14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Wheat, Flour and Bread Industries -Royal Commission - Recommendation by the Commission in regard to allocation of relief moneys to wheat-growers who experienced adverse farming conditions during the 1934-35 season.
Ordered to be printed.
Dried Fruits Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1934, No. 164.
Elections - Informal Votes - Memorandum by Chief Electoral Officer in relation to informal votes recorded in Commonwealth Elections, 1934.
Establishment of Post Office
– For some considerable time a number of people in Port Melbourne have been endeavouring to secure the establishment of a small post office at the station pier, the terminal point of the big overseas liners. I have received a communication requesting me to ascertain what progress has been made in the matter. Will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General make inquiries into it?
– I shall have inquiries made, and advise the honorable member as soon as possible.
– Will the Minis ter for Defence state what amount, if any, of the grant of £600 which was appropriated for assistance to gliding clubs remained unallotted at the end of the year? If the whole amount has not been allotted, will the residue be made available this year on similar terms to those applied in the past?
– At the beginning of 1934, the Government made available, on certain conditions, the sum of £600 to assist gliding clubs.
Only a limited number qualified for the grant, with the result that, at the end of last year, a mere £45 had been applied for. In the circumstances, the Government decided that the grant should apply only until the end of the current year, the feeling being that its continuance would serve no useful purpose. It will, therefore, expire at the end of 1935.
– Will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General direct the attention of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to the present arrangement, under which news is broadcast from 2BL, 3AR, 4QG, and 7ZL each evening at 7.50 p.m.? In view of the desire of country residents to obtain early information of what is happening outside their immediate spheres, will the honorable gentleman request the commission to revert to the practice which was in operation some years ago, of broadcasting news from the different national stations from 7.15 p.m. to 8 p.m.? With a view to keeping the people fully informed in regard to Australian affairs, will he also request the inclusion of a larger proportion of Australian than of foreign news?
– I shall do as the honorable member suggests.
Imports from China and India.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether it is a fact that cotton is being imported into Australia from China and India?
– A certain quantity of cotton is imported into Australia from China, India and Egypt. It is of a different staple from that which is grown in Australia, and is needed for the spinning of certain yarns. In all eases, importations of foreign cotton have first to receive the approval of the Queensland Cotton Board. It is imported by mills that use large quantities of Australian cotton, which they blend with a certain proportion of the foreign article.
– In view of the reply recently given by the Minister for Trade and Customs that the approval of the Queensland Cotton Board had been obtained before the importations of cotton into Australia were allowed, I ask the Acting Prime Minister if this principle will be adopted in regard to all future importations, approval of the various bodies and boards concerned being first obtained?
– The practice of all governments has been to inform their minds by all means at their disposal as to the wisest procedure to adopt.
– At the last elections the parties which comprise the Government expressed themselves in favour of the inauguration of a scheme of national insurance. Will the Acting Prime Minister state whether the Government is taking any steps with a view to the introduction of such a scheme? If so, when may we expect legislation to give effect to it to be brought down?
– All that I can say is that the Government is giving the matter the fullest consideration.
– Has the Minister for Defence had his attention drawn to a report published in the Melbourne press, to the effect that the Premier of Victoria, Sir Stanley Argyle, has stated that no proposals for the development of the Fishermen’s Bend site as an airport have been made by the Commonwealth Government?
– 1 have not seen the report to which tha honorable member refers, but I have heard that some statement of the kind has been made. I dealt with this matter to some extent during the debate on the Loan Appropriation (Unemployment Relief) Bill. AH that I need* repeat is that an offer was made to the Premier of Victoria for the use of the services of federal officers in the making of a report on the practicability and suitability of erecting an aerodrome at Fishermen’s Bend. In order that the Victorian Government might not think that the Commonwealth wished to take advantage of it, a further letter was sent indicating that, in the event of an aerodrome being constructed, and the State desiring to retain control and ownership of the land, no objection to the adoption of that principle would be raised by the Commonwealth. ‘To both of those communications the only reply received is that the matter would be investigated. I propose to revive the subject to see if finality can be reached.
Export to Russia
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties been drawn to the reported statement that representations have been made for the export of 5,000,000 frozen rabbits to Russia in exchange for Russian petrol? Will he give favorable consideration to those representations, as the trapping and freezing of the rabbits would give employment to about 100,000 youths and men?
– I have no knowledge of the proposal. I believe, however, that every one would applaud the trapping of 5,000,000 rabbits, and the employment of 100,000 youths. If the honorable member has any knowledge of means by which Australia’s export trade in rabbits may be improved, I shall be glad if he will bring the matter under my notice.
Proposals tor Victoria.
– Is it the intention of the Minister for the Interior to bring before- the House during this period of the session proposals for the redistribution of Victorian electorates? If so, when will members have an opportunity to study the maps of the proposed redistribution ?
– It is not proposed at present to do other than has already been done - the laying on the table of the recommendations of the Redistribution Commissioners. I shall make inquiries with a view to ascertaining when the maps may be made available to honorable members.
– Will the Minister for Commerce state what was the anticipated yield of wheat in each State during the current harvest, and the approximate quantity harvested? If the yield is lower than the estimate, will the amount of £573,000 that is set aside for the relief of distressed farmers be correspondingly increased?
– The Wheat Commission in its report estimated that there would be a crop of 120,000,000 bushels on which bounty would be paid. The present indications are that the total crop will be 135,000,000 bushels. That would leave a marketable crop of 122,000,000 bushels, which is rather more than was anticipated ; consequently there will be no need to increase the “vote.
– Has the Minister for the Interior any announcement to make in reply to the letter of the South Australian Alliance, which states that it is reported that his department is about to consider the granting of a liquor licence at The Granites?
– I assure the honorable member that it is not proposed to grant a liquor licence at The Granites. No recommendation in favour of such a licence has been made by the Licensing Board, and even if one were, the representations of those opposed to it would be given the most careful consideration.
– Will the Acting
Treasurer state whether the Government intends to issue blankets to invalid and old-age pensioners during the coming winter ?
– I cannot see why this question should be addressed to me. The issue of blankets is not a responsibility of the Treasury.
– Will the Minister for Defence make available blankets for the use of old-age pensioners during the coming winter?
– It is not the function of the Defence Department to provide blankets for indigent persons. I suggest to the honorable member that he direct his question to the Minister in charge of that department which deals with matters of that kind.
– Will the Minister for the Interior take steps to ensure that invalid and old-age pensioners are provided with blankets during the coining winter ?
– I have yet to learn that this is one of the functions of the Department of the Interior.
– Can you tell me, Mr. Speaker, which Minister, if any, is responsible for the issue of blankets to invalid and old-age pensioners’?
– I am not able to give the honorable member that information, and I suggest that he seek it from the Acting Prime Minister.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister tell me what Minister is responsible? In any case, does the Government intend to give blankets to pensioners during the coming winter?
– It has never been the practice of the Commonwealth Government to issue blankets for the purpose mentioned. That matter has always been one for the State Governments.
– Following upon his recent visit to Adelaide, will the Minister for Defence inform the House whether the Government proposes to remove the rifle range at Port Adelaide to another site? If so, has he decided upon the new site?
– The Imperial Chemical Company desires to acquire the land on which the present rifle range is situated, for the purpose of establishing on a considerable scale in South Australia a . salt and soda industry. The department does not wish to stand in the way of the establishment of such an industry if that can he brought about without prejudicing its position in connection with the rifle range. The company has been informed that if another site for a rifle range, equally suitable to the department, can be secured, it is willing to relinquish the present site on certain conditions. The latest advice is that a suitable site has not yet been obtained. Inquiries are still being made into the matter.
– Is the Minister for Defence able to inform me whether, having regard to the increased expenditure on armaments in that locality, a decision has been made respecting the establishment of a landing ground for aeroplanes at Rottnest Island? Has it yet been decided to establish an airport at Fremantle?
– In the Works Bill which was passed last night there is an item of £7.000 for the provision of naval storage facilities at Fremantle, and the establishment of emergency landing grounds in connexion with civil aviation in Western Australia. I cannot say offhand the exact nature of the works which are to be undertaken, but I shall obtain details and forward them .to the honorable member within a day or two.
– In the schedule of the Works Bill passed last night there appears an item of approximately £7,000 to be expended on the Prince of Wales Hospital at Randwick. Will the Minister for Defence state whether the work is to be carried out by contract, or through the State labour exchange for the relief of unemployment?
– So far as I know, the work will be done by the Works Branch of the Department of the Interior, whose practice it is to call tenders and let contracts to private persons.
– Can the Acting Treasurer state what prospect there is that a part of the Commonwealth grant for the relief of unemployment, will be spent on installing sewerage systems in Victorian country towns? I refer particularly to those works recommended to the Commonwealth by the State Government.
– A sum of £1,000,000 was recently appropriated for making grants to the States to enable them to undertake additional works for the relief of unemployment, and many proposals were submitted by the various States for the expenditure of the money. The grant made to Victoria was wholly absorbed on works connected with the repair of flood damage, and there is no additional money available beyond what has already been allotted.
– It has been reported that foreign ships are once more pirating pearls and shell beds in the far north of Queensland. Will the Minister for Trade and Customs state whether it is the intention of his department to place patrol boats in the northern waters?
– Twelve months ago it was decided to place three vessels in commission, one under the control of the Department of Defence, to patrol the Timor Sca, and to be used in connexion with the air mail service; another to be stationed at Thursday Island for the use of the Customs Department; while the third was to be for the Territories Branch. The Defence Department’s vessel is the only one so far to be put into commission, but the Department of the Interior has made arrangements for the construction or purchase of the other two. The matter referred to by the honorable member has not been lost sight of, and pearl poaching will be stopped if possible.
– Will the Minister for Defence state whether it is a fact, as reported in the Melbourne press, that the Government has decided to appoint a corps of federal police officers in Victoria for the purpose of replacing civilian watchmen at barracks and munition establishments? Is it a fact that both uniform and plain clothes men are to be appointed to this body? If that report is correct, is it proposed to appoint similar bodies in other States? What is the proposed strength of the force, and what is the Government’s object in making the appointments?
– My impression was that the honorable member had directed his question to the Minister for Health. If he will repeat it I shall endeavour to give him an answer.
– Will the Acting
Prime Minister inform the House when the report of the chairman of the Royal Commission on the Petrol Industry will be presented to the House?
– I understood that the report would be before the House now, but I have every reason to believe that it will be tabled next week.
– The policy of the Department of the Interior for many years has been to insist that contractors doing work for it shall, in employing men, give preference, first to returned soldiers, and then to members of the Building Trades Federation. Frequent complaints have been made recently that this policy is not now being carried out. Will the Minister for the Interior state whether any alteration has been made in the regulations? I have, myself, seen copies of the regulations with a piece of tissue paper pasted over the preference clause.
– I am not aware that the practice in regard to preference has been altered, but I shall make inquiries.
– Was the
Minister for Defence correctly reported in the Sydney Bulletin of this week as having stated at Canberra that the Government had decided not to interfere with the present voluntary system of military training for another two years?
– I have not made any statement with regard to the duration of the present system of voluntary training, and any press statements on the subject are pure speculation. All I said was that the Government would carry on with the present policy of voluntary enlistment, and endeavour to make the best of it.
– In view of the serious change in the international situation, is the Government prepared to review Australia’s defences in the light of recent events, and compare them with what they were in 1929 and 1930 before compulsory military training was abolished ?
– The honorable member’s question relates to a matter of policy, and it is not the custom to answer such questions.
– Will the Government give instructions to the delegation that is to visit New Zealand for the purpose of entering into reciprocal trade arrangements that the policy of preserving the Australian potato crop from disease shall be maintained at all costs?
– The Government has already taken action to ensure that the quarantine provisions necessary to keep Australian potatoes free from disease should be carried out, and the New Zealand Government is aware of that fact.
– In view of the anxiety felt by meat producers in Australia over the export restrictions imposed by Great Britain, will the Government inform the Government of Great Britain that, unless it permits the importation of Australian meat into England, the whole question of meeting interest payments to British bondholders will have to be reconsidered? Furthermore, does not the Acting Prime Minister think it unfair that meat grown by cheap coloured labour in Argentina should receive preference over Australian meat ?
– The Government has already made the strongest representations to the Government of Great Britain in this connexion. In the main, those representations have been submitted to representatives of the meat industry in this country, and have met with their approval.
– Has the Acting
Prime Minister received a communication regarding trade by barter with Russia, and if so, will he state what action he is taking in regard to the matter?
– I am not in a position to inform the honorable member of any actual approach to the Commonwealth Government in regard to this matter, but I shall look into it and furnish him with particulars at a later date.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister state what are the Government’s intentions in regard to the sitting days of Parliament between now and the end of the session?
– Speaking on the adjournment motion last night, I stated that Parliament would meet on Wednesday of next week and on Tuesday of the following week. If business warrants it, we shall meet on Monday of the third week.
– Is it the intention of the Government to establish a naval depot at Hobart; if not, why not?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.The only answer I can give to the honorable member at this stage is that I shall inquire into the matter to which he has referred.
– In view of the importance of Narromine as an aerial port for aeroplanes employed on the BritishAustralian service, will the Minister for Defence give early consideration to the adequate lighting of the aerodrome?
– Will the Minister for Commerce state whether it is intended to make public a report of the proceedings of the Australian ‘Council of Agriculture, which is to meet on the 15th April?
– The procedure will be determined by the conference itself. In the past, a full report of the proceedings has been made public on some occasions, while on others only a summary has been issued. I can promise the honorable member that at least a fairly full summary will be made available.
– The replies given by the Acting Treasurer, the Minister for Defence, and the Minister for the Interior to the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) prompt me to submit a question to you, Mr. Speaker, Since the Standing Orders prevent honorable members from asking questions which convey information, I desire to know whether the framers of the Standing Orders have been able to devise means of dealing with Ministers whose answers to questions convey no information at all?
– It is not a matter for the Standing Orders Committee. Standing Orders cannot be framed to compel Ministers to answer any questions.
– In view of the fact that many unemployed persons are homeless, will the Minister for Defence consider making the Rutherford Military Camp, in the northern district of New South Wales, available to the unemployed, so that they may be properly housed during the forthcoming winter ? This camp was occupied by them during the regime of another Minister for Defence.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Consideration will certainly be given to any request of that nature from the State Government, if the circumstances are such as to justify such a request.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs been drawn to the remarks of Mr. J. B. Dwyer, a Director of the Australian Natives Association, and an official of the Melbourne Public Library, to the effect that the censorship of political books is conducted in an atmosphere of unwarranted secrecy. In view of the repeated criticism of the present system, will the Minister consider an alteration of it?
– I have not seen th«» observation of the gentleman referred to, but I have noticed other criticisms. Since federation, under section 52c of the Customs Act, any article considered indecent, blasphemous or obscene, is a prohibited import. During the regime of all governments, including Labour governments, the Minister for Trade and Customs has been the authority to decide which are prohibited imports; but,’ since the Lyons Government has been in office, the system has been broadened, and a voluntary board decides which articles shall be prohibited as being indecent or blasphemous.
– But the question has relation to books of a political nature.
– Many books fall within that category. On the subject of seditious and revolutionary literature, a proclamation issued under the same section has had effect since 1921, and, with slight amendments, including the period when the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) was a member of the Scullin Government. Publications, whether pamphlets, booklets, or typed matter which advocate the overthrow of governments by revolutionary means, or the abolition of all forms of law, are prohibited imports, and have been prohibited by various governments of the day. There is nothing covert or secret about the matter.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Defence been called to reports in the press setting out details of the fortifications to be carried out at various ports in Australia? If these reports are correct, does not the Minister think that it would be advisable to do this work without divulging particulars pf it to the world at large, in view of the disturbed conditions prevailing to-day?
– Very little information has been given out officially by the Defence Department on this subject. The view expressed by the honorable member is shared by the department, and most of the statements which have been published in the press are mere speculations by newspaper writers.
Order of Call
– I desire to direct a question to you, Mr. Speaker, with reference to the order of calling honorable members at question time. I understand that the usual custom is to call a member of the Government party and then a member of the Opposition. Perhaps, owing to the way in which the seats of members of various parties are distributed, you, sir, frequently call two Government supporters in succession, but I do not regard that as a proper procedure. In view of the fact that, during the term of the Bruce-Page Government, all supporters of that composite Ministry sat on one side of the House, do you not consider that you would be able to make a fairer allocation of the call if all the members of the Country party sat on the Government side, seeing that a number of seats are empty on that side of the chamber ?
-The honorable member asked me a similar question on a former occasion.
– The honorable member also raised the matter in the House on one occasion, at an earlier stage in the life of this Parliament. The House was then informed of the method of giving the call, which followed precisely that adopted in the last Parliament, and I believe also in other parliaments. The call is given to the right and left of the Chair alternately, but, insofar as there are two parties supporting the Government side, and a number of members of one of those parties sit on the left of the Chair, it becomes necessary to allocate the call as fairly as possible, having regard to the distribution of parties in the House. I have carried out that practice. The present question may be prompted because I recently gave the call to the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), immediately following the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Collins), both of whom belong to the same party but sit on opposite sides of the House. At question time, the Chair does not necessarily give the call in turn to the respective parties, because I think it would be unfair to call one member several times when another member has not been called at all. In the case to which I have referred, the honorable member for Forrest had not risen previously. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn), who rose at the same time, had previously received the call, and, therefore, I gave it to another member on my right, namely, the honorable member for Forrest. The question as to the seating arrangements was raised privately by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), who wished me to instruct all members of the Country party to sit on my right, but I said that I was not prepared to give such an instruction. Apparently the party to which the honorable member for Hunter belongs has ample room. I suggested to the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) that, because of the representations made by the honorable member for Hunter, he might, perhaps, move to another bench, so as to make a whole group of seats available to the Australian Labour Party, New South Wales group. In my opinion, the seating accommodation of that party is ample, and I can see no good reason for crowding the benches on the ministerial side.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister inform the House when it is proposed to continue the debate on the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Bill, and whether, before the debate is resumed, he will make available to members a copy of the proposals put forward by the various State Governments for the carrying out of their part of the scheme ?
– The Government hopes to be able to continue the discussion of this bill at some period next week. To-day I have given instructions, at the request of the Leader of the Opposition, that every honorable member be supplied with a proof of my speech before the train leaves Canberra this afternoon.
I shall see what can be done in the direction of obtaining information as to the activities of the several States in this matter.
Debate resumed from the 14th March (vide page 80), on motion by Mr. Hunter -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This is not a contentious measure, but is merely a machinery bill to ensure to any permanent officer of the Commonwealth Public Service, who may be seconded for appointment as secretary to the Dried Fruits Export Control Board, the preservation of his existing and accruing rights. I am glad to find that some of the primary ‘ producers’ organizations realize the value of having an impartial Commonwealth public servant to handle their affairs. A mistaken idea prevails in some quarters that Commonwealth public servants have not the necessary experience or knowledge to enable them to watch the interests of such bodies as the Dried Fruits Export Control Board, and that it is necessary to employ for that purpose a man connected with the business world; but primary producers who desire to control their own industry have found that appointments made from outside the Public Service, and from amongst individuals who are interested in proprietary concerns, is not altogether satisfactory, a Commonwealth public servant having proved to be the most reliable officer to have as secretary of such a board. It would be unfair if an officer who undertook such a position should suffer any disabilities later in regard to re-entry to the Service, or appointment to another position.
.- The Assistant Minister (Mr. Hunter) should give the House a little more information on this bill, particularly as to the circumstances which have necessitated an amendment of the law, and also concerning the appointments proposed to be made.
– No new appointments are to be made. The Public Service Board has intimated that it could not consent to certain officers continuing to carry out the duties they are now performing unless the law were amended in the manner proposed. It is merely to regularize a system which has been in operation for some years and has given complete satisfaction.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave-read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 14th March, (vide page 81), on motion by Mr. Hunter. -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The canned fruits industry is of great importance to several of the Australian States. An export control board was first appointed in 1926. The present board consists of a member nominated by the Government, a representative of the processing firms, and one elected by the co-operative bodies and canners. Although Tasmania has not received a fair deal from the board which has been in existence during recent years, I have no objection to an exports control board. In 1930 the then Misuser for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) had an interview with the chairman of the board concerning an accumulation of canned peaches in Great Britain, and had the existing conditions altered so that Tasmania could market apricots without having to have peaches to sell with them. It was arranged that for every five cases of apricots marketed in Great Britain two cases of peaches should also be disposed of. That arrangement- was detrimental to Tasmanian producers who did not have any peaches to market, and consequently could not dispose of their apricots until the close of the season, when prices had dropped considerably. I hope that in future the Government or the board will see that the produce of certain
States is not disposed of to the detriment of that of other States. I realize that the Assistant Minister (Mr. Hunter) wishes the business of marketing canned fruits to be placed on a more satisfactory basis. In 1931-32 the quantity of canned fruits exported from Australia totalled 35,348,740 lb., valued at £641,527. In 1932-33 shipments totalling 39,152,500 lb., and valued at £722,597, were disposed of, and in 1933 they totalled 59,770,778 lb., and were valued at £949,206. The board has done good work, particularly when we realize that while other primary products have been selling at a loss the price of canned fruits is fairly well stabilized. As this industry is one in which a large number of persons is employed it should be given every assistance. There are vast areas of land in Australia suitable for the production of different varieties of fruit, and I am sure that the products which Australian fruit-growers are placing on the market compare more than favorably with those of other countries. I commend the Government for including fruit salads in this bill. I offer no objection to the appointment of a secretary, but as the fruit-growers have only one representative on the board, the Government appointing one member, and the proprietary firms another, I presume that the secretary will not have a vote.
– That is so.
– I trust that the Assistant Minister will see that there is no recurrence of the unsatisfactory conditions which obtained in 1930, when the Tasmanian fruit-growers who had to wait until the end of the season before they could market their apricots, incurred severe losses.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 14th March, (vide page 82), on motion by Mr. Hunter -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- It is pleasing to the members of the Labour party to realize that it was found necessary to introduce a form of socialism into the dried fruits industry, which supports probably between 30,000 and 40,000 persons, before it became prosperous. Those who have visited the Mildura, Leeton and Griffith districts have seen the progress made there under a system of closer settlement. They must have also realized the difficulties associated with the haphazard system of marketing which obtained before governmental control was instituted. The position became so acute in 1924 that many of the growers were almost bankrupt, and the industry generally had received such a setback that a complete reorganization became necessary.
– Can the Deputy Leader of the Opposition say what particular feature of socialism was introduced into this industry?
– It was found necessary to introduce a form of State socialism in order to control the industry effectively. I know that it is a fetish of private enterprise that there must be no governmental control of any industry, but a number of Australian industries got into so much difficulty that they had to ask the Government for assistance. In 1924 those engaged in the industry were in such a difficulty that they had to ask for legislation to control the marketing of dried fruits in Austrialia and overseas. The Governments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia realized that it was essential to enact legislation to regulate the trade in dried fruits, including currants, sultanas, and lexias, produced within their boundaries; but as the State authorities had not the power to determine the quantity of these products to be sold overseas, and could control only the marketing operations within their own borders, the Commonwealth Government was asked to pass legislation to cover interstate trade and to appoint a Dried Fruits Export Control Board. This system was found so successful that about two years ago the State Governments introduced more comprehensive legislation, thus providing a further mea sure of State socialism, in order to assist this important primary industry.
– I remind the honorable member that the industry generally cannot be discussed under thisbill.
– The Assistant Minister (Mr. Hunter), in moving the second reading, referred to the action of. the State Government two years ago, and I was merely stressing the point that those governments found it necessary to pass legislation to deal not only with the dried fruits mentioned, but also dried tree fruits - prunes, peaches, apricots, pears and nectarines. The producers asked the Commonwealth Government to pass more comprehensive legislation and that was done. The hill also provides, under clause 3, that two forms of licences shall be issued because those issued to persons handling interstate trade do not cover those in the export trade. I have no objection to offer to the passage of the measure-
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
– Last November the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) asked me if I would obtain from the Chief Electoral Officer a report showing the principal causes of the large number of informal votes cast at the last election for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. I now. lay on the table of the House a memorandum prepared by that officer in relation to the informal votes recorded at the Commonwealth elections. At this stage I do not propose to move that it be printed, . because I do not think that that is necessary. If, with the permission of the House, I read an extract from the report so that it can be recorded in Hansard, I think that that would suffice.
– The report is probably the most important document which could be laid on the table of the House.
– I rise to a point of order. I am loath to interrupt, but I consider that the procedure suggested by the Minister is not quite regular. We are dealing with orders of the day. The stage at which the Minister could properly have done what he now proposes was when papers were presented. In my opinion, the only other time that he could bring this matter up so that members could have an opportunity to express their views regarding it, would be on the motion for the adjournment of the House this afternoon. Is not that the procedure which should be followed?
– The course which the Minister is adopting has been followed on other occasions, and is in order. When there is no business before the House, and before the next order of the day is called on, papers may be tabled. Whether or not the Minister may make a statement with regard to a report which he lays on the table rests entirely with the House. The Minister has not yet asked for leave to make a statement. He must obtain leave before he can proceed.
– I object to leave being granted.
– I shall bring the matter up on the adjournment.
Debate resumed from the 14th March (vide page 83), on motion by Mr. Hunter -
That the bill be now read a second time.
. -The amendments of the principal act, which are contained in thisbill, do not affect any important principle, and, consequently, I have no objection to offer to the . passage of this legislation. I point out, however, that the original act, which this ‘bill is designed to amend, has caused considerable heart-burning. I agree that the dairying industry should be stabilized ; but in the attempt to stabilize it, hardship has been caused to large numbers of small dairy-farmers. It is true that the producers of dairy produce, as a whole, accepted the scheme of control; but only those who produced at least 500 lb. of butter a year were entitled to vote in order to decide whether or not the scheme should be put into operation. In his second-reading speech the Assistant Minister (Mr. Hunter) quoted figures showing a number of producers who voted for the legislation being made operative, and those who were opposed to it. As he pointed out, of the persons, entitled to vote a large proportion favoured a system of control; but those dairy-farmers who produced less than 500 lb. of dairy produce a year, although affected by the decision, had no say in the matter. I realize that this Parliament must take the long view, and deal with Australia as a whole; but, at the same time, it is not right that the small producers should be disregarded. In his address to a recent conference of Commonwealth and State representatives regarding agricultural and marketing matters generally, the Acting Prime Minister (Dr. Earle Page) laid down four important principles, the first, and probably the most important, of which was that means should be adopted to make it possible for Australia to speak with one voice on agricultural and marketing matters. That principle is sound. Nevertheless, I point out that in 1932-33 small dairy-farmers in Tasmania, who individually made less than 500 lb. of butter, sold 2,593,000 lb. of butter, comparedwith 8,470,000 lb. produced in the butter factories of that State. It will readily be seen, from those figures, that the producers of about onefourth of the butter made in Tasmania that year were denied a share in the control of the industry in which they were engaged. These small producers of butter are placed at a considerable disadvantage, inasmuch as they have to pay the levy imposed by this legislation before they receive any return for the butter they sell. That is wrong in principle, and efforts should be made to remedy the anomaly. They have to buy the wrappers for their butter before they can offer it for sale. That means the outlay of ready money, which many of them can ill afford to pay, particularly when, as is often the case, they find it difficult, if not impossible, to pass the levy on to the consumers. I know of many instances in which small dairy-farmers hare received only 6d. per lb. for their butter, out of which they have to pay 3d. per lb. levy. Efforts should be made to remove this hardship. As I have said, I have no serious objection to the bill, because I agree with the Acting Prime Minister that Australia should speak with one voice on agricultural and marketing matters. Only in that way shall we obtain a fair return for our produce. I think, however, that all producers should have a voice in the management of the industry in which they are engaged. Tasmania produces a fair proportion of the total butter made in Australia. Last year, out of an Australian total of 452,000,000 lb. it produced 11,500,000 lb. In 1932-33, its proportion of a total butter production of 419.000,000 lb. was 11,071,000 lb. In 1931-32, when the production of butter in Australia generally was considerably less, the total being 390,000,000 lb., the ratio was practically the same, for of that quantity Tasmania produced 9,462,000 lb. I submit that the small dairy-farmers, who, in Tasmania, make about one-fourth of that State’s butter, should have some share in the control of the industry. I hope that the Minister will take these representations into consideration with a view to removing some of the hardships which the small producers of dairy produce now suffer. [Quorum formed.]
.- I direct attention to an unsatisfactory feature in the administration of this act which should be rectified. Certain unscrupulous butter dealers and factory proprietors, more particularly in Victoria, are buying dairy butter from small producers of less than 10 lb. a week, and who are, therefore, not called upon to pay the levy, and are blending it with factory butter and selling it at the declared price or slightly less. If these small quantities of dairy butter are being used for blending in bulk, the levy should undoubtedly be paid upon them; otherwise the fund is being deprived of money that should justly flow into it. The fact that the levy is not paid on such butter reduces, to a small extent, the price paid to dairy farmers generally for butter fat. I ask the Minister to take steps to prevent the undesirable and unscrupulous practice to which I am now calling his attention.
.- The object of this measure is to permit two licences to be issued to carriers and others under similar conditions to those which apply under our- dried fruits legislation, and I offer no objection to the proposal. It is gratifying to me that such an overwhelming majority of the dairymen of Australia voted in favour of the continuance of this legislation. The figures were : For, 50,747 ; against, 1,416. A good deal of opposition was offered to the control of the dairying industry when it was first mooted. In 1924, while the Commonwealth Parliament was sitting in Melbourne, a deputation from the Australian Dairy Council waited upon the then Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and requested that legislation should be introduced for the control of the dairying industry, but the government of the day decided that it was not expedient to accede to the request. The dairymen of Australia, however, became insistent, and improved their organization to such an extent that the time came when the Government could no longer resist their representations. It was proved beyond question some years ago that the dairy-farmers were the hardest worked and most poorly paid section of the primary producers of Australia. In the large closer settlement areas of Queensland, the dairymen are still having a particularly lean time, notwithstanding that the marketing of their products is controlled, both interstate and overseas, in consequence of this legislation and supplementary legislation passed by the parliaments of the three eastern States. It is unfortunate that the export price of butter is so low. The dairying industry has expanded phenomenally in Queensland. The dairymen are to be complimented upon having established such a wonderful organization. Their fight against vested interests has been more or less successful. Those interested in the success of the proprietary factories of Australia did their best to prevent the enactment of this legislation originally, and also to defeat the efforts to obtain an affirmative vote for its continuance; but they failed to achieve their object. What has been done for the dried fruits and dairying industry by controlled methods could also be done with advantage for the wheat industry. The wheat merchants, of course, are determined to fight strenuously against government control of the industry, but I hope that it will not be long before an Australian wheat pool will be established, somewhat on the lines adopted for the marketing of our dried fruits and dairy produce.
– in reply - I may inform the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), and the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Fisken), that a conference of representatives of all dairying interests will be held in Sydney about the 15th April, when all matters of concern to the industry will be considered. As the Government invariably seeks the advice of the people connected with the industries with which it is dealing, honorable members may rest assured that the points that are brought up at the conference will be carefully considered. The Government will be guided, to a large extent, in its actions by the advice of members of the conference.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 14th March (vide page 77) on motion by Mr. Casey -
That thebill be now read a second time.
.- This measure was introduced last week by the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to repeal certain sections of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, passed by this Parliament in 1932, which authorized the Government to make claims upon the estates of pensioners, and also to call upon certain persons for contributions to reimburse the Government for pensions paid to their near relatives. The Opposition genuinely welcomes the introduction of this bill, and will do nothing to obstruct its speedy passage through the House. This is, however, an opportune moment to reiterate the resentment we feel at the harsh effect that the sections of the act now to be repealed have had on many worthy citizens of Australia. The enactment of this bill will remove one of the blackest pages from the history of the pensions legislation of the Common wealth. By enforcing these particular sections of the act the Lyons Government has unjustly penalized one of the most thrifty classes of the community. Many persons who had given an honorable example of the best characteristics of good citizenship were called upon to suffer through what had come to be known as the property sections of our pensions law. I believe that the Government was prompted to introduce these objectionable provisions by certain impertinent suggestions made by the Auditor-General who, in my opinion, grossly exceeded the scope of his duties, when he took it upon himself to propose that certain lines of public policy should be followed.
– He has done that on numerous occasions.
-We enter our emphatic protest against a public servant occupying sucha high office seeking to lay down public policy. It is quite within the province of the Auditor-General to criticize the form of public accounts, and to deal with matters relating to the audit of them ; but questions of public policy are quite beyond his province, and should be determined by Parliament. The comments of the Auditor-General, probably, misled the Government into introducing the objectionable provisions of our pensions law which are now to be repealed; but. during the time these have been in operation they have imposed cruel hardship on many pensioners. The Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) in his speech in introducing this bill said that the Government had administered these sections of the act with generosity and liberality; but, in my opinion, they could not possibly have been administered in such a way, for they cut right across every cation of generosity and liberality. The Acting Treasurer, in the course of his speech, revealed to us the real true intention of the Government in introducing these provisions, for he said that they were designed to act as a deterrent, to people who,’ though technically entitled to an invalid or old-age pension, were not quite in need of either.
– I said “not actually in need”.
– That is substantially what I said. Without doubt, the introduction of these sections into our pensions law cruelly intimidated many aged and infirm people to such an extent that they either surrendered their pensions, or did not apply for pensions to which they were justly entitled. The former Attorney-General, Mr. Latham, intimated in the course of one speech that he made on this subject, that 12,000 persons had surrendered their pensions, and that it was estimated that another 13,000, who were eligible for a pension, refrained from applying for it. In that way 25,000 persons were deprived, or deprived themselves, of this social benefit because of the intimidatory and unfair methods adopted by the Government in the application of this law. It worked very unjustly upon two sections - those who for various causes surrendered their pensions, and those who were beneficiaries under the wills of pensioners who died after the passing of the act of 1932.
The Acting Treasurer referred to people who were in a . position to maintain themselves without pensions. But many in the first section were sufferers. There were those who, having surrendered their pensions, were obliged to provide themselves with the ordinary necessities of life by increasing the mortgages upon their property. During the two years in which these property sections were operated, these people, in addition to the hardships they were forced to suffer, have sacrificed over £100 each through the surrender of their pensions. Sons and daughters having contributed towards the acquirement of property for the parents, but having no legal documents by which they could subsequently prove any degree of ownership, many parents, with a view to safeguarding the rights of their children to the property, were prepared to forgo the right to the pension. Members of the Labour party have earnestly entreated invalid and old-age pensioners to refuse to forgo this right. I am glad now that public opinion, and here I pay special tribute to the work of the pensioners’ associations, combined with the efforts made by members of this party to have this unjust position rectified, has at last forced the Government to abolish these iniquitous provisions.
– Does the honorable member really think that?
– I contend that it is due to the efforts of members of this party, and to public opinion on this matter, that the Government has been forced by this bill to remedy the position in respect of legislation dealing with claims upon pensioners’” property and claims upon relatives of pensioners. I trust that it will be remedied for all time by this measure, and I go further and express the hope that effective steps will be taken later to rectify every anomaly which has crept into this legislation as the result of this unjust provision.
Mr.Curtin. - The honorable the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) is too polite to ignore the representations made by honorable members on this side of the House.
– This is a voluntary concession on the part of the Government.
– At any rate, the Opposition has constantly protested against this portion of our pensions legislation, and has made every possible endeavour to have it removed from the act as soon as possible. Our efforts must have had some effect on the Government.
I have said that the second section of pensioners most seriously affected by this provision are the beneficiaries under the wills of owners of property who died during the currency of this law. The department, no doubt, has made claims on the estates of these people and has had its claims satisfied. But the result has been to deprive of their rights persons who might have been beneficiaries under wills. The effect of amending this measure will be that beneficiaries under the wills of pen- . sioners who died since the 31st December, 1932, will now be placed in a different position from those who, under this measure, will be enabled to share in estates of pensioners who die after this bill becomes law.
I contend that this measure should apply retrospectively, and I understand, that an amendment to bring about that result will be proposed in committee. I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept that amendment so that the entire provisions of the measure will be made more equitable.
I regret that Ministers have not .Been fit to remove every irritating section of this nature introduced into the act in 1932. Particularly do I draw the. attention of the Acting Treasurer to section 17 fi, which deals with the maintenance of pensioners by their relatives.
– That provision refers to old-age pensioners.
– Its removal shouldbe seriously considered by the Government, because it unjustly affects the claims of those who are rightly claimants for pensions. Its removal would enable a fairer interpretation to be given to the purpose of this legislation as a whole.
There are many other .anomalies in this legislation arising out of the provisions introduced in 1935. I realize that, under this particular amending bill, a wide review of the pensions law is not proposed. However, I feel that a point raised by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), dealing with the harshness of renews by medical .officers on the claims for invalid pensions, should receive serious consideration ; and .on that point I should like the Minister to give the House a satisfactory explanation when discussing this measure. These reviews are not nearly as just or sympathetic as they .might be. It seems to me that in this respect some very vital change has been adopted.; medical officers appear to have the idea that the law must not be applied with sympathy and consideration. Numerous complaints concerning the unfair treatment of applications in medical examinations have been brought under my notice, and I hope that the Government will liberalize the law in that direction and instruct medical officers that they must be .prepared to review cases with due sympathy -and consideration.
I genuinely welcome the bill, and I again express regret that, under earlier legislation, this Government imposed such unfair conditions upon invalid and oldage pensioners and members of their families /by the enactment of provisions relating to claims upon pensioners’ property. The injustice of that legislation was felt .severely in many homes. It is, therefore, gratifying to know that the Government is repealing those sections in the act. It is a pity that it did not go further, and make the provisions of this bill retrospective so that we could entirely remove from the- statute-book the record of legislation which is a hideous memory to so many people in Chis country. The objectionable provisions relating to claims on pensioners’ assets had the effect of placing the property of pensioners in pawn, so to speak, and of converting what, under our social legislation was a right, into a loan repayable at the pensioner’s death. I am glad that this injustice is being removed from pensioners. I am glad that at last they are to get that justic which has been too long withheld from them.
.- I congratulate the Government upon bringing down this legislation. The repeal of those provisions in the act relating to claims on. property will give much needed relief to a large number of pensioners, and remove anxiety and unrest that have existed for some time in many homes throughout the Commonwealth. While I admit that the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) is fully entitled to claim for himself and members of his party, credit for having forced the Government, as he puts it, to introduce this legislation, may I point out that the step the Government has taken is the result, primarily, of strong representations made by many members on this side of the House. Realizing the heartburnings which the property provisions of the law, inserted in the act a few years ago, caused in many homes of pensioners, we placed the facts before the Government. The administration of those provisions led to the disclosure that, unknown to members of their families, many pensioners had claimed and were in receipt of pensions. This caused a certain amount of embarrassment in quite a number of homes.
The Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey), in his speech on the second reading admitted that the amount received under the children’s contributions provisions of the act. was infinitesimal and that the cost of collecting the additional revenue was actually in excess of the sum received.
The one fact that emerges from the operation of this legislation covering children’s contributions is that, the sons and daughters of Australian citizens have done all that could be expected of them in times of adversity. The manner in which, during lean years, they have loyally helped their aged parents is ari effective answer to oversea critics who ure prone to regard the average Australian citizen as a person without sentiment or a sense of filial responsibility. Tn regard to the operation of the property provisions of the law, an unfair burden has been imposed upon a section of our people - with thrift penalized - and it is gratifying to know that they are now being removed from the act.
Every one will admit that, in the great, majority of cases, pensioners with property acquired their homes as the result of much sacrifice, and often with the help of their children. Therefore, as I stated in the last Parliament, they should be left in undisturbed enjoyment of them. Moreover, home ownership is by far the best safeguard against the spread of communism in a. community, and it is an asset to the Commonwealth. This is an additional reason why no unfair burden should be placed upon those who, by thrift and sacrifice, have acquired a home. They are not so likely to be led away by ill-advised political propaganda of irresponsible people. Because I hold these views X. welcome the introduction nf this bill.
An important point to be considered in connexion with our invalid and oldage pensions legislation is that the. passing of this bill will result in a substantial increase in the amount required for the payment of pensions, and so it must be viewed in the interests of both taxpayer and pensioner. It is estimated that, for the present, financial year, the pensions bill will be £12,000,000, and vh tit next year the sum will be larger, lt, is. therefore, obvious that Parliament must face the position. If, as seems; likely, the amount increases to £13,000,000, it. will absorb, not only the whole of the £8,000,000 received from the sales tax, but also nearly one-half of the income tax collection.
The possibility of the introduction of a national insurance scheme has been discussed in this Parliament on” other occasions. It would now seem that if future governments are not to escape a certain amount of embarrassment, due to the increasing claims on account of pensions and other social legislation, the position will have to be faced in the future. The consideration of this important aspect should be removed from the atmosphere of party politics in order that some .suitable scheme may be adopted to finance our pensions obligations. My suggestion is that a non-party parliamentary committee be appointed to make a thorough investigation of the problem, and place before the Government its recommendations to finance an approved scheme. In view of the fact that our pensions and other social legislation absorb nearly 20 per cent, of the total Commonwealth revenue, the need for action along the lines indicated must, I think, be obvious to most honorable members. In our own party we have had an invalid and old-age pensions committee to consider and advise the party with respect to difficulties and anomalies arising out of our pensions law, and I suggest that the same functions could be discharged with satisfaction to all parties in this House by a committee constituted in the manner indicated. In the meantime, 1 fully endorse the proposals contained in the bill, and believe that it will have the approval of the majority of the people throughout the Commonwealth.
.- I, like the previous speakers in this debate, welcome the introduction of this measure, but I challenge the claim of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings) that its introduction was the result of an agitation by government supporters in this chamber. He has told us that, having come in contact with many pensioners and their families, he realized that the provisions in the act relating to claims on the property of pensioners had caused a great deal of heart-burning and that, following representations made, the Government brought down this bill. I contend, and so do other members of my party, that the bill is not the “result of any agitation by members of this Parliament, irrespective of their party affiliations, but that it is the direct outcome of continued agitation by the Invalid and Old-age Pensioners Association, a body which has attained to enormous strength throughout the Commonwealth and has been able to bring pressure to bear upon government supporters.
– I have never heard of it.
– I have been quite unconscious of it.
– On other occasions the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) has hurled jibes at honorable members on this side because of their advocacy of the claims of our pensioners. Now he tells u3 that he has never heard of the Invalid and Old-age Pensioners Association. Some time ago, the honorable member, referring to members on this side of the House, said that we were always ready to jump whenever any of these old men wagged their beards. That was a very insulting remark to level at the pioneers of this country. The Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has also told us that he has never heard of it.
– I did not say that; I have heard of it, but not officially.
– Many Government supporters have certainly heard of this association. I refer particularly to the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) who, when the bill to incorporate die provisions relating to claims on pensioners’ property was brought down, gave it his blessing. On that occasion, he said that it was only fair that, upon the death of a pensioner, the Government should recover from the realization of pensioners’ property some portion at least of the amount which had been paid. That was his view then. I know, because I was at a meeting of pensioners in Hurstville where they had the honorable member for Barton on the carpet. I have no doubt that the strength of this organization began to dawn upon him, because, shortly afterwards, he and other Government supporters, including the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings), took advantage of every opportunity to snipe at the Government over its administration of the pensions law. Their view of the fairness of the property provisions entirely changed when they understood the strength of the Pensioners Association. I say, therefore, that this bill torepeal those sections in the act is the direct result of an agitation by that body, and if it is now supported by Government members, it is not because of their sympathy with the old-age pensioners, but because they consider that their own miserable political hides are in jeopardy.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order ! The honorable member’s remarks are distinctly out of order. I ask him not to indulge in personalities.
– A dissection of motives for the support of the bill might react unfavorably in other directions also.
– At all events I claim, and .1 fortify my statements by the record in Ilansard, that the honorable member for Barton, who is now supporting the bill, was, a few years ago, in favour of the Government claiming on the property of pensioners. This is what the honorable member said on the 22nd September, 1932, when the Financial Emergency Bill was being considered in this House : -
The provision under which the amount of pension paid will, upon the death of a pensioner, he a first charge upon his estate, is a wise one and will prevent a considerable amount of imposition. It is known that, in many cases, persons have parted with their property so as to become eligible for a pension.
Shortly after the passage of that bill the Invalid and Old-Age Pensioners Association, which some government supporters would now like us to believe they had never heard of, brought pressure to bear upon Government supporters and, through them, on the Ministry. I happened to be at one meeting at which some of these old people “ wagged their beards “, as the Minister for Defence would say, to good effect. I therefore repeat that, the pensioners alone, through their organization, have forced the Government to introduce this bill. Some of these old people were driven almost to distraction.
– By the honorable member.
– No; by the administration of the act following the passage of the bill containing the provisions authorizing the Government to make a claim on their property. I have never changed my views about this legislation.
– Yes; always.
– At the outset of the debate on this bill I insist that interjections of a purely personal nature must not be made. If they wish to do so honorable members may address themselves to the measure, but they must not make interjections of a provocative nature.
– It is a pity, sir, you interrupted the honorable member, for I had a very good reply to make to his interjection.
– While I agree that interjections are disorderly, when I am accused of having made a change of front I think I should be permitted to reply. At one time the honorable member for Barton was giving his blessing to an act which gave the Government a lien on the properties of these people. Subsequently, however, when he felt the strength of the pensioners’ organizations being thrown against him he was quite prepared to pander to them for their support.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to discuss the measure and to refrain from personal reflections on other honorable members.
– Honorable members opposite have been influenced not by the fairness or’ unfairness of the act, but by the question of how its provisions may affect votes. Hence’ the change of front on the part of a number of supporters of the Government, which resulted, in June last year, in the Government by regulation suspending section 52m of the act. It is this suspension the bill now before us seeks to validate. Under section 5.2m relatives of pensioners were compelled to make contributions. A bill to validate the suspension by regulation of the operation of this section was brought down at the end of last year just prior to the election, but the -ensuing debate brought forth such condemnation of the hypocrisy of the Government-
– Order !
– At that time there were harsher provisions in the act, yet no effort was made to suspend them. They still operate. For instance section 17 .jo is inflicting even greater hardship, though upon a smaller section of the community, than Section 52m.
– There are extremely few cases dealt with under section 17 fb
– That is the point I am making. Section 52m covered a wide range of people of voting age who were able to make their weight felt. Many people, some of them in affluent circumstances, members of Parliament among them, defied the administration to take them to court and force’ them to make contributions towards the pensions of their relatives. I agree that that section should be repealed. I believe that no son or daughter who is in a position to do so will neglect to contribute to the support of aged parents, but no one who does not wish to do so should be forced to contribute. The questionnaire sent out to relatives contained all kinds of intimate questions and caused so much hostility that the Government, on the eve of the election, proposed to repeal the section under which it was issued. Under this bill provision is now made to achieve that object. But the Government deserves to be criticized over this matter, because it is again prepared to put up a stalking horse, as it did when it brought down, on the eve of the last election, a bill to validate the suspension of section 5.2.m. During the debate that took place following certain criticism levelled against the Government, the present Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) was running round to see how it could be called off. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Hutchinson), who had no intention of speaking to the measure, was put up to secure the adjournment of the debate, and afterwards it was never proceeded with.
– That is not correct.
– The honorable member asked for the adjournment of the debate, and the bill was relegated to the bottom of the business-paper. We have not heard of it since. The matter continued to be governed by regulation, and up to the present day section 52m does not apply, although, as I ha.ve said, other provisions more harsh in their effect were left in the act.
I desire now to deal with section 17 fb, which provides that no person shall receive an old-age pension unless his relatives, namely, husband, wife, father, mother, or children, do not, either severally or collectively, adequately maintain him. If consideration is being given to the unfairness of any section of the act, surely that section is unfair ! I have dealt with specific cases in the House showing how harshly it operates. The Minister, during his second-reading speech, referred to the fact that liberal allowances were made in the case of relatives who were asked to contribute under section 52m. He said that exemptions were granted in respect of a married couple up to £312 per annum, with an additional £50 for each child, and a further allowance for the education of children. But no such liberality is extended under section 17fb, as I shall show. A man at Greta has an invalid son 28 years of age. The total income into the home is £5 a week. He has three other children, none of whom were working at the time, apart from the invalid child. This man has been told that the son is adequately maintained, and that a pension cannot be granted.
– He owns the house?
– The value of the house must be taken into account.
– But in this case the same liberal allowance is not being made as was made under section 52m to relatives in comparatively affluent circumstances. As section 17 fb was inserted in the act at the same time as the other section, why is it also not repealed? Of course, there is a reason for this, and I shall tell the House what it is. There areveryfew fathers with invalid children. Consequently, very few votes are affected. The vote is the main concern of this Government.
– But the honorable gentleman says we do not get any invalid or old-age pensioners’ votes.
– The honorable gentleman is pandering to the pensioners for their support. He spoke previously about the pensioners “ wagging their beards “ ; apparently they wagged them to some effect.
– The honorable gentleman is referring to section 17 fb, which deals with old-age pensions. Invalid pensions are dealt with under section 22 ga, which has a definite proviso-
– All these matters have no reference whatever to the bill, and I ask honorable members to confine themselves to the bill.
– If the Minister will look at the next sub-section 22 h, he will find again a repetition of what is in 17 fb, namely, that no person shall be entitled to an invalid pension unless his relatives, namely, father, mother., &c, do not adequately maintain him, and it is elsewhere provided that what applies to old-age pensions applies also to invalid pensions. Something should be done to relieve the greater hardship that is inflicted upon these people than was being inflicted upon those subject to section 52m.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).In order to avoid the necessity for interrupting honorable members, I wish, for their direction, to point out that the provisions of this bill are confined to the amendment of certain sections of the Invalid and Old-Age Pensions Act, and that, consequently, debate upon the whole of the pensions legislation and ‘ of its administration will not be in order.
– As I understand that the Acting Prime Minister wishes to introduce another measure, I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) agreed to-
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Wheat Growers Relief Act (No. 2) 1934.
Standing Orders suspended; report adopted.
That Dr. Earle Page and Mr. Casey do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Dr. Earle Page, and read a first time.
, - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to provide funds to complete the programme of financial assistance to the wheat industry in respect of the 1934-35 season. The major provision for relief to wheatfarmers is contained in the “Wheat Bounty Act 1934, and the Wheat Growers Relief Act (No. 2) 1934, which were passed in December, 1934, following upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry.
The royal commission advised that immediate assistance should be given in respect of the 1934-35 harvest, and that an amount of £4,000,000 should be made available for disbursement in the following manner : -
The Wheat Bounty Act 1934, provides for the payment of a bounty of 3d. a bushel on wheat sold or delivered for sale from the 1934-35 harvest. It is anticipated that the expenditure under that act will be £1,500,000.
The Wheat Growers Relief Act (No. 2) 1934, provides for the payment of grants to the States of such amounts as are necessary to enable the States to make payments to wheat-growers at the rate of 3s. for each acre sown with wheat for grain during the year 1934. It is anticipated . that the expenditure under that act will be not less than £1,926,750.
– Is this . in addition to the amount that has already been appropriated ?
– This makes provision for the balance of the £4,000,000, amounting to £573,250. The reason why the legislation passed in December did not embrace the full amount was that some doubt then existed as to the proper manner in which the distribution should be made. The royal commission had indicated in its report that the matter would be further investigated with a view to ascertaining the needs of the farmers in the different States, and that a supplementary recommendation would be made at a later date. That recommendation is contained in the special report that I tabled this morning, and the Government is taking this, the first opportunity, to introduce legislation to complete the distribution of the £4,000,000.
The royal commission advises that the most recent data obtained indicates that the amount which will remain for the relief of cases of special adversity out of the total of £4,000,000 to he provided by the Commonwealth Government will be approximately £573,250, and recommends that it be distributed amongst the States as follows : -
The reports of the royal commission refer briefly to the nature of the adverse conditions experienced in each State, and advise that the allocation recommended has not been determined by the application of a rigid formula but rather as a result of the careful weighing of the conditions existing in the several States. The commission has expressed the view that the application of a hard and fast rule would not have achieved an equitable distribution between the States, having regard to the numerous causes of special adversity which must be fully recognized and provided for in any scheme of allocation.
The Government is very anxious that those farmers who have suffered severely from the adverse conditions referred to by the commission shall be granted special assistance at the earliest possible date, and accordingly has brought down this bill immediately upon receipt of its report.
There is no occasion for me to repeat what I said in regard to the condition of the wheat industry when introducing the previous legislation. This bill is to be regarded as one which brings to completion the measures decided upon by the Government for financial assistance to wheat-growers in respect of last season. It prescribes the amounts that are to be granted to the several States in accordance with the recommendation of the commission and specifies that the amount granted to each State shall be applied by it in providing relief to wheat-growers who satisfy the prescribed authority that they have suffered serious loss and hardship by reason of either specially adverse seasonal conditions or extensive damage to their crops arising from the prevalence of pests or disease.
– Will that assistance be given regardless of the financial position of the farmer?
– It will be given to those who have suffered loss and hardship.
– Even though they are in a position to carry the loss themselves ?
– The purpose of the bill is to deal with the case of necessitous farmers.
Debate (on motion by Mr. A. Green) adjourned.
Debate resumed. ‘
– The Government should carry its reforms further, and amend section 17 of the act under which a hardship is inflicted upon those parents who have to support invalid adult children. So small a number of pensioners would be affected by the suggested amendment of section 17 fb, that there can be no valid objection to it. If the Government refuses to grant the relief asked for, it will support the suggestion that, in bringing down the amendments embodied in this bill, it has merely been seeking to catch votes, and has not been actuated by any real desire to afford relief. Unless the Government acts on its own initiative it will be necessary for us to move amendments in the committee stage of the bill to section 17, and also to sections 22 and 23. The Government, should not stand idly by and allow hardships to be inflicted upon the needy. That is a brutal and cowardly attitude to adopt.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).The honorable member is out of order. Such language is distinctly unparliamentary.
– I am sorry that I cannot express myself as I should like; the Standing Orders seem to cramp my style. Sub-clause 6, paragraph c of section 17, states that pensions may be refused to persons who are not of good character. Under that section a pension may be refused to a man who has committed some offence, and served a term of imprisonment for it. When a man is found guilty in a court and sentenced to imprisonment, we must assume that the judge or magistrate has imposed upon him a punishment which is adequate to meet his offence, so that the Pensions Department has no right to inflict further punishment upon him. I know of two men who have served terms of imprisonment, and others who, on account of drunkenness, have had their pensions stopped.
Section 25d of the act states that the property of a married couple is deemed to belong to both. Under that section considerable hardship is sometimes inflicted upon married persons who do not live together. I know one respectable old man who had worked very hard, and had accumulated a considerable amount of property which he had put in his wife’s name. Then they quarrelled, and he left the home. When he applied for a pension it. was refused him, because the value of his wife’s property was more than £800, and no separation order had been obtained. If both parties sign a form provided for the purpose, the pension may be granted, but though I got the old man to sign it, his wife refused. When
I approached her she said, “Let the old fellow go hang; I will not assist him.” She was living very comfortably, but her husband was living in a tent, and suffering considerable hardship. This section has been in the act a long time, too long in fact, and steps should be taken to amend it.
Consideration should also be given by the Government to the manner in which the Pensions Department assesses income. Under the taxation laws very liberal allowances are made -
– I must ask the honorable member to pay attention to my previous instruction. It is not permissible to debate the whole of the Pensions Act in connexion with the amending hill now before the House.
– I was merely pointing out that the same liberal allowances are not made under the Pensions Act as under the Income Tax Act. For instance, the Taxation Department does not regard co-operative dividends as income, but the Pensions Department does.
It has been claimed by honorable members on the other side of the House that the amendments embodied in this bill have been brought forward as a result of the unrelenting fight which some of them have put up on behalf of the pensioners. I think I have made it clear, however, that those same honorable members supported the legislation which inflicted the hardships in the first place. I am proud of the clean fight which has been waged by the pensioners’ organization, which even went into the camps of the “United Australia party, and, by means of circulars, asked its members to explain their actions. The amendments now proposed are due entirely to that organization, and not to any sympathy shown by politicians. Whilst it may be said of the pensioners that many of their comrades died before it was decided that the obnoxious sections should be repealed, those who have carried on this fight must be glad to know that at last the Government has given in, as a result of the representations of their organization. But other amendments of the act are required, and I feel sure that the pensioners will keep their organization intact, in order to carry on the fight.
– ‘Who organized them?
– I am one of those who helped, and I am proud of the fact.
– The honorable member made it a Lang plan organization.
– It is- a non-political organization. I believe that the pensioners of Australia will continue this, fight until the old amount of £1 a week is restored, and until provision for the return of the money taken from the estates of their dead comrades is made retrospective. My party intends that that money shall be paid back, and we shall submit an amendment to that end. From the inception of the Premiers plan, my party has opposed, tooth and nail, all legislation that imposed reductions of wages and social services, particularly in regard to invalid and old-age pensions. We have been consistent throughout the piece, even fighting against governments whom we were pledged to support, when they were prepared to attack the aged and infirm under the Premiers plan. Honorable, members opposite, however, have been most inconsistent, particularly the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane).
This is an important bill, and it will be welcomed by not only the pensioners, but also all right-thinking citizens. After a fight extending over a period of twoand a half or three years, the pensioners are now to receive a semblance of justice in regard to their property. The fight is still on with regard to the amendments which I have foreshadowed. I hope thai the Minister will give serious consideration to my suggestions, particularly in respect of paragraphs c and fb of section 17, h of section 22, and regarding refunds of monies received from estates of deceased pensioners.
– I think it is well that the Government has now agreed to make a clean sweep of the property sections of the act, and also the claims against relatives for the maintenance of pensioners. Ever since the introduction of the property sections in 1932’ the subject of eld-age pensions has been a plaything in the game of party politics. I notice that even to-day there is an earnest desire to say that Codlin, not Short, is the true friend of the pensioners. The scheme regarding the property of pensioners has proved a failure.
It was unfair to the best sections of the workers, it discouraged, thrift, and it never accomplished anything of substantial advantage. I believe that there will be general relief at its abandonment. For my part, I have opposed it ever since its introduction, and I shall have a good deal of satisfaction when it is finally erased from the statute-book.
It has been suggested that further amending clauses should be brought down with reference to invalid pensions, and I agree that there might well be. more relaxation, in some instances, of the conditions under which invalid pensions are granted. This could be carried out without further amendment of the law, merely by more sympathetic administration and a general direction to government medical officers, who are really the arbiters in these cases. On their reports, decisions
Are reached as to whether or not these pensions shall be granted. From the first, the phrase “ permanent incapacity for work “ has been taken to mean, entire permanent incapacity. I have never considered that interpretation to be quite justified. . The hardships of the pensioners have been unduly accentuated by reason of the conditions imposed during the last few years. There are many borderline cases in which the applicants cannot be regarded as unfit for any work. They might be able to do some light work if such were offering; but, in these times, opportunities for light work are so small that a person who is subject to a substantial incapacity is unable to compete with sounder men in the race for employment. It would he a wholesome thing for the Government to issue a general direction to medical officers to have regard to existing conditions, considering not only whether the applicant would be able to do light work if it were offering, but also whether he had a reasonable chance of earning his living under present circumstances. In many cases, applicants for pensions have no chance of obtaining jobs, and refusal of the pension in these instances causes great hardship. Discretion should be exercised, as to the amount of the pension in such cases. There should not always be merely a choice between the maximum pension and no pension at all. Even half the pension would be of great assistance to many who are in distress. This improvement, I think, could be accomplished by sympathetic administration, and I respectfully suggest to the Government that it should intimate to medical officers that they should have regard to existing conditions, and not be too severe in their interpretation of the words “ permanent incapacity for work “.
.- This measure, like many others which the Government has introduced, proves conclusively that it is finding out as time goes on that many of its so-called euros are totally ineffective, and quite incapable of removing the difficulties with which it is confronted. I am glad that the Government has at last realized that those sections of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act with which this amending bill deals can no longer be administered successfully. I realize that its action in this respect is due, not to a change of heart or to the Government now being more sympathetic towards the invalid and oldage pensioners than it has been previously, but solely to the fact that it is uneconomical to endeavour to collect money from this source. It has decided to discontinue this policy solely because it does not pay. Those provisions which were regarded by the Government as having a deterrent effect upon potential pensioners did not operate as it thought they would. The most extraordinary statement which I have ever heard in this House was that of the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) who said that those sections to which honorable members on this side so strenuously objected were inserted to cover persons who, although technically entitled to a pension, were not actually in need of it. After all, what does that mean? The Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act provides in the most specific and definite terms the conditions under which persons are entitled to receive an invalid or old-age pension. These provisions relate more’ particularly to the possession of an income or of property whereby persons can live without the assistance of an invalid or old-age pension. Invalids must produce a certificate of a medical practitioner to prove that they are totally incapacitated, and persons claiming an old-age pension must prove that they have reached a certain age and are not in receipt of any income. They have to satisfy the department that they are entitled to a pension. I am surprised that the Acting Treasurer should have referred to persons “ technically entitled “ to a pension.
– There is a wide range of interests covered by the present law. . Persons in abject need would have no difficulty at all.
– Then I suppose it is a matter of degree. It appears that the Government is adopting a formula such as that used by medical men in connexion with the food necessary to maintain human life. It will not be long before the scales will be introduced with the object of weighing out to the last ounce the quantity of foodstuffs required by the average person, and particularly pensioners. Apparently that 13 the policy which the Government proposes to. adopt in connexion with pensions. I congratulate the Government upon the introduction of this amending bill, but I know that it decided to introduce it only when it found that it did not pay to attempt to administer the existing law. I cannot thank the Government for any change of front towards the invalid and aged, because I know that this is merely a business proposition. Humanitarian considerations do not come into the matter at all; it is merely a matter of pounds, shillings and pence. I am proud of the fact that when this subject first arose I voted against the attack which the Government made upon the aged and the sick.
I also direct the attention of the Minister to the anomaly which exists in connexion with the granting of pensions. Under the present system the department has the right to determine the date on which a pension, when granted, shall be payable. If a pensioner lodges an application, say, on the 1st December, and it is granted perhaps a month later, he should receive it from the date on which the application was made. The department should not have discretionary power in the matter.
– That was liberalized considerably six months ago.
– That may be so, but the department still has discretionary power which, in some instances, deprives a pensioner of his rights for perhaps two or three months.
I understand from the remarks of the Minister that this legislation is not retrospective. The rights of the relatives of deceased persons should be protected. In some instances the department has recorded charges of, say, £10 or £20 against the property of a pensioner, in respect of pensions already paid. Will such claims be held against such proper ties after this legislation is enacted?
– If I understand the honorable member aright, my reply is that immediately after this measure becomes law all such claims will disappear.
– I hoped that that would be so; but I was in doubt because I understand that the measure is not retrospective.
– When it becomes law, everything that has been held to be a debt or a potential debt to the Commonwealth in this regard will disappear.
– There is to be no refund ?
– Although the measure is not retrospective, claims such as those I have mentioned will disappear ?
– It does not apply to money which has already been collected by the department.
– In that case, the relatives of pensioners who die a day before this bill becomes law will lose, while pensioners who are alive after this becomes law will benefit.
– In anticipation of the passage of this legislation, this section of the act has been administered with extreme generosity in recent months.
– The Government should be even more generous, and specifically provide that a pension when granted should be paid from the date on which application was first made.
Sir LITTLETON GROOM (Darling
Down) [2.54]. - I congratulate the Government upon the introduction of this measure, in which provision is made to delete from the act those sections which relate to the property of pensioners, and the collection of money from the relatives of certain pensioners. When these provisions were embodied in the principal act the financial position was most unsatisfactory, and the Government took the view that it was compelled to adopt measures to conserve the revenue. There was no lack of sympathy with the old-age pensioners, but a sense of public duty, and we must give the Government credit for its intentions in taking action in the public interest. Now that conditions have changed, the Government is to be congratulated upon having introduced amendments which will place the old-age pension system practically where it was when the Lyons Government assumed office. I am glad that we have again established that the pension is the right of those who receive it. J. cannot agree with those who altogether condemn the present system, in their desire for the introduction of an entirely new system..
It is well that we should call to mind the difficulties which had to be overcome before legislation authorizing the payment of pensions was first placed on the statute-book. Those difficulties were so great that at that time a pensions act seemed a long way off, but, fortunately, the Government pf the day was able to devise a scheme which made possible the establishment of a general system of pensions throughout the Commonwealth at a date earlier than was thought feasible. At that time it was the only practicable scheme for granting invalid and old-age pensions. That legislation has roved to be a boon and a blessing toundreds of thousands of Australians, including some who were opposed to the system when it was first contemplated.
The Government is acting wisely in introducing these amendments, because some of the legislation which they seek to amend has operated harshly. Sections 17 and 22 placed a prohibition upon the grant of pensions to persons who had, within five years preceding the date of their claims transferred property of any kind exceeding £100 in value, other than bona fide for value. Those provisions operated harshly in the case of individuals’ who, in good faith, made gifts which, when made, were not thought to affect their pension in any way. That prohibition is now to be repealed. Section 52a also goes out, and the result will be a cessation of tho3* irritating inquiries relating to the real property of pensioners and their relatives. Even if a pensioner acquires property exceeding the value of £400 after having received a pension, he will not, if this legislation is passed, be called upon to repay to the Government the amount of pension paid to him to the extent to which the value of the property exceeds £400. Henceforth pensioners will be able to deal with their own lands without having to notify the registrar, and, in default, being subject to certain penalties. Section 52e also goes out and in future, the Crown will not forward claims and ask for the repayment of pensions from the proceeds of estates of deceased pensioners.
– Did the honorable member say that a pensioner who acquired property worth £400 would not have to repay the amounts paid to him as pension?
– Section 52c(l) reads -
Where a pensioner becomes the owner of property (not including the home in which he resides)* of a value exceeding £400 he shall repay to thu Commissioner the amount of pension paid to him after the 31st day of December, 1932, to the extent by which the value of the property (not including such home) exceeds £400.
That section which has in certain cases operated harshly is to be repealed, and consequently, there will be a feeling of relief throughout the community. Claims upon the relatives of pensioners, which, to its credit, the Government has not enforced for some time, are also to disappear. When that legislation was introduced I pointed out that it would not be effective, as the experience in Victoria in connexion with similar provisions proved. I objected to it on principle, not because of the amount involved. A pension is a grant to the pensioner, and has nothing to do with the actions of his children. It is the right of every old person that because of the part he has played as a citizen of his country he should be relieved of adversity in his old age. It was wrong to put an applicant for a pension in the position that,, because of his application, his children might have to face a number of actions in the police court to compel them to contribute to his upkeep. That provision has gone for ever, and the pension is now established as the right of the pensioner; there I hope it will remain. An old-age pension is a grant by a grateful community to men and women who, in earlier life, did their part in helping to build up the Australian nation, and who in their declining years have found themselves in adversity.
The figures quoted during this debate show clearly that on the whole Australians are prepared to do their duty by their parents. That also is the experience of most honorable members who have dealt with applications for old-age pensions’. The Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) said that as a result of an inquiry into the property possessed by old-age pensioners, it was found that of 177,000 pensioners, 70 per cent, had no estate at all from which the Commonwealth debt could be recovered. Those persons were clearly entitled to a pension. The inquiry revealed that of the remaining 30 per cent., 11 per cent, owned their own homes, but no other property. That indicates the thrift of many of those who, late in life, were forced to accept assistance from the Commonwealth. The average net unencumbered value of their homes is £285. About 5 per cent, of pensioners own other property besides their homes, the average value of such property being ‘ £62. The balance of 14 per cent, do not own homes, but own other property of an average value of £49. The very interesting analysis to which I have referred does a good deal to remove misunderstandings, and to demonstrate that the pension system is really benefiting the people whom it is intended to benefit. Most pensioners have no property at all. Others with property of very limited value should be allowed to transmit it to relatives upon their decease. General satisfaction will be felt throughout the Commonwealth at the action which the Government is now taking. It is credit able to the Government that it should bewilling to amend what may havebeen in some respect an error of judgment in the introduction of these provisions - I am sure that there was no hardness of heart. I congratulate the Government upon the introducon of the bill, and I shall certainly support the measure.
– It is difficult for an honorable member to say what he would like to say upon this subject, in view of the ruling which has been given by the Chair - a ruling which I am obliged to admit is sound. On behalf of the pensionersof my own electorate, and pensioners generally, I offer hearty thanks to theGovernment for the measure of reform which is being effected, and I attach no tag to my thanks. My attitude on this subject has been consistent. I have always believed that it was economically wrong and inhuman to introduce these provisions. The Government will yet discover that the policy of expanding the spending power of the people, includingour invalid and old-age pensioners, will be the wisest one to adopt to rectify our economic troubles.
I should like, however, to direct the attention of the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to two pension, anomalies which may appropriately be discussed under this bill, and in respect of which some remedy is desirable. It has been ruled that, according to a strict interpretation of the law, a person who has what iscalled a reversionary interest in an estateis not entitled to a pension, although hemay be eligible in every other respect. In many cases pensioners with these reversionary interests are drawing nothing whatever from the estates concerned, and, because of their age. and the conditionsattached to the winding-up of the estate, it is highly unlikely that they will ever receive any personal benefit. In these circumstances, it is quite unfair that they should be deprived of a pension. The Acting Treasurer has intimated that, with the law as it stands, no other ruling can be given. If this is so, it would be fair and proper to amend the law to allow such persons to obtain the pension. If, subsequently their reversionary interest
La the estate concerned yielded them an income, the pension position could he reviewed.
– The Government is hound by legal advice on this subject.
– I understand that; but I suggest that an amendment of the law should be introduced to entitle persons eligible for pensions in every other respect to obtain them at least pending the receipt of actual income from their reversionary interest in an estate.
I wish to emphasize a point made by one of the members of the New South Wales Labour party regarding pensioners who are afforded an opportunity of going abroad at the expense of some other person, and who, on their return to Australia seek a restoration of their pension. In some cases, because, it may be, of departmental delays, but in other cases because of soma accidental remissness by a police officer or a shire council clerk, it takes anything from three to nine months to secure the restoration of such pensions on the return of the people to Australia. I know a pensioner who went abroad under the circumstances which I have related, who is nearly £100 out of pocket because of delays in the restoration of his pension on his return to Australia.
– Will the honorable member furnish me with particulars of that case?
– I shall be glad to do so. I trust that something can be done to remedy the injustice under which that pensioner is suffering.
It is highly desirable also that a definite decision shall be made as to the conditions governing the first payment of pensions. At present a person who applies for a pension may not get it for months, though ultimately it may bc granted on the exact grounds of the original application. In such cases the pension is payable only as from the fortnight preceding the date of notification of the granting of it. .That seems to me to be unfair. If a pensioner’s application is found to be sound, I submit that the pension should be payable from the date of the application. If that cannot be done, at least there should be some definite provision covering the period during which the application hangs fire.
I trust that the day is not far distant when the Government will see its way clear to restore the pension to £1 a week. I know that provisions have now been made to adjust pensions according to fluctuations in the cost of living; but it would be gratifying to everybody if the Government could restore the pension to £1 a week, the figure at which it formerly stood.
I do not want to stint my thanks to the Government for having introduced this bill; nor do I suggest that it has been done for purposes of political expediency or any other unworthy motive. The passage of the bill will be a great relief to many pensioners who are now subjected to a good deal of mental worry because of the fear that the home in which they and their families may have lived for 40 or 50 years and which, in their opinion, really belongs to their children, may ultimately pass to other hands. These homes, in many oases, are worth not more than £200 or £300 ; but a good deal of family sentiment attaches to them, and many old people regard with great distress of spirit the thought that the property may ultimately pass into the hands of strangers. These were the views expressed by many to me when I asked them not to give up their pensions because of the provisions which this bill wipes out. I say, in all seriousness, that, as a result of that legislation, many old people have died a year or two sooner ‘ than they would otherwise have done. It certainly will be a great relief to the old people pf this country to learn that the Government has removed these obnoxious clauses. I congratulate the Government in bringing this measure forward, and I hope the day is not far distant when it will go further and at least restore the invalid and old-age pensions to £1 a week, the rate at which they stood before the cut was made.
.- I congratulate the Government on the introduction of this bill to remove from the principal act the two very obnoxious sections dealing with the property of pensioners and the support of pensioners by relatives. Personally,” I was never in favour of them, and I believe that very few members on either side of this House approved their introduction. The enactment of these provisions has served no good purpose at all, but has had an effect rather the reverse of that hoped for. For instance, it has supplied one section of honorable members opposite with cannon fodder, the full force of which the Government has had to withstand during the last three years. I remind honorable members opposite, some of them particularly, that a Liberal government was responsible for the introduction of invalid and old-age pensions in Australia. Pensioners owe all that they have received in this direction to Liberal and Nationalist governments. The system was inaugurated by a Liberal government, the rate of pension then being fixed at 10s. a week. Subsequently, by two alterations, this amount was increased by a Nationalist government to 15s. Then. I think, a Labour government came into power, and, on the eve of a general election, the pension was again increased. The Minister for Health (Mr. Hughes) and Mr. Higgs were responsible for this rise, and they are both now anti-Labour.
– I am congratulating the Government on the introduction of this measure and pointing out that, as a result of the provisions which this bill proposes to amend, the Government, during the last three years, has been subjected to continual fire from honorable members opposite. I was hoping, Mr. Speaker, you would bear with me for a few minutes while I gave a brief history of this legislation.
– Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to do so on this bill.
– The only claim that the Opposition can make in connexion with old-age and invalid pensions is that they were the first to reduce them by 2s. 6d. a week.
– Order ! The rate of pension is not under discussion.
– I agree entirely with the suggestion made by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings) that the time is fast approaching when other methods will have to be employed to deal not only with the pension problem, but also with the whole question of social service. The honorable member referred to national insurance. When, the Lyons Government first came into power it took up that matter seriously and appointed a committee to inquire and report whether it was possible to inaugurate a scheme of national insurance, particularly against unemployment. I was a member of that committee. We met on many occasions and, finally, were forced to the conclusion that such, a scheme could not be gone on with at the time in view of the financial depression not only in Australia, but throughout the world. National insurance, we decided, could be proceeded with only after the world financial position had improved. It was considered that one of the biggest difficulties in connexion with such a scheme would be to make reasonable provision for men out of work, since with so many thousands of men unemployed in this country this would involve the expenditure of a very large amount weekly. Under those circumstances it was thought wiser to delay action along those lines. Social services in Australia, including pensions, cost over £23,000,000 annually, or one-third of the Government’s total revenue of from £57,000,000 to £60,000,000.
– And why not?
– I am not opposed to pensioners receiving from the Government any amount to which they are entitled, and ‘I believe it is the intention of this Government, as soon as the financial position will permit, to restore the pension to £1 per week.
– Order ! I have not allowed other honorable members to touch on that point.
– I am not entirely satisfied with the administration of our pension legislation. A case which came under my notice some time ago and is now being considered by the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) was that of a claimant for an invalid pension who, over a period of two years and four months, had received a medical certificate monthly, or 28 certificates in all, as to his unfitness to work. That man is unable to work, yet he is refused an invalid pension. Such cases should be investigated and remedied.
.- There is no piece of legislation for which this Government is responsible that we welcome more gladly than the bill now before us.
– “What about Moscow?
– It is the nearest approach to the retreat from Moscow, ou the part of the Government, that I have witnessed. In the dismal atmosphere surrounding this retreat, it was remarkable to hear the humorous suggestion made by the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey) that this piece of legislation is a further evidence of the Government’s policy of liberalizing pension legislation. As a matter of fact, the Government is only giving back piecemeal something which it took from the pensioners. If the Minister calls that a liberalizing process, he is stretching the King’s English a little too far. A second humorous statement made by the Acting Treasurer was to the effect that it had been the intention of the Government to bring down this particular legislation prior to last Christmas, but that owing to pressure of government business at that time, its attempt to amend the Invalid and Old Age Pensions Act along these lines had to be abandoned. I do not think anybody outside a lunatic asylum would take that statement seriously. The real reason why the Government withdrew the measure introduced at the time was that it was presented in such a form as to permit of certain further amendments being moved and the Opposition took advantage of the position and moved for the restoration of the pension to fi a week. This the Government did not desire, and believing discretion the better part of valour, it abandoned the bill and accomplished by regulation, instead of by legislation, what it. now proposes to do. It is interesting to recall statements made in 1932 by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the then Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), when the amendments of the act, which this bill wipes out, were introduced. The Prime Minister pointed on that occasion to the huge burden of pension commitments, and said the Government had found it necessary to discover some way of easing that burden. He claimed that there were a large number of well-to-do people in the community who, regardless of their own responsibilities to their parents, were prepared to allow the latter to draw the pension”. He claimed that that legislation would be of considerable assistance to the Government in meeting the pensions bill. But what do we find? At that time the pensions bill was £10,500,000 a year, and in the two years during which the sections relating to the claims on property were in operation, the assessments made amounted to £6,698, while the actual amount received by the Government was only £2,4SC. I invite honorable members to image the distress tha t was caused to pensioners and their relatives, and the extent to which pensioners and their relatives were harassed, and to consider the enormous cost of sending out circulars requiring pensioners to furnish particulars of the assistance received from relatives, and measure it all against the paltry amount received.
The Minister was rather ill-advised in dealing with the effect of this law upon pensioners owning property, because what lie had to say really exposed the absolute futility of the insertion of those provisions in the act.
The Prime Minister said at the time that the Government would be able to recover an enormous sum of money from the estates of deceased pensioners. Let us examine the position and see how much the Government could have obtained even if it had collected the full amount claimed. According to the Acting Treasurer, the particulars relating to 177,000 pensioners showed that 70 per cent, of them had nothing at all in the shape of property against which the Government could make a claim at their death. Pensioners who owned their own homes but no other property constituted 11 per cent, of the total, and the average value of their homes was £285. A single pensioner gets £45 10s. a year, so if his home was of the average value, namely, £285, his pension payments would, within seven years, be equal to the amount of his equity in his property. The pension payable to a man and his wife is £91 a year, and if their home was of the average value, their equity in it would be lost to them within three years. The Government would then own it. If these provisions had been enforced from the date of the passing of the bill in 1932 a single pensioner owning a home of the average value would lose it in 1938 and married pensioners, assuming their home was of the average value, would lose their equity in it in 1935. If this is not confiscation I should like the Acting Treasurer to explain what it is.
– Actually no pensioner has lost his home.
– I am not saying that any one has. But the object of the 1932 legislation was to recover in this way all payments made to a pensioner between December, 1932, and the date of his death.
The Minister also referred to another section of the pensioners, namely, those who owned both a home and other property. The figures revealed that the average value of other property was £62. Assuming that the property provisions of the law had been enforced, a pensioner and his wife owning other property of the average value stated would lose it in nine months. The figures also show that 14 per cent, of the pensioners possess other property but do not own their own homes, and that the average value of this property is £49. In the case of a single pensioner this would go to the Government in twelve months, and in the case of a pensioner and his wife it would be lost to them within six months.
In 1932, when we were protesting against the Government’s proposals, we urged that if the property provisions were enforced the Government would have to confiscate the homes of all the pensioners, or else it would be obliged to abandon this legislation. We welcome this opportunity to support the bill, because it bears out everything that we had said in opposition to the 1932 measure. It has not had the effect of easing the burden on the budget, but it has caused a great deal of distress to pensioners and their relatives. A considerable number of pensioners, about 12,000, refused to allow the Government to take a mortgage over their property, and temporarily abandoned their claims to a pension. Gradually, however, the pressure of economic circumstances has forced them back to the pension list.
This bill is a complete justification of our criticism of the Government’s proposals two years ago, and is an ignominous retreat oh the part of the Government from the course which it then pursued.
The Acting Treasurer has asserted that there is no evidence that hardship has been inflicted upon any section of pensioners by this legislation which is now to be repealed. We were told at the time that its purpose was to impress upon the relatives of pensioners some sense of their responsibility. As a matter of fact, on every occasion when the Deputy Commissioners in the various States discovered that the sons or daughters of pensioners were assisting to maintain their parents, the Pensions Department reduced the pension payable. Apparently, the Government took the view that the near relatives of pensioners must contribute to their support in order to assist the budget, then when it found that a certain number were doing this, the pensioners themselves were penalized.
I repeat that I am pleased that the bill has been introduced, and it will have my whole-hearted support. The only thing I am sorry for is that the legislation which this bill repeals has caused so much distress to the aged people in this country because of the fear of what might happen to their property following their death. It is all very well for the Acting Treasurer to say that no homes have been confiscated by the Government. He cannot get away from the fact that, in the administration of this law, some pensioners were hardly in their graves before government officials were making demands upon relatives to see what could be obtained from the insurance policies in the names of deceased pensioners. While this legislation was in existence not one insurance policy belonging to any person in this country who might by any conceivable set of circumstances become a pensioner was safe from seizure by the Government. I have been able to demonstrate, not only to the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Casey), but also to officers of the department, that the Government has come in for the remains of an insurance policy as miserable and small as £40. Relatives (have been harassed by the Government’s desire to get this money, and its efforts have not been confined to demands upon those relatives who are in a position to treat lightly the claims made against them. But the unfortunate circumstance is that thousands of pensioners in the community have been so harassed by this legislation that the amount of distress of mind created amongst the pioneers of this country cannot be measured in words. At least if the Government has made no charge against the estates of these people the removal from the statutebook of this legislation will give pensioners the peace of mind to which all honorable members agree they are rightly entitled.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -
That the question, be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma.
– I desire to make a personal explanation regarding the ordinary rotation in which honorable members receive the call from the Chair.
Order! The honorable member is not making a personal explanation.
– It is a personal explanation inasmuch as you, sir, did not give me the call when I rose to speak on the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill.
– The honorable member will resume his seat.
– I do not mind resuming my seat so long as you give me an opportunity-
– Order ! I shall name the honorable member if he does not obey the direction of the Chair. If lie wishes to make a personal explanation he may do so; but I remind him that he has been long enough a member of this House to know the terms in which a personal explanation may be made.
Adelaide Municipal Tramway Employees - The Honorable Member fob Barton and Old-age Pensioners.
Motion (by Mr. Archdale Parkhill) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn
.- I desire to bring before the House a matter affecting the employees of the Adelaide municipal tramway service ‘which may result in a serious industrial dispute, because it is stated that efforts to have the m fitter dealt with by the Arbitration Court have failed. I take this opportunity to ventilate the matte;r in order that ‘ the Government may be able to adopt such measures as may be required to correct a very serious anomaly in respect of the procedure adopted by the Arbitration Court. The members of the tramways employees organization in Adelaide, by the decision of an overwhelming majority, sought to secure from the court an order for the rescission of an order made by Judge Beeby covering the rationing of employees in the Adelaide Municipal Tramway Service. But the representatives of the Tramway Trust, I am informed, contended that such action, would mean a reduction of . the number of employees. The members of the organization, which comprises the whole of the employees in the tramway service, by a very substantial majority, determined to ask the court to revise its decision, in order that the men might be employed on full time for full wages. The Municipal Tramway Trust, since the rationing was introduced, has, I understand, granted to the general public travelling concessions to the value of £25,000 per annum. Although this was mentioned before the Arbitration Court, the court Was not prepared to proceed with the hearing or take that fact into consideration, and refused to make any alteration in the order, which continues to operate. If it is correct that the tramway trust is in a position to make concessions to the travelling public, surely it should be prepared to employ its staff on full time. No one wishes to see men deprived of employment, and possibly the granting of this request would not result in a reduction of the staff at present employed. The court should have heard the case, and made its determination on the facts presented. But it definitely and deliberately declined to have placed before it facts that could have been presented to it, and therefore is not functioning in the manner expected of it. The attitude that it has adopted is giving intense dissatisfaction. Without placing any indignity upon the court, or transgressing the rules of etiquette governing the relations of the court and the parliament, the Government could well suggest that it might hear the evidence that can be placed before it in substantiation of the claim for an improvement of the conditions in the tramway service and the removal of a most objectionable feature in the working arrangements - the rationing scheme that has been in operation for some time.
In the consideration of the legislation that has been before the House this afternoon, it has not been permissible for one to appeal to the Government to give early consideration to the restoration of the old-age pension rate to a maximum of at least £1 a week. During this weekI have received from the Blind Workers’ Association a request for the consideration by the Government of an improvement of the conditions of pensioners. If there issolid foundation for the claim of the Government that there has been an improvement in the financial position of Australia, it surely ought to be prepared to make an early restoration of the rate to at least £1 a week.
. - I desire to discuss a matter that was raised to-day in connexion with pensions, when an attack was made upon me by certain members of the New South Wales State Labour Party. [Quorum formed.] As those honorable members have ready access to a particular journal in Sydney, it will be alleged frequently in the columns of that publication that, having attacked me in this House, I was not game to discuss the subject of pensions. I very greatly regret that peculiar circumstances, over which I had no control, enforced silence upon me. It appears to me that a certain degree of friendship is displayed towards certain honorable members. I feel that I was denied the privilege of addressing the House when I was rightly entitled to the call. I rose on three occasions, two of which were prior to the rising of the honorable member on this side of the House who received the last call. I have always believed in the impartiality of the Speaker of a legislative chamber-
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order !
– And I still think that you are impartial.
– Order ! I direct the honorable member to withdraw the insinuation that he has just made, which is a reflection upon the Chair, and to apologize to the Chair for having made it.
– I withdraw and apologize to the Chair for what I said before I added that I believed the Chair was impartial. My words were, that I had always believed in the impartiality of the Speaker in this and other parliaments, and I emphasized my belief that you, sir, are impartial. I am sorry if you did not understand what I said.
– Order ! I leaveit to the House to judge whether that is what the honorable member was understood to infer.
– I sincerely trust that the well-known precedent which has been established in all Parliaments - that honorable members shall receive the call in rotation as they rise, the first to rise being the first called - will continue to be observed. I know that no record can be produced to show that I rose twice before the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey) first rose. However, I suppose that I must accept that treatment at the hands of an impartial Speaker-
– Order !
– And I gladly do so.
– Order ! The insinuation is made in such a way that no honorable member can misunderstand it. The honorable member for Barton has pretended - I cannot use any other word - that he was not impugning the impartiality of the Chair. For the moment I overlook his insinuation. In the case to which he has referred I gave the call to the honorable member for Adelaide. So far as I can see, the honorable member for Barton has no cause for complaint. The right, of the honorable member for Adelaide to the call is equal to his. I realize, of course, that when a debate is restricted - and it was restricted to-day because of the application of the closure - honorable members sometimes feel aggrieved if they miss the call. This, however, is the first occasion during my occupancy of the Chair upon which an honorable member, feeling that he was entitled to the call, has deliberately accused the Speaker of unfairness.
– I desire to make a few observations concerning the personal attacks that have been made upon me by certain honorable members opposite. 1 understand that during my temporary absence from the chamber it was said that on many occasions I had made certain statements, and had subsequently gone back on them. As a matter of fact, the honorable members who have attacked me conspired during the last election to misrepresent the whole of my statements in this House upon the subject of pensions. They even went so far as to make quotations from Hansard. They had a fair go, and stuffed the rolls in the Barton electorate with the names of electors who rightly belonged to the divisions of Cook and West Sydney, yet even so,- were unable to get near my heels for dust. My statements on the subject of pensions have been very clear. I admit having said, when the Financial Emergency Act was under consideration in this House, that we all. regretted the necessity for any of the cuts that were made. I believe that government members will bear mc out when I say that I strongly opposed the whole of the provisions of that act in the place where honorable members have better opportunities to influence the character of legislation than are afforded to them in this chamber.
– Order ! The honorable member is now referring to legislation that has been partially debated, and is still before the House. He may not anticipate the debate upon that matter.
– By way of a personal explanation, I am replying to attacks that have been made upon me: because of the attitude that I adopted. ‘
– Order ! The honorable member is referring to a bill that is still before the House.
– On a point of order, 1 submit-
– There is no point of order involved.
– I submit that, as tha second reading of the bill has been passed, I shall not have an opportunity to deal generally with its principles. 1 claim the privilege of a personal explanation with respect to the attacks that certain honorable members have made upon mc in connexion with this matter.
– The honorable member may not, under cover) of a personal explanation, or in addressing himself to the motion for the adjournment of the House, anticipate debate on a bill which is still before the House.
.- The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) appears to be rather touchy, both inside and outside the House. I desire to bring under the attention of the Minister responsible for pensions the attitude of the honorable member for Barton towards pensioners. On moN than one occasion pensioners resident in the Barton electorate have found it desirable or necessary to go to an honorable member other than the member for Barton in order to have their affairs attended to. That is readily understandable, because I do not think that any member of Parliament can be regarded as the sole property of his own electorate, and a. person who feels himself aggrieved at his! treatment by the Pensions Department should have the Tight to go to whomsoever he pleases. Other honorable members have, upon occasion, dealt with pension cases in my electorate, and I do not blame persons whose political opinions differ from mine from refraining from coming to me. However, the honorable member for Barton is continually squealing, ‘both inside and outside the House - -
– The attitude of the honorable member for Barton- towards pensioners outside the House is not. within the control of Parliament, and its discussion is not permissible.
– I am referring to the action of those who mislead pensioners Regarding their right to approach members of Parliament. Two years ago, the honorable member for Barton, among others, protested to the Minister responsible for pensions against persons other than himself doing pension work in his electorate. As a result, ever since that time, the Pensions Department has sent a copy of its communications to the member for the district, even when the original inquiry has been made by some one else. I do not object to that, but what I do object to-
Motion (by Mr. Lane) put -
That the question be now put.
The. House divided’. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.4 p.m.
The following answers to questions were- circulated:
s asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
The further information desired by the honorable, member is not at present available, but will be communicated’ to him as early as practicable.
Australian Tobacco Industry.
e. - The information is being obtained, and will be furnished as- soon aspossible, in answer to a series of questions asked by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. McEwen) relating’ to Australiangrown tobacco.
k asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable- member’s questions- are as follows : -
AustralianCommonwealth Line of Steamers.
d asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. The ships were sold for £1,900,000 sterling. Of . that sum £3,237,902 : has been received and £662,098 is still owing.
Motor Body Panels.
e. - Theinformation is being obtained, . and will be furnished as soon as possible, an . answer to a series of questions asked : by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey) regarding the motor body-building industry in ‘South Australia.
Y asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Acting Treasurer, upon notice - ,
What is the total amount that has been paid in bounty on the production of sulphuric acid or sulphur produced in Australia from 1922 to 31st December, 1934
e asked the Acting Prime . Minister, upon notice -
– - I refer the honorable member to the reply given to him in connexion with . this matter by the Prime Minister on 13th December, 1934 (Parliamentary Debates No. 10, page 1282).
Trade with India.
e. - The information is -.being obtained and will be furnished as soon as possible in answer to a series of questions asked by the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) regarding trading facilities with India.
r. - On the 14th March, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) asked the following questions, upon notice -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 March 1935, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1935/19350322_reps_14_146/>.