated.
Special mail services and those which are particularly labour intensive require increased tariffs to ensure that costs are covered. The fees for registered post, cashondelivery post and certified mail will rise by 5c. It is proposed to eliminate the permit mail fee in order to encourage the sealing of large postings of printed matter, which will facilitate their processing by sorting machines. The number of charging zones for parcel post rates to overseas countries has also been reduced to three. There is no longer any cost basis for separating the existing three more distant zones and they will be amalgamated. The main reason for the increases is the considerably higher amounts being charged by overseas countries for the handling and delivery of parcels received. This applies particularly in the cases of Britain and the United States.
It will also be necessary to increase overseas airmail rates. Most of these have not been varied since 1952. although charges to
Britain and Europe were increased in 1966. The percentage increase in rates to Britain will be smaller than in respect of other countries. The rate to Europe and Britain will become 30c per 1 oz, although the amount charged by airlines for conveying such items is 29c per i oz, quite apart from the other handling costs involved.
Mr President, the financial effect of all these variations to postal tariffs will bc to bring in extra revenue of $6. 2m in a full year and S4.7m in 1968-69. 1 commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Wilkinson) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 12.40 to 2.15 p.m.
Debate resumed from 18 September (vide page 754), on motion by Senator McKellar
Thai the Bill be now read a second time.
Senator BISHOP (South Australia) 12.15] - Mr Deputy President, the Senate is discussing a Bill to amend the Repatriation Act 1920-1967. As the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) said in his second reading speech, the purpose of the Bill is to give legislative effect to the Government’s repatriation proposals as outlined in the Budget. He went on to say that the Government, in its Budget deliberations this year, had looked closely at what could be done to improve repatriation pensions and benefits, especially for the most seriously disabled and for war widows and children.
As was stated in the debate on the estimates for the Repatriation Department, the Opposition considers that the legislation falls down in that it will not restore the relativity of pensions on the basis put to the Cabinet sub-committee by the Returned Services League. While we acknowledge that there are some increases proposed in this Bill, we feel that the Government should have properly reviewed the particular representations made by that organisation. Those representations not only requested the Government to restore the position of the pension in relation to the base set in 1920 but also requested some other measures. Those other measures can be dealt with later on in this debate.
The Bill provides for weekly increases of $3 in the total and permanent incapacity rate. $3 in the intermediate rate pension, and $1 in the pension for war widows. There is provision also for an increase of $1 a week in the rates payable for the first and each subsequent child in cases where one parent is dead. The service pension is to bc raised hy Si to $14 a week and there are to be some new benefits which, as the Minister stated, run parallel with the social service provisions which the Government has announced. I might mention that the table of rates presented by the Minister is very handy.
However, all in all, the provisions of this Bill do not meet the requirement which the Opposition claims should be met and which have been submitted to the Government by the ex-service organisations, particularly the senior body, the RSL. I intend to raise again the matter of relativity. This matter was examined by the RSL National Executive, which met the Cabinet subcommittee. Let me consider the changes in pension payments in comparison with the rates fixed in 1920. The TPI rate in 1920 represented 103% of the then basic wage. In 1943 it represented 100%; in 1950 it was 101%: and’ “in 1967 it represented 81% of the then minimum wage. The increases proposed in this Bill will bring the payment to S9% of the present minimum weekly wage. This is less than was asked for by the RSL. In 1920 the 100% general rate pension represented 54% of the then basic wage. In 1943 it represented 52%; in 1950 it represented 51%; and in 1967 it represented 32% of the minimum weekly wage. The proposed increase will maintain the rate at 32% of the minimum wage. lt seems to the Opposition that there is no reason why the Government should not at this stage try to achieve the basis of. relativity suggested by the RSL. I think I should read the basic submissions. They might have been analysed and sent to some other body for consideration as to whether the basis proposed by the ex-service organisations was well founded. It could have been tested. The Returned Services League put three major propositions to the Government. The first recommendation. was:
Thai there should be a general review of war and service pension rates. That in this , review the special rate ITI pension should be increased to an amount equal to the present minimum wage, the 100% general rate and war widow’s pension should be increased to an amount equal to 30% of the minimum wage, and that all other pensions and allowances should be increased proportionally.
The second proposition has been canvassed to a great extent. It is:
That repatriation hospital, medical and pharmaceutical benefits should be extended to all returned ex-servicemen of the First World War and the Boer War without the necessity of establishing any association between the disability or the illness with their war service.
The third recommendation was:
That the funeral grant be increased from $50 to $150.
In my opinion the League submitted a very strong and well based argument, relating the objective I have mentioned to the question of compensation. It stated:.
Consideration of the question of war pensions must be based on the fundamental principle that all repatriation measures, and especially pensions, are. compensation not gratuity. A member and his dependants are entitled to receive them. This . . is a right that has been earned in service to Australia.
The submission went on to argue that in addition to the basic proposition that pensions should be considered as compensation, rates should be tied closely to the minimum wage set by the national tribunal which deals with such matters. The RSL pointed out that it was possible for the unions to go before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, with proper representation, submit all the facts and get a determination of what should be the minimum wage. However, in the case of repatriation pensioners, who are losing the opportunity to work in the community, at least the TPI rate ought to be related to the minimum wage, and it could be set at the same level without any great trouble. The RSL put forward another proposition which seems to me to carry a great deal of weight. It was that in any case this small number of people should be entitled to something more. The League referred to figures available from the Bureau of Census and Statistics which showed that the average weekly earnings of employed males was $63.40. It said that the average weekly earnings of $63.40 might well be the basis to start from in determining what the TPI rate should be. The proposition put to the Government was that the TPI rate should be at least the equivalent of the minimum wage. The League went on to argue that measures such as this might be adopted to establish a prima facie basis. In the event that the Government did not accept this, the RSL submitted, some special, impartial body ought to be established to determine the issue. In view of what has not been done in the past, the Australian Labor Party has argued often that the Senate, or both Houses of the Parliament, ought to set up such an impartial body to determine what the basis of repatriation pensions should be. On top of the base rates, there ought to be related rates for dependants. In addition to losing the opportunity to work, exservicemen are embarrassed by the fact that they suffer certain penalties within the community because of their disabilities. These penalties we’re well stated in the submission by the League.
One of the best suggestions made by the RSL - and it was supported by other exservice organisations-was that there was a need to consider the setting up of an impartial or objective body. Every honourable senator knows that on each occasion that legislative action is taken to make special alterations to the Repatriation Act, there is a great controversy about the failure of negotiations with the Government to restore the pension standards of exservicemen. From the point of view of the Government, this would remove from the political arena the controversy that arises year after year about the failure of the Government, properly to carry out a review of . repatriation benefits. Such a review could be achieved in two ways. Either the Government could establish an impartial and objective body to canvass the issues between the organisation and the Government, or the Government could appoint a special committee of the Parliament to investigate these matters.
The ‘ propositions that were advanced relate not only to the level of pensions but also to a number of other matters which should bc mentioned. One of these matters is the issue of hospitalisation. When proposals are .put before’ the Government, it says: ‘Well, they have to be related to the budgetary review and adjusted accordingly. They must take their place among the many other matters concerned with the economy.’ For example, the document from which 1 have already quoted . includes a section dealing with the reply, that the Returned Services League received from the Govern ment to its proposals for 1967-68. The relevant section reads:
The Government, in replying to the League’s criticism of the 1967 Budget, made a number of points which must be answered in presenting the 1968 pensions plan. This was the statement that repatriation benefits and pension rates must be viewed in the light of other budgetary responsibilities, including defence, education, national development and social services.
The position is that this Government is developing and strengthening our armed forces and in fact through legislative action has enforced the enrolment of our young men for national service. Yet, the very basis of compensation to which the Minister referred in his second reading speech is not reached. Indeed, no attempt is made to achieve that end.
What 1 have quoted from the document prepared by the RSL is supported also by representations that are made to all honourable senators. I have here a letter given to me by the Limbless Soldiers Association of South Australia. This Association made representations to the Government last year. I wish to refer to the reply received from the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) on 5th October. The third paragraph is the important one. After acknowledging the representations, the Prime Minister states:
The funds available for these purposes are not unlimited, and it is the Government’s tusk to allocate priorities to all such claims received. I should explain that, when formulating the Budget for 1967-68, the Government, in accordance with its customary practice, carefully reviewed the whole range of social service, health and repatriation benefits. However, in the -light, of its unavoidable commitments for expenditure this financial year, the various changes in benefits which the Treasurer announced in his Budget Speech on 1.5th August represented the only improvements in those fields which the Government could recommend to Parliament for 1967-68.
This is the type of reply that we frequently get from the Government. It illustrates the failure of the Government to establish once and for all a basis which would give justice to ex-service pensioners. We are always told that it is a matter of whether the Government can afford to provide these benefits bearing in mind the general economic situation. But this system has broken down. In 1967-68. the Treasurer (Mr McMahon), the Prime Minister, as I have mentioned, and others said that these matters concerned with the programme put forward by the ex-service organisations all had been carefully reviewed.
In May 1967, the Minister for Repatriation slated in the Senate that because of high expenditures the Government could not meet the objectives of the organisations, but he expressed the hope that when the next Budget was introduced the Government would be able to meet generally the objectives of. the organisations. So, each time the matter is raised we hear this argument about a review. Only yesterday during the debate on the estimates of the Repatriation Department, the Minister was questioned about this approach. The leading question put to him was: What do you do each financial year when you find that you have representations on these matters or when you find that the parties within the Parliament raise these matters as a burning issue? In the present circumstances, of course, there was something stronger than the normal representations that are made. Prior to the Senate election which was held at the end of last year, the RSL promoted the circulation of leaflets. Hundreds of thousands of these leaflets, referring to the sort of approach I have mentioned, were circulated to members of the community. Representations were made to all members of this Parliament. The RSL conducted a great and strong political campaign which was designed to achieve what it said should be the basis of compensation. I notice that in the Minister’s second reading speech he makes reference to the fact that compensation is provided.
But we find that these reviews, which the Government says it carries out, in fact are not carried out. Certainly there is good reason to claim that if the Government will not meet the request of the Opposition to set up a Senate select committee or a joint standing committee of the Parliament to inquire into repatriation it should do something about the propositions advanced by the Returned Services League. At page 758 of yesterday’s Hansard, in reply to my questions on this point, the Minister said:
The organisations make submissions to me. During the course of the year I receive many letters, particularly from the National Headquarters of the RSL. The normal procedure is that letters flow from the States to the National Headquarters and then on to me. Suggestions are made as to what should be done with regard to certain provisions in the Repatriation Act. Those suggestions are examined. They are not refused or accepted without examination. We accept some of the suggestions but, to be quite frank, the majority we do not accept. The point is that they are examined and not simply cast aside. If 1 have any doubts the suggestions are sent to my departmental officers who investigate them and inform me what is involved.
– Yes. But the point is that the opportunity is not given to the organisations to take the matter further as is given to the trade union movement in its representations to the Government. The exservice organisations have paid officers to look after the welfare of their members. Ex-service organisations make representations but these representations have not the strength of the propositions made by the trade union organisations because trade union organisations can go before an arbitration tribunal. They may negotiate separately or make collective agreements. In this way, the trade union movement has a great measure of strength. But ex-service organisations must rely purely on their representations to the Government. There is no other body to which they may go for a determination after they have presented their representations to the Government.
At page 759 of Hansard of yesterday’s date, the Minister said, with regard to the matters which he had discussed earlier and which I have just quoted:
A decision is then made and the organisation concerned is advised of it. By this means, the Act is under continual review.
I suggest that it is not. The Minister continued:
Therefore, as 1 have said already, there is in effect a continuing review of the Repatriation Act by these men who, after all, are pretty expert in this field because of the ambit of repatriation matters with which they deal.
Unfortunately, here we have the same situation with which we are faced frequently when we are debating these issues. We are told that the Government has considered repatriation benefits alongside Budget requirements. The Government says that it is continually reviewing these benefits and that that is as much as can be done in the circumstances. The end result is that the great body of ex-service people - and I include those who will become disabled as a result of the current war activities - will continue to suffer this disadvantage because of their service to the nation.
The RSL pinpointed this issue at page 2 of its 1968 pensions plan submission. It stated:
Insofar as wage rates arc concerned there is already such a body in existence - the Arbitration Commission. The League, therefore, feels that it is only by reference to the Commission’s decisions that a reasonably accurate assessment can be made on the level of compensation thar should be provided in the many and varied cases of disablement.
But that standard is not reached. I wish to refer to what the League said about hospitalisation because one of the issues that has been before this Parliament is the question of providing free hospitalisation for First World War and Boer War veterans. The figure bandied about the Parliament as an accurate forecast of costs was approximately $10m a year. The other issue that was presented by the Government as an obstacle to such a proposal was the question of accommodation in repatriation hospitals. There has been no answer by the Government in the form of an assessment of the cost in relation to the request which the League made. The estimate the League, has made of the cost of the proposal has not been knocked by anybody. The RSL estimates that the total cost would be about $2,568,000, which is a long way removed from the Minister’s estimate of $IOm. The Minister claimed that the cost was a great obstacle in the way of the proposal as was the need to . provide accommodation. The RSL has prepared a very good brief in respect of accommodation, lt seems to me to be proof that the ex-servicemen could be accommodated. The League has estimated the costs for straight out hospitalisation as about $1,416,800: medical services about §325,000; and prescriptions about $800,000 making a total of about $2. 5m.
We are not satisfied with the answers given by the Government. We are not satisfied with the general answer that there is a continual review. In special circumstances causing a great drain on government funds, the chances are that the Government would reduce pensions, ft certainly would treat ex-servicemen in the same way as all other members of the community. Government Supporters often say in this Parliament that our repatriation system is the finest in the world. We have the ability to meet the requests of the RSL but we refuse. Justice should be given to ex-servicemen who have suffered great disabilities because of their service in the armed forces. Their depend ants are also entitled to justice. It is clear that the system of fixing pension and associated rates has broken down. A new system is needed.
The Government ought to be able to say something better than simply repealing the answers the Minister has given to us. He tells us that matters are put to the Department and considered by the Government. We are told that they must take their place amongst I he budgetary proposals. The Government should be able to say: ‘Yes, we accept this. We oppose the setting up of a Senate select committee but we will consider setting up a special body.’ Many people are concerned about the repatriation situation, including ex-service organisations. They could be asked to assist in working out a new system. Then all Australians, including members of he Opposition, would know that time is being devoted to restoring the situation. 1 have already said that the Repatriation Act has not been . reviewed since 1943. That review was conducted during the war years when it might well have been said that that was not the time to eonduct a review because of the need to prosecute the war.
I have outlined the general case of the Returned Services League and I have indicated that the Opposition supports it. I propose to move an amendment to the Bill. On the basis of the arguments we have presented there is a case for a change. There must obviously be a stronger case in the background of discussions and protests by ex-service organisations, particularly in the last year. I remind the Minister that in March last year officers of twelve ex-service organisations representing about one million ex-servicemen strongly criticised the Government for its failure to restore repatriation benefits. In addition, various Stale branches of the RSL have written to senators asking them to do something about the issue.
On 12th September 1967 the Acting State President of the South Australian Branch of the RSL wrote to me. He said:
The methods adopted by the Government of completely ignoring the League’s Repatriation submissions is little short of a despotic ‘attitude and will earn the displeasure of . ex-servicemen throughout Australia. The situation ‘ has now reached a crisis for our pensioners,’ and the League will not relent in its campaign to expose this progressive deterioration in a priority Australian standard. Surely it is not too much to expect that Parliament be undivided in its efforts to restore a reasonable measure of justice to war and service pensioners.
I have given the general background of the representations of the RSL which, in my view, should have received more consideration than in the past. The representations are very similar to previous appeals. Recommendations were made for restoration of benefits and repatriation pensioners have not received their entitlements. The RSL has a great influence in the community. Copies of the circular I hold in my hand were distributed to every householder in Australia. Every sub-branch was asked to see a member of Parliament and obtain his support for the proposals. The combined ex-service organisations met and are still meeting to deal with the issue. There is certainly a great need for the Government to act.
There is every reason to believe that it is time to change the system which has been used by the Government over the years. A committee of this Parliament should be set up to examine repatriation matter’s and to test the arguments of the Opposition. It could determine whether the representations of the RSL and other organisations have merit. Let us hear what the Minister did about the submissions of the RSL in respect of the setting up of an objective body. Were they ever considered? Who considered them? Did the Repatriation Commission have a chance to look at them? What did it say about them? Did the Cabinet subcommittee support them, or knock them? Did the Government back benchers’ committee dealing with repatriation matters consider the representations of the RSL and try to induce the Cabinet sub-committee to agree to them? In the light of those queries I intend to move an amendment. I move:
I suggest that there is every reason for the Government seriously to consider again, as it did last year, the views of the Opposition which are supported, as far as I am aware, by the RSL and a wide section of ex-service organisations. Consideration should be given to providing, once and for all, justice for ex-servicemen. At least the Government should determine the best method of making annual increases to pensions to keep pace with living standards in the community. If a man in a factory or an office or a professional worker feels that his reward is not adequate for the skills he uses, he has an opportunity to approach a wage fixing authority to argue his case. It has to be decided by a tribunal according to the facts.
In the case of repatriation pensioners we rely upon the good offices of the Government. It seems that these methods are not too good because the representations of exservice organisations have not been heeded. When the Government makes amendments to the repatriation legislation it becomes a matter for discussion in the public forum. It becomes a matter of urgency. Representations are continually made to members of this Parliament and intense debates are held, as occurred yesterday when discussing the estimates for the Repatriation Department. Obviously this is a vital question for everybody, not only for those who served in the Services but also for people in the community and members of Parliament who want to see justice once and for all for ex-servicemen.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator ‘ Poke) -Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
-I support the Bill. Although I am not fully informed as to the wishes of the Government with regard to the amendment, I shall oppose it for the reasons which I shall state. I should like to compliment the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) on the speech that he made to the Senate concerning the Government’s decisions with regard to repatriation. As you know, Mr Acting Deputy President, every year at the time of the Budget the Government gives legislative effect to its Budget proposals. Consequently, I propose first of all to look at the Budget which was delivered in the Parliament on13th August. In introducing the Budget the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) said:
It will be remembered that, when opening the Parliament on 12th March 1968, the Governor General said:
My Government will review the field of social welfare with the object of assisting those in most need while at the same lime nol discouraging thrift, self-help and self-reliance.
Those words of His Excellency the Governor-General were repeated by the Treasurer who, right at the outset of his Budget Speech this year, said:
Earlier this year the Prime Minister established the Welfare Committee of Cabinet to make a comprehensive examination of existing health and social welfare schemes and to suggest new approaches where desirable. The Committee has been engaged on that task and will continue with it.
Then the Treasurer explained that the proposals in the Budget flowed from these deliberations. He said:
While they do nol provide final solutions, they do present significant steps along the road the Government is determined to follow. Some of them have not before been included in Commonwealth social welfare programmes. Indeed 1 believe it will be clearly seen that the Government has placed the objective of helping the aged, the sick, and the needy in the forefront of its domestic programing.
And so we see that an important concept has emerged from this Budget; we see the first instalment of the planning of the Welfare Committee of Cabinet. Speaking as 1 do on the first Bill to come before the Senate setting out an early result of the work of that Committee, I congratulate the Minister for Repatriation on the priorities that he has been able to incorporate in the first Repatriation Bill to be presented following the appointment of the Welfare Committee of Cabinet. I do so because he puts his finger on the really needy element of our repatriation pensioners. 1 refer to the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner who is to receive an increase of S3 a week. I could go through seriatim the various other rises, but they arc all there to read.
I think I should concentrate my speech on the introduction of the new benefit, that is, the allowance to be paid to the genera) rate pensioners whose incapacity from war caused disablement ranges from 75% to 100%. The TPI pensioner receives the 100% rate, but a special increase will be granted also to the group, many of whom are getting on in years, whose pensions might have started at 30% of the general rate, might then have been increased to 60% and may now have reached 80%. AH who are more than 75% incapacitated will receive this special increase. The amount of the special increased allowance will range from $3 a week for the pensioner eligible for a 100% pension to $2.25 a week” for the general rate pensioner who is eligible for a 75% pension. This means that the 100% pension will go from $12 a week to $15, and the 75% pension will go from $9 a week to $11.25. Honourable senators will see from that information that the Government has paid great attention to a section of our pensioners who are at this point of time, perhaps 25 or 50 years after their war service, feeling the pinch. They are the ones who particularly will benefit from the imaginative treatment that they have been given in this Budget. I compliment the Minister particularly on that. But I especially compliment him also on the way that he proposes to implement the increases. At page 753 of Hansard he is reported as having said: lt will not be necessary for general rate pensioners assessed at 75% to 100% to apply for the allowance.
About 20 years ago 1 was president of a sub-branch of the Returned Services League and at about that time the then Chifley Government decided to pay war gratuities. This rather large sub-branch of 500 members which often had attendances at meetings of between 200 and 300 was asking question after question about the necessity for members to apply for their gratuities. The attitude was: Surely the Army, the Navy or the Air Force has all the information on our service. I believe that these men valued their gratuity a good deal less because of, as they put it, the bother they had of filling in a form for something that should have been theirs as a right. Casting my memory back to those times I feel that this criticism was probably quite unjust. Nevertheless, it was criticism. T am very glad that the Minister has seen fit to state that it will not be necessary for general rate pensioners at 75% to 100%. to apply for the allowance. He continued:
Individual cases will be examined and payment of the allowance to those eligible will be made’ progressively. …
Of course, there will be arrears, lt cannot all be done in the first week. I find the Minister’s words very satisfying and -I feel sure that pensioners assessed at 75% to 100% throughout the length and breadth of the land will be very grateful to the Minister for his imaginative treatment by this progressive move. I could go on and explain to the Senate how war widows and orphans will be given their rise. As Senator Bishop said, . the rise in service pensions flows along the lines of the rise in nonrepatriation pensions. By and large 1 compliment the Minister on this first instalment, as 1 might call it, of the Gorton Government’s new look with regard to those who are sick or needy - the pensioners.
Senator Bishop has made a very interesting speech on certain shortcomings - as he puts it - of the Bill. One listens to him year after year, “He is most consistent in the points that he makes. He makes them each year - in some years with more emphasis and in other years with less. However, I think that the Senate should oppose the Opposition’s suggestion that a select committee should be appointed to examine and report upon the adequacy of the rates and allowances paid and all other aspects of repatriation affected by the Bill and, in particular, to report whether the amendments to be made by the Bill are sufficient. Senator Bishop suggests that a select committee of the Senate should be the vehicle by which this remedy is obtained.
I do not think that this would be a correct function for a select committee. As Senator Bishop has said with a certain amount of eloquence, repatriation is a political matter. He has referred to what committees of the Returned Services League have recommended. He has pointed out that the League circularised all members of Parliament and urged that they seek an alteration of the existing legislation. There is a lot of political content in the question that the Opposition proposes to put to the select committee. The whole function of budgeting is most delicate. The Treasurer, supported by the Minister for Repatriation, has brought forward a Budget and in particular a part of it that relates to repatriation. This has been worked out with great precision and delicacy. I consider that no select committee of the Senate, drawn from back bench senators from all sides of the Senate, could give adequate consideration to the question of rates and allowances.
Then the amendment contains these omnibus words: ‘all other aspects of repatriation affected by the Bill’. I had the honour recently to be Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures, which worked for 13 months virtually without any winter recess and with very little summer recess. All that it had to inquire into was the desirability of an early introduction of the metric system to Australia - a completely non-party-political question. The Committee was able to report. .1 consider that that is the kind of task that should properly be put to a Senate select committee, lt should not be a task that goes right to the basis of Budget appropriations for such a matter as repatriation.
After all, the Government and particularly the constitution of the other House are affected by budgetary proposals when the Government goes to the electorate. Therefore it would be quite inappropriate for a Senate select committee to engage itself in examining and reporting on a particular budgetary matter such as the adequacy or otherwise of repatriation pensions. Admittedly, the Labor Government of 1943 appointed a select committee to go into the question of repatriation. I think a similar committee was appointed to go into the question of social services generally. But I still consider that it is not the function of a Senate committee to go into fiscal matters relating to such subjects as social services and repatriation.
As my friend Senator Marriott mentioned last night when a similar matter came before the Committee of the Senate, staff and personnel in the Senate have not the time available to give such a question the necessary consideration. So many select committees are actively working at the present time that back bench personnel of the Senate would not be available for another committee even if staff could be appointed to carry out the associated work. Therefore, the appointment of. a Senate select committee is not really on. I consider that the present welfare committee of the Cabinet, progressing wilh the task that the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has set it, will give adequate consideration to the points made by the Opposition during the rather long debate on repatriation that we had yesterday and that will be made in what could well be a fairly long debate today.
I compliment the Government on its approach. In certain States ex-service organisations such as the RSL are rather opposed to the Government’s handling of repatriation but this does not apply universally throughout Australia. I come in contact with a good many ex-servicemen, including car drivers, doctors and others who deal with repatriation matters. The Senate will recall that the Minister himself was subject to a very bitter attack recently in this place on a Wednesday when the proceedings of the Senate were being broadcast. Immediately on my arrival back in South Australia I heard various comments on this matter. Many were from people who were obviously Labor voters, and they were dismayed at the attack being made on the Minister personally. The general opinion was that this was an unjust attack; that the Government was fair with regard to repatriation and that the Opposition’s attack on the Minister personally and on the Government generally was quite ill-founded and, as one fellow said, a complete waste of the Senate’s time.
The Government is to be complimented on the Bill, particularly on the increase in the pensions of those on the 75% to 100% rate. This comes just at the right time, when they are at an age at which it will be most valuable. As I see it, the important thing in relation to a pension is not so much the amount of the pension as what the pension will buy and the fringe benefits that go with it. I consider that this Budget, cast as it is to provide for additional company tax and general restraints, will have the effect of keeping the cost of living at a reasonable level so that these additional pension benefits, and the normally reasonable pension benefits that already exist, will buy more goods than they would have bought had the Government been irresponsible in its Budget planning.
Having regard to the generally increased level of fringe benefits available to pensioners, I think that this Bill does a fair thing for them and cannot be criticised along the general line of criticism that a particular section of pensions today is a lower percentage of the basic wage than it was in 1920, 1950 or some other year. It should be remembered that the fringe benefits - increased hospital treatment and other benefits that go with pensions - are far greater now under this Government than they ever were before. Accordingly I support the Bill and oppose the amendment. Having received certain information, I can say now quite confidently that the Government also will oppose the amendment.
– I support the amendment in the following terms which was proposed by Senator Bishop: . . the ‘ Senate is of the opinion that a Select Committee of the Senate should be appointed to examine and report upon the adequacy of the rates and allowances proposed, and all other aspects of repatriation affected by the Bill, and in particular report whether the amendments to be made by the Bill to the Repatriation Act are sufficient.
Last night in the debate on the estimates for the Department of Repatriation we discussed various aspects of repatriation and I do not intend to traverse now the ground that I traversed when dealing with the Government’s administration of repatriation. However, I want to take up some of the points raised a few moments ago by Senator Laught. One of the most humorous, I think, was his claim that the Government’s action in not increasing pensions would have a dampening effect and keep the cost of living down. That is a very short-sighted policy and I hope that Senator Laught was speaking for himself and not for the Government when he made that deplorable statement.
He complained of the attack that was made in this chamber some time ago on the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar). The Minister is the responsible head of the Department acting on behalf of the Government and it is utter futility for us to attack the Minister for Supply (Senator Anderson) or the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Scott) when they have nothing to do with the administration of the Repatriation Department. If a Minister feels that he is capable of handling a particular portfolio and of speaking on behalf of the Government, obviously any attack by Opposition members must he directed towards him. That section of Senator Laught’s argument does not hold water either.
The honourable senator said that the Labor Party has introduced this proposal to make repatriation a political issue. As I progress through my contribution to this debate I propose to prove that the Labor Party is not making this a political issue. In fact, we are consistent in our approach to repatriation and the shortcomings of that section of government administration. For the benefit of honourable senators I shall read the Labor Party’s policy on repatriation. It is set out in these very simple terms:
Those planks were incorporated in our policy at the last Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party which was held in Adelaide last year. When we speak in this chamber on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves we are consistent in our attitude. Those are the things that we will do. Let us examine two or three of them in detail. Over the past 48 hours two or three speakers on this side of the chamber have mentioned free medical and hospital treatment for ex-servicemen of the Boer War and the First World War. I pointed out last night, and I emphasise again today, that the relevant decision was taken in the Senate within the life of the last Parliament. A number of Government senators agreed with us and in fact voted with us, but when the pressure was applied they ran for cover and this innovation did not see the light of day. To be consistent - I emphasise again that the Labor Party’s attitude on this is completely consistent - it is as necessary now as it was 2 years ago or 3 years ago.
Honourable senators will recall that in May 1967 the Opposition endeavoured to set up a select committee to inquire into repatriation. The terms of reference of the proposed committee are worth quoting from the record. They were:
The terms of reference go on in accordance with the normal provisions for the appointment of Senate select committees. We believe that the Government decided to reject the proposal because it had the numbers to do so. A couple of my colleagues during the debate on the Estimates consistently pointed out the weaknesses that have arisen as a result of the Government’s attitude towards the onus of proof provisions. Today justice is not being given to the ex-serviceman. He has to prove every single step of the way that he is entitled to something to which he justly should be entitled and for which he should not have to battle.
Some derogatory references have been made by Government senators to the Returned Services League. The Minister said that the RSL is not the total voice of ex-service organisations, but I point out that it is a very loud voice; in fact it is the loudest voice speaking on behalf of exservicemen. The deputation from the RSL which submitted the 1968 pension plan to the Government on 28th May 1968 - at 4 p.m. on that date to be precise - included some very responsible members of the community. There was Sir Arthur Lee, National President; Mr A. G. Brayne, President of the Queensland Branch; Sir William Yeo, President of the New South Wales Branch;
Sir William Hall, President of the Victorian Branch; Mr Elliman, President of the Australian Capital Territory Branch and Mr A. G. W. Keys, National Secretary. These people occupy responsible positions in ordinary life and are men of substance in the community. On the first page of the pension plan are the three paragraphs that are normally included in such submissions. It reads, in part:
As in previous years this plan contains three major recommendations: 1 That there should be a general review of war and service pension rates. That in this review the special rate TPI pension should be increased to an amount equal to the present minimum wage; the 100% general rate and war widows’ pension should be increased to an amount equal to 50% of the minimum wage, and that all other pensions and allowances should be increased proportionately.
Let me deal with that one first. I have with me the second reading speech as delivered in this chamber by the Minister. I might say that in it there are a lot of words but there is very little money. In lt the Minister says:
The Bill provides for an amendment to the Second Schedule to the Repatriation Act to give effect to an increase of $3 per week-
Three dollars per week - in the special TPI rate of pension which will henceforth be $33.50 per week.
I do now as I have done on other occasions and say that, converted to the old currency, this pension would bs about £16 a week. This is no adequate compensation for those who are no longer able to work. I point out that this amount represents the total compensation payable excluding any minor fringe benefits that might be available as a result of the incapacity of the person concerned. I repeat what I have said on other occasions. The pensions payable to people who have suffered ill health or injuries as a result of war service are in fact compensation payments. The RSL deals with this matter in its plan. It states:
Consideration of the question of war pensions must be based on the fundamental principle that all repatriation measures, and especially pensions, are compensation, not gratuity. A member and his dependants are entitled to receive them. This assistance is a right that has been earned in service to Australia.
This is where I criticise the Government. No longer does the Government’s policy revolve around compensation for a person whose health has been damaged. Instead, the pension has been reduced to a charity handout. The organisation that I mentioned earlier then makes this request:
That repatriation hospital, medical and pharmaceutical benefits should be extended to all returned ex-servicemen of the First World War and the Boer War without the necessity of establishing any association between the disability or the illness with their war service.
I now refer honourable senators to paragraph 7 of that part of the Australian Labor Party’s policy relating to repatriation. It reads:
Free medical and hospital treatment for all exservicemen of the Boer War and the First World War will be implemented in the first year ‘of a Labor Government
What is this going to cost in terms of hard, cold cash? It will not cost a great deal at all. The appropriation sought for the Repatriation Department this year is $298,247,000. But when we look at the appropriations sought for some of the other departments, we find, that, consistent with the size of the department, they, too, have very big amounts provided. We have not heard any word about tearing down in those areas. For example, the Department of Primary Industry is going to cost the Australian taxpayers something like $73,230,000 and the Department of the Interior is going to cost $72,649,000. The Prime Minister’s Department, which represents one of the smaller appropriations will still cost almost $30m in the current financial year. Yet the Government quibbles because it has to pay additional pensions and give further benefits to people who have given of their very best in life in the service of this country.
The third request in the pension plan submitted is:
That the Federal grant be increased from $50 to $150.
I submit that this figure is more in keeping with present day costs than the allowances currently payable. There are a number of other things which have been set out in this carefully prepared plan which ought to be recorded in Hansard. I quote the following from page 3 of that document, where reference is made to pensions and approved benefits:
The present situation falls far short of this necessary standard. A steady drift in pension values since the general review of 1950 is apparent and has gained momentum in recent years. A comparison between the basic and the minimum wages and the special and general rate pensions from 1960 onwards illustrates this point. In 1960 the basic wage immediately prior to the Budget was $27.60. The minimum wage in 1967 at Budget time was $37.55. This means that, over the years from 1960 to 1967 the lowest legal wage level increased by some 37%. In the same time, the TPI pension increased from $25.50 to $30.50, approximately 20% and the general rate 100% pension increased from $11 to $12, an increase of 9%.
When one looks at the increase in the lowest legal wage and compares that with the increase in the general rate of the disability pension, one sees the remarkable difference of 37% in the lowest legal wage as against only 9% in the general rate 100% pension. The submission continues:
A comparison of the years from 1964 to 1967 produces an even worse result. In 1964 the Commonwealth basic wage was $30.80. In 1967 the minimum wage was $37.55, an increase of $6.25, or 22%. In the same time the TPI pension increased from $28.50 to $30.50, an increase of approximately 7%, and over that period there has been no increase at all in the 100% general rate pension.
I propose commenting on this because there are one or two points here that need highlighting. There was an increase of 7% in the TPI pension over this period of time, and, as the submission points out, the position is much worse now than it was when the earlier comparisons were taken. There was no increase at all in the general rate pension over this period. But, from the proposals submitted by the Treasurer in the Budget which are incorporated in the statement made by the Minister for Repatriation, we note that a limited number of people receiving between 75% and 100% of the general rate pension will get an increase. Who is going to take the decision as to who is entitled to this increase? This is going to bristle with anomalies before it comes into proper operation. I venture to say at this very early stage that only a very limited number of people indeed will get any sort of adequate pension. In fact, it cannot be adequate under this scale; it must be inadequate. I do not propose to bore honourable senators by quoting all the figures published in the annual report of the Repatriation Commission for this year with relation to the number of pensions being granted in the various categories. They are set out quite clearly in that report.
I refer again to those people who receive up to 75% of the general rate pension.
Again these people have been denied any compensation commensurate with the inflationary trend that is ever present under the administration of this Government. In other words, the Government has written them off as a complete loss. They are no longer liable for war service. The Government no longer needs to take them to Vietnam or any other of the unholy wars that it starts. They have served their purpose so far as this country is concerned and they have also served their purpose so far as this Government is concerned.
Now let me make some comparisons in the light of the basic wage for the year 1920 and the minimum wage of today. I find that in 1920 the totally and permanently incapacitated rate of pension represented 103% of the basic wage payable at that time. It was 100% of the Commonwealth basic wage in 1943. In 1950 - before this Government had time to start whittling away the value of pensions - it was 101%., or 2% lower than it was in 1920. But in 1967 it was only 81% of the minimum wage. These figures are set out in black and white for anybody to examine.
The general rate pension has also declined tragically. It was 54% of the Commonwealth basic wage in 1920, 52% in 1943 and 51% in 1950. But in 1967 it was only 32% and in 1968 it still stands at 32%, except for a handful of 75% to 100% pensioners. The Government has in fact ignored the large section of the com>munity that is constituted of repatriation pensioners. The 1968 pensions plan submission of the RSL says that this is a grave injustice to those who have suffered in war and is a state of affairs that is unacceptable in a modern, high standard and very privileged society. One honourable senator opposite said yesterday that Australia’s repatriation provisions are higher than those obtaining in any other country. I publicly challenge that statement. But even if one does subscribe to that point of view - and one can only subscribe to it if one is living in an ivory tower and does not want to be subject to criticism - the repatriation provisions are still not good enough. We are supposed to be living in an affluent society. There have been major increases in expenditure this year. The Budget provides for increased expenditure on the private war in Vietnam that the Government has decided to participate in. But the Government is not providing adequately for those who suffer as a result of involvement in that war. There have been numerous complaints from conscripts about their compulsory induction into the repatriation pension plan.
The Opposition believes that repatriation provisions are not being dealt with adequately. This is because the Government is not approaching the matter from an adult or responsible point of view. I submit that the setting up of a select committee of the Senate along the lines outlined by the Opposition would, in the long term, be beneficial to those who need help. I believe that the recommendations that followed such an investigation would have to be accepted by the Government regardless of how inhuman an attitude it adopted to the problems of those in the community who are not able to live as we live, who are not able to participate in life as we do, and who do not have the opportunities to advance themselves in business, in industry or in public life as we can because of disabilities that they have suffered as a result of serving on our behalf. I hope that the Senate will carry the amendment moved by Senator Bishop.
– I do not propose to speak at any length on the excellent Repatriation Bill that has been introduced by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar), as its contents have been traversed in considerable detail by the Senate and commented upon at length by honourable senators opposite. We have also been given a very comprehensive table setting out the proposals of this legislation. An amendment has been moved by Senator Bishop on behalf of the Opposition. It is interesting to note that speakers on the other side of the chamber, particularly Senators Bishop and Keeffe, quoted opinions given by the Returned Services League prior to the present Budget being introduced. I think it is important to note that they failed to quote RSL opinions given since the Government’s budgetary proposals were made known. One would have thought that if there was some sense of burning indignation within the RSL it would have had adequate time in which to meet and discuss the Government’s proposals and to express an opinion on them.
But it has not done so. I feel that this is a very important factor to consider. In fact, Senator Bishop saw fit to qualify his statement that the RSL favoured the setting up of a Senate select committee in the present instance by saying ‘as far as I am aware’. I think that is of significance, too.
The Opposition’s proposal for the formation of a select committee is quite in line with the attack it made on the Minister in this chamber a few weeks ago and the vote of no confidence that it moved. This is in effect another vote of no confidence. If we are to believe that the Minister and his departmental officers are inadequate, incompetent, unsympathetic or in some way unable to carry out the duties imposed upon them then perhaps a Senate select committee may be necessary. But there has been no evidence today or at any time that would lead one to believe that the Minister is incompetent or that his Department is incompetent to study and meet the needs of the beneficiaries under the forms of the Repatriation Department and within the law of the Commonwealth. Obviously there must be some political content in this move.
Methinks the lady doth protest too much’ when I hear a highly developed political animal like Senator Keeffe disclaiming any political intention. Surely the whole basis of the Opposition’s proposal is political. It will provide an opportunity for the Opposition during the life of that select committee to bring forward witnesses who will constantly direct the attention of the public to matters that are essentially political and it will provide a constant forum for the expression of views that certain pensions are inadequate. I do not think any of us would ever be convinced that any government could bring in a pension scheme which all the recipients would declare to be adequate in all respects. Therefore, the proposal for the setting up of a select committee must be regarded as, in essence, a political move by the Opposition to embarrass the Government.
I do not think that any other body of recipients of pension benefits in the Commonwealth has more ready access to the Government than do beneficiaries under the Repatriation Act. The Government has made extraordinary provision to allow exservicemen immediate and ready access to the Cabinet itself. Yet we are told in this amendment moved by the Opposition that there is a need to set up a Senate select committee ‘to examine and report upon the adequacy of the rates and allowances proposed, and all other aspects of repatriation affected by the Bill, and in particular report whether the amendments to be made by the Bill to the Repatriation Act are sufficient’. In other words, a select committee is sought to examine the Budget proposals in order to determine whether they are sufficient. Surely sufficiency of the amount granted to any department by the Budget must be examined in the light of overall Budget commitments. Are we going to set up a select committee to examine the whole ramification of the Budget in order to make an assessment as to whether the proposals for the Repatriation Department are adequate without regard being had at all for the other commitments for which the Government is responsible? This is a completely unreal proposal.
– The proposed committee would merely make a recommendation.
– Yes, but I do not know how long such a committee would have to sit in order to carry out this very detailed task that would lie ahead of it. On the basis of the activities of other select committees, it would take 12 months to do this. We would then be into another Budget period and would have to start all over again in order to assess Budget requirements in the light of the then situation. This would be a never ending task. It would call for a permanent committee rather than a select committee. This proposal is not realistic. In effect the amendment moved represents a vote of no confidence in the Government, the Minister for Repatriation and the Repatriation Department. I think the amendment should be treated in that light. I see no merit in it at all and I cannot support it.
– I will not detain the Senate for long but there are one or two things I would like to clear up. They relate to comments made about the Australian Labor Party and its action in moving this amendment. The action proposed in the amendment is long overdue. A committee should be set up to investigate the ramifications of the Repatriation Act. Yesterday, there was very lengthy discussion on the estimates of the Repatriation Department. Honourable senators on this side of the chamber put up a very good argument for setting up a select committee. Although the debate on the estimates for the Repatriation Department has not concluded I feel that the Senate should give consideration to the appointment of a committee and I hope that the amendment will be carried when the vote is taken later today.
I want to refer to a statement made during the Budget debate by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Scott). I propose to quote from page 209 of Hansard of Wednesday, 21st August. The Minister criticised what the Australian Labor Party had done over the years about pensions. He said:
Now let me deal with the special rate war pension. A man with a wife and two children whose means are such as to entitle him to a service pension will receive under this Budget a total weekly increase of $4.70 so that his total income by way of war service pension and allowances will be $63.74. This is free of income tax. By way of contrast, the average weekly income per male employed as at March 1968 was $61.90, and these earnings were subject to income tax. So they are going to get a very big increase indeed.
I do not quarrel with these statements, Mr President, but I believe that the Minister misled the Senate and the people. If one works out the amount that would be due to a total and permanently incapacitated pensioner under the new legislation one finds he would receive $33.50, his wife would receive $4.05 and his two children would receive $1.38 each, making a total of $40.23 per week. The debate was being broadcast at the time the Minister made this statement. Government senators who have spoken in this debate today have criticised the Australian Labor Party because of the motion moved recently by the Opposition against the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar). The debate was broadcast and they claimed that the Opposition was making political capital out of the affair. I believe the Minister’s statement was misleading. If one looks at it closely he indicates that the TPI pensioner would receive, because of the allowance for a wife and children, a total of $63.74, and this is not right. As I stated earlier, the correct figure would be a little over $40.
Statements such as that made by the Minister should be referred to and put right wherever possible.
Senator Laught said in his speech that it did not matter how much a person received as a pension; the major consideration should be the number of items that could be purchased with that money. The Opposition has been saying this for quite a long time. As I said in my speech on the Budget, it is not the amount of pension received that counts, whether it be a social service pension or a repatriation pension; it is the goods that can be purchased with that money that count. If the promise made by the present Government Parties at the time of the 1949 election - they said that they would restore the value of the £1 - had been honoured, then perhaps the pension rate today might have been adequate. In any event, it would have been more adequate than it is at the present time.
I cannot understand the attitude adopted by some Government supporters in regard to repatriation matters. I happened to read a speech delivered in the other place last Tuesday, 17th September, by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan). This is what he said:
One thing that I cannot agree with and will not have at any price is that compensation that has been given to men who suffered some disability in the defence of their country should be taken as income and regarded as a component of their means as assessed.
That is quite all right but then he went on to say:
Instead of all this nonsense about increasing the TPI pension by $3 a week - I know that a lot of totally and incapacitated ex-servicemen do not need it, nor do a lot of intermediate pensioners and even 100% pensioners - it would have been a much better gesture if the Government had said: ‘In future we will pay the normal social services to those people who have nothing else,’ and it would not matter whether we called it an age pension or a service pension. These are the people for whom I am concerned.
It is hard to follow the thinking of this supporter of the Government Parties. It seems as though he and other people who think in that way are under the impression that even if ex-service pensioners have means of their own they should not be entitled to anything whatsoever for their war disabilities. I feel that this is wrong. If a man or a woman has served the coun try during war years he or she should be entitled to a pension for any war caused disability.
– That, of course, is the opinion of the Department and of the Government.
– I am not quoting the opinion of the Government or the Department. All I am saying is that this is the opinion of a member of the Government
– Not a member of the Government.
– He is a member of the Government Parties. I will put it that way. The honourable senator is only splitting hairs concerning this matter. Whether he accepts the honourable member or not I would not like to say, but whenever there is an issue that counts, the honourable member always supports the Liberal Party.
– The Government is not too sure whether the members of the Government Parties are supporting it these days.
– That is so. I feel that this amendment seeks to right some of the wrongs that are to be found in the Repatriation Act. I refer particularly to the onus of proof clause about which my colleague, Senator Cavanagh, spoke so well during the debate yesterday on the estimates of the Repatriation Department.
This is not the first occasion on which this matter has been brought before the Senate. In 1961, an article appeared in Mufti’ which is the official organ of the Returned Services League in Victoria. The article was headed: ‘Right this Wrong - Election year time to fight proof clause NOW’. If honourable senators cast their minds back to 1961 they will recall that this was a very eventful year so far as the present Government was concerned. As a result of the election in that year the Government was nearly removed from the Treasury bench. Only one seat decided the issue and enabled the Government to return to the Treasury bench. As my colleagues remind me this seat was won on the preferences of the Communist Party.
Let me quote this comment from the issue of ‘Mufti’ which appeared on 1st May 1961. The comment reads:
If returned men are to force any improvement in the Repanation Act, the time to act is now - in election year.
The Opposition has been accused from time to time when it has taken the action that it is now taking - in fact, Senator Prowse so accused us just a few moments ago - that it is doing so only for political purposes.
– That is right.
– Apparently Senator Cormack feels the same way about this as does Senator Prowse. But I do not think that the honourable senators are right. This article goes on to say:
If candidates in the Commonwealth election are not goaded into examining the Repatriation Act now, returned mcn may, for the next 5 years, find themselves humbly standing by to take whatever crumbs may be thrown from the political table.
These comments have been proved correct because only crumbs are being given at the present time.
A few days later, on 12th May 1961, there appeared in ‘Mufti’ the headline: Weaknesses of Onus of Proof. The article began by setting out the provisions of the onus of proof section of the Act. It went on to state:
Yet, the doubt clause altered nothing. The Commission, Board or Tribunal does not have to accept any view but its own. and if it chooses to rest itself upon having drawn all reasonable inferences in favour of the claimant then nobody can do anything about it.
There is no basis for challenge - the deciding authority is not compelled to set down the precise points on which the decision has been reached, or to give any information at all on which the decision could be challenged.
I again refer honourable senators to the speech made during the debate on the Repatriation Department’s estimates yesterday by Senator Cavanagh in which the honourable senator said the self same thing. The article continued:
Its all in the mind, as the psychologists would put it.
The returned man or the RSL is not given any information other than the bare statement that the condition is not accepted as due to war service.
A case in a criminal court could never be so decided - without a summing up by the judge - and in most cases a Commission verdict is as vital as a criminal court verdict for there are very few decisions that could be regarded as ‘petty’.
So, I believe that the amendment moved by Senator Bishop if carried would help to right some of the wrongs. I feel that the sooner the proposed committee is set up the sooner these problems can be solved.
I wish to refer for a few minutes to what Senator Prowse said when he criticised the Australian Labor Party. He said that the comment which Senator Bishop quoted from the document prepared by the RSL was only the opinion of the RSL. I feel that Senator Bishop was quite right in quoting this material because it concerned the plan that was submitted to the Government by the RSL for pension rates for 1968. Again, the criticism of the Australian Labor Party was unwarranted. This amendment has not been moved by the Opposition for political purposes. It has been moved to assist people who are most in need of help. I refer in this respect to the speech made by Senator Laught a short while ago in which the honourable senator said that this was an objective stated in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech and quoted by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) in his Budget Speech. I feel that the amendment is warranted and that it should be supported by honourable senators.
– Mr President, I rise to support the Bill and to oppose the amendment moved by Senator Bishop. 1 wish to congratulate the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) and the Government on the proposals that have been made for exservicemen in this Budget. Ever since this Government took office in 1949 ex-service organisations and their members have been looked after to a great extent not only in respect of repatriation but also in respect of war service land settlement and other matters. It is only natural to expect that Australian ex-servicemen will receive something a little above the standard in other countries. I will not go into the details of the provisions made for ex-servicemen in the 1968-69 Budget, but in this respect we have seen an extension of the great work done for ex-servicemen by various Ministers for Repatriation and various governments.
A great deal has been said about the ex-service organisations, about their protests and about what they have said at various times concerning the Minister for Repatriation and the Government. Such remarks are natural enough. These organisations are set up to look after the interests of exservicemen in the same way as trade unions are set up to look after the interests of workers and primary producers organisations are set up to deal with the needs of the primary industries. It is the job of such organisations -to press for as much as is possible for their members to receive. Of course the ex-service organisations have been vocal on repatriation matters. But they have been vocal also in a few other directions. They have been pretty vocal so far as the defence of Australia is concerned. They support national service and Australia’s involvement in Vietnam.
– Not all of them.
– Honourable senators opposite have quoted what ex-service bodies have said in relation to repatriation. I am pointing out what the State branches of the service organisations have had to say about our involvement in Vietnam and our defence policy. Most ex-servicemen appreciate what has been done over the years. They appreciate also that if increased benefits are to be granted to them the money must come from some source or other. Most of them appreciate that in a young country such as Australia that has to develop, defence and development programmes should not be sacrificed for Socialistic ideals. Most ex-servicemen appreciate that over the years they have received benefits not granted to ordinary citizens. I am not quarrelling with that. I do not think anyone would contest the proposition that men who fought for their country should receive first priority. But most ex-servicemen do not expect to receive treatment at a level that is far above everyone else in the community. I come now to the amendment moved by the Opposition. I have always believed that the Senate ls a House of review and a place where the States are equally represented. It is called a ‘States House’. Its duty is to review the administration of the Government elected by the people.
– You are making it a House of refusal. You refuse to accept the amendment.
– That is correct. The task of the Senate is to review in a responsible fashion the administration of the Government elected by the people and in a similar way to offer criticism. As a new senator, I have come to wonder in the short time I have been here whether the criticism offered in this House is responsible. We have had a no confidence motion in a Minister and we are debating a very similar subject now. Attacks have been made on the Government for its handling of affairs with other nations. I am wondering whether the Senate lives up to what we hope it should be. My vocal friends of the Australian Labor Party believe in the abolition of the Senate. !t seems to me that they are going t’.ie right way about achieving that aim.
I do not know whether my friends of the Democratic Labor Party agree that the Senate should be abolished. 1 think not. I do not wish to proceed in detail through the Bill. I am quite sure that it has been well covered. Honourable senators opposite in this debate have spent most of their time reading from the Bill, lt has had enough publicity. I congratulate the Minister and wish him well. He has been Minister for Repatriation for some time. I and most ex-servicemen hope that he will remain as Minister for Repatriation for a long time to come.
– I have no intention of criticising the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) whose responsibility it is to administer the Repatriation Act and the Repatriation Department. I believe that he is quite sympathetic to many of the arguments advanced by speakers in this debate today for more generous treatment of ex-servicemen. As a representative of the Government, it is his distasteful duty to accept the criticism that has been levelled at the Government’s failure to maintain reasonable pension rates for exservicemen in this country. One honourable senator - I think it was Senator Prowse - expressed some doubt as to the authenticity of the attitude of the Returned Services League on these matters and as to whether the League is as dissatisfied with the present rates as has been alleged by various speakers. I was a little surprised to hear any honourable senator express that view. I thought that all honourable senators would be as well equipped as I am with the material that has been dispensed by the League on this very important question.
Without question the League is pressing more strongly than ever before in its history for a general review of war and service pension rates. I have been in the public life of this country for a long time and I have had a lot to do with the Returned Services League. I cannot remember a time when the League - throughout Australia and not just in a particular State - has been so resentful of the attitude of the present Government to the League’s repeated claims for a general review of pension rates. The evidence provided by the RSL shows conclusively and indisputably the erosion of the value of pensions since a few years ago when related to the base rate of wages.
I suppose the same can fairly be said of social service payments. We have repeatedly drawn attention to that position. On the whole social service payments have not maintained their relativity with the basic wage over the years as one would have expected. The same is true of child endowment. But I regard war pensions and repatriation payments as being in an entirely different category from ordinary social service payments. In addition to being an allowance for war injury or deterioration of health because of war service, I believe that repatriation benefits include a component of compensation or gratuity for services rendered in the defence of this country. I think most people would regard repatriation benefits in a different light from ordinary social service payments. Perhaps I should explain for the benefit of Senator Prowse that the document I am holding is the 1968 pension plan of the RSL, with which I have been supplied.
– Issued before the Budget.
– Yes, and persisted with by the League. Since only last Monday the President of the Queensland Branch of the League, Mr Brayne, called at my office at 10 o’clock and gave me this material. He emphasised that the League is entirely dissatisfied with what it has received in the recent Budget. The League has asked for a general review of war and service pension rates. It asks that in the review the special rate and the pension for totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners should be increased to an amount equal to the present minimum wage. I think that is about $37.55. The document continues:
The Minister, to his credit, has already admitted in the course of this debate that he is of the opinion that the funeral rate should be increased. However, he is only one member of the Ministry. Surely no-one who has any knowledge of costs today would accept that $50 - £25 in old currency - is an appropriate payment towards the funeral or burial costs of an ex-serviceman who is entitled to this concession. Fifty dollars! Funeral costs, which have never been fixed by any government or government department, have increased at least three or four times from what they were 20 years ago.
Apart from the question of pension rates, from my limited experience in handling repatriation cases and from having read the Act, I believe there is good reason and a good case for an early review of the Act. In a general way I would say, from the cases I have handled, that there are many people in receipt of repatriation payments, who do not appear to me to have any great reason for them. Indeed, some have no great need because of the fortuitous positions which they occupy or the fortuitous circumstances in which they find themselves.
– Fortuitous and favourable.
– That is right, when compared with people who are not only in need but who, apparently, have justification for sympathetic consideration. I know that the Act contains provisions for appearance at tribunals and all that kind of thing. I know that doctors consider the cases and determine whether conditions are due to war service or otherwise. But in many cases the doctors are young men who have graduated in recent times. Th=-y would not know the conditions under which these men fought or the conditions that obtained at the time they contracted an illness or disability. In one case which came to my notice a doctor who had had war service said that what was claimed could not have been true because in the sphere of war referred to they did not have X-rays at that time. The applicant had said in support of this case that he had been X-rayed by Dr so-and-so at a place and time which he mentioned. The senior doctor on the tribunal said that that could not have happened because they did not have the equipment there. It was subsequently proven that the doctor on the tribunal did not know what he was talking about. Evidence was later submitted to prove that the applicant was right. Perhaps I should add that the Minister met this person on one occasion when he was in Brisbane.
In this instance the fact that he was able to produce evidence to substantiate his claim made very little, if any, difference. Once an applicant has a decision from a tribunal he must wait for 6 months before he can apply for a rehearing and then he has to produce additional evidence. In a case which came to my notice only recently a man is suffering from what he claims to be an injury suffered in the course of war service. He has a back injury which impedes his work and lays him up periodically. When he applied to the tribunal he was told to get some evidence to support his claim. At great inconvenience and cost he was able to get between 15 and 18 affidavits from men with whom he had been associated and with whom he fought. They were all able to confirm his statement regarding a truck that had turned over, or something of this nature, and that he had been injured. These affidavits came from ex-servicemen who were living in various places all over Australia.
He approached the tribunal again and was told that the material had no bearing on his claim. He was, to use the vernacular, scrubbed. They told him that he could renew his application, provided that he could produce new or additional material on which to base his claim. What is he supposed to do - get another 15 or 20 affidavits? He is running out of people who could give him an affidvait. Tribunals by adopting this attitude from time to time create a great measure of dissatisfaction. It is particularly hurtful to an in dividual who is a bona fide type of person who is not a malingerer or bludger who wants to live on a repatriation benefit There is real hardship to a person who genuinely believes that his condition of health and his capacity for work has been impaired by war service, the person who has a dependent wife and children and who believes that he is entitled to some assistance to supplement what he can earn by working at a reduced rate.
The Act has many aspects. It is an Act which I would not care to administer in its present form because of its complexities and difficulties. I believe that the time is overdue when the whole Act should be reviewed and examined. I do not say that with any desire to reflect on the present administrators of the Act because most of the provisions were there when they took over. There have been a few minor amendments from time to time, but because of developments there should now be a review of the Act. As is stated in the document to which I have already referred:
Consideration of the question of war pensions must be based on the fundamental principle that all repatriation measures, and especially pensions, are compensation not gratuity. A member and his dependants are entitled to receive them. This assistance is a right that has been earned in service to Australia.
No-one can dispute that. The document continues:
Compensation, to have regard for all the necessary elements of justice, must provide for loss of capacity to earn, for pain and discomfort, for an inability to participate in normal recreation and social activities, for a generally lowered standard of health, for premature aging, for the intangible effects of mental anguish, for disfigurement and for a general limitation of the expectancy of a normal life.
If, in assessing the levels of war pensions, the principle of compensation is not taken fully into account it is inescapable that pension rates will be geared to the general social service structure in the community and fail to provide adequately for those who have suffered in war.
Perusal of the table which is contained in this document shows very clearly that succeeding governments have failed to maintain a proper rate of payment. The document states:
A comparison between the basic and minimum wages and the special and general rate pensions from 1960 onwards illustrates this point. In 1960 the basic wage immediately prior to the Budget was $27.60. The minimum wage in 1967 at Budget time was $37.55. This means that, over the years from 1960 to 1967, the lowest legal wage level increased, by some 37%. In the same time the TPI pension increased from $25.50 to $30.50, approximately 20%, and the general rate 100% pension Increased from $11 to $12, an increase of 9%.
A comparison of the years from 1964 to 1967 produces an even worse result. In 1964 the Commonwealth basic wage was $30.80. In 1967 the minimum wage was $37.55, an increase of $6.25 or 22%. In the same time the TPI pension increased from $28.50 to $30.50, an increase of approximately 7%, and over that period there has been no increase at all in the 100% general rate pension.
I could go on citing an abundance of figures that have been provided by the League in this connection, all of which I believe we can accept as being correct. Senator Laught spoke with great satisfaction about the increase that the Budget provided for TPI pensioners. It is true that they are to get an increase of $3 a week, but I should like to read from a journal published by the Queensland Branch of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Australia. I am relying on its accuracy. The editor states:
I am writing this editorial on the morning after the Budget was brought down in the House, therefore I can only depend on the Press and television news for details as they affect the TPI exserviceman. A number of important factors are missing in the Press news that makes me somewhat apprehensive as to the actual benefits that will eventuate, one of the most glaring being the tack of any mention of the means test.
On the whole the Budget from our point of view is disappointing, to say the least. Certainly the increase in the TPI rate of $3 per week looks at the first glance very reasonable, but if the means test has not been altered, and the allowed income remains the same-
– There is not a means test.
– Just bear with me. I am reading a statement by someone who would know more about it than the honourable senator and I. It continues: . . those pensioners who are not in receipt of a service pension and who are, by the way, in the minority, will be the only ones to gain by the full rate of $3 per week. All other members who are in receipt of service pensions will, I imagine, only be eligible for the same rate as the social service pensioner, that is, $1 per week to the single man and $1.50 to the married man.
I accept that statement until the Minister tells me that it is completely erroneous or is not correct in detail. If it is correct, all the applause that Senator Laught gave the Government in his discourse on this matter is not justified and the Government does not merit the encomiums that have been passed on it for its generosity to the TPI pensioner. Accompanying this publication is a letter from a Queensland ex-serviceman, who confirms what the journal says. I feel that something must be done in this connection. Senator Bishop, on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, has moved an amendment which reads, in part: . . but the Senate is of the opinion that a Select Committee of the Senate should be appointed to examine and report upon the adequacy of the rates and allowances proposed, and all other aspects of repatriation affected by the Bill, and in particular report whether the amendments to be made by the Bill to the Repatriation Act are sufficient.
This amendment seeks an expression of opinion that a select committee of the Senate should be appointed. On a previous occasion an amendment, not seeking an expression of opinion but providing for the appointment of a select committee, was moved by the Australian Labor Party in this chamber, and I opposed it on two grounds. One was that I had occasion or cause to believe that something was to be done by the Government towards an increase in pension rates as a result of a Cabinet committee composed of exservicemen that received a deputation from representatives of the RSL.
That was my understanding. Whether or not I misunderstood what I had been told is a matter of opinion. Because I had hopes that something would be done in this connection, I thought that I would give the Government a reprieve and an opportunity to do the right thing for ex-servicemen. The second reason why I voted against the proposal - I think reference to Hansard will bear out the truth of my statement - was that I feared that a select committee of the Senate would become so bogged down with all of the intricate matter associated with a review of the Repatriation Act that months and months would go by before any report would be submitted to the Senate.
I still have some fears about the work of a select committee of the Senate in this connection. Having been on a few select committees, I know how long it takes to sift out all aspects of a case. I have some reservations only because of a fear of the time it would take and, to some extent, of the incompetence or lack of experience of senators in the main - there are some who would be quite good members of the committee - to examine every phase of the Repatriation Act. 1 have those reservations about a select committee.
I have discussed the matter wilh my colleagues and we believe that if the Australian Labor Party were given an assurance by the Government that a committee of competent independent people, comprising a representative of each Party, would be appointed to handle this matter, the ALP would bc reasonable enough to go along with the proposal. However, in the absence of any assurance from the Government that it is prepared to allow people of experience - representatives of the League, for example, and others - to examine the Repatriation Act, a different stand will have to be taken. We suggest a tribunal along the lines of the tribunal to inquire into social services generally that we have advocated time and time again and which has been rejected. The suggested committee would have the status of a tribunal to look into the many phases of repatriation.
– Would it be a standing committee or a select committee?
– lt would be a matter for the Government to decide whether to keep the committee as a standing committee. I do not think I would be presumptuous in saying that even the ALP would be willing to accept something on that basis because 1 know that some members of the ALP share my opinion of select committees. Many of them have been members of committees and know just how long it takes to get down to a subject like this, or any subject for that matter, having regard to sittings of the Parliament whereas an independent tribunal or committee with a representative of each Party on it, if the Parlies so desired, could spend full time on the inquiry instead of only part time as members of the Senate must do.
Irrespective of whether it is a select committee of the Senate or an independent committee appointed by the Government, in my view the time has arrived when some action must be taken. I repeat that never in my memory have I known the League to be so irate. Never in my memory have I known the League to be so positive and so determined to obtain justice for its members. The League is frequently charged with conservatism and with not being strong enough in its representations to the Govern- ment in the interests of those it represents. I think it was Senator Laught or Senator Prowse who questioned whether the League wanted an all-Party committee. I am surprised that that has even been raised because I think we all would have received a circular letter dated 21st August last from Mr A. G. W. Keys, National Secretary of the RSL, in which he said:
After discussion at the May meeting of the National Executive, a further request was made to the Minister for Repatriation to take action to set up an all-Party committee to review the Repatriation Act.
Attached hereto is the reply received from the Minister to our submission.
Of course the Minister would not deny that he received that letter or that the annexure is a copy of his reply to Mr Keys. There is ample evidence to support what the League wants so we need not spend a lot of time on that aspect.
Notwithstanding the fact that previously we opposed a motion somewhat similar to this, but less positive, for the reasons that I have given, I now must announce that, because of the Government’s inactivity and failure to dispense justice in this quarter, my colleagues and I will support the proposed amendment in the absence of any assurance from the Government that an appropriate competent committee of investigation will be appointed.
– 1 must confess that 1 was disturbed to hear the concluding sentence of my friend Senator Gair in whose political perspicacity I have learned to repose some faith. I had the honour of serving with him on a select committee for a period of 18 months. In the course of that time I learned a great deal about his political perspicacity and his understanding of the functions of government. He has been the Premier of a State in which position he has been involved in the responsibilities that accrue to a government. I have been the beneficiary of the experience 1 gained in that 18 months in which I had the honour to serve with him on a select committee.
I have mentioned the matter of the responsibility of government. 1 am quite sure that Senator Gair, looking back over his long and distinguished career, will be the first to admit that never must there be taken from a government, except as the result of the people’s decision, the power to govern, lt is true, of course, that Senator Gair’s experience of government has been in a chamber which was not responsible to an upper House in the bicameral system. He now finds himself translated into an area of Commonwealth jurisdiction in which a bicameral system operates and in which the problems of an upper chamber in relation to a lower chamber perhaps are imperfectly understood by him. Therefore, instead of replying to the specifics of his argument as to why he intends to support the motion, I intend at this late stage to make an appeal to him and to his Party to see how the forms of the Senate are being misused, 1 suggest, in an attempt by indirect means to take out of the hands of the Government the capacity to govern.
In the coolest possible terms that 1 can command at this stage of the debate I suggest that part of the problem in which we tend to find ourselves involved in the Senate at the present time is that we say to ourselves - not all of us, but some of us anyway - that the power of the lower House or of the Government is too strong and therefore the Senate has a responsibility perhaps to place impediments in the way of the exercise of power in the House of Representatives. I do not accept that kind of proposition because it derives from a misconception of the power of the Senate in the United States of America. The Senate, in theory and in part, was founded on that misconception.
Because of the wilful behaviour of the United States Senate, particularly over the past 50 years, the power of government in the United States on the executive level has reached the situation in which the struggle not only has commenced but also is in being. The power of the executive is overwhelming, or tends to become overwhelming. It has become overwhelming not because of the capacity of the Senate in the Congress of the United States of America to impede the executive power, but because of the wilfulness of the Senate in the United States of America. This wilfulness has created a counter action, a reaction which is more than equal to, and is certainly opposite to, the executive power. Certainly the last time I looked at the constitutional responsibility of the Senate in the United States of America I noted that the Senate had something over 2,300 Bills locked up in committees. These were Bills which were required mainly by the executive power in order to carry out the government of the United States of America. In the United States of America there were locked up in committees somewhere in the vicinity of 2,300 Bills which had not emerged into the light of legislative survey.
– Would many of those be executive Bills or would they be mainly private Bills?
– I cannot give the honourable senator a dissection of them. I am just taking the aggregate of the Bills to illustrate my point. The Congress of the United States of America, by this process of impeding executive requirements, creates its own counter force which, in the end, tends to overwhelm even the Senate of the United States of America. Senator Byrne has known me for a long time. He knows that I am not here to lecture the Senate. One thing that members of Parliament or senators cannot and indeed should not tolerate from anyone amongst them is that he should lecture. All 1 am attempting to do is to point out that there is developing in the Senate at the present moment a dangerous tendency in that, in the pursuit of honestly held political theories, there is developing a set of circumstances in which the Senate may put itself in jeopardy. When 1 look at our notice paper I see under the heading ‘General Business’ that Senator Murphy has given notice that he proposes to move that a select committee of the Senate be appointed to inquire into and report upon forecasts of housing demand in Australia, and other matters relating to housing. Notice of motion No. 2 informs us that Senator Murphy proposes to move that a standing committee of the Senate to be called the Standing Committee on Overseas Control of Australian Resources, Commerce and Industry be appointed. Item No. 3 relates to a proposal by Senator Murphy to move that a select committee of the Senate be appointed to inquire into and report upon schools. Item No. 4 relates to notice that Senator O’Byrne proposes to move that a select committee of the Senate be appointed to inquire into and report upon something else. Item No. 5 is notice that Senator O’Byrne proposes to move that a standing committee of the Senate, to be called the Standing Committee of Science, be appointed. Item No. 6 is notice that Senator O’Byrne proposes to move that a standing committee of the Senate, to be called the Standing Committee on Television be appointed, and so on. One of the effects of the proposed amendment now before us is to set up another committee. The truth is that the Senate just has not got the capacity to do this.
– The matters on the notice paper have not been decided yet.
– That may be so. What I am attempting to do is to illustrate that the forms of the Senate are being used, and the purpose of this amendment is to use the forms of the Senate to set up a select committee to examine a particular phase of the activities of the government of the day. There has to be some rationality about this.
The traditional method by which an Opposition expresses its disapproval of matters that are involved in government is by dealing with the relevant Bill as it comes on a financial level. If it is the truthful wish of the Senate to show its disapproval of a Bill, then the traditional and, I suggest, the proper function of the upper chamber is to request that the Bill be altered in such a way as will enable it to give expression to the feelings, theories and principles which the Senate wishes it to express. II: the House of Representatives refuses the request then the Senate can either press the amendment or. finally, reject the estimates or the Bill in question.
– That is an argument ‘ against all committees.
– I am not arguing against all committees. All ] am trying to do is to test your honesty. All the Opposition is doing by submitting an amendment requesting a select ‘ committee is avoiding the issue it is trying to create. The point is that if the Opposition wants to have a headlong clash with the Government then the way to do it is to use the power of the Senate in connection with Bills that relate to the appropriation of moneys for the ordinary annual services of government. But the Opposition does not wish to use this parliamentary process ‘ because it would mean rejecting what it knows to be a proper and appropriate measure. The Opposition does not wish to have a clash wilh the house of Government, which is the House of Representatives. So it is moving to pro vide for the appointment of a select committee in order to avoid the issue.
– To obtain justice.
– That is not the position. I suggest most humbly that when Senator Georges has been here for another 3 or 4 months and the Budget debate is over he will be able to understand more of the problems and more of the perfections and imperfections of parliamentary practice. The reason why this motion for the appointment of a select committee is being moved by the Opposition is to obtain the greatest political mileage without any responsibility whatever. If there is a responsible intent in the Opposition to achieve that which it has claimed in hours of debate that it wants to achieve, then it should move an amendment to this Bill and send it down to the House of Representatives. Then the constitutional processes by which a decision can be taken may be put in motion. Because it is a specious device. I will not support the amendment.
– When Senator Cormack addresses himself to the Senate he usually does so in a most relevant and significant manner. Today has been no exception. Although I might find cause to disagree with his submissions, I nevertheless have respect for the seriousness and the import of what he says. The Australian Democratic Labor Party, by virtue of the electoral distribution, stands in a position of some significance in this chamber. Therefore the suggestions made by Senator Cormack have a great deal of relevance and must be regarded seriously.
In the first place, I should like to refer to a statement issued rather recently -by the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party, Senator Gair, in connection with the ruling of the President in relation to the suspension of the standing orders. On that occasion, Senator Gair made a statement in which he recognised the position of the Senate and the right of the Executive to present its programme. He said that wantonly and arbitrarily to impede - certainly to impede - the presentation of the Government’s programme would be a misuse of the powers of the Senate.
So I would say to Senator Cormack that we are particularly conscious and have gone on public record as indicating our consciousness of the authority and right of the executive Government and, correspondingly, the right and authority of one of the Houses of the Parliament. Senator Cormack has referred to the situation in the Senate of the United States of America. He suggests that the practices and procedures which the Senate of the United States of America has adopted have thrown it into serious conflict with the executive Government in a constitutional system where the Executive occupies a different position from that which the executive Government occupies in our community, and in which it has more power and authority. That may well be the -case but the instance he cited in order to support that proposition was that there was a considerable number of executive legislative proposals which had been bogged down by having been referred to particular committees of the Senate. 1 do not know, and the Senator himself is not in a position to say, whether these were all Executive Bills or whether, in the system of American government, the great bulk of them were Bills that came from groups or individuals.
– 1 am nol aware of that.
– Yes. I said that the honourable senator was not aware of it. Therefore, even in the United States, perhaps the impediment to the Executive is not reflected in the number of Bills that stand referred to committees of the Senate. But the proposition that is before this chamber would not have the effect of impeding the executive action of the Government. Let us examine the proposed amendment. In the first place, it is only an expression of opinion by the Senate. The Senate has before it a Bill which will have the effect of appropriating moneys. When the Bill goes back to the House of Representatives - if it is passed - it will go back only with an expression of opinion by the Senate attached to it. This will not affect the purport, content or form of the measure itself. Therefore, to suggest that this amendment has, in any sense, the effect or the intention of impeding the executive action of the Government is totally incorrect.
I do not think that any honourable senator on this side of the chamber wishes to impede the executive government in the provision it is making . in this Bill for additional benefits to returned servicemen. If that were to be the. effect of the amendment I do not think it would have received the support that it has received. The amendment does not provide for the immediate appointment of a Senate select committee, lt is only an expression of opinion that here is a situation which is in part being ameliorated by the legislation now before the chamber; a situation which needs a total overhaul and which in the absence of some move by .the Government within a period of 12 months, merits some positive action. The Senate would merely be indicating that some action is required, that it has now become -urgent because of the expiry of time and the inattention given to repatriation benefits by the Government, and that the Senate contemplates that a Senate select committee is an appropriate body for that purpose in the absence of any other.
Senator Gair indicated that if an assurance could be given that some other body would be created by the Government that might well satisfy those honourable senators who support the amendment today. I say this in reference to Senator Cormack’s comments in regard to the number of proposals on the notice paper for the setting up of select committees: These are not select committees that would be attached in any way to executive action or executive legislation. They are merely select committees to investigate subjects which require investigation and which are appropriate to the Senate investigation. Much valuable work has been done in this direction that has not impeded Executive action. On the contrary, it will facilitate Executive action and may expedite it. In that way the Senate is assisting the executive government and not interfering in the discharge of duties that lightly are the responsibility of executive government.
There have been occasions when the Senate has done some of. the things that Senator Cormack refers to as proliferating unduly in the American system. One instance that comes to my mind is the reference of the Commonwealth Bank Bills to a Senate select committee some years ago when, I think, the Australian Labor Party was in majority in Opposition. No doubt similar action has been taken on other occasions. However, none of the proposed select committees would play such a role, nor would the select committee envisaged in the amendment do so. So far as the Democratic Labor Party is concerned, the amendment in its present form will indicate to the Government that, because of the grave concern of those entitled to the benefits that this legislation provides or increases, because they have not received the consideration that they should have received, the Senate feels that, in the absence of some positive action by the Executive in the future to indicate its awareness of the problem and its intention to set its mind and hand to the task of doing something about it, the Senate should consider setting up an appropriate body to investigate the matter. 1 think that, as a practical proposition, as ari expression of the value of the Senate in assisting and not impeding the Executive, and as a reflection of the views now held in the nation, the amendment commends itself to the chamber.
– in reply - 1 am glad that this legislation has been debated for 2i hours on the second reading. It has been debated fully. There have been allegations in the past that debate on repatriation matters has been curtailed. I have been at great pains to point out to those who have made these allegations that on a money Bill such as this a limited debate can take place on the motion for the first reading. Apparently the Senate saw no need for that on this occasion. It is completely untrue to suggest that the introduction of the Bill in the form of an appropriation measure has curtailed debate in this House. 1 do not propose to speak at any great length on the Repatriation Bill as many repatriation matters have already been covered during the estimates debate on the Repatriation Department, which took place during the latter part of yesterday. I do not propose to go over the ground that has already been covered. I do not know of any matters that I need refer to now that will not be open for discussion at the Committee stage. Therefore, I propose to confine my remarks to the amendment moved by Senator Bishop. The proposal outlined in the amendment is nothing new; it has been debated previously. For many years now the Opposition has been requesting the setting up of a Senate select committee to inquire into repatriation benefits generally.
I adopt the same attitude now that I have adopted in the past and that is that a Senate select committee cannot possibly do the work that is required to be done in the way of revision of not only repatriation benefits but also of the Repatriation Act.
I think it would be beyond the capacity of any Senate select committee to do this job in the time that would be available to it. It is all very well to say that the Returned Services League has requested the setting up of a committee. It is true that the RSL has requested a review of repatriation pensions. I have been told by the Federal President of the RSL that it would be seeking a review of repatriation pensions by a select committee but I have not seen any mention anywhere that the RSL has requested the setting up of a Senate select committee to inquire into the matter. Indeed, I have made it very clear to the leaders of the RSL that as one who has been responsible for the administration of the Repatriation Act for 3i years I do not think that a Senate select committee could do what the RSL wants to be done. I am still of that view. If I felt that a Senate select committee could do the work that is required by the Opposition and the RSL, I would withdraw any objections that I had to the setting up of such a committee. I am convinced, just as sure as I am standing here, that this would not be possible. One has only to examine the Repatriation Act - and I would not expect that any honourable senator has had to give the attention to it that I have had to give - to see that it does need tidying up. The Government has had complaints, of course, about the pension service, medical entitlements and other things, and I venture to suggest that had the Government decided on a S7 a week increase instead of $3, some people still would have said that the increase was not high enough.
I want to reinforce what Senator Prowse said in this debate. I have not had any representations from any president of any returned servicemen’s organisation since the Budget was introduced. I have not received any objections, so far as I am aware, by letter, and certainly none orally, to the effect that pensions have not been raised enough. If one talks to rank and file members of ex-service organisations one gets the impression, with odd exceptions - I admit that there would be exceptions, because there would be some in any case - that on the whole these people are getting a fair deal. Naturally they would like pensions to be much higher. This is understandable.
– Would- you say that the National Executive of the Returned Services League is acting on its own account and not for the benefit of the rank and file?
– No, T am not suggesting that for one moment. To the best of my knowledge I have not. had any protest from the National Executive of the RSL since the Budget was introduced. The honourable senator may have received some but I have not. I was rather intrigued to see in this debate so much emphasis placed by the Opposition on what the RSL wants. I think that this is quite refreshing, as a matter of fact, and is a very welcome change from the altitude of the Opposition in many other cases. I know that quite a number of honourable senators opposite violently disagree with the attitude that the RSL adopted in regard to supporting the Government’s attitude on Australia’s involvement in South Vietnam.
– Oh, don’t bring that up.
– The Opposition wants me to bring up only the things that suit it. Opposition senators do not want anything said that will distress them. They do not want anything done that will ruffle their feelings. Oh no, this should not be done! It is very nice to see that for once the Australian Labor Party is paying attention to what the RSL has suggested instead of kicking it in the pants as it has done time and time again. The Labor Opposition has referred to the RSL as tame cats. It has said that the RSL is interested only when honours are being handed out. It has referred to the RSL National Executive as being composed of warmongers. It is very good indeed to see that at long last the Opposition is paying some attention to what the RSL suggests. I only hope that this attitude will continue. I want to again emphasise that the RSL is working for a review of repatriation matters. It is asking for a committee of inquiry; it is not asking for a Senate select committee. I defy any honourable senator opposite to say that it is seeking a Senate select committee inquiry.
– What about that document I read regarding Keys’ statement?
– 1 also would like to remind the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party that only recently a spokesman for his Party said that thai Party was of the opinion that there were enough Senate select committees in existence at the present time and that it would not favour appointing any more. I am sorry that Senator McManus is not here to hear what I say but he did make that statement. Now apparently we are to see an about face in this regard.
– It is not an about tace. This is a different matter altogether.
– From where I stand, it is not a different matter. Therefore, Mr Deputy President, I hope this Bill will be given a speedy passage through the Committee stage. Officers of my Department are here and I am quite prepared to answer questions that, might be raised during the Committee stage. The Senate still has not finished dealing with the estimates for the Repatriation Department and the debate on those estimates will give us time, if time is required, to give any further information sought.
I remain entirely unconvinced of the wisdom of asking the Senate to appoint a select committee to inquire into repatriation. I remind the Senate that there is virtually a continuing inquiry going on throughout the year. I mentioned this yesterday and I have said it before but 1 repeat it for the benefit of newly elected senators.
– That continuing inquiry does not work.
– The honourable senator says that it does not work but I say that in many respects it does, because it brings about improvements. As I said yesterday the war pensions entitlement appeal tribunals frequently look into matters. They have their annual meetings and they write to me or to my Department from time to time in order to draw attention to something that they consider might be of an anomalous nature. The same thing appplies to- the chairmen of the war pensions assessment appeal tribunals. There are also the repatriation boards and the Repatriation Commission. These bodies meet from time to time and quite a number of matters are brought up. In addition, as I also mentioned yesterday, ex-service organisations representing ex-service men and women meet not only annually, as regional or State bodies, but hold branch meetings, and anything affecting repatriation is examined and eventually forwarded to the Federal bodies, which are in contact with me and my Department. In addition there is a continuing review of repatriation benefits and the operation of the Repatriation Act.It is folly to suggest that attention is not paid to the operation of the Act or to the entire repatriation setup and that improvements are not being made. Evidence has been presented in this place in very concrete form of what is being done in the way of the provision of new and additional equipment and the construction of additional buildings at our hospitals and other institutions in order to look after people who need repatriation care. This is what has happened. For these reasons, and also because I believe the idea is not worth a cupful of cold water, 1 oppose the suggestion that there should be a Senate select committee to review repatriation.
That the amendment (SenatorBishop’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question, as amended, agreed to.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 18 September (vide page 755), on motion by Senator McKellar:
That the Bill be now read a second time. .
– Mr Deputy President, this Bill is designed to amend the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act and to provide for certain changes in pensions and allowances similar to those which have been agreed to already in respect of the Repatriation Act. I do not intend to develop an argument concerning the reasons why these benefits have not been increased as they should have been. I dealt with that matter in my speech on the Repatriation Bill. Honourable senators will remember that on each occasion when legislation on this subject has come before the Senate it has been a straightforward matter and has followed amendments of the Repatriation Act.
The Opposition has pointed to the need to provide for mariners appeal facilities to which they are legally entitled. Mariners are in exactly the same position as are people who are covered by the Repatriation Act. Under the Repatriation Act a person has the advantage of being able to go through the various processes which are available after his application has been refused by the Repatriation Commission. But this right has never been given to mariners. They are subject to the decision of the Commission. It the Commission says: ‘As a result of the findings of the Pensions Committee, your application is refused’, a mariner has no further satisfactory process of law that he may follow. The Opposition at various times has put to the Government that the principal Act should be amended to give to mariners the same rights as apply to ex-servicemen under the Repatriation Act. We can see no reason why this should not be done.
The nature of the amendment that I will move at the Committee stage is well known to honourable senators. It affects sections 7 and 8 of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. Section 7 provides:
Any person affected by any determination or assessment of a Pensions Committee may, within such time (if any) as is prescribed, appeal to the Commission and the Commission may affirm, vary or annul the determination or assessment.
Section 8 provides:
Wherever it appears to the Commission that sufficient reason exists for reviewing any determination or assessment of a Pensions Committee it may review and may affirm, vary or annul the determination or assessment.
The fact is that the Government has not given to Australian mariners and to their dependants, who suffer as a result of war activities, standards equivalent to those that apply to ex-servicemen and their dependants under the Repatriation Act. The Opposition believes that the principles of appeal that apply to ex-servicemen under the Repatriation Act should also apply to seamen.
The present situation causes dissatisfaction. Although the Repatriation Act imposes disabilities on people with respect to the matters that we have canvassed in the last 2 days, such as the onus of proof and so on, the fact is that the appeal processes ought to be available to mariners on the same principles as they apply to exservicemen under the Repatriation Act. The Opposition sees no reason why Australian mariners should be discriminated against in this respect when in all other matters they are in the same position as are exservicemen.
The amendment that I propose to move during the Committee stage is the amendment that the Opposition has moved on a number of previous occasions. It is in these terms:
After section 8 of the principal Act, insert the following section: 8a. Where an appeal to the Commission under section 7 of this Act fails, the claimant may appeal to an appeal tribunal established under the Repatriation Act 1920-1964 and the tribunals established under that Act are vested wilh the necessary power to hear and determine the appeal.
I do not know that I need to say very much more on this matter. It is a very clear cut case. In previous debates in the Senate on this matter the Minister has not opposed the amendment proposed by the Opposition except to say that the sections of the Act as they stand at present have in all respects been satisfactory. We are applying for an entirely new prescription in the legislation which would provide the same coverage for Australian mariners who suffered disabilities as is provided for ex-servicemen. In every other respect mariners receive the same pension allowances. Amendments have been made this afternoon to the Repatriation Act to provide for payment of increased pensions and allowances. We are now considering a Bill to provide improvements to this legislation. I do not know whether the proposed amendment has been circulated.
– No, it’ has not.
– I think the principles are well known to the Minister.
– I would like to see it on paper.
– I would like to repeat what was done formerly.
-(Senator Drake-Brockman).- Are you foreshadowing the amendment you will propose at the Committee stage. Senator Bishop?
– Yes, Mr Chairman. The intention is to include a new section. Section 7 of the Act provides for a procedure different from that provided for in the Repatriation Act. Section 7 states:
Any person affected by any determination or assessment, of a Pensions Committee may, within such time (if any) as is prescribed, appeal to the Commission and the Commission may affirm, vary or annul the determination or assessment.
That means that if the Pensions Committee makes a determination, the next process is to go to the Commission. Section 8 provides:
Wherever it appears to the Commission that sufficient reason exists for reviewing any determination or assessment of a Pensions Committee it may review ;ind may affirm, vary or annul the determination or assessment.
It is clear that once the Pensions Committee has agreed to or has rejected an application, or it has gone part of the way, the final body to determine the matter is the
Commission. I am putting to the Senate what 1 have put before. There is need to provide a new Section 8a as provided for in the amendment I have foreshadowed.
– There is a very simple explanation of the difference in this legislation and the Repatriation Act, as referred to by Senator Bishop. The explanation is that a mariner’s entitlement to a pension depends on a much narrower question of fact than that of an exserviceman. A mariner must have suffered a war injury that comes within the existing definition in the Act. This is much more easily ascertainable than the qualification for entitlement under the Repatriation Act. It has always been considered unnecessary to provide the same chain of appeals for mariner claimants as are open to ex-servicemen claimants. These could arise many years after an ex-serviceman has left the forces and would not depend onthe narrow and special circumstances as provided for under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act. That is the reason why the suggestions made by Senator Bishop have not been acceded to in the past. For the same reason we do not feel inclined to accept them on this occasion.
– Unfortunately the amendment I have foreshadowed has not been circulated. However, I make the point that it is not new to the Senate. It has been moved on other occasions. Its intention is clear. I assume, Mr Chairman, that you would give me the right to move the amendment at a later stage.
– I have not had a copy of the proposed amendment before me. That would not normally worry me very much but on reflection I believe that such an amendment was ruled out of order in another place. For that reason I would like to study it.
– In view of the Minister’s statement, I ask him whether he would agree to report pro-: gress at this stage so that the proposed amendment can be printed and circulated to honourable senators.
Consideration resumed from 18 September (vide page 799), on the question:
Thathe Committee take note of proposed expenditure and proposed provision as follows:
Proposed expenditure, $298,247,000.
Proposed provision, $88,000.
Upon which Senator Bishop had moved by way of amendment:
At end of question add ‘and recommends to the Senate that a select committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon all aspects of expenditure on and in connection with repatriation and all matters incidental thereto’.
Senator COTTON (New South Wales) [5.25 1 - When the debate on the Estimates was interrupted last night I was dealing briefly with document B, which is the Appropriation Bill (No. 2), and turning my attention to the proposal for capital expenditure contained therein. 1 have noted that this expenditure is substantially for work at mental hospitals. I should like the Minister to tell me whether mental health is a growing problem for the Repatriation Department as it appears to be a growing problem within the community as a whole. Perhaps at some time convenient to himself he could indicate to the Committee whether this is a problem for the Repatriation Department. Is the capital provided at the present time sufficient to cope with the problem? Can his Department advise us whether it. is envisaged that the problem will grow so that in due course the Senate might have to contemplate, within the capital works programme as shown in a document such as document B, a consideration of such a policy problem?
– On the same subject, can the Minister give me some idea of the turnround of patients in mental hospitals or psychiatric blocks inside State hospital areas, which I believe is where they are placed?I was reading the other day that due to the influence of new drug therapy the situation of patients in public psychiatric hospitals is much improved and that their stay in hospital is lessening. For example, the longest stay in one institution has been reported to me as being about 3 months, after which time the patient, although still under treatment, has been allowed to leave. Is there the same sort of development among repatriated soldiers who are undergoing psychiatric treatment in the mental blocks of Repatriation Department hospitals?
– I should like first to reply to two questions which were raised yesterday during the debate on the Estimates. The questions were asked by Senators Lawrie and Dittmer who referred to a change which had recently been made in the parking areas outside the out-patient clinic in Brisbane. They pointed out that a’ section in Adelaide Street, adjacent to the entrance to the outpatient clinic, formerly designated a loading area, has now been made a bus stop and that considerable inconvenience is being caused to patients, particularly those who are severely handicapped, and to the Commonwealth and taxi drivers who assist patients, because of the distance of the nearest parking or loading areas from the clinic. I have checked with Mr Lyne, the Deputy Commissioner in Queensland and have found that the parking facilities outside the clinic have recently been changed as stated by the honourable senators. 1 have found also that on the day after the change took effect, the Deputy Commissioner initiated discussions with the appropriate authorities concerned and we now expect that there will be a satisfactory outcome which will ensure convenient parking and loading arrangements so far as outpatients and drivers are concerned.
asked me a question about the mentally ill. The information I have at the moment is that although the work load of the Department’s psychiatric service has continued to rise over the past year, there has been a slight fall in admissions to psychiatric wards at repatriation general hospitals. This has been due to the increased activity at out-patient level and to a more effective system of pre-treatment screening of patients, many of whom can be treated as out-patients and day patientsIncreased emphasis is being placed on restoration centres which are used as an intermediate step between in-patient treatment and normal living in the community. During the year a new restoration centre with eighteen beds and workshop space for forty patients was opened by me at the Edward Millen Hospital, Western Australia. This unit has been specially designed for the rehabilitation and restoration of psychiatric patients, both at an in-patient and out-patient level. During the year there have been renovations at Callan Park, as I have mentioned already. New wards have been built at Bundoora. The recruitment of medical officers interested in psychiatry is still a problem, but it is expected to ease as the departmental psychiatric services undertake more postgraduate training. I still have not answered the honourable senator’s question as to whether mental illness is increasing, but I shall endeavour to obtain some information of a more detailed nature on that score before we finish the debate on the Estimates.
– I should like to mention an individual case, which is something I normally do not do. This refers to a constituent who contacted me about difficulties she was experiencing in having a patient - her husband, a returned soldier - put into the psychiatric ward of a hospital nearest to where his family lives. In this instance it was a question of whether the patient should be at Gladesville rather than at Callan Park which is at Rozelle. The family lives in the Gladesville area and had to travel to Callan Park where the husband was receiving treatment. Because this man’s elderly wife and family had a considerable journey to and from Gladesville, I took the matter up with the Department but found great difficulty in having him transferred to the hospital that was nearest his home. Is it the policy of the Department to admit patients to hospitals in the area which is most advantageous to them? In this instance would there have been some medical reason why this man had to be in the Callan Park hospital rather than the establishment at Gladesville?
– It is not always possible to do this. For example, beds may be available at some hospitals but not at others. This is a situation which applies not only to mental patients but also to others. Where possible we try to have a patient admitted to a hospital as close as possible to his home, provided that it is an appropriate one in which to treat him. Although we try to do this, it is not always possible to do it.
– I seek leave to withdraw the amendment which I proposed last night.
– There being no objection, leave is granted, The amendment having been withdrawn, the question is:
That the Committee take note of (he proposed expenditure and the proposed provision.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed expenditure and proposed provision noted.
Sitting suspended from 5.35 to 8 p.m.
Consideration resumed (vide page 847).
– Earlier, I informed the Committee that 1 thought that the amendment proposed by the spokesman for the Opposition, Senator Bishop, was not in conformity with Standing Orders. I have had an opportunity to check on this and I now ask, Mr Chairman, that you rule in accordance with standing order 201 that the amendment is out of order.
-(Senator Drake-Brockman).- Senator Bishop, I have studied your proposed amendment and 1 must rule that it is not in order. It relates to the principal Act and is not relevant to the subject matter of this Bill.
– I accept your ruling, Mr Chairman.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator McKellar) read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator. Dame Annabelle Rankin) read a first time.
8.5 - I move:
The purpose of this Bill, Mr Acting Deputy President, is to give effect to the Government’s intention, as outlined in the Budget of the Treasurer (Mr McMahon), to increase the fees payable for broadcast listeners’ and television viewers’ licences. No change is contemplated in the licence fees applicable to pensioners, and the licences for blind persons and schools will continue to be free.
The Bill proposes that the fee for a television viewer’s licence, including a hirer’s licence or a lodging- house licence, be increased from $12 to $14. The fees for broadcast listeners’ licences, including both hirers’ and lodging house licences, are to be increased from $5.50 to $6.50 in respect of Zone I and $2.80 to $3.30 in respect of Zone 2. Zone 1 covers listeners within an approximate 250 miles of any broadcasting station and Zone 2 covers all persons outside Zone 1.
Since 1964, when a combined receiving licence was introduced applicable to persons operating both broadcast and television receivers, licence fees generally have remained unaltered. The combined licence fee was set at $17, or 50c less than the total of the fees payable for separate licences. At that time the Government decided to remove the $12 excise on cathode ray tubes, which was proving difficult to administer, and to offset this loss of revenue by raising the television licence fee by $2. The broadcast listeners’ licence fee was not changed.
In effect, therefore, the Government revenues from these licences have not been increased since 1956, when the television viewers’ licence was first introduced, at a cost of $10. In addition to the television viewers’ licence fee, the broadcast listeners’ licence fee was increased at that time from $4 to S5.50 for Zone I and a lower fee of $2.80 was applied in respect of Zone 2. The annual capital and- operating expenditures for the national broadcasting and television service have increased by 200% and technicians’ wage rates have risen by 80% since 1956. The wage rates for ABC employees have increased by a similar margin over the same period.
To dale, expenditure of $10m has been incurred on the Stage 4 extension of television throughout Australia and a further $2m will be required to bring it to completion. A further Sim has also been involved in capital expenditure on- the installation of translator stations. The capital cost of installing all the national television stations in Australia nas been nearly $60m. There is a continuing need for substantial amounts of capital in this field and there are increased operating costs inherent in each new station opened. It has, therefore, been considered appropriate that the fees for licences be adjusted to a. level more in keeping with the cost of the national service.
In 1956 the cost of operating the national service was $18m and at that time there was only radio and two television stations. Today, the national service operates 39 high-powered television stations and almost 20 low-powered relay stations. In addition, there are 89 medium frequency and shortwave broadcasting stations, including Radio Australia transmitters. In this financial year it is estimated that the cost of operating all these services and providing for capital development will not be less than $59m. Revenue from viewers’ and listeners’ licences will fall short of this amount by about $18m. A Government could decide to make up this leeway through increased taxation affecting everyone, which would hardly be a popular move, or by the more obvious course of asking for an additional contribution from those that make use of the service. The latter course has been chosen but even so the revenue from the increased fees will return the Government only an additional $5m this year and $7m in a full year. The Government will carry the remainder of the deficit - just over $llm. I know of no business undertaking in this country, or anywhere else, which would carry this type of loss at all.
There is talk of inefficiency in the ABC, but is it simple to make sweeping generalisa tions when one is never called up to substantiate the claims. Any single organisation which can operate over 50 television stations and over 80 broadcasting stations simultaneously, with a number of separate networks and with split-second timing in programming, can hardly be labelled inefficient, particularly when it operates over a vast land mass such as Australia.
When considering the balance of cost against income in regard to the national service, it must be remembered that the return in licence fees varies considerably from one area to another. For example, a radio or television station in a capital city potentially can serve several million persons while in a country centre the potential audience may only be measured in thousands. Yet in both cases the cost of providing the facilities is of the’ same order. It is a matter of fact that the deficit situation in the operations of the national service can be traced directly to the time when television was extended to the less populated country areas. The Government was aware that this would occur but naturally took the view that people in the country were just as entitled to television as those in the cities and more populated provincial areas.
The ABC, in accordance with its charter, provides many services in the interests of the community at large which would not otherwise be available. I refer particularly to the Commission’s sponsoring of various symphony orchestras throughout the Commonwealth - its youth concert programme, now in its twenty-first year, the annual production for radio, from its own resources, of about 250 plays of an hour or more and the annual production, for television, from its own resources, of about fifty drama or feature items, the majority of which are written by Australian authors. The ABC educational television programmes are now received by over 4,000 schools throughout Australia. Its news coverage is the most comprehensive in Australia. These are just a few examples of the outstanding services provided by the Commission - services which cost a great deal of money to produce and put on the air.
One other aspect of the Commission’s activities deserves mention too. In addition to its home broadcasts and the services it operates in Papua and New Guinea, the ABC also operates Radio Australia which is acknowledged to be one of the finest international broadcasting services in the world. Radio Australia operates around the clock from 9 transmitters, shortly to be augmented by a multi-million dollar booster installation at Darwin. Around the world, more than 100 stations broadcast selections from Radio Australia programmes: The service teaches English to hundreds of thousands of people in South East Asia and in addition broadcasts in 8 languages, transmitting nearly 50 news bulletins daily, the first of which begins at 4 a.m. and the last of which concludes 231/2 hours later, just in time to begin the process all over again.
In several international polls. Radio Australia has been voted the most popular short-wave radio service in the world. This is borne out by the fact that the service receives a quarter of a million letters each year from listeners. The voice of Radio Australia has reached out to every corner of the world for more than a quarter of a century and today it has an audience of millions. Radio Australia’s dependability is a byword. In all these circumstances 1 do not feel that the cost of maintaining the national broadcasting and television service is excessive, and I therefore commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator McClelland) adjourned.
Consideration resumed (vide page 849).
Proposed expenditure, $5,165,000
Proposed provision, $52,604,700
– I refer to that part of Division 310 - Administrative which relates to an allocation of $280,000 for furniture and fittings for migrant transitory accommodation. Last year the appropriation was $16,700 and, most peculiarly, expenditure was $16,699. Someone apparently saved $1 over the year’s operations. I am concerned that we spent $16,699 furnishing 12 flats which were completed or purchased to 30th June 1968. I have obtained the information as to the number of flats completed from the AuditorGeneral’s report. With modern flats one would expect a good deal of built-in furniture to be incorporated and for the cost to be included in the contract price of each flat. On the basis of the figures available to us the cost is about $7,000.
Whereas 12 flats were completed to 30th June, at that date 24 were under construction in Sydney, none had been commenced in Melbourne, 36 were under construction in Perth and 12 were under construction in Tasmania. I think it was Senator Poyser who made a very effective maiden speech a few years ago on the treatment meted out to migrants in Melbourne and the poor housing conditions in which they were expected to live. He pointed out that a number of protest meetings had been held in Melbourne about this matter. His speech was so effective that a government senator, who afterwards became a Minister of the Crown, stated during the debate that Senator Poyser’s speech justified some inquiry by the Department into the conditions alleged.
Following that, the Department of Immigration decided to build flats to provide temporary housing for migrants. Some 100 were to be erected in Sydney, 100 in Melbourne, 100 in Perth and 50 in Tasmania, making a total of 350 flats. It is interesting to note that the conditions mentioned by Senator Poyser apparently existed and justified the Government’s decision to erect the flats. However, until 30th June 1968 not one square yard of foundations had been laid in Melbourne, the very city in which housing conditions were so bad. It appears that there will be no speedy rectification of the position in that city. In any case, the speed of construction in other cities is not something of which we can be proud. Although 12 flats were completed in Sydney to 30th June 1968 none was completed in any other capital city. However, as I have said, at that date there were 24 under construction in Sydney, none under construction in Melbourne, 36 under construction in Perth and 12 under construction in Tasmania making a total of 72 flats under construction. When we remember that these seventytwo flats will be completed during the coming 12 months it would appear that $280,000 is being appropriated for furnishing them.I should like some explanation of this particular expenditure.
The next item, which relates to repairs, maintenance and other running costs seems to me to be excessive. I do not know what other running costs’ refers to, but one would not expect expenditure on repairs to and maintenance of new flats to be heavy. One could expect, I think, that a period of 3 or 4 years would elapse before repairs became necessary and that during that period very little maintenance would be needed. The normal arrangement with a contractor, especially if the arrangement is made through the Department of Works, is for the contractor to provide for a maintenance period of 6 or 12 months after handing over the building. Under such an arrangement, responsibility for the initial maintenance, if any is needed, lies with the builder. But here $18,000 is allowed for repairs and maintenance. I should like to know whether 1 am correct in assuming that $280,000 is being provided for furnishing the seventy-two flats which are expected to be completed next year when the cost of furnishing each flat should be about $900. I respectfully ask the Minister for some explanation of these items.
I should like now to refer to the War Service Homes Division, which is administered by this Department. I note from the papers that the appropriation under Division 845 was $46m last year and that the whole of that sum was expended. I understand that these moneys are credited to a trust account. This year the appropriation sought is $50m, or $4m in excess of the amount appropriated last year. Yet the Auditor-General tells us that less money is being appropriated for war service homes this year than was provided last year because the demand for war service homes is decreasing. 1 draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that, when referring to repayments of interest and principal on loans for war service homes, the Auditor-General says this on page 117 of his Report:
The increase of $2,122,855 reflects the cumulative growth in loans made to borrowers under the War Service Homes Act 1918-1966.
On page 118 of his Report, the AuditorGeneral says this with relation to capital’ works and services:
Due to fewer applications for assistance during 1967-68, the amount paid to the War Service Homes Trust Account decreased by $13,100,000 to $46,000. This was partly OfFSet by expenditure of $114,620 on the purchase and installation of computer equipment and $267,366 on the construction of transitory flats for migrants- which 1 have mentioned. The fact that the appropriation this year is increased although the Auditor-General says that the demand is decreasing, would seem to suggest that some other expenditure which the Department, intends to make is covered by this appropriation. I would ask for some explanation of this item.
In view of the fact that returns from expenditure on war service homes are increasing and in view of the fact that the demand for war service homes is not so great as it was and the appropriation for homes is reducing each year as the demand lessens, I respectfully ask whether the Department could give some consideration to extending the availability of loans to assist ex-servicemen in improving or renovating their homes or in buying homes. lt was stated in correspondence by the Department in 1965, when application was made for a loan to pay off a mortgage on a home, that, owing to the demand on the moneys available in that year, the Department could not extend its loans to other avenues than the purchase of original homes. Later, when there was no question about the availability of finance, this case was taken up again but again it was impossible to obtain a loan to pay off an existing mortgage on which high rates of interest were being charged. In fact, 1 think the rate of interest charged was 8%. In some of these cases the ex-servicemen are forced to take out these loans because finance isnot available to them from the Department at the time when they wish to purchase homes. The ex-serviceman about whom I am speaking on this occasion had never had a loan from the Department and I submit that he is entitled to be treated just as fairly and to obtain the benefit of lower interest rates as is the ex-serviceman who gets his home initially from the Department. There are some cases of hardship. There are some people who have been struggling for years to meet high repayments on loans from banks and other financial insitutions They should have the right to at least one loan from the Department for the purpose of refinancing the purchase of their home.
In the particular case that I have in mind, special circumstances were pleaded in that the returned serviceman in question married a war widow. Therefore, his wife, being a war widow, would be entitled to a loan in her own right, just as was the ex-serviceman. They formed their marriage partnership but even these special circumstances were not considered enough to justify assistance from the Department which it was thought would be available to all ex-servicemen. I would ask the Minister whether the Department will consider granting this man’s application. In other cases, the Department has refused to grant loans for extensions or improvements to homes unless such extensions or improvements are being effected to provide additional bedrooms in cases where the family has outgrown the existing accommodation. I emphasise that to grant the loans would represent no risk to the Department in that the home is mortgaged to the Department. Certainly the interest rate would be lower than could be obtained elsewhere. Probably it would be subsidised interest. But when people who have obtained loans from the Department for a home desire to improve the home and therefore the value of the security for the loan granted by the Department-
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– I wish to know whether the Minister has obtained an answer to a question I asked yesterday concerning the use of strata titles in South Australia. Secondly, I refer to the War Service Homes Report for 1967-68 at page 25, which deals with the average cost of homes erected under the War Service Homes Act. The average cost of a dwelling house in South Australia was $10,589 in 1966- 67 but it dropped to $8,465 in 1967- 68, a decrease of $2,124. I notice that a footnote on that page states:
The decrease in the average cost of a dwelling house in South Australia is due principally to the fact that the homes erected during 1967-68 were generally of a less expensive type than those erected during 1966-67.
A decrease of $2,124 in 1 year is quite significant. Can the Minister give any reason for this? Was it because the War Service Homes Division’s policy for South Australia was not to encourage higher class housing? Was it because construction was of wood or fibro-cement instead of brick or stone as is normal in that State? I feel that the Minister should explain this decrease. The average cost of a dwelling house in New South Wales rose by $603; in. Victoria by $870; in Queensland by $382; in Western Australia by $150 and in Tasmania by $319. In the Australian Capital Territory, the glamour part of Australia, it dropped by $325. For 1966-67 it was $13,486 whereas for 1967-68 it was $13,161. The average dropped by $1,159 in the Northern Territory, which is a fairly large amount. But I am rather alarmed at. this big drop in the average cost of homes erected under the Act in South Australia, whereas elsewhere in Australia, except in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory there was a considerable rise.
[8.34] - ^Senator Cavanagh referred to the proposed expenditure of $280,000 on furniture and fittings for migrant transitory accommodation. This is an experimental project in transitory accommodation for migrants while they are finding their own homes and deciding where they wish to live. The idea is to provide completely furnished flats. The proposed expenditure will be used for the furnishing. The flats are completely furnished - everything from a teaspoon to a refrigerator, blankets, sheets and every other conceivable household item that may be required. I think that the expenditure on furniture and fittings works out at about $1,400 for each flat. This is quite a reasonable figure when we appreciate all the items that are included. Replacement items are also included in that amount. I visited the first block of flats and I found that every household item was provided. I noticed that cots, bassinettes and children’s high chairs were provided for families with small children. A total of 262 flats is expected to be completed and in service by 30 June 1969. In passing; I wish to say that these flats are doing an excellent job to assist migrants to settle in Australia. In regard to the same item, Senator Cavanagh referred to the proposed expenditure of $18,000 on repairs, maintenance and other running costs. This amount includes payments in lieu of rates, cleaning expenses, the cost of electricity used in common areas and the costs of repair and maintenance of the flats which are provided for periods of up to 6 months to newly arrived families.
Senator Cavanagh also referred to Division 845, which is the proposed expenditure of $50m on war service homes. The increase of $4m on the previous year is due to the maximum loan for these homes being increased from $7,000 to $8,000. The honourable senator also spoke of policy matters such as the discharging of mortgages and cited individual cases. 1 think that if he has individual cases it is better if he brings them to my notice. I think that is a better practice than discussing them generally. I think 1 should remind honourable senators that the provision of war service homes loans is a repatriation measure designed to make homes available so that ex-servicemen can settle down with their families after having served their country.
I am pleased that Senator Laught referred to the question that he asked yesterday as 1 was not able to give him an answer on that occasion. I think I did say that wherever strata titles were available the War Service Homes Division granted loans on these securities. He asked for the number of applications that had been received in South Australia. There have been four applications. Three of them were either refused or withdrawn and one is pending at the moment. 1 do not think the relevant South Australian legislation has been in force quite as long as similar legislation in some of the other States. The honourable senator is no doubt aware that in the War Service Homes Report for 1967-68 the Director said:
During 1967-68 the Strata Title legislation in Victoria and Western Australia mentioned in my last report became operative and similar legislation was enacted and became operative in South Australia.
In all, 2,426 eligible persons have been assisted throughout Australia to become owners of strata title home units . . .
This is an excellent result. Senator Laught also drew my attention to the average cost of homes erected during 1967-68 and especially to the decrease for South Australia. I am informed that these figures relate to the cost of houses erected under the supervision of the Director of War Service Homes according to the wishes of the applicant having regard to the loan he has obtained. The applicant might not wish to have a more expensive home and so this would bring the cost within a lower price range.
– is there any policy within the Department to request people to build houses of less value?
– No. The home owner himself would decide the value, lt would depend on the amount of the loan and the total funds he has available. After all, these people receive a loan of $7,000, and if they want to keep the cost within the amount of funds they have they would plan their house accordingly. That is to say, the home owner himself decides the cost of the home.
– I relate my remarks to the sum appropriated for the administration of the Department of Housing. To ensure that my remarks are not out of order I would like the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) to tell me whether her Department takes a general interest in privately built homes and the home building industry as a whole. I want to refer to what happens to home buyers who do business with contractors who go bankrupt. Would this be outside the scope of this division of expenditure?
– That matter really comes within the sphere of State responsibility.
– Recently I attended the Annual State Conference of the New South Wales Branch of the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia, which was held in Sydney. I was horrified to hear the tales of woe of people who gave to the Conference information about the loss of their homes through contractors going bankrupt. These people then found that the Taxation Branch moved in first to get any money that was available. The poor house owner was last. I would be interested to know whether the Department would extend its interest to this matter. Hundreds of people in the metropolitan area of Sydney and the country areas of New South Wales are losing their homes and their money in this way. If the Department is not interested in what is happening then I would like to know why.
I will mention one case although I do not wish to delay the Committee. A firm called the Pennant Hills Construction Co. had 35 houses in progress when it went into liquidation. Evidence about this case was given at the annual conference of the Union. The manager of this company had previously been bankrupt in Queensland. Creditors claiming against the company included 20 contractors. One claim alone is for $2 1 ,000 and the distribution to the creditors will be about 10c in the dollar. Expert examination of the 35 houses revealed that only 5 were capable of being completed. The rest were unrealisable propositions, mainly because the promises made by the company in the contract .with the client were ridiculously impossible. One large cottage had a contract price of $18,500 but independent experts could not do the job for less than $22,000. In the case of one small cottage, contracted for at $7,900. one of the conditions was that it would be completed in. 4 weeks. It was not even started within 8 weeks. When the creditors had a meeting the total debts exceeded $40,000 and the net equity of the company was less than $4,000. Yet a director ‘guaranteed’ to pay the debts. The Press said that this was a huge swindle. This bankrupt man probably had ruined permanently 30 potential home owners. But he set himself up in another type of business in no time. There did not seem to be any supervision at ali over his activities.
I would like the Minister to extend her own interest and her Department’s interest into what is happening in the housing industry generally, even if it cannot do so governmentally. I would like to see this done because this sort of thing affects all people. People trying to buy their own homes alleviate the drain on Housing Commission finance. If builders did the right thing they could reduce the cost facing the Government in providing funds to meet housing needs. Every man who loses out in this way becomes dependent on the Government because he cannot do anything else. 1 did not hear the Minister say anything about the increase in the interest rate on housing loans. This matter must be of interest to this Department because it assists in the building of homes by providing a deposit. I am referring now to the deposit system operated by the Department. I think it handles something like $2lm a year.
– Is the honourable senator talking about the homes savings grants scheme?
– Yes. lt is a very good scheme. But I would like to know the Department’s attitude towards the increased interest rate being charged today for housing loans. The banks increased the rate only 3 months ago. I did not then hear any protest from the Government about this. The interest rate is a very heavy charge on home owners and it increases the cost of building or buying a home. 1 want now to refer to hostels. Over a period of 12 months honourable senators on this side of the chamber have visited hostels and made a close examination of how they arc operated. Three weekends running, I visited the Heathcote hostel and I found conditions there were very bad.
Hostels do not come under the control of the Department of Housing.
– The Minister was speaking about them.
Migrant flats are the concern of my Department, but not migrant hostels.
– But migrant flats are being built to take the place of hostels.
Hostels do not come within the ambit of my Department but migrant flats do. Which matter does the honourable senator wish to refer to?
– ls your Department building these flats?
Yes, or we are buying them.
– Is it intended that these flats become permanent homes for these people? How long do the migrant families spend in these flats? In building or renting them, has the Department taken into consideration such things as the distance from schools? Are they located far from amenities? There is one such centre in Sydney which, in my opinion, is a good distance from urban amenities. I would just like to know whether the Department considers the problems of migrant people. 1 rose specifically to speak about the bankrupt building contractors .1 mentioned earlier. Such people probably built some places for the Minister’s Department. 1 do not think enough supervision is given to these things which I have mentioned. This bankrupt firm was engaged in building 35 homes. Upon investigation it might be found that the people concerned are obtaining more clients under other names and are dodging their responsibilities. .1 would like the Minister at least to comment on this matter.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [8.49] - I would like to comment firstly on the point raised by Senator Ormonde relating to frauds and similar practices within the home building industry. My Department is very interested in all aspects of housing, because its main interest, naturally, is the provision of good housing for the Australian people. However, the matters he raised are not really matters for my Department. Fraud, bad business dealings and similar sorts of things arc local matters for the States concerned and are subjects for legal action. However, I am naturally interested in such things because people wanting homes are my concern. The industry itself is also very concerned about these aspects and I keep in close contact with the industry. State Ministers for Housing are also taking a close interest in them. I can assure the honourable senators that they, too, are keeping very careful watch on activities of this sort.
Senator Ormonde also mentioned interest rates. I remind the honourable senator that the Department of Housing endeavours by cheap finance through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement to keep down interest rates for those most in need. The increase in interest rates has resulted from a general need for interest rates on bank deposits to rise. This was a matter for the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) and the Reserve Bank. The need existed to stimulate savings bank deposits and for this reason interest rates were increased. Having said that, I come back to the earlier point that I made. Through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, we assist the people most in need to obtain houses for modest rentals or for purchase at a rate of interest that they can afford. Another point raised by the honourable senator concerned migrant flats. I direct his attention to the fact that the migrant flats which are under the control of my Department are not the hostels about which the honourable senator first commenced to speak. These hostels come under the control of the Minister for Labour and National Service. 1 was surprised to hear the honourable senator say that the flats are in an isolated area. I am wondering which flats he meant.
– I think they are in the Maroubra area.
– We have no flats there. We have some flats at Eastlakes, New South Wales. They are well situated and the honourable senator could not say that- they are in a lonely area. Other flats are located at Auburn in New South Wales. That area could not be termed lonely, either.
– There are none in Adelaide, so those in all other areas are not counted.
– That is a very parochial attitude. Senator Ormonde inquired about the length of time these people could stay in the flats.
– The length of the passing through period?
– Let me go back to the beginning of this matter. This is an experimental project to assist migrants to settle down in Australia. These first units which have been built are a pilot scheme. The arrangement is that migrants cannot stay in the flats for longer than 6 months. In this period they commence to look for a home to purchase or rent, whichever they wish. I think that I am correct in saying that those migrants who were living in the flats in Eastlakes have already gone from there into their own homes. If not all of those migrants then most of them now have their own homes.
– Has the Minister an officer helping them?
– We have an excellent officer who is stationed in Sydney. I went to see these people. I think that they had been in their new flats only a day or two when I saw them. It was very pleasing to observe how delighted they were with the- flats. They were so pleased with the furnishings. They found the flats comfortable, bright and attractive. They were all getting on well with each other. They were holding out the hand of friendship. They belonged to different nationalities. They were delighted that they were close to their places of employment, shops and schools. 1 wish to pay a tribute to my officers in this respect. They have gone to endless trouble when selecting areas and considering sites where these fiats will be built. They try to ensure that the flats will be close to shopping areas, close to the places where the breadwinners will work, close to good transportation services and near to schools. We have always thought that these things are important. Personally, I have always felt very strongly that when little children come to a country that is strange to them we want to- ensure that it; is as easy as it can possibly be for them to go to school in safety. I believe that the work that has been put into this scheme by the officers of my Department, the Department of Labour and National Service, the Department of Immigration and the Department of the Interior, as well as the other officers who have been associated with it, has been really first class. Their efforts will assist greatly the success of this scheme.
– I refer to the report of the AuditorGeneral for the year 1967-68. 1 direct attention to paragraph 122 which deals with homes savings grants. The report states:
Grants to eligible persons are limited to onethird of acceptable savings as defined in the Act . . .
Further on, the report states:
The present limitation on the value of a home which may attract a gram is $15,000.
Firstly, might I obtain from the Minister a definition of ‘home’ in this context? To what stage of the construction of a home do these grants apply? Is allowance made for ancillary facilities, such as paths, extra drainage or things like that? The reason I ask this question is that, with the cost of building as it is today, a person can soon spend a lot of dollars outside the walls of the home. This all adds to the cost of the home.
I feel that the homes savings grants scheme is an excellent one. lt encourages thrift in young people but, at the same time, I believe that to put a value of $15,000 on homes eligible for this grant tends to impose some limitation on the thrift of young people. What consideration has been given to increasing the value of homes eligible to attract the grant to an amount above $15,000?
I now refer to a matter with which Senator Cavanagh dealt, lt is mentioned in paragraph 123 which deals with transitory flats for migrants. As at 30th June 1968, twelve of these flats had been completed or purchased in Sydney but the entries read ‘nil* for Melbourne, Perth and Tasmania. Earlier in this paragraph I read:
The Department of Housing is responsible for the provision, management and maintenance of the Hats. Under the scheme, the Commonwealth may purchase suitable existing properties or erect Hats on land owned or acquired by the Commonwealth.
I am wondering whether any properties have been purchased for the specific purpose of building transitory flats and, if so. where they have been purchased?
– When my time expired earlier, I was making a few observations regarding the extension of the administration of the war service homes scheme for the purpose of giving greater benefits to ex-servicemen, in ‘ keeping with the spirit of the Act. lt was not my intention to quote personal cases. 1 agree with what the Minister said in this respect. Incidentally, I thank the Minister for her replies to the previous questions I asked of her. I think that she replied quite adequately and commendatory regarding the new fiats and the furnishing of them. This activity is more extensive than I had thought. lt was nol my intention to attempt to bring before the chamber during the discussion of these estimates an individual case. But it is only by taking up an individual case that one gets an appreciation of the activities and the administration of the Department. Through taking up a case and learning that it does not come within the activities of the Department, one can claim, without mentioning an individual name, that there is an injustice in the administration of this Act by the Department.
The reply by the Minister that this is only a repatriation grant for the purpose of establishing an ex-serviceman in a home to my mind is not satisfactory as the Department in the past has been more generous in its administration of the Act for the purpose of assisting ex-servicemen. The case that I mentioned concerns, firstly, a refusal to make a loan for the purpose of taking over an existing mortgage. Such loans have been granted by the Department in the past respecting cases that have been taken up with the Minister. My knowledge of the activities of the Department, as well as the Minister’s reply, indicates that in the past the Department has granted loans for the purpose of taking over existing mortgages. The correspondence from the Minister shows that this has been done in exceptional circumstances.
I brought to the attention of War Service Homes a case which 1 thought was exceptional, lt concerned an ex-serviceman who is married to a war widow, a situation which is somewhat out of the ordinary. Even with the double entitlement they cannot obtain the benefits available through War Service Homes. The flexibility of the Act would permit, it. but the administration of the Act is so inflexible that the Department is not prepared in those unusual circumstances to offer relief to the exserviceman concerned. I submit that at a time when the demands for war service homes are not so great, it should be possible to help that ex-serviceman, 1 am not referring to an individual case when I say that often additions are made to homes, thus improving their value. It often happens that, people wish to make their accommodation more spacious. Unless the addition is a bedroom, the necessity for which is brought about by the growth of the family, War Service Homes will not grant an increase in the loan. People who are refused that assistance are forced to sign second mortgages with private individuals. It often happens that after people have settled down in a home and have paid off some of their debts they desire to extend their accommodation.
I now turn to consider the attitude of War Services Homes to people who have paid off a first loan and are seeking a second loan. I have been informed that it is within the powers of the Act for a second loan to be granted. In fact, such loans were granted until April 1966 when central office issued an order to tighten up on second loans. The order was given that second loans are to be granted only in extreme emergencies. Before April 1966 a second loan would be granted without the necessity to establish that an extreme emergency existed. A man who has purchased a house with a war service homes loan may be transferred interstate because of his employment. He may sell the -home in order to pay off the loan and then seek a second loan to buy a home in. the State to which he has been transferred. It is not possible for him to obtain a second loan from War Service Homes for thai purpose.
A second loan is not made available to him although he is prepared to pay off the first loan with the proceeds of the sale of the home. He is not asking for an increased loan. He is prepared to pay off the existing loan, but because he is transferred he wishes to buy a home in another Slate. He is informed by War Service Homes that the policy of granting second loans has been lightened up and they are to be granted only in an extreme emergency. No consideration is given to the fact that he has been transferred because of his employment. That policy may have been justified when heavy demands were made upon the finances available for war service homes, but it is not justified today. The power exists under the Act at present, as it has existed in the past, for second loans to be granted. War Service Homes should be more generous in its lending.
The Department of Housing has some responsibility for the provision of accommodation in Australia,, apart from the homes provided by War Service Homes. T wish to comment on the building trend in Adelaide, both as to numbers and quality of construction. Notices advertising the sale of properties can be seen in the suburbs of all capital cities in Australia today. There is no shortage of houses to buy if the finance is available. But there seems to be a shortage of finance with the result that people are living in over crowded and substandard accommodation. They are living with relatives because of their inability to raise enough money to buy a home.
In yesterday’s edition of the Adelaide Advertiser’ a report stated that the South Australian Housing Trust last year built fewer homes than for any other year in the past 18 years. The report of the South Australian Housing Trust .for 1967 states:
The waiting lime for rental houses could extend from one week in certain country districts to five years in parts of the metropolitan area.
That is not good. The report, goes on:
Within the metropolitan area the waiting time varies between wide limits according to the relative popularity of various localities and the availability of employment in or near those localities.
Not enough consideration is given to the provision of rental homes, for the people in the community who are unable to buy homes. Homes can be purchased if the finance is available but there is insufficient provision in the capital cities for people seeking to rent homes. The Department of Housing should be looking into that matter. Possibly it could be made a condition of finance advanced to the States for housing. The report of the South Australian Housing Trust states at page 8:
Double units are no longer being built in the metropolitan area for two reasons. Firstly, the Trust no longer has suitable land for these units and secondly, vacancies occur which help to meet our current demand.
No new double units are to be built because no suitable land is available. Probably that is because of the price structure relating to the sale of land. The report goes on:
At Elizabeth 76 double units were completed during 1966-67 while 166 were under construction at the end of the financial year. At 30th June 1967, 5,205 houses had been let (4,490 double units, 715 single units).
The Housing Trust has stopped providing double units at a time when, as it stales in its report, there is a waiting time of up to 5 years to obtain rental accommodation. The section of the community concerned needs protection. It is just as important a section as the group about whom Senator Ormonde spoke - the people who in some cases sacrificed their life savings to builders who eventually went bankrupt. The rate of bankruptcy in the building industry is greater than in any other industry at present. People have sacrificed their savings to builders who erected sub-standard homes or homes which were faultily constructed.
In parts of South Australia timber frame homes have been so badly constructed that the Housing Trust has agreed to buy them back because the maintenance is too expensive for the people buying them under first and second mortgages. The Housing Trust is relieving purchasers of the responsibility for maintaining those homes. But that policy does not apply to brick homes, although complaints about them are widespread. The Housing Trust has refused to buy the brick homes back because maintenance costs are greater on a faultily built brick dwelling than on a timber frame dwelling.
I am reminded of a discussion during a previous debate on the estimates for the Department of Housing in which I asked why the costs of construction in Canberra are higher than in other States. The Minister replied that superior classes of homes were being constructed in Canberra. I claimed that that was not so. I cited timber sizes used in housing construction in Canberra which, to my mind, are not good or safe. The Minister and I have carried on a correspondence on this question, both of us maintaining our own view. I could not argue against the Minister’s soundly established argument in favour of the use of trusses in the homes in Canberra because some of them are prefabricated and factory built to comply with the standards laid down by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. The Minister has stated:
Light timber trusses have been shown to be able to provide all the strength needed and may save up to 40% of the timber normally used in roofs. There is every reason from a national point of view to use trusses to conserve timber resources and to lower building costs generally. I have no doubt that eventually we are going to reduce the cost of housing by rationalising the requirements for roof timber sizes.
The Minister is reinforced in her statement by tests carried out by the CSIRO. I am not enough of an authority to argue against the findings of that body. That argument arose from the suggestion that the higher cost of housing in Canberra was due to the superior class of home being erected. The Minister established her case that the heavier timbers were not necessary and that a reduction of 40% of the timber normally used could be achieved while still maintaining an effective construction of roofing trusses in Canberra. Nevertheless, I suggest that there is a risk with- this type of construction in a cheaper home. 1 have maintained that the strength of roofing is more important than cost in the construction of homes in Canberra. The Minister has kindly forwarded to me the results of tests carried out by the CSIRO on various structures. 1 regret to say that the results of those tests do not support the Minister’s argument.
Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– I wish to raise three points in relation to Division 310 - Administrative. First, is it possible for the Minister to comment on the policy of the Department of Housing in relation to the proliferation of staff within the Department. I note that the Department of Housing has a smaller appropriation than any other department with the exception of the Department of the Cabinet Office. I congratulate the Minister because she and her officers have been able to hold the anticipated expenditure of the Department to an increase of only $400,000 over the expenditure for last year. I should think that is probably one of the most meagre increases of all Commonwealth Departments. However, if one views the work for which the Department of Housing may be responsible throughout Australia, one can take interest in the fact that in the few short years during which the Department has been in operation it has built up to a staff of about 1,200. This number has increased by about 40 individuals only during the last year, if I have read the figures correctly. Can the Minister advise honourable senators of the expected growth of the Department? I believe that this is a question of great moment to the community. The private sector of the community is very concerned about the way in which departments generally seem to commence and then to grow until enormous numbers are employed by them. Of course, part of the problem here is that once an individual is employed by a department there is not only the normal allocation for wages but there is also a continuing expenditure, even into retirement, which must be provided by way of insurance and other amenities which we enjoy in our advanced community. We know that there is a shortage of labour today, and in this field where undoubtedly the Department of Housing is looking for some expertise it is to be commended if it has a policy that keeps the number employed to a minimum. I congratulate the Minister for what I see and I would ask her to comment on the point I have raised. 1 have been particularly interested in the manner in which the Department has proceeded to build or procure accommodation, basically, I gather, for the Department of Immigration. Usually this accommodation is provided by flats. Can the Minister explain to me the policy followed by the Department in acquiring flats? On what basis are they acquired? If a flat is available for purchase, does the Department pay close attention to the price per square that it is paying for accommodation? If so, what is the price per square? It is possible at the present time in various States to use a variety of methods of construction, each costing a different amount. Some accommodation has a very high price per square, and I should think that the price per square for housing in the Australian Capital Territory is higher than it is in any State. I would be very pleased to hear a comment from the Minister on the criteria that the Department considers when purchasing a flat. I believe that the selection of a site can be very important.
When the announcement was first made that we were obtaining a transitory type of accommodation in the heart of the metropolitan area, as has certainly been done in Melbourne, I expressed an objection to that policy. I now repeat that objection. J. believe that there would be great wisdom in following a course along the lines that I now suggest. If in order to provide accommodation it is necessary to build or buy a block of 10 or 20 fiats, we should perhaps look to one of the prominent towns throughout the country. The cost per square foot of land would be lower and the general building costs in country’ areas would be similar to those in the metropolitan area. By providing this type, of accommdoation we could supply housing to migrants who, as I have suggested before, could perhaps be permitted to purchase the fiats after being in possession for some time. We may then find that for each 20 families moving into the country area and finding employment, half may see fit to purchase the flat in which they are living. The purchase of flats is becoming quite popular and these days a number of people in the community prefer to live in flats.
The scheme that I have suggested would be an excellent way of housing people is some of the outer metropolitan areas and in country towns. What are the criteria upon which the Department of Housing sets out to purchase a flat? What is the general area in which it advertises for flats? I know that the Department has sought the advice of builders with whom I am in touch as to the type of buildings that can be erected and the price per square of building. I wonder what limits the Department has set on the price per square when purchasing buildings. Can the Minister tell us what is the smallest block of flats that has been purchased, the number of livable square feet in the building and the total price paid for it? We could then calculate for ourselves whether the price works out to be in the vicinity of $.1,000 per square.
Under Division 310 1 refer also to Relief Services which has the item ‘For payment to the War Service Homes Relief Trust Account’. Perhaps when she is replying the Minister could make some comment on the rise in this appropriation for the current year.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [9.20] - -Senator Young asked me a question concerning the home savings grants scheme and the limit on the value of house and land. I should like to give a little of the background of this matter. As honourable senators know, the scheme was introduced as a limited measure hi 1964 to assist young couples who were experiencing difficulty in financing the acquisition of their first matrimonial home. It was limited initially to persons acquiring homes up to a value of $14,000, on the reasoning that those purchasing more expensive homes were less in need o£ governmental assistance.
The limit is reviewed periodically and last year it was raised to $15,000 in respect of homes acquired on or after 28th November 1966. This increase more than covered the rise in the average cost of homes in respect of which grants bad been paid from the start of the scheme until 28th November 1966. The value of the home consists of the value of land, and all improvements including buildings, paths, fencing and garages. The honourable senator also asked what blocks of flats we had purchased. We have purchased two blocks of existing buildings. These are at Eastlakes and Auburn, New South Wales.
asked a number of questions. One of them related to the South Australian Housing Trust. The Commonwealth does not try to control the internal activities of the Trust in relation to whether units are of brick or timber, or in relation to lending. These are matters for the Trust. He spoke also of the extent of building in Adelaide. I believe that there is no special shortage of finance in South Australia but there is a comparative fall in demand. South Australians are still better housed than are people in other States and South Australia has been building more houses in relation to the increase in population than have the other States. The population is now rising more slowly and there is less migration to the State.
There was also an inquiry regarding the staff in the War Service Homes Division. The number will not be increasing, according to present trends. Any increase in the staff of the Department will depend on such matters as the extent of provision for flats for migrants and housing for Aboriginals. No great increase in the number of staff is likely.
Senator Cavanagh referred to the provision of finance for the discharge qf mortgages on houses in connection with war service homes assistance. For many years it has been the policy not to discharge existing mortgages, because the funds provided are intended for use in assisting exservicemen who do not have homes. The honourable senator referred also to additional loans. These are intended for extra bedroom accommodation for families iri which there are children of both sexes who therefore need separate bedroom accommodation, or for the provision of utility services such as hot water systems and sewerage. It is still necessary to limit the purposes for which additional loans are granted. With the increase in the maximum loan available to $8,000 the appropriation of $50m is required to meet applications under existing arrangements.
asked a question relating to the building of flats for migrants. We seek to buy or build flats of comparable standard to those built by the State housing commissions. We rely on Commonwealth taxation valuers to ensure that we get value for our money. These flats are located in areas close to the main employment centres.
As the honourable senator wilh understand, this is a tremendously important factor. We bought a small block of twelve two-bedroom flats at Eastlakes, New South Wales, to which I referred earlier in reply to Senator Young’s inquiry, for which we paid $109,600.
– 1 thank the Minister for her reply but f do not know whether she grasped the full significance of my request. 1 mentioned cases in support of my representations for liberalisation of assistance to a greater number of persons and for additional types of assistance in the future. It is no justification for the Minister to say that we have not been doing this for years. The question is whether it is right to continue to refuse loans to discharge existing mortgages or to cover additional expenditure. Should we not provide additional benefit if it is possible? The Minister says that it is difficult because funds are needed for those couples who want to establish their first home. The demands of this section are getting less every year.
Although it is necessary, according to the Minister, to provide an appropriation of $50m this year for increased- loans in order to reduce the deposit gap, the appropriation still is less than the amount we voted in the year before last. There has been a reduction in the appropriation each year and this reduction will continue as we get further away from the Second World War period. More of these people will be settled in homes and there will be fewer applicants. The Minister has a responsibility to look into the administration of the Department and seek to extend benefits to that section which looks to the Department for assistance even if this necessitates a fight from time to time with the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) to get some increase in funds.
The other point 1 was making when my time expired was in relation to sound construction. I do not want to go too deeply into this matter, but it is important because of the number of people who are investing today in poorly constructed homes. They possibly need second mortgages and are therefore unable to meet the heavy maintenance costs on poorly constructed houses which look good upon completion but have a short life. The Minister stated in her letter that the authorities in Victoria, Tas mania and the Australian Capital Territory do not require compliance with the timber standards that other State building codes require. The standards in the places I have mentioned are lower.
– The other States have access to what they want.
– They have standards which they think are essential to ensure structural strength. Apparently Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Captial Territory do not require such high standards. There may be reasons. .1 think that the building codes of the States are adopted by their parliaments on the advice of building experts. Their reasons may be related to the availability of certain timbers, but there should be no reduction in the standards that 1 mentioned last year which are common for the construction of ceiling joists, rafters and hangers and are supported by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. While it has four ceiling joists 4 inches by H inches, which I should have thought was a normal ceiling joist, the CSIRO claims that the structural strength is there if they are in 8 feet spans. If you want to stretch ceiling joists across a room 13 feet or 14 feet wide, the CSIRO standard for joists is 6 inches by 11 inches.
The same thing applies to rafters. While the CSIRO permits 3 inches by H inches for rafters - not in common grades - they must be only in 4 feet lengths in 18 inch spacing. Normally we have spaces ranging from 18 inches to 2 feet, and allow a greater distance if sheet steel is used. The CSIRO permits the lower standard of 4 feet spacing on the eaves or in a valley at the extreme end but not across the high gable of a roof. 1 think that this matter is important. The Commonwealth has a good deal of money invested in homes in that it has provided finance in many cases to the extent of the homes savings grant, so it must be concerned with the welfare of the home purchaser. I think we should try to obtain some national standards and ensure that the Department’s funds are spent on homes that are constructed solidly. Referring to Canberra, it cannot be claimed that the higher cost of building here is due to a superior type of construction because in the places that 1 have mentioned that are of timber construction - this would be supported by the Minister - the standards are lower than would be acceptable elsewhere. The houses are not cheap at the price. There is some faulty construction in Canberra. 1 noticed in the home that I visited at Lyons the other night - it is occupied by military personnel from Duntroon - that gyprock was used for internal lining. That is not satisfactory, lt has no resistance and no play or give, and unless the timber is sufficiently strutted so that there is no movement trouble will arise when movement occurs. In the particular type of construction that 1 am speaking about one sees big cracks down the wall. Fortunately the occupiers are renting the premises. The lining cannot be repaired and the whole interior lining must be replaced.
– Do the white ants eat the lining?
– 1 do not think anything will eat it but 1 found something that the white ants will eat - there are wooden floors covered with lino in the bathroom and laundry. That would not meet health requirements in most States of the Commonwealth.
– Are these new buildings?
– They were constructed in recent years. These are the kinds of things that a department interested in housing should ensure do not occur, but they are occurring in the Australian Capital Territory right under our noses. I bring these points before the Minister in the hope that some greater assistance will be given to the home purchaser in the future either by the Department becoming interested in the inspection angle or perhaps by the introduction of legislation to tighten up the bad practices that are indulged in today. We have looked for protection in every State other than possibly Western Australia where builders are required to be registered. Such a procedure might give us some protection because any registered builder would want to build up to a standard so that he could remain in business. We have such legislation in South Australia but with the change of Government it has not been brought into operation. There is a suggestion that the legislation will not be brought into operation. [ make those few observations for the consideration of the Minister.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [9.35] -On the last occasion 1 rose 1 failed to answer Senator Webster’s question relating to the estimated amount required for widows relief this year. I inform him that the number of securities is increasing each year. The age of the purchaser and borrower is increasing and when a husband dies - this applies particularly to First World War servicemen - more widows seek relief from the fund each year with a consequent increase in the allocation to which the honourable senator has referred.
Senator Cavanagh has spoken at some length of his concern about building standards. He may be interested to know that the whole question of a uniform building code, including timber sizes, is now under the scrutiny of an interstate standing committee which, when necessary, is taking expert advice on any changes and savings that, may bc possible. The honourable senator has shown an interest in houses in Canberra and I wonder whether he would like at some time to see some of the homes here. If so, I could arrange it for him through the National Capital Development Commission.
– My complaint is that 1 have seen them.
– And you would rather not have gone? I think the answers I have given cover the points that have been raised.
– I thank the Minister for replying to the question I raised. I did mention one or two other points and 1 take it that either the Minister or her advisers were unable to give me the information I sought. 1 questioned the criteria which the Department uses in relation to the purchase of flats. I thank the Minister for the information that 12 flats were purchased for $109,600. As I see it. the Department will be entering into fairly big business in this field and the Minister’s comment that she took the advice of Commonwealth valuers is not necessarily appreciated by all honourable senators.
I had questioned whether there was information that could be given to me now or perhaps later relating to the basis on which the purchase was made. Having found a flat that appeared to be acceptable for your purposes and the offer having been made, it is a case of going to a valuer to have the flat checked to see whether it was suitable for purchase? If would seem to me that there should be some basis of calculating the value of the land in a particular area perhaps that is what the Commonwealth valuer does the type of material used, the number of squares in each flat or the number of squares of livable area that is available in the building being purchased.
My worry is that some 3 years ago a Commonwealth department put forward for acceptance a proposition to erect an ordinary building at Broad-meadows in Victoria at a cost of $1,150 per square. The price was so ridiculous for any intelligent person to accept that the proposal was rejected by the Public Works Committee. With a little redrawing the Department of Works came up with a proposition that broke down the price by one third or more. Suffice to say that the intelligence displayed by Commonwealth officers in advocating that that was the type of building the Commonwealth should interest itself in alerts one to ask the price per square that we should pay. It could vary greatly.
Having some knowledge of building costs in at least one of the main capital cities, - I am anxious to know whether the Department says that the price should be somewhere about $1,000 per square in a 2 or 3 storey building. I have cited a figure already so the Minister’s advisers can go either side of itto comment. The Minister’s officers would know the general line of inquiry I am making. 1 am endeavouring to establish whether the Department has adopted any guide lines for the purchase of flats for this purpose.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [9.40] - I think this should assist the honourable senator:I did mention how when considering a location we look at such things as employment, shopping facilities, schools and so on. These things are very important in making a selection. If we see a block of flats of the standard which we require, we ask a Commonwealth Taxation Branch valuer for an opinion as to whether the asking price is in line with the standard of the building. It is on this basis that we decide whether to buy a block of flats having regard to the standard of construction and its value and size.
– I should think that the Minister’s officers will probably appreciate that the Minister has not answered the question I asked. I would hope that the calculation is made on a somewhat wider basis than that mentioned by the Minister. For example, if you are considering a site where the land has a particularly high value, I submit there would probably be some basic calculation of the value per square foot. It might be $2, $2.50 or even $3 a square foot that is allowed for the land. I am anxious to find out whether the Department has any established ceiling cost per 100 square feet for a building.
I can only assume that the information I am seeking is not readily available at the moment. However, it would be pertinent to get on record whether we are likely to be obtaining gold lined flats for this purpose or whether, the Minister having said that the flats generally are of Housing Commission standard, we should be able to obtain a guide from flats or houses built by Housing Commissions in the capital cities.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [9.43] - I would inform the honourable senator that we charge Housing Commission economic rentals for the flats we provide for the migrant families, so that we must look for flats at a price that will keep the Commonwealth subsidy of these rents to a minimum.
Proposed expenditure and proposed provision noted.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) read a first time.
[9.45] - I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Since March this year a standing committee of Cabinet has been reviewing the whole field of social welfare in Australia. Many suggestions recommending amendments and additions to present legislation have been received and considered by the committee. This process of examining and evaluating all proposals is continuing as the Government is aware that social welfare is an area which should never remain static. Also some of the problems are so complex and immense that prudence demands further study. Tangible evidence of the Government’s policy of increasing social service benefits is the introduction of the States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act earlier this year, whereby the Commonwealth is now subsidising the States to assist mothers of children who are not eligible for benefit under the Social Services Act. The proposals included in this Bill will increase and extend existing social services and, in addition, will introduce new measures to meet areas of particular need; demonstrating our desire to improve the circumstances of the members of the community who are less favourably situated.
Mr President, over a million pensioners and children will benefit from the increases in the rates of pension, wife’s allowance and additional pension for children. You will notice that particular attention has been given to those in our community who are unable to work because of age, invalidity or the necessity to care for children. I will outline briefly the proposals put forward and each feature will be discussed in detail later. The standard rate of age and invalid pensions will rise by Si a week to bring the basic maximum rate to $14 a week. This may increase to $16 a week for a single pensioner who is eligible to receive supplementary assistance. Similarly, the rate payable to widows with children - known as class A widows - will increase by SI a week bringing the basic maximum rate, including mother’s allowance, to $20.50 a week for a widow with one child. To this will be added a further $2.50 a week for each additional child.
The pension payable to widows without children will increase by 75 cents a week to $12.50 a week. The residence qualifications for widows’ pensions where the couple are residing permanently in Australia will be removed. A married pensioner couple will receive a new basic maximum rate of $25 a week following a combined weekly increase of $1.50. This Bill also introduces a special payment whereby the equivalent of two pensions is payable for six fortnightly instalments where one of a married pensioner couple dies. The maximum rate of wife’s allowance will increase by SI to $7 a week and a like increase in payments for children of pensioners will raise the weekly rate to $2.50. An increase of $1 a week in rehabilitation training allowance will bring the rate up to $4 a week and living-away-from-home allowances for unmarried trainees will increase to $5 a week and to $8 a week for married trainees. Associated with rehabilitation work is the proposed introduction of a vocational training scheme for widow pensioners whose entry or re-entry into the work force is inhibited by the lack or loss of skills. The final proposal included in the Bill is to substitute standard for married rate of pension where the spouse of a pensioner is receiving unemployment or sickness benefit.
Mr President, using the consumer price index as a yardstick, senators will be interested to know that the proposed rates of pension, wife’s allowance and additional pension for children are all substantially higher than the rates in 1949 when the Liberal-Country Party Government came into office. To illustrate this .increase, the weekly maximum amount payable to a single age or invalid pensioner in receipt of supplementary assistance will be $6.40 a week more than it would have been if the pension payable in 1949 had been adjusted solely in accordance with the index. Similarly, the amount payable to a married pensioner couple will be $5.80 a week more and a widow with two children will receive $12.27 a week more without supplementary assistance or $14.27 a week wilh supplementary assistance. Many fringe benefits are provided to pensioners by the Commonwealth and together with additional concessions provided by the States, local authorities and some private organisations, the monetary value of their pensions is thereby, substantially increased. I should like to express my thanks on behalf of all pensioners to those private organisations which co-operate with the Commonwealth in this aspect of social welfare.
Every pensioner is entitled to receive free medical, hospital and pharmaceutical benefits. Radio and television licences and telephone rentals are subject to concessions in certain domestic circumstances. In April 1 968 the Commonwealth introduced a hearing aid service enabling all pensioners over 2.1 years with defective hearing to apply to the Commonwealth for the supply of a hearing aid for a hiring fee of $10. All normal repairs and maintenance of the aids, other than the supply of batteries, are carried out without cost to the pensioner.
Many countries outside Australia recognise and accept the need for a differential rate of pension to be paid to single persons, but when the standard rate of pension was introduced into Australia in 1963, some people doubted whether this higher rate for single pensioners was justified. The Melbourne University needs survey has since shown that aged persons living alone are the most likely group to experience poverty. It is true, of course, that some single pensioners are in a more fortunate position than others; it is equally true that the great majority of single pensioners, who, incidentally, represent about two-thirds of all pensioners, are in need of additional assistance.
In dealing with almost a million pensioners, legislation to cover each particular requirement is obviously impossible. Our duty is to alleviate broad areas of poverty and the fact that a small proportion of single pensioners may be in reasonably good circumstances is no reason why the Government should refuse to alleviate the admitted need of the majority. Under the proposal *o increase payments for children by $1 a week another group of persons who may be found to be in comparative want will benefit; these include widow and invalid pensioners with children.
Opportunity is also being taken to correct an administrative anomaly by substituting additional pension for child’s allowance for the first child. Currently, where a pensioner has one child in his custody, care and control, a child’s allowance of $1.50 a week is paid separately to the pensioner or, if he is a married man, to his wife. If there is not entitlement to pension there is no entitlement to child’s allowance. If the pensioner has two or more children in his custody, care and control the maximum rate of pension he may receive is increased by $1.50 a week for each child after the first. This amount will increase to $2.50 a week under this Bill.
Under this proposal all children will be treated the same by abolishing child’s allowance for the first child and substituting additional pension for that child. By adding this additional pension to the basic pension, or in the case of a married pensioner couple, to the husband’s pension - instead of- paying it as a separate allowance - the proposal will extend the limit of income beyond which no pension is payable by $130 a year for a single pensioner and by $260 a year for a married couple. This, therefore, means that some persons with children who are now ineligible will become eligible for pension. In no case will the adoption of the proposal reduce the amount payable below that currently payable under existing legislation. The rights of blind pensioners, or their spouses, to receive the equivalent of the amount of child’s allowance without deduction on account of the means test will be safeguarded.
I mentioned earlier in this speech that it is proposed to introduce a special allowance whereby the equivalent of two pensions is payable for six fortnightly instalments following the death of one of a married couple. This measure is being introduced because of the difficulty experienced by a surviving spouse, particularly one in advanced years, in reducing household commitments and making the necessary re-adjustments following the loss of what could be nearly half the income previously coming into the home.
One condition of the proposed concession is that it will apply to married couples both of whom are actually in receipt of one or other of an age, invalid or service pension, wife’s allowance, sheltered employment allowance or rehabilitation allowance. In the case of persons receiving sheltered employment allowance or rehabilitation allowance, it is a further requirement that, but for the receipt of the allowance, the couple would have been receiving pensions or pension and wife’s allowance. On the death of a married pensioner, and I use the word ‘pensioner’ to include a wife receiving wife’s allowance, the surviving pensioner will receive the equivalent of the two pensions or pension and allowance that would have been payable if the spouse had not died. Any adjustment to the pensions that would have been made if both pensioners were still living will be effected - for example, a reduction due to a child reaching 16 years. Any additional payment, such as standard rate pension and guardian’s allowance, for which the survivor would qualify as a single person, will not be payable. However, where a pension assessed on a single person basis would allow a higher rate of payment, that rale will be paid.
Where the Department of Social Services and the Repatriation Department are making payments to one or other of a married couple, agreement has been reached with the Repatriation Department that the department paying the surviving spouse will pay the six instalments in respect of the deceased pensioner.
Under present legislation the standard rate of pension of $13 a week is paid if a pensioner’s spouse is not receiving a pension or a benefit listed in section 28 (1 a) (a) of the Social Services Act. If the spouse is granted unemployment or sickness benefit the pension rate is immediately reduced to the married rate of $11.75 a week. A machinery amendment to alter this situation is proposed whereby standard rate will continue when the spouse of a pensioner is receiving unemployment or sickness benefit. This reduction in the long-term pension payment is difficult to explain to the pensioner and is not without administrative difficulties to the Department. Frequently, by the time the reduction in pension rate has been effected, the spouse has returned to work and the pension is due for increase back to standard rale.
In the case of a pensioner’s spouse receiving unemployment benefit, there will generally be no change in the total family income by way of pension and benefit but where the spouse receives sickness benefit the family income will increase, under this Bill, by $1.50 a week. This is because sickness benefit is not affected by any income, including pension, received by a spouse.
Migration has performed an important part in the development of our country since the war. The knowledge, skill and enterprise of our fellow Australians who came from overseas are appreciated. During .1966 the Government removed nationality qualifications for age, invalid and widows’ pensions, but our review of social welfare revealed that the current residential requirements are causing misgivings to some migrant women. Under the present law a woman may qualify for a widow’s pension after 1.2 months’ residence if she and her husband, or the man in respect of whom she was a dependent female, were residing permanently in Australia at the time of his death. For a woman who qualifies as a widow for pension purposes by reason of desertion, divorce, imprisonment of husband or admission of husband to a mental hospital, the residence qualification is 5 years. Whatever the circumstances, the position of a woman who loses the support of her breadwinner is financially substantially the same. She is still responsible for bringing up her children and is obliged to meet commitments entered into prior to the loss of her husband’s support. Hardship is currently averted by granting unemployment or special benefit or by State assistance. The latter is now subsidised by the Commonwealth through the States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act introduced earlier this year. Under the Bill now before the Senate, if a widow and her husband were residing permanently in Australia, the widow will immediately satisfy residential qualifications for a pension if her husband dies or an event occurs - for example, divorce - that would bring her within the definition of a widow under the Social Services Act.
Rehabilitation allowance rates will increase and become effective from the same dates as the increase in pension rates, dependent on whether a particular allowance is paid on an invalid or widow’s pension basis. It is also proposed to increase the concomitant training allowance by $1 to $4 a week and the living away from home allowances for an unmarried trainee to $5 a week during the whole of the period of training and for a married trainee to $8 a week during the whole of training, whether or not the trainee has a dependent child. At the present time the allowance for an unmarried trainee is $3.50 a week and is paid only for the first 8 weeks of training. A married trainee without a child receives $6 a week for the first 8 weeks of training and $3 a week thereafter and a married trainee with a dependent child receives $6 a week for the whole of the period of training. The limitations in the payments to unmarried trainees and to married trainees without a child have proved to be unrealistic. The assumption that a trainee would be able to obtain cheaper accommodation after the first 8 weeks is illusory, and furthermore, a married trainee often has to maintain two homes whether or not he has a dependent child. A person undergoing training receives a rehabilitation allowance at the rate of the invalid or widow’s pension that would otherwise be payable in addition to the training allowance and, where applicable, living away from home allowance.
Under the new rates covered by this Bill, a married trainee living away from home, could, therefore, receive $33 a week, or $35 if supplementary assistance is payable, made up of $21 rehabilitation allowance - including wife’s allowance - §4 training allowance, $8 living away from home allowance and $2 supplementary assistance. A single trainee could receive a total of $23 a week, comprising $14 rehabilitation allowance, $4 training allowance and, if applicable, a living away from home allowance of $5, or S25 if supplementary assistance is payable.
Many widows would like to rejoin the work force but are deterred from attempting to do so because of lack of skills or qualifications, or because of the lengthy period since they had been previously employed. To this end an important addition to our rehabilitation programme will bc the introduction of a vocational training scheme for widow pensioners. The proposed scheme will offer widows the opportunity to develop and use their latent work skills and will also prove advantageous from the national viewpoint. These women will cease to be dependent on the pension and will become active members of the work force. More importantly perhaps, many will be assisted and encouraged to achieve their desire for interesting, lucrative work.
The period of training for widows is not expected to exceed 12 months, though this limit should not be considered inflexible, and during this period the widow will continue to receive her pension so long as she remains otherwise eligible. A training allowance of
S4 per week and, where applicable, living away from home allowance will be paid, as well as tuition fees and fares to and from the place of training.
The training to be offered may be either full time or part time, generally at business or technical colleges or by correspondence courses. It may take the form of a refresher course aimed at restoring confidence and bringing up to date a former skill or qualification, or it may involve training for a new skill or different occupation for which there are employment opportunities. Craft type courses may be approved if they are likely to lead to profitable part time employment. Books and equipment required in connection with training will be provided and loans of up to $400 for home employment will be available in the same way as they are for rehabilitees. The training scheme will operate from the date of royal assent.
Mr President, this completes the outline of the proposals included in the Bill and 1 would now like to acquaint honourable senators with some details of the costs involved. National Welfare Fund expenditure on items under the Social Services Act rose from S 1 49m in 1948-49 to almost $793m in 1967-68. The estimate for 1968-69 is $856m. Total expenditure from the Fund was §162m in 1948-49 and $ 1 ,075m in 1967-68, and is expected to be 1.161 m during the present financial year. For the year I96S-69 the increases, improvements and new measures, provided for in this Bill will add S38m to the social services liability. The cost, of the proposals over a full year is estimated al $50m.
Items of expenditure not included in -the National Welfare Fund include payments made under the Aged Persons Homes Act, the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act and the States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act. Since the passing of the Aged Persons Homes Act in 1954, until 30th June 1968, 1.658 grants have been approved at a cost of almost $80m. Under the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act 103 grants costing almost $2m have been approved in less than 12 months. The States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act was assented’ to on 2 1st June last and by 30th June over $200,000 had been paid to the States.
Many suggestions and proposals have been examined by the Government with the object of assisting those people in most need, whilst not discouraging thrift, self help and independence. We have striven to relieve the needs of single age and invalid pensioners living alone, to assist all pensioners with children and to help families who have lost their breadwinners. Detailed investigation is being continued by the Welfare Committee of Cabinet with a view to integrating and improving all aspects of social welfare.
In accordance with established practice, it is proposed that the increases in the various pensions and rehabilitation allowances provided for in this Bill will come into operation on the paydays following the royal assent. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Byrne) adjourned.
Senate adjourned at 10.6 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 September 1968, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1968/19680919_senate_26_s38/>.