14th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– It has been stated that invalid and old-age pensioners will not receive the proposed increase of the rate of pension unless the validating legislation is passed by this Parliament before the 9th September next. If that be so, will the Treasurer expedite the ‘ passage of this legislation, in order that pensioners may derive immediately the advantage of the increase? I also desire to know whether the Government proposes to abandon the cost of living adjustment in respect of pensioners.
Mr.Curtin. - This is absolutely indecent.
– I had proposed to ask leave of the House to introduce to-day a bill to amend the Invalid and OldAge Pensions Act. I give to the Leader of the Opposition the assurance that I did not inspire this question.
Mr.Curtin. - I unreservedly accept that assurance. The Opposition will give the honorable gentleman leave to bring down the measure.
-Will the honorable gentleman include in the validating bill a provision which will ensure that inmates of government institutions shall receive the additional1s. a week?
– I think it would be unwise to anticipate the contents of the bill. The honorable gentleman, and all other honorable members, will be aware of the Government’s proposal very shortly.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs been drawn to very conspicuous headlines in a newspaper that is one of the most widely read in the Federal Capital Territory, which imputes a knowledge of aggressive hostile designs by one of the powers in the Pacific against another power with which there is no hostility at the present time, the basis of the assumption being a report from an unnamed observer which appeared in a .’journal somewhere in Europe? Can the honorable gentleman suggest to the Minister for External Affairs that the proprietors of newspapers in Australia ought to be urged not to seek a sensation which might- prejudice the friendly relations of Australia with other powers?
– I shall certainly bring immediately to the notice of the Minister for External Affairs the representations of the honorable gentleman. He will, I am sure, recognize that the Government can exercise no control over speculations in the press such as those to which he has just referred.
Tariff Board’s Report
– Does the Minister for Trade and Customs expect, to receive the report of the Tariff Board n motor chassis before the impending dissolution of Parliament?
– It is expected that the report will be received this week or at latest, next week.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the honorable member for Ballarat, who was appointed by the Government as a member of the Meat Board, then became chairman of that body, and later had himself appointed London representative of it at a remuneration of £2,500 a year, has yet tendered his resignation as a member of this Parliament ‘(
– I have no official information in regard to the appointment of the honorable member for Ballarat as London representative of the Meat Board. The honorable member will need to ask Mr. Speaker .whether or not the resignation of the honorable member for Ballarat has been tendered to him.
– Oan the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce inform the House as to whether it as a fact, as has been suggested, that the honorable member for Ballarat was appointed a member of the Meat Board by the Commonwealth Government, and not on the nomination of the producers of Victoria, as the House previously understood was the case?
– I shall bring the honorable member’s question to the notice of the Minister for Commerce, who is temporarily absent from the House.
The following papers were presented : -
Munitions Supply Board - Report for period 1st July, 1933, to 30th June, 1935.
Australian Imperial Force Canteens Funds Act - Seventeenth Annual Report by the Trustees, for year 193C-37 (including the Sir Samuel McCaughey Bequest for the Technical Education of Soldiers’ Children ) .
Petroleum. Oil Search Act - Statement or expenditure for .period. May, 1938, to June, 1937.
– Will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General endeavour to persuade the Government to provide me with either a secretary or an assistant to facilitate the acknowledgement of the congratulatory letters that I am receiving from telephone subscribers all over Australia for having requested the Postal Department to attach to private telephones an instrument which records the calls that are made?
Question not answered.
– I should like the responsible Minister to inform me as to whether the time-table adopted for the daily air mail service to Tasmania will prevent the arrival of the mail in Hobart in time for delivery on the same day? If so, will he take steps to have the timetable altered so as to allow Hobart to receive and deliver the mail on the one day?
– I am informed by the Postmaster-General that the whole question is under his consideration and that of his officials at the present time.
– -In view of the fact that the report of the Munitions Supply Board for the period from 1933 to the 30th ‘June; -1935, was signed by the Secretary of the board on the 30th March, 1936, does not the Minister for Defence think that an unwarranted delay has marked the submission of this report to Parliament? In view of the importance to honorable members of having the latest information available regarding this most essential aspect of our defence resources, will he ask that the Munitions Board furnish an interim report to the very latest date upon which it is in a position to make particulars available?
– I feel sure that there is some excellent reason for the delay to which the honorable member has referred, but I shall be glad to. make inquiries with a view to learning whether it is possible to produce an interim report, or whether there is a statutory obligation to produce the report, at a certain date.
Export FROM Yampi Sound.
– by leave - I wish to dispel any misapprehension that may exist in regard to the attitude of the Commonwealth Government in connexion with the export of iron ore from Yampi Sound. A preliminary survey of the potential supplies of iron ore has revealed the existence of very considerable deposits, sufficient for all our requirements for a great many years ahead. However, this survey is incomplete, and it is believed that much greater supplies exist than have been taken into account in this preliminary survey. A .more detailed and comprehensive examination is now in hand. The leases in connexion with the proposed export of iron ore from Yampi Sound were granted to Brassert and Company by the present State Government of Western Australia. The Commonwealth Government is aware of no reason why it should interfere.
The Government, therefore, does not think it likely that the necessity will arise to limit the export of iron ore.
The responsibily for constant. watchfulness for the conservation in the national interests, not only of our iron ore resources, but also of the essential nonferrous metals, is one which falls on the Commonwealth Government. This responsibility the Government accepts, and will act upon whenever and in whatever connexion it is necessary.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the leases of the Yampi Sound iron ore deposits were handed by the Government . of Western Australia direct to Brasserts Limited, or whether they were not held by Sir James Connolly, a Nationalist ex-Colonial Secretary of Western Australia, and handed by him to Brasserts Limited for the sum of £35,000?
– I have no information on the point raised by the honorable member, but I shall be quite prepared to investigate the matter further. The statement which I made on this matter earlier this afternoon was simply to the effect that the leases were issued by the present Government of “ Western Australia.
– I ask the Prime Minister if he will make available to the House, the information so far obtained by the survey of iron ore and other mineral deposits, arising out of the discussion on the leasing of the deposits at Yampi Sound to Japanese interests ?
– I shall give consideration to the request of the honorable member, but our information on the point he raises has really been too incomplete to serve as a guide either to the Government or to the Parliament. However, I shall look into the matter.
– On the 26th August, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), and the honorable member forWest Sydney (Mr. Beasley), asked questions concerning the commercial broadcasting stations. The honorable member for West Sydney specifically asked if the regulations relating to the multiple control of stations had been infringed. In reply to that question, I can now state definitely that the regulation has not been infringed. The Leader of the Opposition referred at length to the growth of newspaper control of stations, and asked what steps the Government had taken to have an inquiry made by an expert into these matters. With regard to the control of stations by newspapers, I can now state, in amplification of the inf ormation which I supplied on the 26th August, that newspapers have complete control of 20 stations, out of a total of 90 stations in the Commonwealth, fourteen being controlled by metropolitan newspapers, and six by country newspapers. In addition to this, metropolitan newspapers have interests in other stations which they do not control, to the number of five, while country newspaper proprietors have a similar part interest in six stations. In the case of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Limited, which has been referred to as controlling a large number of stations, I find that this company has not infringed the regulations which stipulate that no one person or company may control directly or indirectly, more than eight stations in the Commonwealth. Amalgamated Wireless has complete control of seven stations, controls another under lease from the proprietors, and in Papua controls another small station. The company also has interests in three other stations, but it is not in a position to exercise any control over them.
Regulation 48a, which came into force in November, 1935, provides an effective means of preventing any person or organization from controlling a large number of stations. The degree of compliance with this regulation, which, incidentally, is complete, is ascertained by demanding a statutory declaration from each licensee company when application is made for renewal of the licence. A similar declaration is demanded before any new licence is issued. In addition to these precautions, the department recently obtained complete particulars from each licensee company of the shareholding arrangements in each company, and from the information thus obtained the particulars that I supplied last week in reply to the question of the Leader of the Opposition were obtained.
– Has the Prime
Minister received a petition signed by over a hundred Australian tourists, passengers on the Otranto, which arrived at Fremantle on 17th of the month, wherein adverse comment was made concerning certain southern European immigrants on that ship? If the right honorable gentleman has received it, will he state whether a reply has been made, and, if so, what was the nature of the reply?
– The petition has been received, but I am not certain what reply was made. However, the matter was considered by the Government and statements have been made hy the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) regarding the Government’s attitude generally upon the matter of immigration.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the prosecution last week in Canberra of a civil servant for debt, during the course of which it was stated that interest had been charged at a rate of 130 per cent.? In view of the fact that the ordinance issued twelve months ago- states that not more than 12 per cent. shall be charged, and that money lenders are required to be registered in the Federal Capital Territory, will the Government take steps to ensure that the registration of the money lender concerned in this case is cancelled so that he may be no longer in a position to exploit persons in necessitous circumstances.
– I shall take steps to have the matter investigated.
Importation of Motor Oaks
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that, owing to the trade diversion policy of the Government which has restricted the importation of motor cars from the United States of America, the motor distributors of this country have taken advantage of the fact that the present demand for such cars exceeds the supply, and have raised prices? Will he take action to permit a larger quota of cars from the United States of America to enter Australia for the benefit of these persons who prefer American cars to any other kind?
– The facts of the matter are not a3 related by the honorable member. I do not know whether or not he quoted from a fallacious document issued by a so-called tariff reform body, which i3 really a free-trade body, in which it was claimed, erroneously, that prices had gone up by £20 in each instance. That statement was corrected by me in the press, yet it is persisted in in the document issued by this organization. As a matter of fact, in some instances, prices have gone up by from £5 to £20 in the United States of America and Canadian makes, £20 being the highest increase, but, on the other hand, British prices have been reduced.
– Order ! The Minister must confine his answer to the question.
– The honorable member has asked that the quota be increased because, he says, the demand exceeds the supply. I assure him that that is not the case. As a matter of fact, the biggest importers of American cars are not importing up to the limit of their quotas, though undoubtedly the quota is too small for some of the smaller importers. That is all I can say in respect of the matter at the moment.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether any progress . has been made lately in trade negotiations with other countries; if so, with what countries?
– Considerable progress is being made in trade negotiations with different countries, including Canada, Japan and Germany. As matters of policy are involved in the honorable member’s question, I cannot disclose the details of those negotiations.
– In view of the statement by the Minister for the Interior that investigations are being made with a view to providing a road-train service from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek, will he consider the advisability of handing over complete control of transport in the Northern Territory, including the proposed road-train service, to- the Commonwealth Commissioner of Railways, in order that transport in Central Australia will be conducted competently in that, sphere, and regular time-tables may be worked in conjunction with the railway services?
– The matter raised by the honorable member is already under consideration.
– When the Minister for the Interior is considering the matter just raised by the honorable member for the Northern Territory, will he bear in mind the agreement entered into between the State of South Australia and the Commonwealth some years ago in connexion with the handing over of the territory to the Commonwealth, that a railway would be constructed from Oodnadatta to Darwin - with a view to continuing that line as early as possible from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek?
– I assure the honorable member that the agreement to which he has referred is not being overlooked.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is the intention of the Government to introduce a bill this session to establish the mortgage bank referred to by the Treasurer in his budget speech ?
– It is hoped that an opportunity will be availed of to introduce such a bill.
– In view of reports in the press of a serious conflict in the East, I should like .to know from the Prime -Minister whether the Government is being fully informed of happenings in i hat sphere through the External Affairs Department, and whether it has in its possession information other than that already published in the press which should be made known to honorable members? Will the right honorable gentleman make a statement on the situation?
– The Government is being informed from time to time as to what is taking place in the East. I do not think that we have any information in addition to that which has already been made available to the public through the press. If at any stage, however, it should seem desirable that we should add to that information for the benefit of honorable members, I shall make a statement.
– I have to inform the House that I have received from His Excellency the Governor-General, the following communication in connexion with the Address-in-Reply : -
T desire to acquaint you that the AddressinReply at the opening of the second session of the Fourteenth Parliament was duly laid before his Majesty the King, and I am commanded to convey to you and to honorable members, His Majesty’s sincere appreciation of the loyal assurances to which %our Address gives expression. (Sgd.) Gowrie
Governor-General . 30th August, 1937.
Lifts and Refrigerator
– Last Friday the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) asked a question in regard to the lifts on the House of Representatives side of the .building. I now inform the honorable member that I have personally gone into this matter and have come to the conclusion that the lifts are not entirely satisfactory. I have, therefore, arranged for the engineer to discuss with a representative of the manufacturers whether improvements can be effected.
The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) asked the following questions on the 27th August: -
The replies are as follows: -
LATE SENATOR J. V. MacDONALD.
– I have to report that I have received a communication from Mrs. MacDonald thanking the House for its resolution of sympathy on the occasion of the death of her husband, Senator J. V. MacDonald.
Motion (by Mr. Casey) - by leave, - agreed to.
That he have leave to bring in a bill for i n act to amend sections 24, 31, 45 and 47 of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act 1908-36.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The object of this bill is to implement the Government’s budget proposal to increase the maximum rate of the invalid and old-age pension from 19s. to 20s. a week. The reason for my somewhat unusual procedure in introducing this bill is that the next pensions pay day falls on Thursday, 9th September, ‘and in order to enable the postal officials to do the large amount of clerical work necessary to make it possible to pay pensions at the increased rate on that day it will be essential for this bill to be passed by both Houses of Parliament by Thursday next.
I shall briefly review the history of pensions payments over the last four years. Honorable members will recollect that in 1933 provision was made in the principal act for an annual review of the rate of pension in accordance with cost of living variations, and a table was inserted in the act for the purpose. In
J uly, 1935, in accordance with the movement in the cost of living, the rate of pension was increased to a maximum of 18s. a week. In September, 1936, in connexion with the budget proposals of that year, an alteration was made in the table relating to cost of living for pension purposes in favour of the pensioners, and the rate of pension was increased from 18s. to 19s. a week although the cost of living variation at that time did not warrant an increase of ls. a week. It is now proposed to repeal all the provisions which deal with the variation of the rate of pension in accordance with the cost of living. Consequently honorable members are asked to agree to the elimination of certain sub-sections of section 24 of the principal act. If they consent, the existing law relating to the variation of the pension according to the cost of living variations will cease to operate and the pension will, in future, be 20s. a week without any provision for a decrease in accordance with any future decrease of the cost of living.
-What is the meaning of the wordshaving regard to all the circumstances of the case?
– Those words are a mere repetition of the language of the existing law.
The bill also makes the necessary ancillary provision to raise the total maximum income a pensioner may have. At present the maximum is 31s. 6d. a week including pension. This bill provides for an increase of this figure to 32s. 6d. a week or £84 10s. a year.
After the passage of this bill, a pensioner will be able to earn 12s. 6d. a week . and still be entitled to a full pension of £1 a week. That has been the case for probably the last ten years.
– Will practically every pensioner receive ls. a week extra?
– Is it not a fact that pensioners in institutions will receive only 6d. a week of this increase?
– I shall deal with that point in a moment. The bill also deals with the position of blind pensioners and the total amount of income they may receive. At present this is £4 6s. 6d. a week or £22418s. a year. With the increase of ls. a week now being provided, blind pensioners will be entitled to a maximum limit of income and pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week or £227 10s. a year. The bill also makes provision for an increase of the amount payable to pensioners in benevolent asylums, hospitals, and similar institutions. At present such pensioners who are in receipt of the maximum pension of 19s. receive an allowance of 5s. 6d. a week, and the management of the institution receives 13s. 6d. a week. When the pension was previously 20s. a week the highest amount payable to a pensioner in an institution was 5s. 6d. per week. The Government proposes to raise that amount from 5s. 6d. to 6s. so that the position in the future will be that institution pensioners - there are about 5,000 in the Commonwealth - will draw 6s. a week ; the institutions will draw 14s a week.
– Did the Government of New South Wales make representations for the increase?
– Not so far as 1 am aware. Those pensioners will be 6d. a week better off than they were in 1930 when the pension was last at 20s. The amount of pension proposed for institution pensioners is the highest they have ever received. Furthermore the pension of 20s. proposed in this bill will provide the highest purchasing power that pensioners have ever had in Australia during the whole history of invalid and oldage pensions. Twenty shillings will now purchase what it took 23s. lOd. to purchase in 1925, and 22s. 2d. in 1930, when the pension was last 20s.
– On what basis is the honorable gentleman working?
– The cost of the average run of commodities which run into the regimen - butter, bread and meat and all such necessaries.
– The honorable member will never be able to sustain that argument. Bents have risen.
– I shall be glad to supply - I hope during the course of this debate - information to the honorable member and to honorable members generally to show that a 20s. pension now will buy more of the various commodities which enter into the necessaries of life than previously. A pension of 20s. now will purchase what it took 22s. 2d. to purchase in 1930, the last complete year when the pension was at 20s.
– No, the last year was 1931. 1
– I think that was a broken period. The total cost of pensions will be, as honorable members are aware, £15,900,000 this year, which is an increase of almost exactly £2,000,000 on the pensions expenditure last year.
– The State institutions will get a lot of the increase.
– No, their share will be very small since there are only 5,000 institution pensioners in the Commonwealth. As the result of this legislation every pensioner, whether on the maximum rate or some lower rate, will get 2s. extra each pension pay-day. That will apply to the whole of the approximately 300,000 pensioners that exist today in the Commonwealth. The total cost on an annual basis of this extra ls. a week will be about £S00,000 a year and the cost in this financial year will be in excess of £600,000. I do not want to speak at great length on this measure which is a simple bill designed to do the things I have listed, and those only. It should not be controversial, because I believe that all honorable members will warmly welcome this proposal of the Government which will give some additional measure of contentment to a large number of old people and afflicted people who are amongst the less fortunate people in this Australian community.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Curtin) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 27th August (vide page 277), . on motion by M r. Casey -
That the bill bo now read a second time.
.- During the last short session of this Parliament which extended, I think, over about three weeks, we granted Supply for a period of two months; now we are asked to grant further Supply for a period of four months, making, in all, six months, or one half of the financial year. That means that Parliament is voting money for half the year’s expenditure without being given an opportunity to discuss the items in detail. That is not a reasonable request for the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to make to Parliament particularly in view of the very brief period for which Parliament has sat since the last general elections. Parliament by passing a Supply bill authorizes the payment of certain sums by each department, whereas the passing of the Estimates means authorization by Parliament of each individual item in the Estimates. Parliament is being ignored by this Government; it should have been called together at an earlier date in order to give honorable members an opportunity to scrutinize the whole of the Estimates, and to debate whatever items interested them.
I have gone to some little trouble in looking up the number of days on which Parliament has sat since the last elections which took place on the 15th September, 1934. In 1934 the House of Representatives sat on 21 days and the Senate nine out of 107; in 1935, the House of Representatives sat on 55 days and the Senate 37 days out of 365; in 1936, the House of Representatives sat on 71 days and the Senate 49 out of. 366 and in 1937, the House of Representatives sat on thirteen days and the Senate twelve out of 238. Since the general elections the House of Representatives has sat 160 days and the Senate 107 days out of 1,076 days. This year - and we are in the eighth month - this Parliament will have sat, by the time it adjourns, on only 20 days. Is that a fair way to treat Parliament? Is it not an insult to the intelligence of the elected representatives of the people and to the whole electorate to say that the ‘ government of the Commonwealth should be carried on by what is known as the “ big four “, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), the right honorable the member for Cowper and leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), the Leader of the Government in another place, (Senator Sir George Pearce) and the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill). They are, without doubt, the four most unpopular members of the Ministry. If the Treasurer were included in the “ Big Four,” the position would be somewhat different, because all honorable members will credit him with being a hard worker. Gentlemen who, since the last sittings of the Parliament, have been peregrinating around the world, dictate the policy of the Government and have kept the doors of the Parliament shut except for 20 days during the year.
On the eve of an election, the Government framed a budget which it hoped would meet with an enthusiastic response throughout Australia. It has not done so, however. On the contrary, it has left the people cold, and more than the shrewd electioneering speech of the Treasurer will be necessary to remove their disappointment. The Government cannot deny that, since the last appeal to the country, the voice of the people has sounded against it on major matters of policy.
– The next appealto the people is of more importance.
– The result of the appeal to the electors of Gwydir is an indication of what we may expect. Although, in the Gwydir by-election, the Government chose its own battleground - a district which for many years has been a Lyons-Page stronghold - its candidate was defeated. The hostility to the Government’s legislative programme has been reinforced by a series of blundering administrative acts on its part. In some instances, these were of such a nature as to make Australia look ridiculous in the eyes of other nations. It is little wonder that the Government’s candidate was beaten ignominiously in Gwydir.
We have become accustomed to the alluring and extravagant claims made by the Government in its pre-election budget. The speech of the Treasurer in introducing his latest budget contained more electioneering propaganda than has been associated with any previous budget speech; but, despite the enthusiasm with which he put forward extravagant claims on behalf of the Government, he failed to convince any one that the budget was really a good one. To some of his statements of fact, no one can offer serious objection; but I strongly disagree with the reasons advanced by the honorable gentleman for the improvement of world trade, and, particularly, of conditions in Australia in relation to employment. Four factors Lave operated to bring about the improved conditions in this country. Foremost amongst them was the Scullin Government’s tariff policy, the beneficial effects- of which took some time to become evident. Those benefits would have been considerably greater but for the bungling policy of the present Government, which has .tried to please both free-traders and protectionists, and has succeeded in pleasing neither section. The second factor was the expenditure of large sums by State governments on works to relieve unemployment. The third was increased prices in the world’s markets for Australia’s exportable products; and the fourth contributing factor was the rehabilitation policy put into operation by the Scullin Government. The present Government cannot fairly claim to have been responsible for improvements resulting from the operation of those four factors. Conditions have improved, despite the inaction of the Government, which has sat idly by hoping for something to turn up.
The Government preens itself on its recurring surpluses; but there would have been no surpluses had it not been for the savings resulting from the conversion of much of the country’s internal indebtedness at lower rates of interest, by the Scullin administration.
– What about the conversion of the external debt ?
– The High Commissioner in London arranged for the conversion of loans amounting to approximately £200,000,000, at an average interest of approximately 3£ per cent. ; tut Great Britain. converted, at 2-£ per cent., loans amounting to £2,000,000,000. I have no wish to under-rate the services rendered to Australia by the High Commissioner in London, but I point out that those loans had to be converted in any case. The conversion of those loans was not due to anything which the Lyons Government, did.
– Who was responsible?
– The people were rushing the securities.
– The Government claims credit for those conversions, but it has not attempted to convert, at lower rates of interest, other overseas loans bearing interest at over 5 per cent. Loans amounting to £536,000,000 were converted by the Scullin Government at rates which reduced the interest bill of Commonwealth and State Governments by £7,500,000 a year ; but the Treasurer did not give credit where credit was due. As the result of the conversions effected by the Scullin administration, the Governments of the Commonwealth and of the States have gained £46,000,000 in respect of their interest commitments. Of that sum, £20,000,000 represents the saving of interest to the Commonwealth budget alone.
The Treasurer said that the present Government had done much to restore confidence, but he dealt in generalities, and gave only one example to support his claim. I read with amazement a speech delivered by the Prime Minister in Sydney on the 2nd January, 1934, when the right honorable gentleman said -
Four per cent. 1901 Australian stocks in September, 1931, were down in value to £70 188. 2d. On the 22nd December of that year, a few days after the present Government had been elected, they had risen to £90 18s. fid.
The right honorable gentleman by that statement had sought to create the impression that Australian stocks had jumped up in value immediately his government was elected. But what are the facts? The facts are that the value of those same stocks had risen from £70 18s. 2d. to £90 14s. 5d. before the elections were held. The success of the conversion of the £536,000,000 brought about by the Labour Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) created confidence, and the fact that in the three months before the 1931 elections the value of Australian stocks rose by £20 shows that to a large extent confidence was restored before the advent of the Lyons Government. Honorable members opposite had no justification for the hollow claim that they were responsible for the restoration of this confidence. The Prime Minister would have been much safer had he stuck to generalities in respect of which the Treasurer is such an expert.
– The honorable member did not show much confidence in 1929.
– The electors did not show much confidence in Gwydir and they certainly will not show much confidence in the present Government at the coming elections. No one will deny that Australia is in a better position to-day than it was during the worst years of the depression; this state of affairs applies, however, not only to Australia but also to all countries in the world. Consider, for example, the increased annual cheques which have been received for our export commodities, wool, wheat and gold. Whereas our wool clip in 1931-32 was valued at £35,073,000, in 1936-37 it yielded £66,950,000, or nearly twice as much. Can this Government claim credit for the annual wool cheque doubling itself?
– Not at all.
– Yet honorable mem- bers opposite point to the increase of employment and say that it is due to the administration of the LyonsPage Government. The value of the wheat crop which in 1931-32 amounted to £30,316,000, rose to £39,200,000 in 3 936-37. In 1931-32 gold production in Australia was valued at £4,522,000 but by 1936-37 it had risen to £11,219,000. Will any one have the audacity to claim that these substantial increases of £30,000,000 for wool, of . £9,200,000 for wheat, and £7,000,000 for gold are due in any way to any statesmanlike action by, or the administration of, the Lyons-Page Government? So much for the hollow claim that that Government has been responsible for the improvement of industries and trade generally throughout Australia? The Treasurer in the opening words of his speech with a great flourish said -
Indeed it can be said that the present level of prosperity is higher than it has ever been in the previous history of this country.
The obvious question for us to ask is: Who is enjoying this prosperity ? Only a very privileged few, the wealthy sections of the people which are the backbone of the support behind the Nationalist Government, are probably enjoying a greater degree of prosperity. Does the basic wage worker enjoy a greater degree of prosperity than ever before in Australia ? The figures of the Commonwealth Statistician show that the average federal basic wage for six capital cities in1928 was £4 7s. 6d. a week. In 1929 it was £4 10s. 6d. a week, and on the 1st July, this year, including the increase of 3s. a week granted from the 1st July, 1937, it was £3 13s.0d. a week, showing a reduction of 17s.6d. a week comparing the period 1929 to the 1st July, 1937, and proving clearly that no greater prosperity is enjoyed by the basic wage worker generally throughout Australia. On the contrary, he actually gets less. In New South Wales, the State basic wage in 1929 was £4 2s. 6d. a week plus child endowment; to-day it is £311s. 6d. plus child endowment, or l1s.0d. a week less. The average federal basic wage is, as I have stated, 17s. 6d. a week less. What about this “unparalleled” prosperity about which the Treasurer boasted? In his budget speech at the commencement he said -
From the valley of despair, we have emerged into the sunlight.
No doubt the “ big four “ consisting of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Commerce, the Minister for External Affairs, and the Minister for Defence have emerged from the depression of opposition into the sunlight of lucrative posts in the Government, but for the masses of the people, and certainly for the basic wage worker, there is no room for this boast of “unparalleled” prosperity. The Prime Minister, speaking on the 19th August last, said -
Bright times have come again.
Mr.Curtin. - It sounds like a song.
– Indeed, it does. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have been attending dinners in the various State capitals and making these extravagant claims until they have convinced themselves that the masses of the people to-day are better, off than ever before. Let us examine the facts and see where this “ unparalleled “ prosperity exists. In March last year, the Prime Minister said -
Now whatever test we apply, revenue, employment, &c, the condition of Australia as a whole is satisfactory.
I, like the rest of the people of Australia, am pleased that world conditions to-day are much better than they were a few years ago ; but knowing the true position of the people of Australia to-day, I cannot reconcile these extravagant statements of the Government regarding prosperity with the actual condition of the people generally in this country, brought about by the uneven distribution of wealth, resulting in the rich becoming richer and the masses of the people finding it increasingly more difficult to meet their annual commitments, and for workers to provide their wives and children with the necessary foodstuffs to eliminate that malnutrition that the Minister for Health (Mr. Hughes) said stalked the land in this country, and in reference to which he said he had a great and practical sympathy. The right honorable gentleman, however, has done nothing in regard to it or has failed to convince his Government that it is necessary to take any deeper interest in it than that. When it is said that a high level of material prosperity exists, we must point out the -actual conditions in which individuals live, and ask the Government what it is doing for the 200,000 unemployed and their dependants throughout Australia, or for more than 450,000 of those who depend on some form of charity or another, or for the undernourished masses of the community - and there are many of them as the malnutrition committee found out - or for mothers and children for whom the Minister for Health said he had great sympathy, or for the thousands of others living in the slum areas of Australia for whom the Prime Minister before the last elections expressed his great sympathy and promised to inaugurate a great national housing scheme. This he has not attempted to carry out. Can it be said that, the hundreds of people in Sydney, who have been evicted from their homes during the last few years, evidence of which is to be found in the reports appearing in our daily newspapers from time to time, are enjoying a period of “ unparalleled “ prosperity? Or can this be said of those thousands of youths who cannot get employment, and for whom the prospects of becoming useful citizens of the Commonwealth is very black? What has this Government done for all these people? It had stood idly by and, so far from helping the suffering people, has pursued a policy of making the rich richer at the expense of the masses. Thousands of farmers have been forced off their holdings in recent years. This Government, soon after it took office, promised to provide £20,000,000 for rural rehabilitation, but actually it set aside the comparatively meagre sum of £12,500,000 for the adjustment of farmers’ debts, aggregating £500,000,000. And so inadequate has been the provision made that it is estimated it will take fifteen years to disburse the £12,500,000 provided.
The fact is that while, in the aggregate, there may be a greater measure of prosperity in Australia to-day than there was a few years ago, the observant student of Commonwealth affairs, after studying the Treasurer’s “ prosperity “ budget figures, will be forced to the conclusion that the maldistribution of prosperity has never been greater in the history of Australia. The rejoicings of those who have benefited from this Government’s financial policy is not echoed by the large army of unemployed or by those who have been driven from their homes because of circumstances over which they have no control. These people constitute the real background to the Treasurer’s budget speech. Their reactions to the Government’s declared intentions are more important than the comments of certain favorable newspapers whose sole purpose is to boost this Government and make black appear to be white.
This year the defence vote will reach £11,531,000, a record for peace time, and we are told that this immense sum must be expended at once. The Government does not propose to raise the money for the liquidation of this sum immediately. The sharers of the present unexampled prosperity, of which the Treasurer speaks so glibly, are not to be asked to pay.
– How many profiteers will make their appearance as the result of this Government’s defence policy?
– That is a pertinent question to ask. The honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) rightly said that tie Great War was waged in the interests of the richer classes rather than any other section of the people, and we on this side believe that the rich should he called upon to pay an adequate share of our defence expenditure. Probably it was because he gave utterance te sentimentsof this nature, that the honorable member was cast out of the Ministry which, as we know, depends for its continued existence upon the reactionary elements of the community. Lately it has been the practice of the Treasurer and other ministers to survey retrospectively the financial position of the Commonwealth, in order to persuade the people that the improved financial state of the country is due to their financial and fiscal policies. The electors might, also with some profit, follow the lead of the Treasurer and his ministerial colleagues. A glance at the figures will show that six years ago Commonwealth expenditure amounted to £70,21S,000, as compared with an estimated expenditure for the current financial year of £85,160,000. Six years ago the aggregate amount received from direct and indirect taxes was £53,950,000 whereas the estimate for the present year is £62,846,000, an increase of£9,096,000. Despite these figures ministers and their supporters are claiming that this Government is taking less from the pockets of the people than any previous federal administration and the Treasurer, in his budget speech, had the audacity to declare that these reductions of taxation had benefited all sections of the community! He omitted, however, to say: 1. That the amount received by this Government in taxes in 1935-36 was the highest, collected by any Commonwealth Government. 2. That the amount per head of population was the highest ever received. 3. That the remissions made largely benefited those taxpayers in receipt of the higher incomes; and 4. That the tax burden bore most heavily on the workingclases.
– Who says that?
– I could not expect the Minister for Defence to say it, because he is too biased in his outlook to make an impartial survey of any national problem when the interests of this Government are at stake. But the position is as I have stated it. The amount received by this Government in direct taxation is to-day greater by £14,000,000 than it was iri 1931-32. Therefore, it is no wonder that the Melbourne Age, commenting on the Government’s efforts to claim credit for the general improvement of trade, said in a leading article yesterday : -
That they owe any great debt in terms of that emotion of gratitude for improved conditions to the present Federal Government is far from certain. The improvements the Treasurer rehearsed have been largely attributable to factors beyond the governmental scope.
That is a truth which, I believe, the electors soon will realize.
The increase of employment in secondary industries in Australia is, ‘ I assert, due mainly to the tariff policy of the Scullin Government. As all impartial observers willagree, it takes time for a protectionist policy to become effective. Prospective employers must have some assurance of tariff stability before they set aside capital for the erection of factories for new industries and organize for merchandising their products throughout Australia. The Prime Minister recently went to great trouble to make an industrial survey of Australia in an endeavourto show that his Government had rendered great service to Australian industries. Every genuine manufacturer must have been nauseated by the right honorable gentleman’s claim. The improvement which has taken place is despite, not because of, anything done by this Government. I repeat that the uplift in Australian industry is due almost entirely to the protectionist policy of the Scullin Government, despite the tinkering that has taken place more recently in the interests of Country party free-traders and the so-called “ reasonable protectionists “ in the ranks of government supporters.
In his speech in Sydney on the 19th August, the Prime Minister said that employment in secondary industries had increased from 336,000’ in 1931-32 to 525,000 in 1936-37. That gratifying improvement, I repeat, was largely the direct result of the protectionist tariff imposed by the Scullin Government in the time of national emergency. It was not expected that the benefit of the higher protection given to Australian industries would be immediately apparent because, as I have explained, of the time lag before Australian employers could be expected to take advantage of the substantial protection afforded; but a comparison of the employment figures for 1931-32 with those of 1929-30 will show that 3,000 additional Australians obtained fulltime employment in various industries, although that was the worst period of the depression. Unfortunately, owing to the decline, of prices for our exportable products, notably wool, wheat and base metals, the national income dropped 50 per cent., and thousands of people who were thrown out of work lost their purchasing power and therefore were unable to buy Australian commodities at any price. But, in due time, when the Scullin Government’s protectionist policy had time to bear fruit, manufacturers of Bradford, Birmingham, and other industrial centres in England, who had been exploiting this market from overseas, were forced to come within the Australian tariff wall and, by establishing new industries in this country, provided a large amount of employment for Australian workmen. In the circumstances, it is nauseating to hear the Government claim that the factories were established here as the result of its tariff policy and after it had slashed the Scullin tariff.
– The effect of the Government’s tariff policy was to close a number of factories.
– That is so. But for the meddlesome policy of the Government, the development of factories in Australia would have been considerably greater than it has been. I was gratified to read that the Premier of Queensland, Mr. Forgan Smith, aptly described as “ ludicrous in the extreme “ the Prime Minister’s survey in which the right honorable gentleman endeavoured to make out that Labour-governed States were not developing to the same extent as were the States administered by Nationalist Governments. According to Mr. Forgan Smith, the figures quoted by the Prime Minister were obtained from a very limited number of specially selected manufacturers and, further, the impression as to the general trend was misleading because many of the statistics were grotesquely ridiculous. Surely the time has arrived when the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth should, rise above party political considerations. The Premier of Queensland stated that the scope of the survey given by the Prime Minister was not representative of Australian secondary industries generally, as the figures were obtained from only 350 of the 24,895 factories. In respect of Queensland, the information was obtained from a mere handful of factories; but upon this narrow basis, the Prime Minister made a sweeping generalization which, ho calculated, would show up the State Government in a bad light. So far as Queensland was concerned, the value of the survey can be estimated from the fact that such well known manufacturing firms as Evans, Deacon Limited, of Brisbane, Walkers Limited, of Maryborough, and the Toowoomba Foundry were not included therein. Will the honorable mom,ber for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) agree that in a survey of this kind such an important enterprise as the Toowoomba Foundry should not be included ? Will the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) say that such an important factory as Walkers Limited, of Maryborough, should not be included in this survey? I am sure that the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) will not admit that the exclusion of the well known firm of Evans, Deacon Limited was justified. The Prime Minister’s survey was seized upon by opponents of the Labour party in Queens~ land in an endeavour to prove that the small expansion of secondary industries in that State was due particularly to the excessive taxes imposed by the Forgan Smith Government ; whereas, as a matter of fact, the Premier of Queensland was able to prove that, while in 1932-33 the registrations of companies in that State totalled 20S with a nominal capital of £12,527,000, the number on the .30th J une, 1936, had increased to 2,052 with a total nominal capital of £27,653,000. Those figures effectively dispose of the survey which was prepared by the Commonwealth Government with a view to making it appear that it alone is responsible for the improvement of industrial conditions. I believe that the people, generally, realize that this Government has done nothing to bring about this improvement. The Associate Professor of Commerce at the Melbourne University,
Mr. G. lt. Wood, when commenting on the claim of the Prime Minister that an unprecedented number of people was now engaged in Australian factories, said : -
It must be emphasized that the real level of factory employment is the proportion of total population now working in factories, compared with that of earlier periods of prosperity.
In 1926-27 there were 452,000 persons cm-, ployed in Australian factories out of a mean population of 6,188,000. That represents about 7.3 per cent, of the population. In June, 1937, the population was about 0,800,000, and 7.3 per cent, of this total gives 497,000 approximately. It will be seen, therefore, that if the facts of the survey are correct, and 525,000 people are now employed in manufacturing, the Prime Minister’s claim is rather handsomely substantiated. The figure, however, is so large, that it seems too good to be true, especially when the limited conditions of the survey are taken into account.
Further difficulty under this head is, of course, the anomalous figures for Queensland given by the Prime Minister. They are too bad to be acceptable.
– This Government thought so highly of Associate Professor Wood, that it appointed him to trie Commonwealth Grants Commission.
– That is so, showing that the Government must have a high opinion of that gentleman. I state definitely and conclusively that if the scale of tariffs imposed by the Scullin Government had not been interfered with by this Government to the extent of reducing 1900 items and sub-items, the improvement of conditions in secondary industries in Australia would have been substantially greater than it is at the present time. In support of my contentions, I shall now cite the opinion-, not of a Labour representative, but of the Honorable F. P. Kneeshaw, M.L.C., the President of the Associated Chamber of Manufacturers, when presiding over the annual conference of the organization in Sydney on the 17th August : -
In fact the numerous reductions in protective tariffs have been the cause of much harassment in industry, and have detracted from the further development that would have been possible in some industries had not their competitive capacity been worsened by the tariff changes to which I refer.
I remind honorable members that that is the opinion of a prominent Nationalist supporter of the Stevens Government in New South Wales.
– And a supporter of this Government, too!
– Yes. In a speech delivered in the Senate on the 23rd June, 1937, Senator Leckie, an influential Nationalist senator, made the following statement : -
I warn this Government that it can carry loyalty to a colleague to extremes and cannot presume on the good work that it has done . . As one instance of the sort of thing that creates derision, 1 refer to the claim made by the Ministry that its tariff policy is responsible for the large increase in the number of employees in the factories. As the Senate is aware, there are more men engaged in factories to-day than ever before in our history. The Government claims that it was due to its tariff policy. Could any claim be more childish? . . The claim was so ridiculous that it creates derisive laughter in the minds of all who know anything oS industry. Tariff protection has been reduced by tho present Government, and therefore the Government’s fiscal policy could not have contributed to increased factory employment.
When a supporter of the Labour party contends that there could have been more substantial increases of employment, the Government contends that he is making a partisan statement. No honorable member will assert that Mr. T. W. Eady, President of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures, and managing director of the firm of McPhersons: - Mr. McPherson was a Nationalist Premier of Victoria - is a supporter of the Labour party, but he stated that, in his opinion, the tariff policy of the ‘Commonwealth Government did not help local industries.
– When did he say that?
– He made that statement in a speech which he delivered recently at an important conference. Further, in support of my contentions, I shall’ quote the opinion of Mr. J. K. McDougall, who is the retiring president of the Newcastle Chamber of Manufactures. No doubt this gentleman is well-known to the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) - a high protectionist - who is following most ably in the footsteps of his father. By no stretch of the imagination can Mr. McDougall be described as an enthusiastic Labour supporter; yet, referring to the increased development of secondary industries, he stated that still further progress could have been expected but for the effect of the reduction of the tariff and the existence of the iniquitous Ottawa ‘agreement. These witnesses are called, not from the Labour side, but from the Nationalist side. I give their testimony to counteract the hollow, extravagant claim of the Treasurer, the Minister for Trade and Customs, and the Prime Minister, that to their policy alone is due the substantial increase of employment in our secondary industries. In 1931-32 our imports, not including specie and bullion, amounted to £14,000,000. In 1936-37, they totalled £90,000,000, an increase of £46,000,000.
– What about the trade balance?
– No matter what arguments the Treasurer or the Minister for Defence may endeavour to advance, the fact remains that we are importing increasingly large quantities of goods, which, with adequate protection, could be manufactured in Australia.
– Many of them were previously manufactured here.
– I agree with the honorable member. Is there any justification for the recent purchase of a Canadianmade refrigerator for this building? The Commonwealth Parliament insists on high protection, yet when a refrigerator is needed for Parliament House the Australianmade article is not considered good enough. I challenge that assumption. This shows what can be done under the eyes of Ministers.
– The honorable member means “ under the eyes of the Joint House Committee.”
– The Joint House Committee did not make the purchase. The President and Mr. Speaker should not have allowed such a thing to happen. The whole of Australia’s requirements of refrigerators and many other similar lines can be manufactured in our own factories. There is no justification for going outside Australia. Tn the manufacture of refrigerators in Australia, nearly 5,000 persons are employed at award rates of wages. If everybody did as has been done in this case, what would happen ? Those persons would be thrown out of employment.
The Labour party believes in giving Great Britain a generous measure of preference; hut it also believes that charity begins at home, and that we should give adequate and effective .protection to our own secondary industries. During the year 1934-35, the amount of the preferential provision was £35,000,000, and the preferential duty paid totalled £3,343,000. The application of the general tariff to goods from Great Britain would’ have meant the payment of an additional £5,736,000. While in no way detracting from the importance of our primary industries, I contend that it is to the secondary industries of this country that we must look for the absorption of our unemployed and for the provision of avenues of employment for the bright products of our public schools who, having passed university examinations, seek largely in vain for a means of livelihood.
The views of the Labour party on the Ottawa agreement are in accord with those of another important witness that I shall- call - the Right Honorable W. A. Watt, ex-Nationalist leader in Victoria, ex-Nationalist Commonwealth Treasurer and Acting Prime Minister - to the following effect -
The existing atmosphere of doubt and anxiety arose from the existence of what is popularly known as the Ottawa agreement.
In his inimitable style, addressing a gathering of the Australian preference league at a banquet given by that body in Melbourne, the right honorable gentleman said -
Let us take the words of clause 10 of the Ottawa agreement. By it, the British producer is guaranteed full opportunity of reasonable competition on the basis of the relative cost of economical and efficient production. To my mind, that guarantee constitutes most definitely a challenge to the protectionist system of Australia. The main objective of the protectionists was to give to the Australian manufacturer a definite advantage in his home market. If you will read clause 12 of the Ottawa agreement, you will observe that “No existing duty shall bo increased on United Kingdom goods to an amount in excess of the recommendation of the tariff tribunal.” Docs this not give an enormous stretch of authority to the Tariff Board ?
We said the same when the Ottawa agreement was before this House, and were told that we were political partisans, and did not know what we were talking about. But the Right Honorable W. A. Watt, who is not now tied to the party machine, clearly analysed the effects of the Ottawa agreement and substantiated the claim of this party that it cut right across the protectionist policy of Australia and was the greatest “ ramp “ ever perpetrated on behalf of British manufacturers at the expense of Australian industries and workmen. We believe that the right honorable gentleman was right when he said -
The phraseology of clause 12, and the practice followed, is equivalent to handing over the powers of responsible Ministers to a body of men who do not represent the people in any constitutional sense.
The Australian manufacturer is put “on the spot”, and Evidence is taken from importers of his competitors’ goods. He, at all times, is called upon to furnish reasons for any increased protection he may seek, but his overseas competitor, who is 16,000 miles away, is treated most sympathetically by this Government and not as a criminal or a robber. The Government says to the British manufacturer “ You have a right to share the Australian market with the British manufacturers”, despite the fact that 250,000 of our. men are walking the streets without employment and the 50,000 of our youths who leave school every year seek mostly in vain for a position in the industrial world.
I ask the Minister for Defence, who lias enjoyed to probably a greater extent than any other Minister the advantages of having a portfolio and has travelled abroad extensively: “Is the Treasurer right in casting a reflection on the governments of the States for having spent money in absorbing the unemployed of this country, and in claiming that the Commonwealth Government has reduced its total indebtedness by £11,000,000 while the States have increased theirs by something like £S0,000,000?
– He “‘passed the buck” to the States.
– Quite so. This Government, in 1934, made the definite preelection promises that it would inaugurate a major policy of development, bring about the standardization of railway gauges, and initiate a great national housing scheme for Australia.
– It has not yet erected a tent.
– It also promised that an adequate scheme of water conservation and irrigation would be one of its chief concerns. Yet it has accomplished nothing! As the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) has said, it has “ passed the buck “ to the States. The expenditure of many millions of pounds by the governments of the States has been responsible for the substantial reduction of the number of unemployed in Australia. Practically the whole of the £80,000,000 increase of our public debt has been utilized by the States in providing employment in the States. The Federal Government disclaims any responsibility for that increase, and shelters behind the book entry of a reduction of the Commonwealth debt by £11,000,000 while disregarding its obligation to the unemployed of Australia. It will not be able to escape the unemployed at the ballot-box; it will then be brought face to face with them, and will have to explain why it has failed to fulfil its specious promises, as the result of which Labour candidates were defeated, because the unemployed voted for representatives of the party opposite, in the belief that great national public works were to be undertaken.
One of the declarations of the Treasurer is to be found in his budget, speech when he said -
For the reasons that I have given, it is considered inadvisable at thu present time to take this loan money from the Australian market. It is proposed in the first place to raise £2.000,000 sterling, the equivalent of £2,500,000 in Australian currency, on Commonwealth Treasury bonds, from the Commonwealth Bank in London, and at an appropriate time to fund the short-term securities from the proceeds of a public loan.
When the honorable gentleman was asked by an honorable member on this side as to whether that public loan would he floated here or overseas, he evaded the question. This obviously, notwithstanding the constant denials of certain representatives of the Government, is the beginning of an overseas borrowing policy. We know that that wa3 one of the principal reasons for the Treasurer’s trip abroad. He wished to sound the London money market in order to ascertain the possibility of raising money overseas for the purchase of muni- lions. I am reminded of the inglorious record of the Bruce-Page Government, which earned for the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) the description applied to him by the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) - that he was “the most tragic treasurer Australia had ever had.” We must bear in mind that the right honorable gentleman to-day dominates the policy of this ministry. It is a ministry which consists largely of politically tired men, “who desire a rest. This energetic Leader of the Country party is driving them into doing things that arc greatly at variance with the policy placed before the people at the last federal elections. I am reminded that in the last three years of the adminis1:ration of the Bruce-Page Government, under its eyes, and with its connivance and approval, borrowings overseas totalled £40,000,000 a year, and goods were imported into Australia at the rate of £140,000,000 annually, one half ofwhich could have been efficiently and economically manufactured in Australia providing employment for our own people. The reason given by the present Treasurer for the suggested flotation of t loan abroad - that loans were falling due in this country - will apply for the next twenty-five years.- If honorable members will look at page 127 of the budget papers for 1937-38, they will find that the following loans are 1 ailing due within the next few years -
mid so on. In some years, the amount is £30,000,000, and in others it is over £60,000,000, showing clearly that there is no valid reason on this score for again commencing an overseas borrowing policy. The money itself would not come to Australia; it would take the form, of goods. Doubtless, it will be a sop to theimporting friends of the Government, who want to import goods that can be manufactured here. They have not that sense of Australian patriotism which would lead them to establish factories in this country and give employment to our own people. At the right time, the electors will show decisively that they do not want a repetition of the inglorious record of the Bruce-Page Administration, which left an aggregate adverse trade balance of £78,000,000, an empty treasury, and accumulated deficits totalling £7,000,000. When that administration went out of office, Australia was on the verge of financial ruin and disaster, and a Labour administration had to apply a rehabilitation policy which enabled Australia to get on to an even keel again, to which more than to any action of this Government can bc attributed any improvement of trade generally in Australia.
The people of Australia, who have been looking to this Government to bring about a system of national or social insurance, have the right to feel keenly disappointed, and I believe that they will show their resentment at the ballot-box. The Government submitted this subject to a royal commission which sat from 1925 to 1927, but now, in 1937, the Government is still delaying putting into operation the scheme which that commission recommended. In 1928, the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page), who was then Treasurer in the Bruce-Page Government, introduced a national insurance bill providing ‘for compulsory insurance against sickness, permanent disability, death and old-age, as well as making provision for allowances for widows, orphans and children. .When introducing the bill he said -
Members will appreciate the honest effort of the Government to contribute a practical proposal for tho banishment of that grim spectre of want and misery that has for too long haunted our sick and aged people in the community.
That bill had received the imprimatur of three prominent actuaries whose qualifications were beyond question, yet it was never proceeded with. It was merely an electioneering dodge. Two more reports were received regarding national insurance, but still the Government was not satisfied, and further reports were obtained from Sir Walter Kinnear and. Mr. Ince. Altogether the Governmenthas obtained five reports at a. total cost of over £18,000, but it is still unable to come to a decision, and a committee has been set up to furnish a further report. Recently, the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) speaking with that glib eloquence which is characteristic of him, declared that the Government was “ dealing with the matter as rapidly as it could, consistent with accurate consideration and proper judgment.” The rapidity of the Government can be gauged from the fact that twelve years have elapsed since the Bruce-Page Government first promised to bring in this legislation. It is evident that the judgment of the Government is influenced by those who are opposed to this reform. [Leave to continue given.’] In a pamphlet which he authorized in 1925, by the present Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill), the following appears: -
Reasons why you must vote Nationalist.
Australian womanhood, because I will legislate to protect the mothers of our race through motherhood endowment.
You and yours are safe under a Nationalist Government which provides -
That was twelve years ago, and to-day the Government is making similar promises. Will the people he hoodwinked again? What confidence can they have in promises so readily made and so easily broken? Is not the welfare of the people of Australia of at least as much importance as the defence of the country? I believe it is. The people will demand to know from the Government why prompt action was not taken to institute a system of national insurance. It has a majority in both chambers of Parliament, and this legislation could have been on the statute-book three years ago. During the election campaign the Government issued slogans stating : - “ You and yours are safe under a Nationalist Government which provides £20,000,000 for homes, and a great national insurance scheme.” The posters went on to assure home-lovers that the Nationalist Government was prepared to raise £20,000,000 to ensure that every city and country dweller who desired his own home should have the means to do so. Then the generalissimo of the Nationalist party, Mr. Lyons, speaking before the last general elections, promised to have national insurance on the statute-book without delay, and to co operate with the State governments in regard to unemployment, child welfare and maternal welfare. He promised particularly to co-operate in regard to. the building of workers’ homes, and the elimination of slum areas. What has come out of this welter of promises? All that has happened is that the Government has set out to create something that the people do not want, an Inter-State Commission, to provide jobs for its friends. The chairman is to receive £2,500 a year, and there are to be two other members who will each receive £2,000 a year. There is no justification whatever for any such proposal.
The Government has made a very belated restoration of old-age and invalid pensions. Had the Scullin Government remained in office until the end of the financial year 1931-32, when there was a surplus of £1,300,000, old-age and invalid pensions would have been restored to £1 a week during the financial year 1932-33. The Scullin Government would have redeemed the pledge which it gave, which, indeed, was given by the whole of this Parliament, when the financial emergency legislation was passed, that as soon as there was a surplus, pensions would he restored to their former level. The surplus was achieved on the 31st July, 1932, and there have been surpluses every year since, but the Government, far from restoring the pensions, took another £1,000,000 from the pensioners. It searched the pockets of their relatives, and made provisions for the confiscation of the old people’s homes in order to compensate it for the pensions it paid to them. In other words it made the pension a loan. On numerous occasions, when the party on this side of the House moved for the restoration of pensions, honorable members opposite voted against us, but the Government is now making a great parade of virtue because, six years too late, it is restoring pensions to £1 a week. The Government merits political oblivion, and I am confident that when the people have an opportunity they will show their disapproval of the many acts of omission and commission of the LyonsPage Government, and will put into office a government which stands for Australia and Australians first.
– I have listened with interest to the speech of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), but his speech would have been much more interesting if I had not’ heard it many times before. The sentiments he has expressed have no novelty about them. However, I have seldom heard a story more terrible in its inaccuracies, its misrepresentations and its false conclusions. I propose to refer to some of those inaccuracies, and to leave it to the judgment of the House just how much value should be placed upon his statements.
– The electors will appreciate the value of them.
– Yes, and I am sure that their answer will be the same in October next as it was three years ago. I make this comment after listening to the speech of the honorable member. I can understand now why he is not Leader of tie Opposition.
In the first place, he referred to the sittings of the House, and apparently he thinks that legislative achievements are to be measured, not by their actual benefit to the community, but by their lineal dimensions; in short, by the number of days which the legislature sits. That is his first indictment against the Government and its budget. It is sufficient for me to echo the statements of those who say that when certain governments are in office it would be far better for the country if they never sat at all. Evidently, that was the opinion of the electors also, because, at the first opportunity they had, they dismissed the honorable member for Capricornia and his Government from office by the largest majority by which any government has over been defeated.
I can pass over without further comment the honorable member’s references to the “big four”. There is no such thing in existence; it is merely a figment of the honorable member’s imagination, or, at most, the product of a feeble attempt at levity.
On the subject of employment, I have never heard a more laboured effort than that of the honorable member to prove that the people of Australia are not in employment when he knows perfectly [ll] well that they are. He was forced to all kinds of artifices in order to account for such employment as he admits exists. He said that it was due to the effects of the Scullin tariff of 1930-31, a tariff which, a little later in his speech, he said had been altered at least a thousand times. It must be evident that practically none of the Scullin tariff is left, or the present tariff is working successfully only because so many alterations have been made. No fewer than 1,800 alterations have been made, until to-day the original tariff has almost wholly disappeared, but under the tariff which has taken its place there has been phenomenal development of Australia’s secondary industries.
The honorable member for Capricornia also referred to the work of the High Commissioner in Great Britain (Mr. Bruce) in respect of recent loan conversions, and he endeavoured to belittle what the High Commissioner had done.
– I gave him credit for what he had done, but I said that it was nothing to boast about.
– Apparently all the boasting is to be done by the honorable member himself. He referred to the conversion of Australia’s internal loan by the Scullin Government, but he seems to forget that the reduction of interest on that loan was voluntarily accepted by the people themselves. That was the course taken. Thus, in that respect, the Opposition cannot claim any particular credit. In any case, however, the claim made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition concerning the £500,000,000 conversion operation, which resulted in an interest saving of £7,500,000 per annum, is entirely inaccurate. The success of that conversion was due to the cooperation of all parties. On that occasion, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons) and Sir John Latham and their colleagues supported the Scullin Government’s proposal, and actually signed a circular which asked the bondholders to take the course which, subsequently, they did take. No particular party is rightly entitled to the credit for the success of that loan conversion. It was effected during a time of great national crisis. AH parties and all sections of the people co-operated for its success. But the claim made by the honorable gentleman in this regard merely serves to reveal the straits to which he is reduced in seeking credit for his party. I again point out that the success of tho conversions in Great Britain waa achieved without any of the co-operation that was evident in respect of the £500,000,000 conversion loan in Australia. These conversion loans have been described by American financiers, and by men who are constantly engaged in this class of work, as the greatest financial achievement of the last, generation, and were entirely due to a concatenation of circumstances all of which were created by the High Commissioner and were based on the confidence which investors had in the sound leadership of this Government in bringing back prosperous times to Australia.-
The honorable member referred .to the basic wage in one particular year, and he coolly endeavoured to point out that that wage was comparatively high, because of the confidence which the people of Australia had in the Scullin Government.
– I merely compared tho pre-depression basic wage with the present basic wage.
– The more the honorable member says, the more apparent his inconsistencies appear. At any rate, if the position was so satisfactory during the regime of the Scullin Government, why was that Government rejected so solidly when it faced the electors ? If what the honorable member now says is correct, it would have impressed not only himself, but also the electors. But the electors failed to agree with him; they rejected the Government of which he was a member, and his party, by the largest majority recorded against any government since federation. Therefore, it is useless for the honorable member to make the claim to which I have just referred.
The honorable member could not have chosen a more unfortunate subject to discuss than the matter of employment. Obviously, something has to he done by the Opposition in an endeavour to offset the paeans of praise in respect of the success of this Government in dealing with the problem of unemployment. Something has to be said, whether it carries weight or not, in deprecation of this Government’s record in that respect. But let us examine the position, which, by the way, the honorable member did not set out. When the Lyons Government took office, as the Treasurer pointed out in his budget speech on Friday morning last, the returns supplied by secretaries of trade unions - and I am perfectly sure they would not favour the Lyons Government unless circumstances have changed by reason of the work it has done for unionists - indicated that of every 100 trade unionists in this country 30 were out of work. To-day’s figures, which are based on similar records supplied by tho same unions, show that only 9 per cent, of trade unionists are out of work. These figures surely are telling in their effect, and no matter what the honorable member says, he cannot get away from their significance. They tell their own story without embellishment; because they convey at once to the minds of the people what has actually been done by this Government in respect of employment. Particularly do they convey to the minds of those people who have been found re-employment, that this Government has taken this problem in hand and is dealing with it successfully. In his efforts to belittle Jm achievements of the present Government in respect of unemployment, the honorable member asked what section of the people was benefiting by the prosperity that exists to-day and, in reply to his own query, answered, “ the wealthy people “. I shall tell him actually who is enjoying this prosperity. It is the working man who has been found re-employment; it is he who gets satisfaction out of the figures which I have given and he who will naturally be interested in seeing that the present Government is kept in office. The honorable member said that the unemployed were misguided enough to vote for this Government at the last election. They were not misguided; they realized what this Government would do for them ; and it has fulfilled its promises. I say, positively, that this Government, at the next elections, will receive the support of the thousands of men who have been found re-employment as the result of the sound legislative programme it adumbrated and carried into effect. Further, in reply to the honorable member’s question as to who is enjoying our present prosperity, I mention the old-age pensioner. With a reduced cost of living and the pension restored to £1, his 20s. will enable him to buy 23s. worth of goods where previously, on a comparative basis, he could only buy less than £1 worth.
– The pensioners were promised 3 2s. by the last Labour Government.
– That is untrue.
– I do not wish to go back over that. I repeat that the people enjoying our present prosperity arc the great masses. I say unhesitatingly, that any one who is prepared to take an unbiased view of the picture that was presented in this country in 1931, when the Scullin Government went out of office, and compare it with the economic picture of to-day, following six years of office by the Lyons- Government, will agree that this country is to-day experiencing a period of unexampled prosperity. Whether the fairminded man judges the record pf this Government in respect of providing employment, its financial administration, the amount of new business it has brought to this country, or the amount of money it has given to the States and- primary producers and for the encouragement of various industries - on whatever standards the record of this Government is judged, he will arrive at the conclusion which 1 have just indicated. Time does not permit me to go into every phase of this Government’s record, but its achievements, as revealed in the soundness of its budget, offer conclusive evidence of what it has been able to do in the interests of the masses of the people.
The honorable member had the temerity to refer to reductions of taxes made by this Government and to suggest that those reductions were inadequate. He endeavoured to 3how, in effect, that taxes had not been reduced because the present amount of revenue was equal to or even larger than what it was before the reductions were made. On that point it is undeniable that at least £15,000,000, which was previously taken out of ths pockets of the taxpayers and paid into the Treasury in’ the form of taxes, remains to-day in the pockets of the people.
– In the pockets of the wealthy.
– Apparently honorable members opposite admit that what I say is correct, but they now shift their ground by saying it was only the wealthy people who benefited. Those taxes were reduced not because this Government had any particular affection for any section of the community which benefited, but because it sought to release that money for investment in. industry,- thereby creating more employment. That the Government’s policy has been successful is unquestionably shown by the additional employment that has been provided for the people of Australia in consequence of the additional money left to those engaged in industry to expand their operations.
Still another aspect of the subject of tax remissions and reductions merits attention. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that the reductions had been inadequate; yet his Leader (Mr. Curtin) said not long ago that, if Labour were returned to office it would reimpose the taxes which this Government had removed, and use the money to provide additional social benefits. Only last Thursday, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, (Senator Collings) also said that if Labour were returned to power it would restore taxes to their former rates. It is difficult to reconcile the views of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition with those of the Leader of the Opposition in either this House or the Senate.
I wish also to refer to certain observations made by the secretary of the Taxpayers Association in Sydney. Incidentally, that” body is foolish to allow this gentleman to make the statements that he is publishing at this juncture. As we have been assured that if the Labour party is returned to power it will restore taxation to its former level, the secretary of the Taxpayers’ Association would be well advised not to continue to embarrass this Government by his public speeches and printed statements. He may criticize this Government for not having done more than it has done, but the alternative which faces him is the placing in office of a Labour Government which would replace and reimpose the taxation taken off and undo the good work which this Government has done.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition indicated that he concurred in an interjection made by one of his colleagues that the profiteers would benefit principally by the expenditure of government money in Australia for defence purposes. I assure him, and also the country at large that this is not at all likely to be the case. The chief benefits from our defence expenditure will go to the electors of West Sydney, Dalley and Maribyrnong and many others. Of course if the honorable member cares to describe them as profiteers they have their remedy, and may be trusted to deal with him. By far the greater proportion of the money to be spent on defence measures will be expended in this country. When the Works Estimates are under consideration, I shall give honorable members some detailed figures to indicate how our defence expenditure in Australia has increased compared with tho expenditure we incur overseas for defence purposes, and I shall show dearly that the industries of Australia have been definitely assisted by the defence programme formulated by this Government. It is both puerile and futile to assert that our defence expenditure will benefit profiteers.
In referring to the reduction of the national debt by £11,000,000, the honorable gentleman accused the Treasurer of having adversely reflected upon the State governments. Similar statements will doubtless be made on many platforms throughout Australia during the next few weeks. It is proper, therefore, that I should point out that such accusations are entirely without foundation.
– They are due to ignorance.
– No ; they are due to malice aforethought. Such statements are clearly intended to deceive the electors. The fact is that most of the money borrowed for expenditure by the State governments has been wisely disbursed. No reflexion was cast by the Treasurer upon the States in that connexion. It was, however, incumbent upon the Treasurer to show that Australia had been able to maintain its sinking funds payments during the whole period of the depression. That is a record of which few countries can boast.
I do not know whether it is really worth my while occupying the time of the House in replying to the feeble efforts of the honorable member to explain the prosperity of our secondary industries in terms intended to deprive this ‘Government of the credit of its successful achievements in this regard. The outstanding fact, which is as clear as a mountain peak, is that, whereas at the time this Government took office only about 300,000 persons were employed in our secondary industries, to-day more than 500,000 people are so employed. The honorable member may tear from their context sentences from speeches by Mr. Kneeshaw,’ Mr. Eady, Mr. McDougall, and even Mr. Watt, a gentleman to whom ordinarily he does not refer with approval, but he cannot, by any such device, divert attention from the major consideration that to-day more than 500,000 breadwinners are employed in our secondary industries. I do not care what other persons have to say on this subject, for the facts are beyond dispute. The honorable gentleman cited certain remarks by Associate Professor Wood designed to show that if, with our population at the 1932 figure, 300,000 persons were employed in secondary industries, it was only in accordance with normal development that, with our present population, 440,000 persons should be so employed to-day.
– Associate Professor Wood’s figure was 497,000.
– Even if that be so, I cannot see what the honorable member can gain from the argument, for the number of persons employed in the secondary industries which have been encouraged by the policy of this Government is in excess of the associate professor’s estimate. The figures are, therefore, in favour of the Government.
According to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the figures quoted by the Prime Minister at the Chamber of Manufactures’ dinner in Brisbane were unfair to Queensland and to the industries of that State. I listened to the speech delivered by that right honorable gentleman on that evening, and I assure the House that he was most careful to state that his survey was not complete. He was also at pains to indicate that he was making no reflection upon Queensland or any other State in respect of which his figures did not seem to be favorable.
– Did he claim that his survey was representative of the position?
– He said that it was sufficiently representative to justify the deductions that he was making.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition went on to say that the Ottawa Agreement was one of the greatest ramps ever perpetrated in the interests of British manufacturers. I am not prepared to allow such a statement to pass without registering my most emphatic protest at its fantastic inaccuracy. Every one who has studied the position without bias will admit that the Ottawa Agreement has conferred equal benefits upon Great Britain and Australia. I do not say that it is a perfect agreement. No agreement conceived by human minds and written with human hands is perfect. I could, myself, criticize certain clauses of the agreement, but to say that it was the greatest ramp ever perpetrated in the interests of British manufacturers is a gross exaggeration. I do not think even the honorable gentleman’s own supporters would concur in such a statement, which could have been made only for party political purposes. The honorable gentleman conveniently forgot the value of the concessions granted to Australia by British manufacturers. It is a poor and paltry procedure to attack the’ Government for some fancied grievance or disadvantage incurred in consequence of the Ottawa Agreement and to refuse to recognize the great benefits that had accrued to our primary producers of Australia through it because of. their increased access <to the British markets. It would be rank ingratitude if we did not put side by side with the honorable member’s libel on British manufacturers this registration of our appreciation of the benefits which the Ottawa Agreement has conferred upon the traders, the primary producers, and all the people of Australia.
– Does not sugar come into it?
– With the obvious approval of all sides of this House the Treasurer explained the great work that he had done in that regard.
The honorable member made some reference to loans overseas. He referred to the fact that we are seeking accommodation in London by means of treasurybills with the Commonwealth Bank in order to assist in the defence of this country, and in order to pay for the service of defence which we render to Great Britain. The honorable member does not say a word about the extra £2,000,000 that, under the budget, is going to the invalid and old-age pensioners this year; he only picks out these points of criticism, whereas it would, surely, be a fair thing to say that the Government is finding this additional money for the invalid and old-age pensioners. If the people of Australia paid heed only to the honorable member, they would think that the men on this side of the House and in this Government were so far removed from the masses of the people that they did nothing for them. I, therefore, bring them back to the realization of the fact that this Government stands first for the great mass of the people, for the working men of this country. Its first endeavours have been, and always will be, not for any special section of the community, but to ensure that the working men, the great mass of the people of this country, aTo prosperous and happy.
.- Once upon a time, a certain man made up his mind to plant an orchard. He selected a block of land, cleared the scrub, tilled the soil, planted the trees, and did all the hard heart-breaking work. But, before the trees bore fruit, he was taken from the scene of his labours. Another came along, and, in a few years, gathered many basketfuls of rich luscious fruit. He gathered his friends and neighbours around him and asked them to rejoice with him and to congratulate him on his success. But a wise old neighbour who knew how the previous occupant had worked, asked, “Is not some credit due to the man who cleared the scrub, tilled the soil, and planted the trees?” I apply. the parable to the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill).
– I wondered what it was all about.
– I sat silently while the honorable gentleman was speaking, and did not jeer at him.
– What I would expect from the decent man you are.
– Then .be decent to me. The application of that parable is so obvious that it does not require much explanation.
I wonder how long it will be in tho history of this country before a measure of justice is done to the men who tilled the soil, cleared the land, and planted tho trees for the rich harvest which this Government is reaping to-day. I am not going to deny anything- that this Government has done, but I ask, “ Is the speech to which we have listened from the Minister for Defence a fair summary of Australia’s history?” In their comparisons of the condition of the Commonwealth when the Labour party was in office and now, tho Minister for Defence, ruthlessly, and the Treasurer (Mr. Casey), more mildly took all the credit for Australia’s improved position. They ignored entirely what every person of the age of reason knows, namely, that when I was Prime Minister the world was tottering. Throughout the length and breadth of the civilized world, there was not a business man who knew what next day would bring forth. There was not a government which did not have deficits which aggregated, not millions, but scores of millions of pounds. There was not a nation whose whole country was not faced with disaster. And there w,as not a government which faced that crisis so courageously and successfully as the Labour Government of Australia. Not a word had the Minister for Defence to say’ about that. He even discounted one of the greatest achievements in Australia’s history ; he treated as nothing the conversion, in the midst of that crisis, of £536,000,000 of Australia’s internal debt, which has saved the governments of Australia, Commonwealth and State, £7,500,000 every year since, and which has made an aggregate saving in the budgets of those governments of £46,000,000, and has given the Commonwealth Government itself budget relief of £20,000,000. This is passed over as nothing! Great emphasis is laid on the conversion achievements in London of the High Commissioner (Mr. Bruce). I am not discounting them; they are valuable, but the savings effected by Mr. Bruce in debt conversions in London aggregate only £11,000,000 against the £46,000,000 saved by the conversion my government achieved. The Minister for Defence justifies this kind of treatment by saying, “That was by. voluntary aci of the bondholders themselves.” Is ir. not a testimony to the government of the day that they did it without force? The Minister surely does not suggest that Mr. Bruce used compulsion? That would detract, from the merit of his achievement. The real merit of what we did lay in the fact that the conversion was done voluntarily, and that the people had sufficient trust in the Government of the day voluntarily tn convert all -their bonds, State as well as Commonwealth, into Commonwealth bonds under control by the Labour government which I led. All the Minister for Defence said was, “ You got help from all parties “. True, that help came because I was big enough as Prime Minister to invite all sections to help, and I never believed that I should live to see the day when political capital would be made out of that by a political opponent. The Government party has never been big enough to ask for the co-operation of this side of the House in a crisis. I recall that in 1927, when a serious position was developing through our overseas trade being threatened by the great excess of imports over exports, with a consequential piling up of debts overseas, I foresaw the day when Australia would approach default. I asked the Prime Minister of the day to put aside all political consideration’s, all Government or Opposition party business and invite us around this table in conference to consider the situation. My suggestion was waved aside just as airily as the Minister for Defence has waved aside that achievement of ours. As events happened, I had to be the Prime Minister leading the Government which faced the crisis which I had foreseen. Let me tell the Minister for Defence that there are nien who support his Government who rank high in the financial world of this country, men with brain3 and capacity, who have not hesitated to say that the Scullin Government courageously saved Australia. Is there to be no meed of credit for that? Have we to wait for 100 years for historians to give its the credit that we should be given now? Ours was an achievement and this Government is building on the foundations that the achievement provided. This Government lias achievements to its credit - God knows, they are not too great - and we acknowledge them; but some admission that something was done by my Government would be appreciated.
– I did not want to hurt the honorable member politically.
– The Minister for Defence said that when the Scullin Government left office, 30 out of every 300 people wore out of work in Australia, whereas ,to-day only nine ‘out of every 100 are out of work. Did he speak in order to paint the picture truly ? Did he give even three minutes of his time - he could really have afforded to give most of the minutes in which he spoke for they were not usefully employed - to give a brief picture of the “ causes of that unemployment? Could he not have admitted that there was practically the same percentage of unemployment all over the world and that there was nothing my Government did to bring it about? When we went into office, we inherited a deficit from the previous government, a deficit that had been piled up over years of unparalleled prosperity and rich abundance of harvests. We inherited a condition that brought us within a month of defaulting overseas. We had to take action to rectify it. These facts are known. The position was accentuated by a compulsory fall of purchasing power of the basic wage, caused by the 10 per cent, cut in real wages made in spite of our protests, and my Government, along with every other government, State as well as federal,- foreign as well as British, was faced with the position that it did not have money to carry on. Yet I listened to-day to tho honorable member for
Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) interject that the Labour party promised the pensioners 12s. in the £1. That is a vile untruth ! The interjection never had any foundation in truth. The truth is that, for eighteen months 1 resisted the financial institutions before I would make any attempt to make the reductions we made. Only when credit was stopped and there was no more money did we face the position and, in facing it, I said, “ Unless we do something, we shall be forced to something worse because the moneys available after July, 1931, will pay only 12s. m the £1 on all our obligations.”’ That was a statement of fact, but to say that that was a promise to pensioners of 12s. in the £1 is merely to twist what I said and meant. What I conveyed was that, by taking certain action, we should save them from 12s. in the £1.
I ask the honorable member to be man enough to withdraw his interjection.
I am not one who regrets that Australia now enjoys a measure of prosperity. On the contrary, I am proud that conditions have improved but I wish the benefits were more widespread. I am glad to know that we have come through the dark and evil days of a depression which wa3 world-wide. Australia then suffered greatly, and it suffered because of the iniquitous system under which we live. There was starvation in this country because we had too much produce here. Because we could not send it overseas for other people to eat, our own people could not eat it. We could not finance it for our own people because of the barbarous financial policy under which we were operating. We could not pass legislation to alter the laws of the country, because of the hostility of the Senate, which had not any bowels of compassion for the masses of the people. The prosperity that we had lost - and there was abounding prosperity in this country in the years before the depression - has been restored to some persons because, as the figures cited by the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) show, prices for wool and wheat have practically doubled since those days; and they are the basis of Australia’s prosperity. When the purchasing power of the country falls city industries are injuriously affected. That waa the position the Scullin Government had to face. I hope that other honorable members who speak will be a little more just than the Minister for Defence was. I hope also that they will have a little better knowledge of the operations of the tariff and of manufacturing industries than he displayed when he said that the present Government, by destroying the Scullin Government’s tariff, had brought prosperity to the manufacturing industries. I challenge the Minister for Defence to produce, from any where in the Commonwealth a reliable manufacturer with a reputation to lose, who will endorse his statement.
– He would need to be an unprejudiced person.
– Does the Minister for Defence suggest that every manufacturer is prejudiced?
– Then I ask him to produce one who will endorse his statement.
– I will produce dozens.
– I ask the Minister to give their names to Parliament to-morrow if he can. I call the Minister’s bluff. He laughs, but a laugh will not suffice in the face of facts. I have been provoked into these remarks by the Minister for Defence.
I did not intend to make these references at all, but I did intend to speak calmly of one aspect of the Treasurer’s budget speech, because I regard it as a serious aspect, and because I know of the dangers from which this country escaped. The last twelve months have taught me that there is more of importance in this country than political advantage, even at an election. Honorable members may think that I am taking too serious a view of what may be described as a small matter, but I remind them that small beginnings frequently have important consequences. A little drop of rain added to a number of other drops becomes a tiny rivulet; and if further drops are added, the rivulet, in turn, becomes a running stream, and, later, a rushing, mighty river. Similarly if we start in a small way to follow a. wrong practice the consequences will be harmful. If, for in stance, an honorable member saw a person who had been a dope fiend, and had been cured of the drug habit, taking one small dose of dope, he would become alarmed. And when I see our nation indulging again in the dope of overseas borrowings, after having been, as I thought, cured of the evil, I am alarmed. I say to the Treasurer that there is no justification whatever for embarking on a policy of overseas borrowing. Although I listened attentively, I waited in vain for the Minister for Defence to defend this proposal when replying to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde). Honorable members know that the Minister deliberately sidestepped this subject. All that he said’ in defence of . the proposal to borrow £2,000,000 overseas - and that represents £2,500,000 in Australian currency - was that this year £2,000,000 more would be required for old-age pensions. What a trifling, piffling statement on a big issue ! The honorable gentleman did not even attempt to excuse a policy of borrowing.
– Does the right honorable gentleman ignore the references and explanations which I made in that regard in my budget speech?
– I was dealing Wit the speech of the. Minister for Defence, and had intended to deal with the Treasurer’s speech later; but as he has interjected, I shall deal with his speech, now. The main explanation given by the Treasurer was that, as we have to convert £72,000,000 next year, we cannot go on the Australian market now. The excuse that has been put? forward by the Treasurer, that a big conversion loan falls due next year, will apply with equal force every year for the next quarter of a century. Apparently, we are to go on and on along the downward path which a few years ago led Australia to the verge of default.
– .There is ahead no conversion loan of such magnitude as .that of next year.
– I refer the Treasurer to page 127 of his own budget, where the loans falling due in future years are set out.
– There is nothing in any year as big as the amount falling due in 1938.
– The loans maturing in 1938 total £85,204,277. I assume that that figure is subject to some adjustment.
– Yes; the amount is now about £72,500,000.
– Loans maturing in 1 939 total £49,676,841. That also will, I suppose, be slightly reduced. In tho following year the amount is £21,323,314 , In. 1941 only £8,753,896” will fall due, but in the following year loans totalling £84,417,753 will mature. In the following three years the maturing loans will total £44,038,763, £11,215,850, and £30,461,873 respectively. Then comes a comparatively small amount - £16,500 - in 1946, with £9,227,007 in the following year, £16,330,144 in 1948, and £69,128,162 in 1949. And so it continues. Therefore, if the excuse given for next year is sound, it will be just as sound in many later years. I thought that almost every school child had learned the lesson of the depression. A policy of borrowing money overseas merely enables us to import goods beyond our ability to pay for them. It is. proposed to issue treasury-bonds to be taken up by the Commonwealth Bank in London to pay for goods or munitions imported from overseas. It means importing into this country things which must be paid for out of the surplus of our exports.
Mr. Casey. - I do not propose to interrupt the right honorable gentleman’s speech by interjecting, but I shall answer all his charges in detail later.
– Is that a fair interjection to make? The honorable gentleman ought to be honest enough to answer me now.
– Surely the right honorable gentleman does not want his speech interrupted by interjections?
– The Treasurer has interrupted me merely to announce that he will make a speech later, and I ask him for a reply now. He is adopting the same indifferent don’t-care attitude which was adopted by a previous Treasurer and a previous Prime Minister. They were warned, from the very position in which I now stand, by myself and others .that if the policy they were following were continued, and money was borrowed overseas and goods imported for which the country could not pay, the time would como when Australia would not be able to pay its way, and would fail to meet its obligations. When I was in London I addressed about 250 British manufacturers at Australia House. The burden of their complaint against the Scullin Government was that it had. imposed high tariffs, and had rationed, and even prohibited, imports to Australia. I put it to them somewhat as follows : - “ Is there a man here who, if a customer in the retail business came to him and said : I shall have to order less material from you this month than formerly because I have been buying more than I have sold and my cash position is somewhat strained,’ would not say that that man was doing right in not buying beyond his means?” That was precisely the position of Australia at the time ; it could not pay its way, because of the orgy of borrowing and excessive importing under the Bruce-Page regime. I do not require any better testimony in support of what the Labour government of Australia did than the speech delivered by Mr. Bruce, at that time Resident Minister in London, when he was endeavouring to convert certain loans in London, and to that end was trying to win the confidence of bondholders overseas. He said then ‘that Australia had converted an adverse trade balance of £30,000,000 to a credit balance of £32,000,000 by imposing prohibitions, surcharges and high tariffs. He concluded by saying that by no other means could these results have been accomplished. The only thing which he omitted to say was that those things had been done by a Labour government. No one denies the ability of Mr. Bruce to gauge the situation. He knew that astute investors in London were well aware of the fact that the only way that Australia could pay interest on its overseas debt was by having an excess of exports over imports, and that that position could not be reached if our imports exceeded our exports. He told them therefore that the adverse trade balance had been corrected, and he explained the method by which it had been done. The method was that adopted by a Labour government. I do not want to see those drastic methods employed again. There ought never to be another occasion demanding the imposition of prohibitions and such high duties.
Such measures should be employed only when the justification isample. I am not a pessimist, but I hope that I am a practical man; and I want to be sure that when droughts come again - as they will -we shall have sufficient funds in London to meet our commitments. A few days ago we heard a good deal of the possibility of another war, and of the likelihood of the trade routes between Australia and other countries being closed unless Australia had a navy to protect them. I point out that even if there were a big navy our goods may not go overseas in war time. During the Great War wool and wheat had to be piled up in Australia because shipping was scarce and the British Government had to send to the nearest ports to get supplies of food and clothing. It would do so again, but I am not criticizing it for that. Whatever possibility there is of European war and whatever probability there is of drought in Australia, we ought to be prepared with substantial London funds; else default.
– Hear! hear!
– I am glad to hear that agreement from the Treasurer, because what I am condemning is the proposal to whittle away London funds by calling upon the Commonwealth Bank to take up treasury-bills, and the Treasurer is aware that our London funds are not sufficient because, he says, these bills will be funded by a public loan. From that we can assume that the Commonwealth Bank would not have agreed to take up treasury-bills if there had not been an undertaking that the loan would be funded in the near future. When the Leader of the Opposition asked where it will be funded, the Treasurer would not answer. ‘ It is obvious to all of us that it will be funded in London, and we shall begin again to tread the dangerous and perilous path of overseas borrowing. I make this appeal to the Treasurer and to the Government, as I made it when I was Acting-Leader of the Opposition in 1927 and Leader of the Opposition in 1928 : Do not pursue this policy; if we areliving as he claims, in a period of unparalleled prosperity greater than ever before in the history of this country, do not choose this as the time to add more burdens to the overseas debt of Australia.
– I listened with the closest attention to the speech of the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) ; in fact this House always listens attentively to the right honorable member. It is only fair to realize, and to express the realization, that the government led by the right honorable member for Yarra was in office when Australia was feeling the full blast of the financial and economic tornado which struck the world. I have always admitted that, and I am sure every other honorable memberhas realized and admitted it. I listened, too, with equal care to the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill), and I think the right honorable member for Yarra certainly misunderstood one or two of his remarks. When the Minister, for instance, referred to the conversion of internal loans I thought he was explaining to the House what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) did not explain - that the Scullin Government in its efforts to solve the financial and economic difficulties at that time received the support of every party in the House. I am sure the. right honorable member himself admits that. It was certainly supported by all of the members of the present Ministerial party who were in the House at that time. Again, when the right honorable gentleman, in his remarks about an interjection by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson), spoke of the time when he was called upon to make a statement in thisHouse, pointing out the financial position of the country and what would happen to us if we failed to give effect to legislation for the reduction of expenditure which he had brought before us, he did not mention that every member of the then Opposition readily supported him because we all realized the position.
Mr.Scullin. - The honorable member will be fair enough to agree that it is not true to say that I promised the pensioners a pension of 12s. a week.
– No, I am sure what the right honorable gentleman wished to convey was that if the position did come about that we could only meet our obligations to the amount of 12s. in the £1, reduction to that degree would have been necessary in pensions, salaries and other payments. That, I think, we all appreciated when we gave the then LabourGovernment every support. To make my position clear as far as the right honorable gentleman’s Government is concerned, I realized its difficulties atthe time and I am sure we all did. Although we had our own ideas as to certain delays that took place in bringing about the reduction of expenditure and as to certain monetary proposals of the Government, nobody failed to appreciate the fact that the Scullin Government was in power during a time of great difficulties, both financial and economic, more serious perhaps than had been experienced at any other time in the history of Australia.
I congratulate the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) on his comprehensive survey of the present day Australian scene, and on his lucid exposition of the financial and economic position of the country as it now obtains. Whatever may be the respective political views of members of this House - naturally they must vary - none can complain with justice that, in the budget speech, the Treasurer has not paid every attention to detail or that he has obscured or disregarded essential facts. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) is reported to have described the budget as window-dressing for the forthcoming general elections. I cannot see on what evidence the honorable member bases that assertion. Not only do I regard the budget as an able piece of statesmanship, but also I consider that, far from being a windowdressing budget, it is a courageous and honest document to place before the public immediately before general elections. What is there of window-dressing in this budget? I say, without the slightest hesitation, I can find nothing. The political shopfront most admired by the man in the street is reduced taxation. This budget contains no proposals for a reduction of taxation. On the contrary, we must admit that it provides for a general increase of expenditure, notably on defence and invalid and old-age pensions. Defence during the coming year, as Ave all know, is to cost this country an extra £3,500,000, and pensions are to cost an extra £2,000,000. The actual increase of the pensions bill, due for the present financial year to the increase of the pension rate from 19s. to £1, will amount to £800,000.The whole pensions bill, however, is estimated to cost an additional £2,000,000, bringing it to the enormous total of £16,900,000.
Perhaps some honorable members opposite may regard the record defence expenditure of £11,500,000 as window dressing; some of them may imagine that the Government is going to appeal to the country on a war scare. If so, they are mistaken. The people know the truth, and will appreciate the fact that this enormous expenditure is essential in the interests of empire defence and unity and of Australia’s safety. The people of this country certainly will not be stampeded into returning the present Government to power because it has appropriated over £11,000,000 for defence armaments. The present sorry state of the world shows how sadly our defences need strengthening. The process of rearmament in Australia was started by the present Government a year or two ago and was particularly accelerated last year when this Parliament voted £8,000,000 towards defence. Now, after the leading statesmen of Australia have conferred in London with leaders from all parts of the Empire, it has been found that an expenditure of £11,500,000 is both desirable and advisable. This, all honorable members will agree, is not the hasty and selfinterested decision of a vote-catching government, but is the outcome of exhaustive deliberations of the utmost gravity. Of that we may rest assured, and the people of Australia are wide-awake to the danger facing them unless the countryis properly armed to defend itself and, if necessary, to help to defend the Empire.
– Who is the enemy?
– I have never hesitated to say that the people of Australia are the most peace-loving people in the world ; no other people are more keen to live at peace and on friendly terms with their neighbours. The very fact that we are keen to be permitted to develop this country as we feel it should be developed, to enable it to reach its ultimate destiny, makes it essential for us to appreciate our responsibilities; and the first responsibility of a national government is to provide, as far as possible, for the defence of the country should the unhappy necessity arise.
– Outside of Australia?
– I said just now that we will have to realize our responsibilities, not only to defend Australia, but also to help to defend the Empire. I feel that this is where I part from some of my friends opposite, though not all of them, because I know that all honorable members opposite do not disagree with me in the expression of this view. Not for one moment do I impugn the patriotism or the loyalty of my friends opposite, but I do most seriously question the wisdom of their national defence policy as enunciated by their leader in this House only a few days ago. As I understand it, that policy is that Australia should go to war if it is directly attacked, but that we should not involve ourselves in any overseas warfare. It is said that honorable members opposite would not agree to help in defending New Zealand from attack. I cannot believe that they would be prepared to carry their policy to the extent that they would not assist in defending the people of a sister dominion whose soldiers fought side by side with ours, not only in the Great “War, but also earlier in the Boer War. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6.16 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from page 293.
Mr. Curtin (Fremantle) [8.0].- The Opposition wholeheartedly welcomes the. hill, and will do its best to facilitate its passage. We realize that unless the measure is passed this week it will be almost impossible for the Postal Department to carry out its share of the work entailed in making the additional payments to pensioners on the first pensions pay day in September. I notice that, in addition to the restoration of £1 a week to invalid and old-age pensioners, the bill contains a provision enabling pensioners who are permanently blind to have an income not exceeding £227 10s. a year, and also that the amount payable to pensioners in government institutions will be 6s. a week instead of 5s. 6d. This means that the extra ls. a week will be divided between the institutions and the pensioner inmates. I acknowledge that 6s. a week to this class of pensioner will be the largest amount that he has had for himself, apart from the maintenance charge to the institution, during the history of the pensions system.
This restoration to pensioners is appropriate, because a government which signalized its accession to office by reducing pensions might very well signalize its exit from office by increasing them. The bill is, in fact, four years late. Parliament and the pensioners had every right to expect that a measure of this kind would have been passed four years ago. I remind the House that when the Financial Emergency Bill was being discussed in 1931, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), speaking as the then Leader of the Opposition, said -
No one member on this side of the House supports with pleasure the reduction of wages and pensions, and so far as we are concerned the reduction will not operate longer than is necessary for the restoration of financial stability.
He went on to say that every member of the then Opposition - they are now Government supporters - regarded the bill as a purely emergency measure. The declaration of the then Leader of the Opposition was important, because it reinforced the declaration of the Leader of the Government of that time (Mr. Scullin), that owing to the state of financial emergency then existing in Australia, pensioners were expected to share in the sacrifices which were regarded as unavoidable, in order that the country might tide over what was hoped would be a temporary difficulty. An undertaking such as that given by the then Leader of a government and endorsed by the then Leader of the Opposition is surely one which imposes a moral obligation upon succeeding governments. But what did this Government do? When it assumed office in January, 1932, pensions had already been reduced from £1 a week to 17s. 6d. In presenting the budget at the termination of its first half-year of office, the present Prime Minister who was also Treasurer, was able to announce a surplus of £1,300,000, which had really been bequeathed to the Lyons Administration by the Scullin Government. But in preparing his estimates for the next financial year, Mr. Lyons, as Treasurer, arrived at the extraordinary conclusion that the country was faced with an estimated deficit of £1,400,000 to meet which pensions would have to be further reduced, in -certain circumstances, from 17s. 6d. a week to 15s. The Opposition declared that the estimate of Commonwealth revenue was faulty, and argued that the anticipated deficit of £1,400,000 was based upon an entire misreading of the situation. Subsequent events proved the correctness of the Opposition’s contention. The figures for the first four months of the financial year did not support the Treasurer’s pessimism or justify the Government’s proposals to meet the anticipated deficit. Whenever discussion arises over pensions we are told that a Labour government reduced the payments and this Government restored them. There is, however, a significant silence everywhere regarding the fact that this Government itself reduced pensions not from the level of £1 a week, but from the level of 17s. 6d. a week.
– On the 16th September, 1932, the Lyons Government passed a measure containing three important provisions. One reduced pensions from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a week, with a proviso that where a pensioner had no other income and was entirely dependent upon the pension, he should receive 17s. 6d. a week. The second provision penalized pensioners having property, because it enacted that upon the death of a pensioner the amount that had been paid to him by way of pension should become a first charge on his estate.
– In effect the Government paid that class of pensioner no pension at all.
– The Government became a money-lender to that class of pensioner upon the security of his property. The third provision compelled relatives of pensioners to contribute to their support.
– What a frightful thing!
– Those Provisions were inserted in the bill because the Government - I think, sincerely - believed that it was faced with a deficit. If no deficit had been expected, surely we would have had a right to expect that no further sacrifice would be demanded from pensioners. Therefore, the only justification, if there could be any justification for this additional attack upon pensioners, was that another governmental problem had arisen in regard to the budget. But, as I said earlier, the i estimated deficit of £1,400,000 was disproved by the accounts, not only for the first three months of the financial year, but also at the end of the fourth month. In fact, when the legislation was going through this Parliament, evidence was accumulating in the Treasury that the Government hypothesis was badly founded because, as I have stated, at the end of the fourth month of that financial year there was a balance of receipts over expenditure of £2,700,000. Therefore, the reductions of pensions had been effected unjustifiably; the budget would have balanced without them.
If the Government had admitted that, because of a miscalculation, it had contemplated a deficit and therefore was obliged to reduce pensions, it could have put the matter right by declaring that it would take the earliest opportunity at least to undo what it had done by restoring pensions to 17s. 6d. a week, and removing the lien upon properties of pensioners and those other additional and irritative innovations which it had introduced for the first time into the pensions law. But this Government made no such declaration. As a matter of fact it was not until October, 1933, that the pension was increased from 15s. a week to 17s. 6d., the amount payable when the Lyons Government took office.
Let me put briefly the history of this matter. When Ministers and their supporters refer to what the Government has done in regard to pensions we hear it suggested that the payment was 15s. a week prior to January, 1932, when this Government took office. As a matter of fact, it was 17s. 6d. a week. In October, 1932, it was reduced to 15s. a week, with a proviso that 17s. 6d. a week would be paid to those who were entirely dependent on the pension.
– They represented twothirds of the pensioners.
– The objectionable property provisions were then incorporated in the act. In October, 1933, the pension was increased to 17s. 6d. a week, the rate payable before the Lyons Government reduced it. Then, on the 4th July, 1935, it was raised to 18s. a week, owing to the increase of the cost of living, and the provision relating to the property of pensioners was repealed. On the 24th September, 1936, the pension was further increased to 19s. a week, a portion of the increase of1s. being due to increased cost of living. Next month I am hopeful that it will be increased to £1 a week.
Let us now consider the effect of the innovations which this Government introduced into the pensions legislation. As a result of the insertion of the provision relating to pensioners’ property, 12,000 persons surrendered their pensions.
– That was what this Government wanted.
– In addition to the surrender of that number of pensions, the present Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir John Latham, who was then Attorney-General, estimated that another 13,000 persons, who otherwise would have been eligible, refrained from lodging applications for pensions. Thus, obviously, the field of pensions was greatly contracted as the result of innovations which the Government inserted in the act. On the 6th December, 1933, Sir John Latham stated in this chamber: -
If the whole of the property provisions were repealed, it is estimated that the annual expenditure would increase by at least £610,000 and, in addition - which is more important - the rate of future claims for pensions would be substantially increased.
From this it will be seen that the Government by its property provisions was, first, saving £610,000 per annum at the expense of the pensioners; and secondly, stopping people from applying for a pension to which they were entitled. I have already said that from 1932-33, the financial year in which the Lyons-Page Government assumed office, there were recurring surpluses, and I have cited the positive declaration of the present Prime Minister that, when the finances of the Government allowed of it, the pensions would be restored to the rate at which they had been paid prior to the passing of the Financial Emergency Act of 1931. I now place on record what were the actual surpluses of the Commonwealth for the four years that have been marked by the failure of the Government, until to-day, to take steps to restore the pension to £1 a week: -
In all, the Government has had sur pluses approximating £10,000,000, and it is quite true, as the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) said this afternoon, that these surpluses were less in amount than the savings of interest which the Government had inherited from its predecessor. I shall also place those statistics on record. In each of those years the saving to the Commonwealth Treasury is approximately £3,200,000, or a total for the five years of £16,000,000. Thus the Government has been spared £16,000,000 of expenditure as the result of the policy carried out by its predecessor. Although there was the implicit undertaking to restore the pensions when the financial system allowed of it, and although the Government has had surpluses aggregating to date £10,000,000, it is only at this late hour on the eve of an appeal to the country that it has decided to give effect to an undertaking which, on the financial facts, could have been carried out in any one of the years during which this Government has been in office. It appears to me to be extraordinary that the Government should have cut pensions in order to face a wrongly-estimated deficit, but did not use surpluses to redeem the undertaking which was given in 1931 to restore pensions. On the contrary, the surpluses were used mainly to reduce a certain class of taxation which the
Treasurer referred to in the budget speech last Friday. Although he did not increase the pension he reduced the land tax to a figure below the normal rate which had ruled for years. 1 remind honorable members that the land tax was not imposed at all as an emergency measure. Furthermore, the Treasurer used the surpluses, as he stated in his budget speech, in order that income tax might be reduced, and the reduction, he says, has been so great that had he continued the income tax at its former rate, a sum of £15,500,000 would be collected in the present year, instead of the £9,000,000 that is intended to be collected. Thus, on his own testimony, the honorable gentleman has saved the payers of income tax a sum of £6,500,000 in the present year, and sums approximating that amount in the last year, and amounts tapering towards it in each previous year. He has had a readier disposition to remove from those classes of the community the share which they made to the common sacrifice, than , to carry out the undertaking given to the invalid and old-age pensioners. Earlier to-day, the honorable gentleman said that the purchasing power of the pension at the’ new rate will be very high.
– I said that it would have the same purchasing power as 22s. 2d. would have had in 1930.
– There again, as in many other instances, the honorable gentleman has selected a date most favorable to the type of calculation that suits his argument. He knows very well that in January, 1931, real wages were reduced by 10 per cent., and that was a further deduction to the -deductions arising from the fall of the cost of living. He also knows that from January to June, 1931, the prices of commodities all over Australia were falling rapidly. Let me take for the purpose of this argument, the period from January to June, 1931.
– I took 1925 as well.
– This is the material point. The pension payable in March, April and May, 1931, was £1 a week. The then Prime Minister had resisted pressure to reduce the pensions, but the cost of living had substantially fallen. If the Treasurer will take another look at the statistics relating to the cost of living and the rate of pension, he will find that the highest purchasing power which the pension had in the hands of the recipient was about the period before it was reduced from £1 to 17s. 6d. a week. In any event, the argument in respect of purchasing power now disappears from legislation of this type. In this bill the Treasurer proposes to eliminate all reference to index numbers, so that henceforth the pension will be fixed at £1 a week . and will not vary except by an amendment of the statute. The Opposition accepts that point; it thinks that it is right for the Parliament to accept full responsibility for the rate at which pensioners shall be paid; As I have already indicate’d, I welcome this legislation, and I sincerely hope that it will give an increased measure of comfort to that very large section of the people who, unfortunately, are obliged in their old age to apply for a pension of this type. The Treasurer stated this afternoon that the increase of the pension to £1 a week will have the effect of raising the annual pensions bill to £15,900,000. It is true that the total bill will be £15,900,000, but the increase of the pensions rate accounts for only £800,000 a year.
– The increase for the remainder of this year will be £600,000.
– Yes, because the increased rate will not be paid for a full twelve months. For the full year, the increase would be £800,000. . The other portion of the addition to the pensions hill, compared with last year, would have occurred in any event.
– The Treasurer made that fact quite clear.
– He did not. This legislation will involve for the full twelve months an additional expenditure on pensions of £SOO,000. As a matter of fact, the surpluses for last year and the previous year were sufficient to pay the’ additional cost caused by the restoration of the pension to £1 a week. I conclude with the declaration which I made previously that we regret that the Government did not use the resources available to it at a much earlier stage to redeem the obligation which this Parliament entered into, when, under the duress of a grave financial emergency, it passed legislation which asked the pensioners to accept less than they had been paid hitherto.
.- I support the statement of the Leader of tie Opposition (Mr. Curtin) that the proposal of the Government to restore invalid and old-age pensions to £1 a week is very belated. The Labour party has continually endeavoured since 1932, when T entered this Parliament, to compel the Government to honor the promise which it made at the elections in that year, and also in this House before the reductions in 1931, that it would make this restoration. Despite those efforts, the Government remained adamant and refused to increase the rate of pension. When the Lyons Government decided to reduce invalid and old-age pensions from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a week, that action gave birth to the Invalid and Old-Age Pensioners’ Association. This organization has been responsible in no small measure for tho present measure to increase the pension to £1 a week. I feel that if the pensioners’ organization had not been formed throughout the Commonwealth and brought pressure to bear, not only upon Cabinet Ministers, but also upon private members of this Parliament, the Government would never have increased the rate of pension. On one matter I am at variance with the Treasurer (Mr. Casey). Both inside and outside this chamber it has been stated that the purchasing power of £1 to-day is equivalent to 23s. in 1932. Such a contention was advanced by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill). I propose to analyse those figures. In 1932 the Commonwealth Government paid to State-controlled institutions a sum of lis. 3d. a week forthe board and lodging of each old-ago pensioner inmate. That allowed to the pensioner only 3s. 9d. a week when the pension had been reduced to 15s.
– Which government reduced the pensions to 15s. a week?
-The Lyons Government. At that time it was contended that the cost of living was so high, and that the government institutions found it so difficult to’ make ends meet that the federal government should pay to such institutions Ils. 3d. a week in respect of each pensioner inmate. This afternoon, the Treasurer stated that £1 to-day has a purchasing power equivalent to that of 23s. in 1932; but this Government is now giving to the State-controlled institutions a sum of 14s. a week for the maintenance of each pensioner. I inquired of the Treasurer this afternoon whether Mr. Stevens or Mr. Spooner had asked him for the extra 6d. a week.
– Sixpence a week would be of no use to Mr. Stevens.
– I agree with that; he goes for the big “ licks.” The Opposition believes that a pensioner inmate of an institution should receive the whole of the pension, thus giving to him an increase of 6s. 6d. a week. Some honorable members of this House have probably never visited the State-controlled institutions. The inmates are principally pioneers who blazed the trail and worked from early morning till late at night in order to make it possible for some of the Government supporters, who are now laughing at my remarks, to become members of this Parliament. Many of these persons from the outback parts of the country arrive at an institution’ with their clothes in a state of dilapidation; immediately a new outfit, which has the appearance of a “prison uniform is issued to them. If the personal belongings of the inmate are not worth cleaning, they are burnt. Consequently, if he wishes to’ visit any friends he may have, or even to go outside the grounds of the institution, he is compelled to wear the clothing with which he has been supplied. A similar practice is followed at Newington State Institution, where there are 600 old women. They are supplied with white stockings, canvas shoes, a little straw hat, and a shawl. No self-respecting woman dressed in that fashion would visit town. The Treasurer (Mr. Casey) should provide that the inmates of institutions shall receive the full 6s. 6d. a week. Bystinting themselves for perhaps six or seven months, they might then be able to dress themselves decently. If the honorable gentleman will not agree to do this, I shall move in committee an amendment to that effect.
.- I agree entirely with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) in regard to the inmates’ of institutions. The honorable member for Reid deserves commendation for his activities on behalf of these pensioners. I do not suppose that any honorable member visits these institutions more frequently than does the honorable member: therefore, he is well qualified to make an appeal to the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) on behalf of the pensioner inmates. A similar procedure could well be adopted in relation to the inmates of hospitals. In industrial centres, many aged people cannot obtain entry into a benevolent institution, and remain in hospital until they die. I believe that the hospital authorities would willingly forego the extra 6d. a week.
In the past, the Treasurer has made a good deal of political capital out of the section of the act which makes provision for the rise or fall of the pension in accordance with fluctuations of the cost of living. Judging by the speech which the honorable gentleman made to-day, when this legislation is passed that section will no longer operate, because the maximum pension in future is to be £52 a year.
– The section relating to the cost of living is to be repealed.
– That is not satisfactory. It must be recognized that the cost of living is ever-increasing. An increase of 10 per cent, in wages has been granted to miners in the district from which I come, and to meet it rents have been advanced by 5s. a week. That aspect of the matter has not been given due consideration. No landlord will let a room to an old-age pensioner for less than he charges other persons. Therefore, the pensioner will not derive any benefit from the increased rate. On no account should the rate of pension drop below £1 a week ; that should be the absolute minimum which these pioneers should be asked to accept. As the cost of living is rising this section 24 relating to the cost of living should apply only to raise the pension above £1 a week, but should not apply to bring it below that amount. Unlike ministerial supporters, I am not prepared to say that Parliament has been generous to these old people. Had they not organized and threatened the political life of many members of this Parliament, they would have received no increase. I can recall honorable members opposite saying that the callous and brutal provisions which made the properties of pensioners a first charge on the pension when they died, were justified. When the pensioners became organized, they began to “snipe” at the Government. On one occasion, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) was “ carpeted “ at a meeting which I was invited to attend in his electorate, and was censured for having supported the Government’s pension policy.
It was this Government which, in 1932, introduced two of the most iniquitous provisions of the act - sections 17 and 22. Last session, I had on the business paper a private motion dealing with the matter, but the prorogation of Parliament deprived me of the opportunity to proceed with it. Everybody must recognize the justice of the claim that these two sections should be repealed. The section which compelled the children of a pensioner to contribute to the pension was repealed on the eve of the last election because of the number of votes involved. Not many invalid pensioners are maintained by their parents, and, consequently, it is not intended to repeal the sections which make it the bounden duty of parents to maintain an invalid child irrespective of age. I have quoted instances Of men, 47’ years of age,’ living with their parents, who are 70 years of age. The pension has been refused in such cases, on the ground that the income of the parents is adequate to maintain the invalid.
Mp. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).-
The honorable member is discussing something that is not in the bill.
– Apparently, Mr. Speaker, I am always running counter to your idea of the lines which the debate should take. I have no wish to do so. The Government has a great deal to say about liberality and prosperity. In 1932, the act was amended in certain directions. Seeing that it is again being amended, why cannot sections 17 and 22 be repealed? If I am not at liberty ito discuss that matter, it is unfortunate, because the Government will thus escape well-merited criticism.
– The honorable member has had a good deal of latitude. I ask him now to discuss the bill.
– I invite the Treasurer to consider the advisability of continuing the operation of section 24; my object is to ensure that the minimum rate of pension shall bo £1 a week, but .that the rate shall be raised as the cost of living soars. “We know that it will soar. No one can deny that it is increasing by leaps and bounds. Should there be a war in the near future, which seems quite likely, although we have not yet chosen our opponent, prices are bound to soar tremendously. I am endeavouring to provide for that contingency. If the Treasurer will not accept the suggestion of the honorable member for Reid, we shall have to move to amend sections 31, 45 and 47. Everybody must admit that the pensioner inmates of hospitals and institutions need a little extra. The 5s. 6d. a week is not sufficient; hut as the extra ls. is being given to those who are not in institutions, it should go also to those who are, and not to the institution.
– It is with some diffidence that I rise to speak on the matter of pensions, because I have boasted to honorable members, particularly those who have gone through my vast and isolated electorate, that the people up there are super-adapt able and are really the residuum of those who settled there, the remainder having been tried and found wanting. In other words, it is a land that culls mercilessly the unfit, those who still survive being characterized by an excellent independence. I think the Treasurer will agree that very few applications for a pension have been made to him by my constituents. They are so independent that they wait for five or seven years after reaching the qualifying age before deciding to sink their pride and apply for a pension. There is a fairly prevalent idea that honorable members of this House use the subject of pensions to ingratiate themselves with their electors, and I do not wish it to be thought that I am actuated by any such motive when I make a plea for the pensioners of the Northern Territory. I commend the Government for its action in raising the pension to £1 a week, because that was one of the first things which I advocated when I became a member of this House. I also urged tho institution of a regional system so that pensioners living in the outlying parts of Australia might receive more than those living in more favorably situated parts. The Treasurer could not see his way at the time to adopt my suggestion, but I now place it before him again in the hope that, even if it cannot be applied throughout the whole of Australia, it might at least be applied to the far north so that pensioners there might receive some special consideration in keeping with the higher cost of living. I have been inspired by the remarks of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) to urge upon the Government the need for providing better housing for the pensioners in the north, particularly in the Darwin, Katherine and Pine Creek” districts. Honorable members would be shocked if they could see the dwellings of some of these old people. Some are actually living in discarded water tanks on the river banks, while others, even in Darwin itself, are occupying tumbledown little hovels unfit for human habitation. I ask the Treasurer to confer with the Minister of the Interior (Mr. Paterson) when the programme for the building of workers’ homes in Darwin is under consideration, with a view to having reasonably comfortable dwellings provided for pensioners, many of whom lost in the last cyclone even what poor shelters they had. I believe that the firm of Sydney Williams and Company is prepared to build two-roomed cottages for pensioners at a cost of £49 each. I hope that the Government will take steps to see that something of the kind is done, so that decent homes may be provided for the old people up north where the social services existing in the south are not provided.
.- I am sure that all honorable members of this House are glad that the Government 13 now in a position to restore pensions to the full amount of £1 a week. There are four outstanding points in this bill: First, the nominal amount of -20s. is being restored, which will bring pensions up to the highest rate that has ever been paid ;’ secondly, this 20s. will purchase, more to-day than at any other time when a similar amount was paid; thirdly, the amount of 6s. to be given to persons in hospitals and other institutions is to be higher than ever before; and fourthly, the maximum amount which the pensioner is to be allowed to earn is 2s. 6d. higher than in 1930. It is to be o2s. 6d., whereas formerly it was 30s. It i3 always popular for members of Parliament to advocate the cause of a particular section, and to urge the Government to do more for it, but the policy of the Government all along bus been to do the fair thing. Very heavy emergency taxes were imposed on the people at the time that pensions were reduced, and part of that burden still remains. There is still a sales tax of 4 per cent., and there are certain high revenue tariff duties still in operation, as well as tho primage duty which was imposed as an emergency measure. However, we are glad that the Government’s financial position has allowed it to restore pensions in spite of this fact. The pensioners, both invalid and old-age, in Australia constitute about 4 per cent, of the population, and to them is paid about 4 per cent, of Australia’s national income. There are 300,000 pensioners in Australia, which is ‘about 4 per cent, of the population, and they are to receive in pensions this year just under £16,000,000, approximately 4 per cent, of the country’s national income, in addition to any small income some of them may have. In view of this, I think it will be admitted that the Government is treating the pensioners fairly.
– I could not help feeling, when the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) was speaking, that the one thing that stands out more clearly than any other is that this is the only Government which ever took the pensions completely away from the pensioners. It was this Government which compelled the pensioners to pawn their homes in return for their pensions, so that when they died the homes passed, not to their next of kin, but to the Government. In actual fact, they were not receiving a pension at all ; they were living on the asset which their homes represented. The Leader of thi’ Opposition cited figures to show that the surpluses of which the Government boasts have actually been made up of the money which it has taken from the pensioners.
I wish to join with the honorable member for Reid and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) in urging the Treasurer to grant the extra ls. a week to the inmates of hospitals and similar institutions instead of dividing the increase between the pensioner and the institution. As a matter of fact, 1 question whether the Commonwealth does pay 133. 6d. a week - in future 14s. - to the institutions in which these pensioners are housed.
– Some of the institutions get nothing at all.
– There are about 5,000 pensions to which this provision is applicable.
– Well, in the case of pensioners who are inmates of institutions to which the Government does not pay the amount of 13s. 6d. a week, it is simply “ welshing “ this amount from the pensioners. There is no other way to describe it because the amount is simply withheld from them and remain? in the Treasury. I should like to know whether such institutions as the Waterfall Sanatorium receive from the Government 13s. 6d. a week in respect of each pensioner inmate.
– I shall obtain the information and furnish it to the honorable member later.
– There are returned soldiers in the Waterfall Sanatorium to whom the Government has refused to give “ burnt out “ pensions, because it is contended that these men are still employable, though, as a matter of fact, they are there simply expectorating their lives away. The Government refuses to give them an invalid pension, and they arc compelled to go to institutions. These old people, whether they are in institutions or hot, are as worthy citizens as are the fathers of any of us in this House, but, because of their misfortunes, they are now without a friend except for the few noble-hearted persons who visit them occasionally to give concerts, and bring them cheer. They have no one to give them tobacco or a bit of fruit, such as have the pensioners outside the institution, who may look to their children for comforts of that kind. Yet it is from these friendless and unfortunate persons that the Government proposes to withhold this extra 6d. a week. Such action is worse than taking millions from other sections of the community. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) prated about the payment of £15,000,000 a year in pensions; it irritates him to think that so much money is being spent in that way. He never says a word, however, about the £65,000,0*00 a year that the money bugs take from the nation every year in the form of interest on the national debt. He never tells us about the millions of money that is poured each year into the laps of the wealthy under a system which, ethically, must earn the condemnation of all decent men. Honorable members opposite remind us of those who -
Although the wind blew east, they went in furs and wraps to watch the paupers feast.
I hope that we shall have no more whining of that sort in this Parliament. I hope that those who have been fortunate in life will cease to think they are handing out largesse in a big open-handed way when they dole out a few pence a week to those who have come less well out of the battle of life. I appeal to the Government, if it wishes to be thought generous, to give the 6d. a week to the pensioners instead of to the institutions. While 6d. a week means nothing to honorable members opposite, it means a great deal to these old people. The Treasurer boasts that the Government has restored prosperity, and a little while ago the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill) spoke of the unexampled prosperity in Australia, yet the Government cannot give this 6d. a week to the inmates of institutions. The State governments, and the institutions concerned, can well afford to forgo the 6d. Furthermore, I ask that those pensioners who are living in institutions to which the Government pays no part of the pension, shall receive the full amount for themselves.
Mr. BEASLEY (West Sydney) !”9.0]. - One point raised in this debate which I do not wish to let pass until much more information in respect of it has been made available to honorable members, is the alleged fact, to which government members continuously refer, that £1 to-day will purchase 2s. 2d. more for the pensioner than £1 in 1930. I cannot accept as reliable statistics brought forward in support of many of the claims advanced on behalf of the Government in this House. Every honorable member is aware that only within the last few months, the cost of many of the necessaries of life has risen considerably. Immediately the Arbitration Court increased the basic wage by 6s. - and although 3s. of the rise was not to become operative until October - prices rose, and out of all proportion to previous levels and, in fact, greater than the court decision justified, as is invariably the case when wages are increased. Without exception, employers follow this course, in order to recoup themselves such increases. Judged by their references to this matter, many honorable members opposite might be suspected of getting many of their necessaries free of cost. But to mention only one item, I noticed, in my own case, that my gas bill this month was 5s. more than it was for the previous month. Increases that affect me and other honorable members must affect also the cost of living of pensioners. Furthermore, rents have increased during the last six months ; rooms previously rented at Ss. a week now cost 10s. Landlords may or may not have substantial reasons for increasing rents. I am mindful of the fact that they, like anybody else, have increased costs to meet, but I mention these facts because I cannot understand how the Government can justify its contention that in purchasing power £1 to-day is equivalent to 22s. 2d. in 1930. It must also be remembered that the costs of the invalid pensioner are even greater than those of the old-age pensioner, because the invalid has to purchase not only the ordinary necessaries of life, but also medicines and nourishing foods, and I have personal knowledge that the cost of medicinal products generally has increased. It appears to me, therefore, that the Government could very well have left this argument out of this discussion entirely. If honorable members opposite had declared that the purchasing power of £1 to-day is equal to that of 1930, they would have been stating something nearer the mark. In advancing such statistics as have been brought forward on its behalf, the Government is like the drunken man who uses the street lamp to lean against rather than to illuminatae his way.
– To my mind, the brightest spot in the budget is the proposal to restore the oldage pension to £1 a week, but listening to members of the Opposition, one might be led to believe that this was one of its gloomiest features. The increase of ls. will certainly be welcomed by the 300,000 pensioners who will receive it. The Government is to be congratulated not only on making this proposal in the budget, but also on bringing it before the House in this special measure to-night in order to enable the pensioners to receive the increase as soon as possible. This Government has been in office for six years, and, irrespective of whatever else it has done, it has endeavoured year after year to do its best for the pensioner. That must be apparent to every one. As lias been shown by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), Australia was in a dreadful state financially when this Government took office. Yet, with its meagre resources, the Government has made every effort to put the pensioner in a better position. Some people, however, think that it has not done enough for the pensioner. When it was suggested in certain quarters that wealthy sons and daughters should be compelled to contribute towards the pension payable to their parents, this Government tried put that suggestion. However, it was not successful and, consequently, the Government has consistently increased the pension until it is now about to make a complete restoration to the former maximum of £1 a week. I have no doubt that, when it is returned to office, as I feel sure it will be, our pensions legislation will be further improved because, undoubtedly, there is room for improvement. For instance, I fail to see why Asiatics, who come to this country in their youth and live here until they reach old age, should be debarred from receiving the old-age pension. Now that we are again enjoying prosperous times, I hope that the Government will be more charitable and give the old-age pension to these people. My most serious complaint in respect of the present provisions of this legislation, however, is that invalid pensioners are not allowed to earn anything at all, whereas old-age pensioners, although they receive £1 a week, are allowed to earn 12s. or 13s. a week. I have in mind an invalid pensioner, 64 years of age, who earns 5s. a week doingwork which is really given to him out of charity. He is not yet eligible for an old-age pension, but next year, when he will qualify for the pension of £1 a week he will be allowed to earn 12s. 6d. a week. In view of the fact that our pensions bill is now £15,000,000 a year, I realize the difficulties confronting the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) in extending the benefits of this legislation, but I hope Australia will continue to progress and that the Government, when it is returned to office, will amend our pensions law along the lines which I have suggested.
– I cannot let pass unchallenged the statement of honorable members opposite that the pension of £1 will purchase 2s. 2d. more to-day than it would in 1930. Due to a shortage of houses, owing to the demand exceeding the supply, rents have increased substantially. We must take into consideration the conditions under which these people live in different localities throughout Australia. I am not satisfied with the methods adopted by the Statistician’s Department in collecting the information which it uses as a basis for computing the cost of living. I understand that if a five-roomed house is advertised for letting at £1 a week the advertisement is cut out by an agent and submitted to the Statistician’s Department, which takes that rental as a basis in respect of practically the whole of the five-roomed houses in that particular locality. I remind the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins), who spoke of the wonderful generosity of this Government towards the pensioners, of a statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) in a speech which he delivered at Deloraine three years ago. When he was asked if he were in favour of increasing the old-age pension, he replied, “No; I would not give any further increase to the old-age or invalid pensioner “. That was just after the elections three years ago. To-day this Government is about to face another election, and it has to hold out some promise to old-age pensioners, to whom the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill) referred as “ grey beards wagging their chins “. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) has reminded the House that the old-age pensioners of to-day slaved under shocking conditions in order to enable the present generation to enjoy the good things of life. The old-age pension should have been restored to £1 years ago. It is no act of generosity on the part of the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to come forward with this proposal at this juncture after his colleagues have spoken adversely of the claims of the pensioners generally. Honorable members opposite contend that with the £1 a week, the pensioner will be able to buy more meat, bread, milk and butter, despite the fact that the prices of these commodities, and practically every other article which the pensioner requires, have risen considerably. I believe that the old-age pensioners, as a body, will vote against this Government. Judging the Government by its financial policy during its term of office I am certain that if it is returned to power it will, within a few months, reduce the pension to 17s. fid.
– The honorable member is satisfied that the Government will be returned to office?
– No; but can a leopard change its spots? This Government reduced the old-age pension to 15s., which is the lowest level in the history of this social service. Do honorable members opposite really believe that an individual can pay rent and feed and clothe himself on 15s. a week? It is impossible. The standard of living available to the pensioner, even on a pension of £1 a week, is too low, and we should bc able to make better provision for him. For instance, I believe that pensioners are entitled to free passes on trams and trains, just as much as are members of Parliament. Any concession which is good enough for members of Parliament is certainly not too good for the old-age pensioners. Most of them worked for years under shocking conditions for low wages, and, as a body, they have, in a large measure, enabled this country to attain the prosperity which it has enjoyed. I do not think that the Government deserves congratulation for bringing this bill in at the end of the session and immediately prior to the elections. This is merely a vote-catching device of the Government. I regret that the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock* saw fit to criticize the amount of our pensions bill. He, of course, is one of the wealthy land-owners in this Parliament and was able to extract from the Government a bounty for the wheatgrowers, a part of which went into his own pockets, although he was at the time drawing his salary as a parliamentarian. It is our duty to do everything possible for our invalid and old-age pensioners, who, although living to standards far below what they should have been, have borne the burden and heat of the day and raised large families. It ill behoves honorable members opposite who enjoy the luxuries of life and are able to drive about in expensive motor cars, to criticize the pensioners. I do not wish to make political capital out of the pensioners; I simply point out that this bill is long overdue. Every appeal honorable members on this side of the chamber hare made to the Government to increase the rate of pension to £1 a week has fallen on deaf ears. Honorable members opposite have always voted solidly against motions moved by Labour members to secure an increase of the pensions to £1.
– That is not so.
– An examination of the records of the House will prove that what I have said is true.
-Order ! The honorable member may not reflect upon a vote of the House.
– I bow to your ruling, sir. The Government could have increased the pension long ago, for it has had surpluses at its disposal for several years. This bill is intended simply to win the votes of some pensioners from Labour candidates. But when the Labour Government assumes office, as it will do after the next election, it will look after the interests of the pensioners.
There should be a provision in the Constitution to make it impossible for any Government to reduce the rate of pension below £1 a week. That is the considered opinion of very many electors.
.- I congratulate the Government upon having restored the pension to £1 a week.
– It has only restored something it had taken away.
– The honorable member would serve a little less frequently if he interjected a little less frequently and a little more accurately. Some members opposite, of whom the honorable gentleman is one, have got into Parliament largely on the backs of the poor pensioners. I do not believe that £1 a week is sufficient to meet the needs of all. pensioners. Some thrifty old people of this country have been able to purchase a home for themselves in the course of their working life, and if an old couple in that position arc able to take advantage of the permission to earn 12s. 6d. a week and are otherwise entitled to the full pension, their joint income may be £3 5s. a week, which puts ‘ them in a fair position. Numerous pensioners, however, are not so circumstanced. Many church organizations and charitable bodies are doing their best to add to the happiness and comforts of the old people of this community and such work should be encouraged. The 2GB Happiness Club, foi” example, does a most praiseworthy service. I do not think that it is a wise policy to segregate old people into big institutions. I have in mind one institution in which 1,500 men are living, and another, at Newington, in which 800 old ladies are housed. This may be the cheapest but it is by no means the best way to care for these old people. I have been associated with many institutions which care for invalids. I have in mind, at the moment, a home at Ryde where invalids are received. It costs about £3 a week to keep them. Most of this money is provided by public donation. Where it is possible to accommodate old people in a homely atmosphere with others of similar temperament their lives are undoubtedly a great deal happier than they could be in large institutions. I strongly favour the doing of everything possible to improve the sur roundings of pensioners. When old people are accommodated in big institutions their lives are robbed of much of the cheerfulness which it should be the aim of the community to provide for them.
I repeat once again a statement which I have made frequently in this House: the procedure adopted, especially in Sydney, for the medical examination of applicants for invalid pensions should be completely overhauled.
– The honorable member will not be in order in pursuing that line of argument on the bill now under discussion.
– I shall content myself, sir, with observing that the sooner a more exact method is adopted of dealing with claims for invalid pensions the more satisfied the general community will be. I strongly advocate the forming of community circles to care for invalid and old-age pensioners who are not in a position to care adequately for themselves. Everything possible should be done to create a home-atmosphere for these old people who no longer have the members of their own family at hand to care for them.
– In congratulating the Government upon the introduction of this bill to increase the rate of pension to £1 a week, I appeal to honorable members of the Opposition not to continue, their criticism of it but to give it their cordial support.
– Why did not the honorable member adopt this attitude four years ago?
– I have supported all proposals for improving the lot of our invalid and old-age pensioners. It . is necessary to go back further than four years to make a proper analysis of the situation. As honorable members are aware, the pension was first reduced under the provisions of the unfortunate Financial Emergency Act introduced bv the Scullin Government. We should, however, endeavour to forget those unhappy days. Subsequently, when the Lyons Government came into office, the rate of pension was further reduced.
– Then why is the honorable member congratulating the Government?
– Because of the restoration to£1. I was reported in Hansard as having stated that the Labour Government reduced the pensions to 15s. If I made such a statement I did not intend it. The Labour Government reduced the pension to 17s. 6d. nnd later the present Government introduced a sliding scale which had the effect of reducing the pension in certain cases to 15s. a week. I did not support that measure. I opposed it by word and vote. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney) said that every Government supporter had voted in favour of the reduction of the pension rate on that occasion. That is not so. I voted against the provisions for the automatic reduction of the pension.
Mr.Ward. - But the honorable member knew that his opposition would not involve the fall of the Government.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has it to his record, however, that he voted for the defeat of the Labour Government.
– How often has the honorable member for Wide Bay voted for an increase of the pensions to £1 a week ?
– On every occasion such a proposition has been moved; but I knew that, eventually, this Government would find itself in a position to increase the pension to£1 a week, for its policy has consistently improved the financial condition of the country. I again appeal to honorable members of “the Labour party not to persist in their antagonism to this bill. It has been said that the Government has brought in this proposal for electioneering purposes, ‘ but I point out that even after it reduced the rate of pension it went to the country and was returned with a huge majority, for the pensioners, together with most of the people of Australia, realized that its policy would ultimately restore stability in public finance. If the Government had desired to. make a gesture of this kind for electioneering purposes it would have done so prior to the last election. I sincerely hope that this bill will receive the unanimous support of the House. So far all the speeches of honorable members of the Labour party have been critical of the measure. All have criticized it. I hope that they will pass this bill to-night so that the pensioners may know to-morrow that their pension is to be restored to£1 a week, and that, when it is possible to give them a little more, the whole of the House will be in sympathy with it.
– in reply - I know of no subject that is more liable to political treatment than the invalid and old-age pension. I direct the attention of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) to the fact that in my second-reading speech I, of set purpose, avoided any comment of a political nature that might arouse acrimonious debate. But the Leader of the Opposition chose to delve into the embers of past controversies. My speech was strictly non-political; I confined my remarks to the f acts of the position, and attempted, in the briefest possible way to outline the measure; but as the debate has developed on political lines, I should be wrong if I did not remind the House of a little of the history behind the point at which the Leader of the Opposition started. I remind the honorable member that the invalid and old-age pension was originated by the Deakin Liberal Government.
– The pensions legislation was passed as the result of support from the Labour party.
– The Deakin Liberal Government introduced the pensions system and every increase, except one, in the whole 25 years’ history of the invalid and old-age pension, has been brought in by a government representative of the parties now sitting on the ministerial side of the House. The exception was the Labour Government led in 1916 by the right honorable gentleman who is now Minister for Health and Repatriation (Mr. Hughes), and he is now in the party led by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons). That is the story in non-political language of the invalid and old-age pensions, and since embers of the past have been raked up, I think the country should remember that the pensions were brought in by a government of the same political colour as this Government, and that every increase, with the exception of one, has been effected by governments of a similar complexion.
– Repeat the various names by which the present Government parties have been known during the last 25 years.
– No; I do not propose to pursue the political aspect any further. The Leader of the Opposition reminded the House, if it needed reminding, of the fact that the present Prime Minister stated, during the worst of the depression, that he would restore pensions when financial conditions allowed of it. The Prime Minister did not say, and I am sure, did not mean, that he would restore the pension to the full rate of 20s. as his first measure, regardless of other obligations. The reasonable interpretation of his words was that in due course, and, having regard to the Government’s obligations in many other directions, he would restore the rate to 20s. a week as soon as possible.
– It does not matter what he meant.
– It does matter what he meant, as interpreted by reasonable men. The pension could have been fully restored many years ago, if there had been no other obligations, but the course which the Government has set for itself was to restore by degrees all the “cuts” that had been imposed - those applied to the salaries of public servants and members of Parliament, maternity allowances, the invalid and old-age pensions, war pensions and other governmental payments. All have been gradually restored as the Government found itself able to do so. At the same time there were heavy emergency taxes which could not be expected to remain a burden on the people for all time. It was the responsibility of the Government to make fair remissions balanced between indirect and direct taxes. The Government has been doing that bit by bit as it could. Moreover, since 1932, the Government has had increased defence obligations, and each year it has had moral obligations in respect of the finances of the States. All these claims have taken many millions of pounds. There was also relief to wheatgrowers. Owing to the ruinously low prices of wheat, the Government had to give no less than £10,500,000 to the wheat-growers.
– While the Government was doing all these things, it had surpluses amounting to £10,000,000.
– I remind the honorable gentleman that the surpluses were used for the purposes I have outlined, and that, without them, the Government could not have done what it has done. The Government was obliged to do all these things piece by piece, and it could not at any time do one thing iri full to the exclusion of the others. It raised the pension rate to 18s. in 1935, and to 19s. in 1936, and will raise it to 20s. in 1937. Could there be anything more reasonable than that rate of progression? Could it be said, by unbiased men that the Government is dressing the window for the election, when year after year it has increased the pension by stages back to 20s. and has at the same time coped with the manifold other obligations it has had to meet ? The Leader of the Opposition spoke of recurring surpluses ! The surpluses were necessary to do the things of which I have told honorable members.
Again a claim has been made on behalf of institution pensioners. Every year, honorable members opposite repeat the old contention that those pensioners should have the same pension as others who are not in institutions. I remind honorable gentlemen who bring this point forward that the upkeep of inmates of institutions costs the State governments money, probably on an average more than we pay them. These pensioners are completely maintained by the State governments and the 5s. 6d. as it is now, and the 6s. as it will be, which each, of them receives every week means probably more to them than does the 20s. a week to the pensioner outside who has to maintain himself.
– Does the honorable member reckon that it costs more than 14s. a week for the State governments to maintain inmates of institutions?
– Probably the average cost is fully that amount.
– Then why does the Government not give Mrs. Tierney the full pension ?
– I shall discuss Mrs. Tierney at a later date.
In the past, pensioners in State institutions got a maximum of 5s. 6d. a week, and they are now to get 6s. a week. Institution pensioners throughout the Commonwealth number 5,000, of whom 1,500 applied for and were granted pensions since they became inmates of the institutions, and they are regarded by the Commonwealth Government as the obligation of the States. But, as an act of grace, the Commonwealth has for a large number of years paid to them 5s. 6d. a week ; but nothing is given in respect of them to the State governments. The other 3.500 are those who have applied for t he pension and got it, and then gone into the institutions. These the Commonwealth recognizes as coming within its responsibility. That is simply the story of the institution pensioners.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has argued at least on two occasions, when the cost of living ha3 been rising, that the index figure was of no use to the pensioners. Yet he now appeals for the retention of the index number, notwithstanding the fact that the Government has ignored it as a basis, and granted a pension of 20s. a week, which would not have been reached for two or three years if the table had been allowed to remain as the basis upon which the rate was computed.
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) questioned the validity of the figures that I have cited as to the purchasing power of the pension. I assure him that the figures, which I could give him in detail, are those of the Commonwealth Statistician.
– They are not correct.
– They are as correct as any one could make them.
– If they are the figures of the Commonwealth Statistician, I am satisfied that they are not correct, and I would not touch them with a 40-ft. pole.
– Did not the Commonwealth Statistician, himself, say in court that they are not correct?
– No. He was discussing another series of figures.
– That was after the Treasurer (Mr. Casey; edited them.
– The honorable member is referring to the occasion when he “ pinched “ a letter intended for me. He appears to be a man entirely without shame. It is remarkable that in this honorable House there should be an individual who could take another person’s correspondence, open it, read it, and quote it in this House. This honorable gentleman is a man without shame.
– The Treasurer wanted to “ fix “ the evidence of the royal commission. A fine sort of Treasurer !
– Order ! The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) must cease interjecting.
– Another point-
– Order! I ask the honorable member for East Sydney not to interject; if he does so again to-night, I shall name him.
– Thank you very much.
– I remind the Leader of the Opposition that the pension will shortly be back to 20s., but that something like £20,000,000 of emergency taxes still remains. If the restoration of the pension had been deferred until at least some further part of this emergency tax had been remitted, that would not have been a frightful thing. But the Government has not done that; it has restored the pension, and the Prime Minister’s undertaking, which he gave some years ago, has been entirely met.
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 (vide page 316).
– In theory, the defence policy of the Labour party is beautifully simple, and, undoubtedly, it is eminently desirable; but even a cursory examination, of the real issues facing us shows that it is impracticable and is, indeed, a mere dream of an idealist. I can envisage a war in which not an enemy soldier would land on Australian territory, but that war might menace our markets, our trading relations, the freedom of our trade routes, and the whole economic structure of the country. “Would that not be a war in which Australia would be directly and vitally concerned? Of course it would be. I go further, and picture a nation making war on England while Australia remained aloof from the struggle. Assuming the terrible possibility of England’s defeat, what would be the position of Australia in the chaotic aftermath? Would its territorial integrity be respected? Would Australia bc ‘left to pursue its own destiny in peace? I am not a cynic, but I cannot stretch my credulity so far as to imagine ihat such would be tho case. As we stood aside and watched the defeat of England, we should watch also the gloomy prelude to the end of the domination of Australia by British people. As rulers and owners of this land, we should become mere figures of history. I am neither a jingoist nor a belligerent imperialist, but I believe that Australia cannot stand aloof from the affairs of Empire except at its own peril. If the Empire is at war, Australia is at war. Even if Australia declared itself neutral, it is very doubtful whether the countries at war with Great Britain would observe that neutrality.
We have only to take our minds back to 1914, and recall what happened to Belgium in that year to convince ourselves that there can be no certainty that a country which decides to remain neutral will be permitted to do so.
I suggest that Labour’s policy on defence savours of window-dressing, and an appeal to popular emotion; in that respect it differs greatly from the inescapable logic of the Government.
The Leader of the Opposition suggested that, instead of spending over .£3,500,000 on maintaining and strengthening the navy, Australia should provide itself with 50 squadrons of fighting aircraft. I do not propose to go into the pros and cons of this argument. I look forward with keen anticipation to the fuller statement which the Minister for Defence has promised to make on the works Estimates regarding the expenditure of the £11,500,000 defence vote. I should like tq see Australia with a stronger navy and a much stronger air force, and I freely confess that I have much sympathy with the Leader of the Opposition in his plea for a strong air force. However, the money at our disposal is necessarily limited, and I am confident that the Minister for Defence has weighed the matter wisely and well after his deliberations with Empire defence authorities in London. However, our air force must on no account be neglected, and I am particularly pleased to see that the budget provides for £2,672,000 for its development and nearly £1,000,000 for civil aviation. Perhaps, when the navy has been strengthened, money will be available to » provide, if not 50 squadrons, at least sufficient squadrons to satisfy both the Leader of the Opposition and members on this side of the chamber. Tho provision of nearly £1.000,000 for civil aviation is a particularly pleasant feature of the budget. I have stressed repeatedly the vital importance of the development of civil aviation as an adjunct to defence, and I regard this provision as being particularly wise and necessary.
I congratulate’ the Government on its decision to make £11,500,000 available for defence. It was a decision that required courage, inasmuch as, coupled with increased expenditure in several other directions, it precluded all possibility of reduced taxes - and nothing makes a government more popular than its lightening of the heavy burden lying on the shoulders of the taxpayer. I say again that the Government does not seek to be returned to power on a scare defence budget, lt will go to the electors confident that its record of achievement and progress over the last six years will be sufficient commendation to those who, in the final analysis, arc the rulers of the country.
There are several other matters upon which I desire to touch briefly. First, there is the cost of invalid and old-age pensions, involving indirectly, the subject of national insurance. These pensions are about to be restored to the prodepression level of £1. I do not cavil at that. Indeed, I am glad that the Treasurer has been able to give this extra ls. to a needy and deserving section of the community. But I view with continued alarm our growing pensions bill. It is now nearly £16,000,000 per annum. Last year it was £14,000,000; the previous year it was £13,000,000. Not many years agoabout 1921 I believe - our pensions bill was only £5,000,000 a year. When it grew to £10,000,000, able commentators ii nd sober and conservative newspapers, proclaimed that the country could not stand further increased expenditure on these services. But the country now has to foot a bill of nearly £16,000,000 a year for them. I do not advocate curtailing these pensions, but I do plead for an easing of the burden which they place on the taxpayer, and I believe that the only just way in which that result can be achieved., is by the introduction of a sound scheme of national insurance. Sir Walter Kinnear and Mr. Ince, of the British Ministry of Pensions, who were brought to Australia by the Government last year, have submitted their reports and it now remains for the Government to act. Whether it shall act along the lines advocated by those two gentlemen or along different and independent lines, is a subject which this House must be given an opportunity to discuss, but quick action along some lines is imperative, if the burden of invalid and old-age pensions is not to grow to intolerable proportions. The preliminary steps have been taken, and we must now press forward to the production of a practicable plan suitable for Australian conditions.
The Treasurer has told us that a committee of officers and actuaries representing the Commonwealth and the States is now examining certain aspects of unemployment insurance, and that a report from the committee is expected shortly. In addition, the budget provides a sum of £75,000 towards meeting the initial expenses of national insurance. This, at least, is to the good, and gives some hope that Australia is at last on the road towards establishing a national insurance scheme of its own. If such a scheme is not established shortly Australia will again lag behind New Zealand in social legislation, for the press cablegrams inform us that a national insurance scheme will definitely be introduced into the New Zealand Parliament during the forthcoming session.
I regret very much indeed that no reference has been made in the budget to the new wives and children of soldiers who were excluded from pension benefits by the provisions of the 1931 emergency legislation. Last year representations on this subject were made to the Government and I introduced a deputation to the Prime Minister representative of exservice men of every party in the House. The honorable gentleman then promised that consideration would be given this year to the representations made. It is with real regret that I find that the Government has not been able to do something for this unfortunate section of the community, particularly when the financial position of the Commonwealth has so improved as to make possible the increase of the pension to £1 a week following improved conditions of the past which enabled the. Government to restore, the “ cuts “ made in public service salaries and parliamentary allowances. I trust that even at this late hour something may be done for these very deserving people.
Finally, I express my unqualified approval of the inclusion in the budget of a sum of £200,000 towards the cost of training unemployed youth. Though I am a strong supporter of the Government, I do not conceal the fact that I am of the opinion that provision of money for this purpo.se is long overdue; money should have been made available some years ago. I do appreciate, however, that in thi3 matter the Government could act only in collaboration with the States and for this reason there has been a certain unavoidable delay; but it has been an expensive delay. I, for one. wish the matter could have been pressed forward long ago.
The problem of unemployed youth is one that cries aloud for solution. The Treasurer, in his budget speech, has given us unassailable proof of tho improved state of Australia, of a larger national income, of increased employment and of accelerated production; but there is a class for whom all the accumulated evils of the depression still live. This com- prises all those young men and women - little more than boys and girls five years ago - who lost their jobs because of, and during, the depression, or who, for the same reason, never even secured job3. The plight of those in this class is tragic ; though still on the threshhold of life they are too old to learn a trade or occupation through ordinary commercial avenues. They cannot become apprentices, office boys, junior clerks or junior shop assistants. They have to stand idly and helplessly by and watch those fortunates younger than themselves place their feet on the lowest rungs of the commercial ladder. In this specialized wor-ld the scope for unskilled labour is decreasing rapidly, and if these still young people are to be given a chance to make something of their lives, and become useful and happy citizens, then it is vital in their interests and in the interests of the country that they should be trained. I appreciate more than anything else the provision of the sum of £200,000 for this purpose. It cannot go far, but it will at least help to set in motion the machinery which will solve this problem. It will help to make these youths able to secure employment in those trades which we know to-day are short of artisans, and in which skilled work is ever increasing.
I repeat that the Treasurer and the Government are to be congratulated on this budget which I say, without the slightest hesitation, is a really honest document.
– I desire to draw attention to some phases of the Government’s policy and administration in connexion with the income and land tax laws. I propose to relate my remarks to the methods adopted by the Government in arriving at its taxation proposals, the administration of the Income Tax Act and penalties for breaches of the act, the application of the land tax to different sections of the community, and, lastly, the use of natural increase as a method of assessing tax. Let me say at the outset that it should be the policy of the Government to place the burden of taxation upon the shoulders of those best able to bear it. During the course of my remarks, I hope to be able to show that the Government has departed from that principle, and that the reductions of taxes made by the Government, and the methods employed in the administration of the Taxation Department in the light of the principle already referred to, calls for a fair amount of examination and explanation by the Government. The rates of tax imposed in respect of income from personal exertion earned during the year ended the 30th June, 1932, were reduced by 15 per cent. The reduced rates applied to assessments issued .in respect of income derived during the years ended the 30th June, 1933, 1934 and 1935. A further reduction of 10 per cent, was made in respect of income derived during the year ended the 30th June, 1936. The point I wish to make in regard to these reductions is that the Government departed from the principle of imposing the burden on those best able to bear it, by granting substantial relief to those enjoying large incomes while ignoring the claims of those in the smaller income groups. In deciding on flat rate reductions, the Government deliberately set out to afford the greatest measure of tax relief to the recipients of large incomes. In doing so, it gave scant consideration to the claims of small taxpayers. Take, for example, a taxpayer whose net income from personal exertion amounts to £260 per annum. In 1932, such a taxpayer was called upon to pay a minimum tax of 10s. ; but when the Government decided in 1933 to make tax remissions it conveniently overlooked the claims of the small taxpayers who were still called upon to pay the minimum tax of 10s.
– That was the minimum tax.
– That is true, but no relief was afforded by the Government to those paying the minimum tax.
– We cannot collect less than 10s.
-*-That may be all very well’ from the point of view of the Government, but I want to express the view of the taxpayer. I have said that in 1933 when the Government was considering its tax relief proposals these taxpayers were overlooked. One would have thought that as they had not been given relief in 1933, 1934 and 1935, the Government would have giventhem special consideration when it reviewed its taxation proposals in 1936. But again they were forgotten and still they pay a flat rate tax of 10s. a year, whilst the wealthy taxpayers continue to receive handsome remissions of taxes. Let us consider how the Government’s 1933 tax reduction scheme worked out: -
The above figures show than in 1932 a taxpayer with a net income of £260 a year paid a minimum of 10s. and secured no relief. In 1933 he was still overlooked and received no reduction, whereas a taxpayer with a net income of £312 paid £1 7s. 9d. in 1932 and £1 3s. 7d. in 1933, a reduction of 4s. 2d. ; a taxpayer with a net income of £364 was relieved to the extent of 8s. 9d. in 1933, and a taxpayer with a net income of £416 got relief to the extent of 14s. 3d. Taxpayers with higher incomes obtained a larger proportionate relief. For instance, a taxpayer with a net income of £1,040 got a reduction of £6 33.6d., a taxpayer with a net income of- £2,080 was relieved to the extent of £20 16s. and a taxpayer with an income of £4,160 got relief to the amount of £75 8s., whilst a man with a net income of £30,000 enjoyed a reduction of £1,498 a year.
The report of the Commissioner of Taxation for the financial year 1932-33 shows that there were in the Commonwealth 230,749 taxpayers of whom 66.305 enjoyed net incomes ranging from £250 to £300. Most of the taxpayers within this group paid the minimum tax of 10s. a year, and, as I have stated, they secured no relief. To the great majority of those taxpayers even 10s. a year means a good deal. So difficult are their domestic Circumstances, that often 1s. means more to them than probably £10 means to persons in the enjoyment of higher incomes. The figures show that 37,977 taxpayers fail within the salary range of £301 to £350 a year, and the largest reduction received by any taxpayer in this group in 1933 amounted to 3d. a week. In that year, 44,646 taxpayers having net incomes of about £450 a year benefited to the extent of £1 a year. Persons with net incomes of £416 a year, or £8 a week, were relieved to the extent of 14s. 3d. ; taxpayers with incomes of £2,080, or £40 a week, benefited to the extent of £20 16s., whereas taxpayers with incomes of £5,200 or £100 a week were relieved to the amount of £115 7s. 6d., whilst taxpayers with £10,000 a year, or £192 a week, got a tax reduction of £375 5s. 9d. The point I wish to make is that taxpayers earning £8 a week got a reduction of only 14s. 3d., whereas taxpayers earning £40 a week - five times greater - got relief to the amount of £3016s. - more than twentyfold.
– Such taxpayers would pay twenty times the amount of tax of men on the lower income.
– I admit that taxpayers on the higher income must necessarily pay more in. taxes than men in the lower income group, but I contend that when tax concessions are being made, persons in the lower income groups should enjoy consideration in accordance with their means the same as those in the higher groups because they experience much greater difficulty in meeting their obligations and maintaining their homes according to a reasonable standard of living than taxpayers with the higher incomes.
In its proposals to reduce taxes the Government should bear in mind that State emergency taxes press more heavily on taxpayers with the smaller incomes. Had it been possessed of a spirit of equity in this matter it would have exempted from taxation all persons whose incomes were less than £10 a week. What wouldthese exemptions have cost the Government? The figures for 1933 show that 66,305 taxpayers with incomes of approximately £300 a year paid taxes amounting to £37,9S8; 37,977 taxpayers wi th incomes of £350 a year paid £46,504 ; 44,046 taxpayers with incomes of £450 a year paid £136,788, and 23,588 taxpayers with incomes of £550 a year paid £152,528. If the Government had desired to distribute tax concessions equitably, the 171,916 taxpayers in the group to which I have just referred, with incomes ranging from £4 to £10 a week, should have been wholly exempted from taxation. As evidence of how the Government looked after the wealthy people we find 441 taxpayers, each with an income of over £5,000 per annum, received reductions totalling £152,940 per annum. Every consideration has been given to this class, but the Government refused to take one penny off the minimum tax of 10s. paid by the smallest taxpayer.
My other point is in connexion with penalties for the evasion of income tax payments. One of the most important of the penal provisions of the act relates to the furnishing of incorrect returns for the purpose of evading payment. It may be pointed out that income tax is based upon voluntary disclosure by taxpayers of income received and outgoings relating to such income. To overcome the tendency on the part of taxpayers to understate the amount of income received the act provides for a penalty double the amount of the difference between the tax properly payable by the taxpayer, and the tax assessed upon the income returned by the taxpayer. The penalty formula acts as follows: -
Tax on income returned by taxpayer, say £100; tax on income actually derived by taxpayer- (the actual income earned would be determined by investigations made by officers of the department), £200; difference between tax paid by taxpayer and tax which should have been paid, £100. Penalty (twice the amount of the difference), £200.
That is the principle upon which the department works with regard to the imposition of penalties. I am prepared to admit that the necessity exists for the department to take every precaution to ensure that correct returns are submitted by taxpayers; but it is most important that the department should adopt uniformity in regard to the imposition of penalties. This aspect, as revealed in the report of the Commissioner of Taxation, calls for some comment. Under the heading of “ Questionable Returns it is stated -
The department by investigation of taxpayers’ books and aceouut3 and other means, has discovered a number of cases in which questionable returns have been lodged by taxpayers. Tn some cases there has been little room for doubt to a lay mind that fraud kuri been present, but the difficulty of proving fraud in accordance with legal rules has been so great that in practically every such case the department has refrained from prosecution, and has claimed the maximum penalty imposed by section 67 of the Act, namely, double the amount of the tax that has been avoided. In the other cases, reduced penalties have been collected following upon explanations by the taxpayers. The cases in which penalties under this section have been imposed are stated hereunder in accordance with the direction under section 10(2) of the act. The cases given in detail are those where the total penalties charged amounted to £50 or over.
Three important statements arc contained in that commentary -
In practically every case the department has retrained from prosecution and has claimed the maximum penalty imposed by section67 of the act. namely, double the amount of the tax that has been avoided.
In the other cases reduced penalties have been collected following upon explanations by the taxpayers.
The cases given in detail are those where the total penalties charged amounted to £50 or over.
Three of the principal instances quoted in the report covering questionable returns for the year ended the 30th June, 1933, are most extraordinary; I direct the attention of the Treasurer to them. Mr. W. R. Adams, of Queensland, who gave his occupation as a manager, omitted from his return income of £4,583, and was charged a penalty of £646. Mr. L. Alcorn, of New South Wales, a storekeeper, omitted income of £7,267, and was charged a penalty of £57. Mr. J. Alison, of Queensland, a mill manager, omitted income of £1,225, and was charged a penalty of £61. The point which must strike the observer who peruses these reports is the extraordinary difference in the methods employed by the department in the exercise of its discretionary powers in relation to the application of the formula which prescribes that in the event of attempted evasion a penalty of double the amount of tax shall be imposed. In the instances which I have cited, W. R. Adams omitted income of £4,583, and was charged £646. Alcorn, who omitted £7,267 income, paid a penalty of only £57. Alison, who omitted £1,225 of income, paid the same amount of penalty as Alcorn, who omitted six times the amount of Alison’s attempted evasion.
– Would some of those omissions be intentional and others accidental ?
– The circumstances of each case are taken into consideration.
– That may be so; but the remarkable differences between the various penalties imposed call for some explanation. The application of the formula by the department appears to be inconsistent. Honorable members will appreciate that these discrepancies open up wide possibilities.
– They certainly make one wonder.
– Yes. In order that Parliament and the taxpayers generally may review the administration of the penalty section, the Commissioner should state in each case the amount of tax that has been avoided. If the amount were given it would be a simple matter to discern whether the double tax penalty had been enforced, or otherwise. It is patent in the three cases cited that the penalty section has not been consistently applied. After all, there can be only one explanation of omitted income; that is the desire to avoid the payment of tax.
In the taxation report for the year 1934 some attempted evasions in Victoria further illustrate my contention. Alfred Abrahams, financier and merchant, omitted income of £15,473 and was charged a penalty of £2,026. E. Abrahams, financier and merchant, omitted income of £15,473 and was charged a penalty of £2,036. In respect of the estate of L. Abrahams, deceased, the omitted income was £13,258 and the penalty charged was £2,022. F. TJ. Christian, an investor, omitted income of £25,420 and was charged a penalty of £570. I contrast this with the penalties imposed upon the three previous cases in which the penalty was four times as great, although the omitted income was substantially less.
– The Abrahams’ cases were pretty consistent.
– In respect of Jessie King, property owner, the omitted income was £15,784 and the penalty £312. Lanes’ Motors. Pty Ltd., motor car distributors, omitted income of £157,708 and the penalty imposed was £7,714. Mr. Hugh Mullen, orchardist and contractor, omitted income of £20,796 but paid a penalty of only £54. Another investor, C. M. Nathan, omitted income of £20,973, hut the penalty imposed upon him was £703. L. J. Nathan, warehouseman, omitted income of £24,809 and was charged a penalty of £832. Another firm of motor car distributors, Neal’s Motors Pty. Ltd., omitted income of £171,781 and was charged a penalty of £8,.635. The amounts of income omitted suggest that the . taxpayers in question are wealthy persons. In the case of Lanes’ Motors Pty. Ltd. the omitted income was £157,708 and the company rate of tax ranges between ls. and ls. 2d. in the £1. Why a company omitting such an enormous amount of income escaped the double tax penalty provided by the act, I should like the commissioner to explain. The same position arises in regard to Neal’s Motors Pty. Ltd. Had the act been applied in this instance the penalty should have been double £8,635. The cases of Alfred Abrahams and Christian appear to be inconsistent. Whereas Christian omitted income of £25,420 and paid a penalty of £570, Alfred Abrahams omitted income of £15,473 but paid a penalty of £2,026. Mr. Mullens appears to be rather fortunate when his circumstances are compared with those of Mr. C. M. Nathan. The former omitted income of £20,796 and paid a penalty of £54; Mr. Nathan omitted income of £20,973 but paid a penalty of £703. Evidently Mr. Mullen’s ability to explain matters carried the day with the Commissioner of Taxation.
I direct the attention of honorable members to a few more highlights in the report. Mr. O. J. Allan, a company manager, omitted income of £13,645 and was charged a penalty of £67. A men’s outfitter, Mr. J. Myrob, omitted income of £11,253 but was charged a penalty of £783. Like myself, honorable members doubtless have difficulty in comprehending the basis upon which the commissioner has acted in fixing the penalties for evasion.
I shall now refer briefly to circumstances illustrating how some poor but well-known taxpayers fared. The estate of the late John Brown, the coal-owner, omitted income of £98,448 and the penalty charged in this instance was £8,500. Mr. TJ. Pellegrini, a church furnisher, omitted income of £96,971, but was charged a penalty of £34,830, practically four times the amount of penalty imposed upon the estate of the late John Brown. Mr. J. H. Ryan, a casemaker, omitted income of £i22,978, but, unlike Mr. Pellegrini, he was penalized to the amount of only £7,318. Another taxpayer named Quirk omitted £117,000 of income, and the penalty in his case was £4,000. A theatre director named Coombe omitted £133,000 of income, and the penalty in his case was £7,451. The inconsistency of the penalties imposed is apparent. On the face of the matter, the policy appears to be that, the greater the amount of omitted income the lower the penalty. The commissioner may be able to explain the apparent inconsistencies in the penalties imposed, having regard to the amount, of income omitted. The cases of the estate of the coal baron, the late John Brown, and that of Pellegrini, when compared, reveal the most remarkable inconsistency, and no explanation of it is available to us. The cases of Ryan, Quirk and Coombe reveal almost incredible omissions of income. Surely no person can explain why such large amounts were omitted. The tax on such omitted income must have been in the vicinity of £20,000. If that estimate be correct. Quirk should have paid a penalty of about £40,000. Pellegrini seems to have paid a penalty of double tax. Taking his penalty as a basis, a conservative estimate of Quirk’s double tax penalty would be £40,000. All of these taxpayers are wealthy people, who are able to afford to employ accountants and solicitors to prepare their income returns. Surely there can be no excuse for their having furnished incorrect returns ! Yet they have apparently given a satisfactory explanation to the commissioner as to why the double tax penalty should not be enforced. It is obvious that in future reports the commissioner must state the amount of tax evaded by each taxpayer. Where the full penalty imposed by the act has not been enforced, the commissioner should state the reason. The review shows that the double tax penalty has not been imposed despite the commissioner’s comment under the heading “ Questionable Returns.” In practically every case the department refrained from prosecution and nas claimed the maximum penalty under section 67 of the act. In other cases, penalties have been reduced following explanations. It appears that the commissioner can take this course if he alone likes the explanation. No doubt small taxpayers who lack explanation as to why they omitted a few pounds of interest, rent or wages from their taxation returns duly receive tie full weight of the double tax penalty. The commissioner’s report omits the information necessary to a review of the treatment afforded this class of taxpayer. Itmay be conceded that the question as to whether the double tax penalty should be applied to the extent that it is, is worthy of some consideration. At the moment I am not arguing the rights or wrongs of its imposition. What I am endeavouring to do is to learn from the department the basis upon which the system is worked, the principles which guide the commissioner in the matter, and whether the time has not arrived for a uniform procedure to be established so that every taxpayer will know exactly where he stands. At present it is extremely difficult for him to ascertain the reason for such a wide disparity between the penalties imposed as is disclosed in the cases I have cited. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave given; debate adjourned.
Commonwealth Statistician Evidence before RoyalCommission on Monetary and Banking Systems.
Motion (by Sir Archdale Parkhill) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I take this, the first opportunity presented to me, to reply to an unprovoked attack which the Treasurer (Mr. Casey), made on me in the House earlier this evening. During the many unintelligible remarks of the honorable gentleman I heard one in which he referred to me as a man who is without shame. The incident arose when the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), supported by the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden), questioned the accuracy of the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures in respect of the present value of £1 as compared with its value in 1930. During the interjections which ensued, I asked whether the information supplied in this regard had been doctored in the same way as had evidence submitted by the Commonwealth Statistician to the Royal Commission on the Monetary and Banking Systems. It was then that the Treasurer made his unprovoked attack on me.
When this matter was raised, in the House last year, I did not relate all that had occurred, but merely stated as much as I believed was necessary to show to the people of this country what was being done in respect of evidence to be submitted to the royal commission.
On the 17th September, 1936, I accidentally had delivered to me a letter intended for the private secretary to the Treasurer, whose name is the same as mine. The contents of that letter were evidently considered as so important that before I had made any mention of them in this House, the Treasurer rushed in a panic to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and wanted to know whether I had read them and what I proposed to do in regard to them. I put it to honorable members and to the public of this country: If those contents were of no consequence, as the Treasurer attempted to lead us to believe a little later when the matter was mentioned in this House, why did he approach the Leader of the Opposition for the specific purpose of attempting to still my voice? As a matter of fact, as honorable members know, the letter contained the evidence of Dr. Roland Wilson, Commonwealth Statistician - not the evidence that he h?d given, but that which he proposed to give. The Treasurer is aware that, before its submission to the commission, a copy of that evidence was also given to Sir Harry Sheehan, Secretary to the Treasury. According to the honorable gentleman, the Commonwealth Statistician and the Secretary to the Treasury wore the only officials who gave evidence before the commission. Evidently, therefore, it was a case of making a comparison of the replies that were to be given to the questions which the commission was expected to ask. In his covering letter which accompanied the evidence, Dr. Roland Wilson informed the Treasurer that he had already supplied a copy of it to Sir Harry Sheehan, and added, “ No doubt much of this evidence will be bluepencilled.” When questioned a few days later, I believe by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), the honorable gentleman said it was all a joke between the Commonwealth Statistician, the Secretary to the Treasury, and the Treasurer. I do not think that that excuse will be accepted by the people of this country. If there is a joke associated with the royal commission, it is on the general public, which, so far as we can ascertain, has to date had to find £20,651 to defray the cost of its inquiries. As a public man I . am not ashamed of having disclosed the whole facts associated with this incident. If it be reprehensible for Government officials to exchange copies of their evidence and have it edited and doctored .by the Commonwealth Treasurer, it is a hundredfold more reprehensible for a man who terms himself an honorable member of this House and occupies such a high public position as that of Commonwealth Treasurer, to conduct himself as the honorable gentleman did. I have done nothing of which I need be ashamed. On the contrary, the honorable gentleman, ought to be ashamed for having first approached the Leader of the Opposition to try to still my voice so that no mention would bc ‘ made in this House of the contents of the letter which I considered of such great public importance and, secondly, for having made a vicious attack upon me as a representative of the people in this House, because I had had the audacity to question the accuracy of figures which he had quoted. He is unfit to occupy the position that he at present holds.
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) ventilated again to-night by way of interjection the deplorable incident of six or nine months ago, which I arn glad to remember, was thoroughly ventilated in this House at the time. The honorable member now takes the liberty to say that 1 went to the Leader of the Opposition and asked him to still the voice of the honorable member. That is completely untrue.
– Did the Minister go to the Leader of the Opposition?
– Yes, I went to inform him of this deplorable incident, because if such a thing could happen in one instance - if private letters were to get into the hands of other persons, be opened and read, and their contents used in this House - public business could, not continue to he carried on. I informed the Leader of the ‘Opposition of what I still believe was a deplorable incident.
– The Minister wanted to know whether I had read the document.
– I Avas not interested to find out whether the honorable member had read it. I assumed that he had, and his subsequent comments in this House showed that he had. I am convinced that the honorable member read the whole document, and was fully aware of its contents. I have nothing whatsoever to hide in connexion with the matter. There was no suggestion, even to the most distorted mentality, of doctoring evidence. I am willing to let the Leader of the Opposition see the whole of the correspondence in order to refresh his memory. He will remember that T merely went to inform him with great regret that a member who supported him had seen fit to abuse the confidence of private correspondence.
– I did not abuse it.
– Order ! The honorable member must not interject.
– I deplored in this House, and in the press, that an incident of that kind could happen in the national Parliament. I ask honorable members to believe that there AA-as uo thought of doctoring evidence. That charge has been merely dragged in in order to justify what the honorable member did on that occasion. I said that the honorable member must be a man without shame, and I have no reason to recall that remark. I believe that it was one of the most deplorable incidents that has ever happened in this Parliament, and if that is the standard of morality of the honorable member Avith respect to private correspondence, I cannot see how public business is to be carried on.
– Is it not possible for a man to open a letter and look at it by mistake?
– I do not believe that it is.
.- I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to state the full facts of the case. The truth is that the letter was addressed to Mr. Ward, and the only member of this House who is known as Mr. Ward is the honorable member for East Sydney. The letter first came to me by messenger, and I said, “ Mr. Ward is not in the House “. The messenger said, “ I must deliver this personally to Mr. Ward “. I said, “ I will get him “, and I went and fetched him from the Library. The messenger said, “ This is a letter which I must deliver into your hands “. It Avas addressed to Mr. Ward, not to Mr. Casey. The Treasurer has cried shame on the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), but I say shame on any public man who takes it upon himself to censor the evidence which an officer of the Crown is to tender to a royal commission on so important a subject as banking. The incident reflects no credit upon the Treasurer.
Question resolved in the affimative
House adjourned at 10.45 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
The employment figures made available by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics show a satisfactory increase since July, 1933, in the number of females employed in all States of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth Government will be glad to confer with any State government which wishes to bring girls as well as young men within the scope of the proposals.
Wireless Broadcasting : Second A Class Station in South Australia - Election Broadcasts.
e asked the Minister representing thePostmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answer : - 1 and 2. The transmitting equipment for the second A class station in Adelaide will undergo final tests in the contractors’ works within the next three weeks. The station is expected to be in operation by the end of October.
On the 24th August, the honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) asked a question, pertaining to national relay broadcasts by party leaders in connexion with the general election campaign. I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that the Postmaster-General has received information that the question will be considered by the Australian Broadcasting Commission at its meeting to be held on the 2nd September.
son asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Mr.Paterson. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Camp of Unemployed at Newcastle.
– On the 24th August, the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) asked the following questions, without notice: -
Will the Minister for Defence give consideration to the rescission of the recent order of the Defence Department, for the eviction of unemployed persons from defence land at Hobby’s Head, Newcastle, at least until arrangements can be made for housing them elsewhere ?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows: -
Early this year the Department of the Interior, at the request of the Defence Department, negotiated with the Newcastle Council and the State Government with a view to the removal of unemployed campers from State and Commonwealth Reserves at Nobby’s Head, Newcastle, in order that there would be no obstruction to the building of defence works which are projected for that area. So far as the Defence Department is concerned, however, there is no objection to delaying action for a reasonable time, say, six months, until arrangements are made by the State authorities for housing the unemployed elsewhere.
Fishermen’s Bend Airport.
SirArchdaleParkhill. - On the 27th August the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) asked the following question, without notice: -
In view of the rumours, and the speculative statements that have appeared in the press regarding the Fishermen’s Bend site for an airport, will the Minister for Defence state whether any negotiations are proceeding between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Victoria?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows : -
Following a conference in November last between representatives of the Government of Victoria and the Commonwealth Government, a sub-committee was appointed by the State government to analyse the proposal for the constitution of a trust in connexion with the question of the establishment of an airport at Fishermen’s Bend. Onthe 4th December last, the Defence Department, at the request of the sub-committee referred to, supplied certain information as to costs, standard requirement, &c, and it was understood that the date fixed for the next meeting of the subcommittee would bo notified so that representatives of the Commonwealth Government could bo present. So far, however, the Defence Department has heard nothing further from the Victorian Government.
Landinggroundin Katoomba District.
.- On the 27th August the honorablemember for Darling (Mr. Clark) asked that inquiries be made into the position regarding the establishment of a landing ground in the Katoomba district?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that, at the request of the Defence Department, the Department of the Interior has been in touch with local interests for the purpose of selecting a suitable emergency landing ground at Katoomba. It might be pointed out that the country is exceptionally difficult insofar as locating a suitable site for an aircraft landing ground is concerned. However, the matter is receiving urgent attention with a view to finality being reached as early as possible.
Aircraft Flights Over Munitions Establishments.
– On the 26th August the honorable member for Martin (Mr.McCall) referred to an instruction issued by the Civil Aviation Board regarding the flying of aircraft over the Commonwealth Munitions Establishments at Footscray and Maribyrnong, and suggested that the Civil Aviation Board be dissuaded from circulating such information?
I am now in a position to furnish the following reply: -
With the big advance made in recent years in private and commercial flying and the development of long range (infra red) photography, the prohibition against flying over any particular areacannot be regarded as an effective measure of security. The warning notice to aviators referred to in this instance was not issued with the object of preventing persons from obtaining information, but to meet the request of the Munitions Supply Board that planes should be asked to refrain from flying over the area mainly because of the distraction caused to employees working on highly dangerous explosives, and also because of the possibility of an explosion due to a tool or aircraft part falling on an explosive building. The letters HI-X are the ground sign in use in this and other explosives areas as a warning to aviators that the area is one over which it is highly dangerous for aeroplanes to fly. Further inquiries are now being made witha view to seeking a satisfactory solution of the difficulty from both aspects - secrecy and safety. This is, however, by no means simple.
Postal Department : Housing Accommodation in Victoria.
– On the 27 th August the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) asked a series of questions, upon notice, pertaining to housing accommodation for postal employees transferred to country towns in Victoria?
I am now in a position to furnish him with the following replies to his inquiries : - 1.Inasmallnumberofcases, officers recently transferred to country centres are experiencing difficulty in obtaining suitable residences. Each of those officers is paid the allowance prescribed by the Public Service Regulations to compensate him for increased financial commitments due to his inability to obtain a residence in the centre to which he has been transferred.
n. - On the 27th August, 1937, the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Mulcahy) asked the following question, upon notice -
I am now in a position to furnish the following information : -
Shipping: Sale of CommonwealthOwned Bay Steamers.
– On Thursday, the 26th August, the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) asked the following questions, upon notice : -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Scottish Shale Oil Industry.
s. - On the 26th August, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) asked me a question, without notice, concerning the output of the Scottish shale oil industry. 1 am now in a position to inform the honorable member that the Secretary for Mines in the United Kingdom, in reply to a question in the House of Commons on the 9th March, 1937, stated that the Scottish shale oil industry had been maintained at a uniform level of about 30,000,000 gallons of crude oil and naphtha for each of the past five years. I may mention that during last year a new shale mine was opened at Burngrange, West Calder, for the purpose of enabling some expansion <)f the -industry to occur.
s. -On the 27th August, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) asked me a question, without notice, relative to the’ progress of Commonwealth fishery investigations in Bass Strait off the east coast of Tasmania. I am now in a position to inform him that preliminary aerial observations have been carried out in this area with encouraging results, but it is too early yet to make any authoritative pronouncement upon the possibilities of the fishing industry inthis locality. Fishery investigations must necessarily occupy a somewhat protracted period in order to deal with such factors as seasonal occurrences of fish, migratory habits, and the quality and species of fish available at different times of the year.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 31 August 1937, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1937/19370831_reps_14_154/>.