20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Vice-
President of the Executive Council to request the Prime Minister urgently to intervene personally with respect to the proposal to disperse the Australian Broadcasting Commission band. It has been stated that in this matter the Government places responsibility upon the Australian Broadcasting Commission whilst the chairman of the commission has said that it is the responsibility of the Government. Whoever may be responsible, will the Vice-President of the Executive Council consult with the Prime Minister in order to see whether it is possible, during the present period of apparent economy and savings, to protect to the maximum possible degree the rights of Australian artists, actors, musicians and writers employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission?
-I shall certainly convey the representations that the Leader of the Opposition has made to the Prime Minister who, I have no doubt, will consult with the PostmasterGeneral on the matter. A suitable reply will be furnished to the right honorable gentleman in due course.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform me of any steps the Government proposes to take to end the reprehensiblepractice of selling wheat for local consumption, other than wheat for human consumption, at prices that involve the growers in a loss of 4s. 5d. a bushel in respect of the 88,000,000 bushels of wheat that is sold under the International Wheat Agreement and a loss of 12s. 8d. a bushel in respect of the 26,000,000bushels of wheat that is sold for stock feed? It is obvious that a continuation of this practice is likely to force the growers out of production.
– The Government can do practically nothing to bridge the gap between the International Wheat Agreement price of 16s.1d. a bushel and the free world market price of 20s. 6d. a bushel, because the previous Government contracted under the International Wheat Agreement to supply 88,000,000 bushels of wheat annually at the ruling world price, which, at present, is 16s.1d. a bushel. We must honour the agreement that our predecessors entered into. The Government, for some considerable time, has taken into account the representations made by the wheat industry organizations that the price of wheat other than wheat used for the manufacture of bread should at least be equal to the price that could be obtained by the growers under the International Wheat Agreement. Consequently, following a meeting of wheat-growers’ representatives on Friday last the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture announced that the Government was prepared to increase the price of wheat for local consumption as stock feed from the present price of 7s.10d. to16s.1d. a bushel. The price, in any event, would doubtless have advanced to about 9s. 6d. a bushel because of the increasing cost of production.
– Is the decision to increase the price of wheat another step in the. Government’s programme for combating inflation?
– It is to do justice to a section of the community who are feeding the Australian people and who should not be required to provide food for other people at less than a fair price.
Opposition members interjecting,
-(Hon. Archie Cameron).- Order! I ask the Minister to resume his seat. I must insist upon order while the Minister is answering a question. If honorable gentlemen insist upon interjecting, I shall have to take action, and I shall not like doing so.
– The price of wheat for the purposes which have been mentioned has been pegged to a level which has bred resentment among the wheatgrowers of Australia, and the consequence of that resentment has been reflected in the declining wheat acreage which, in the last three years,has fallen by no less than 3,000,000 acres.
Mr. Curtin interjecting,
– Order ! If the honorable member for Watson interjects again, he will be removed from the chamber.
– We hope that, as a consequence of the arrangement that has been made there will be a considerable stimulus to the production of wheat in Australia.
– The question that I wish to direct to the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture is supplementary to that which has been asked by the honorable member for Riverina. No doubt the Minister is aware that the increase of the price of wheat for stock feed from 7s.10d. to 16s.1d. a bushel will present considerable financial difficulties to poultry farmers. I understand that the Government has in mind a plan to help the industry by way of subsidy. Can the Minister give the House any details of that proposal?
– The Prime Minister stated, when he announced the increased price of wheat for stock feed, that arrangements would be made to subsidize certain branches of the poultry industry. The details of those arrangements have still to be worked out, but they will be announced in time to be in accord with the increase of the price of stock feed.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether the State Governments have yet indicated that they will enact legislation to ratify the proposal to increase the price of wheat for stock feed to 16s. Id. a bushel? Following the recent statement by the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, has any further decision yet been made regarding the payment of freight on wheat transported from South Australia to Queensland in order to relieve the shortage in Queensland ?
– The proposal to increase the price for wheat for stock feed to 16s. Id. a bushel was taken up by the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture with the various State Ministers for Agriculture on Saturday last. It will be necessary for each State government to signify its agreement to that arrangement and to permit the necessary increases of price being made within its State. Those Ministers have undertaken to refer the proposal to their respective governments, and we expect to receive their decisions in the near future. The Australian Government has not altered its decision with respect to the payment of freight on wheat supplied from South Australia to Queensland.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister acting for tha Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether it is anticipated that there will be very much wheat available for stock feed, even at the new price of wheat for stock feed of 16s. Id. a bushel. In view of the fact that the pigraising _ industry, and to some degree the dairying industry, have depended almost entirely on the availability of wheat supplies, will the Government give consideration to subsidizing wheat supplied to those industries for a period of approximately six months in order to enable them to plan for the production of other grains or to draw feed requirements from other sources?
– Wheat is in short supply for all purposes, including those co which the honorable member has indicated. We are unable to fulfil our commitments under the International Wheat Agreement. Our quota is 8S,000,000 bushels, but this year we cannot supply more than 69,000,000 bushels. Therefore, we shall have a deficiency of approximately 20,000,000 bushels under that agreement. There is a “very grave deficiency of wheat in New South Wales for local consumption. In that State, pig-producers and those engaged in some other primary industries are unable to obtain their requirements regardless of the ruling price. Therefore, I am afraid that those classes of producers will have to turn to alternative grains, such as maize and sorghum, to raise their products. I can see no likelihood of the Government being able to extend the subsidy to cover other than egg production in the poultry industry.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether it is a fact that under the International Wheat Agreement, Australia is allotted a quota, and that it is not a breach of the agreement if this country cannot fill its quota because of its home consumption requirements, and that a breach of the agreement is committed only when a country exports wheat to another country before it has filled its quota ?
– The International Wheat Agreement was framed so that the consuming countries could expect from the producing countries a certain quantity of wheat to meet their domestic requirements. Australia’s quota under that agreement was 88,700,000 bushels. Australia is not able to reach that quota by at least 20,000,000 bushels and, therefore, is depriving consuming countries of their expectation of Australian wheat.
– Will the Treasurer invite Cabinet to give consideration to the appointment of a representative of the War Widows’ Guild of Australia to the Board of Trustees which is responsible for the Services Canteens Trust Fund?
– The honorable gentleman’s request will be brought before the Government.
– As the Minister for Social Services is aware, certain complaints were made by a pensioner to the Department of Social Services in Brisbane in respect of the enclosure of a referendum pamphlet in correspondence that has been received by that person from the department. Has the Minister yet received a report from the Director of Social Services in Brisbane upon that serious and important matter? Is he aware that one particular employee of his department, who was called upon to interview the Director of Social Services in respect of that matter, denied that he had any knowledge of the enclosed pamphlet, signed a statement to that effect and asked for a full investigation of the whole matter in order to clear his character in the eyes of his fellow employees? I ask the Minister whether he has received a report from the Director upon the circumstances to which I have referred. In view of the seriousness of the matter, will the honorable gentleman take immediate steps to have the whole position thoroughly investigated as has been requested by that employee ?
– The facts of the case are that during the recent referendum campaign, a lady complained to a Brisbane newspaper that she had received with her pension papers a most scurrilous and offensive piece of literature of Communist origin. This newspaper reported the circumstances to me, and I thought that it was most undesirable that envelopes which bore the words “ On His Majesty’s Service “ should be posted to the public with Communist literature enclosed in them. I asked the Director of Social Services in Brisbane to inquire into the matter, and he did so. Naturally, in the course of such an investigation, it would be necessary for him to question all the people in that office who had access to the mails. Mr. Burdeu, the director referred to, is a man of wide experience and is possessed of great ability and tact, and I should say that any investigation that he made would be carried out with the utmost discretion and with a full appreciation of all the implications of such an inquiry. The investigation convinced him that no member of the staff of the department in Brisbane had anything to do with the mailing of the pamphlet and that it was placed in the envelope at some time after it had left the premises. Therefore, there remains no suspicion either directly or indirectly on any member of the staff. On the contrary the investigation has established the innocence of all concerned.
– I ask the Treasurer whether it is a fact that the International Monetary Fund recently gave member countries permission to sell part of their gold production on the free world market. Is it a fact that the Administration of Fiji has allowed producers to sell 40 per cent, of their current production on the world market? Is it further a fact that the Canadian Government has made a somewhat similar arrangement for gold-<producers in that dominion? If the answers to those questions are in the affirmative, will the Treasurer inform the House whether the Australian Government proposes to take similar action? If it does not intend to take such action, what does it propose to do in order to give effect to its 1949 election pledge to assist gold-producers?
– The honorable member will recall that I made a statement on the subject of the gold policy that was determined as a result of recent deliberations of the authorities who administer the International Monetary Fund. I said then that representatives of this Government were conferring with representatives of the gold-mining industry concerning various aspects of the matter. I shall have inquiries made and will ascertain what further information I can supply to the honorable member.
– Will the Minister for Supply say whether it is true that atom bomb tests were to have been carried out in Australia but that the British Government, which had planned to make the tests at Woomera in South Australia, now proposes to make them in the United States of America because American security plans exclude Australia from receiving secret defence information?
– This story seems to be a product of the fevered imagination of some London journalist because it has appeared in the press on more than one occasion. The Prime Minister and I have both stated categorically that no arrangements have been made between the United Kingdom Government and the Australian Government to conduct atom bomb tests in Australia. All I can say on the suggestion that the United States of America is withholding defence secrets from Australia is that, since the present Government came into power, Australia’s relations with the United Kingdom Government and the United States Government on the subject of defence scientific secrets has been entirely harmonious.
– I address to the Treasurer a question regarding the sale of the Government’s shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. In view of the fact that those shares were sold by the Government at 45s. each and that the price of the company’s shares has now fallen on the Stock Exchange to 42s. 6d. and also that rumours are current in Stock Exchange circles that the price of the shares was artificially maintained at the false level of 53s. 6d. each for some time prior to their sale by the Government, will the Treasurer have the share register of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited examined and lay on the table of the House full details of all transactions in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited shares for a period of twelve months prior to the sale of the Government’s shares?
– The answer is “ No “.
– I ask the right honorable member for Bradfield, in his capacity as a representative of the Commonwealth on the hoard of directors of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia)
Limited since the Commonwealth acquired its interest in that company, whether his advice was sought by the Government prior to the sale of its shares and, if so, what opinion the right honorable gentleman expressed to the Government on the matter ?
– The matter was not submitted to the directorate nor brought to my notice in any way. We were not told what was to be done until it had been done.
– Can the Treasurer, in the absence of the Prime Minister, inform me whether the Government proposes to make a statement on the position in the Middle East and whether, in any event, an opportunity will be given to the House to discuss the Middle East position, which is menacing?
– It is the intention of the Prime Minister to make a statement on that matter to the House at 8 o’clock to-night.
– Is the Minister for External Affairs in agreement with the views recently expressed by the Leader of the Opposition about the manner in which the present United Kingdom Government has handled recent developments in the Middle East?
– There is a convention amongst civilized countries that the government of one country shall not reflect on the action of the government of another country either by way of praise or blame. The Leader of the Opposition has chosen to break this rule, and I think that it is not for me as an individual member of the Government to pass any stricture on the right honorable gentleman other than to say, as I think I may be allowed to say, that if the right honorable gentleman is satisfied with the outcome of the actions of the British Government in Persia and the Middle East he is easily pleased.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! After honorable members have concluded their private conversations and comments the House will proceed with the public business.
– I ask the VicePresident of the Executive Council, in the absence of the Minister for Immigration, a question concerning the inefficiency at Australia House, London, and the need for some alteration to be made there so as to assist British people who seek information there in regard to settlement in Australia. Is the Minister aware that large numbers of people in Britain, who are the very cream of the people of that country, are anxious to come to Australia and would do so if the proper approach were made to them and the right advice given to them? Is it a fact that many British people who wish to come to Australia have been attempting to do so for more than three years and have not yet received any satisfaction concerning the matter, although they are continually in touch with Australia House? In view of the urgency of this matter will the Minister have an investigation made at once with a view to effecting an improvement at Australia House?
– I know something of this matter, and I can assure the honorable member that the staff of the Department of Immigration at Australia House is highly efficient. It receives, however, a number of requests that are outside the categories that it is called upon to handle. Inefficiency should not be attributed to the staff because it may be unable to accept every person who seeks to immigrate to Australia. I shall have the matter of policy referred to in the honorable gentleman’s question placed before the Minister for Immigration who, I have no doubt, will give him a satisfactory answer.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether, during the last 30 years, large numbers of commodity marketing boards have been formed to operate in difficult periods of high production and low overseas prices? I ask him also whether production is now inadequate and prices overseas are now high and, if the answer is “ Yes “ whether he will ask for an investigation into those boards in conjunction with the Government’s Public Service retrenchment policy, to see which of them could now be abolished and the control of the industries concerned handed back to the producers’ own organizations.
– I shall have an inquiry made into the matter.
– Will the Minister for the Army consider obtaining the co-operation of the Film Division of the News and Information Bureau of the Department of the Interior in making a documentary film concerning national service trainees? With other honorable members of this House and certain senators I visited two national service camps yesterday and was greatly impressed with the enthusiasm and general bearing of the national servicemen and the general evidence of the success of the national service scheme. Does the Minister agree that a film depicting the life of a young serviceman of a standard equal to that of other documentary films recently produced by the Film Division of the News and Information Bureau, such as Flight Plan, would give the people of Australia an opportunity to see how well the national service training scheme is being carried out ? Does he agree, also, that it would tend to overcome any remaining doubts in the minds of parents on the advantage that their sons are receiving as national servicemen and the advantage which the community as a whole is receiving from the scheme?
– I acknowledge the tribute that the honorable member has paid to national trainees for the splendid way in which they have tackled the job of learning the art of defence of their country and I am sure that he will extend that tribute to the officers and non-commissioned officers who have been responsible for the training. A great number of moving pictures have been taken of the training of these young men in various parts of the Commonwealth.
– Was the Minister in them?
– No. I would not appear in them. I am not a trainee, but I think it would do the honorable member for “Watson good if he received such training. I shall consider the admirable suggestion of the honorable member for Evans and see whether it can be put into effect.
– I desire to ask the Minister for the Army whether it is a fact that invitations were issued to Government members to visit the military camp at Ingleburn on Monday last? Was transport provided for fifteen or twenty members? Is it a fact that members of the Opposition did not receive invitations? Is it a fact that only four Government supporters attended, two senators and two honorable members of this House?
– It has been my pleasure to invite all honorable members of this House to attend national service training camps. On this occasion I invited honorable members from the Government side of the House. I refrained from inviting honorable gentlemen of the Opposition because, recently, the Australian Council of Trades Unions unfortunately carried, by a substantial majority, a resolution expressing opposition to national service training. Because of that I considered that if. I asked honorable members of the Opposition to attend a national service training camp they might feel compelled by the resolution carried by the Australian Council of Trades Unions to refrain from going. To have invited them individually might have been considered by them as a party political manoeuvre. I consulted the Leader of the Opposition on this subject and as a consequence of the conversation I forwarded a letter to him in which I asked that honorable members of the Opposition should visit the camp3 in their respective States during the month of October. The same facilities that have been granted to honorable members on this side of the chamber will be most readily granted to honorable members opposite, and I hope to have the privilege of accompanying some of them on their visits to the camps.
– I desire to ask a question supplementary to the question about national service that the Minister for the Army has just answered. Is it a fact that the Minister for the Army mentioned this matter to me for the first time on Thursday last? Is it also a fact that I then pointed out to him that the decision of the Australian Council of Trades Unions had nothing to do with the Australian Labour party and requested an invitation from him, which invitation has now been extended? Did I then indicate to him that if the invitation were extended it would be accepted? The Minister did not mention these matters in his answer, no doubt because of a pure oversight.
– I make it quite clear that I desire honorable members from both sides of the House to see our national service trainees in camp because I think that those lads, and the men associated with them in their training, have done a splendid job of work. I think that it is the duty of the Parliament to see what is being done in the national service camps. I saw you last Thursday-
– Order! The Minister will address rae.
– I spoke to the Leader of the Opposition last week and extended to him an invitation which I hope will be accepted. His statement is in the main correct.
– I desire to inform the House that the Right Honorable D. S. Senanayake, Prime Minister of the Dominion of Ceylon, is within the precincts of the chamber. With the concurrence of honorable members, I shall invite him to take a seat on the floor of the House beside the Speaker’s chair.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
The Right Honorable D. S. Senanayake thereupon entered Hie chamber and was seated accordingly.
– A number of head masters of public schools are very interested in the report of the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation which was tabled in this House on the 9th October. Is the Treasurer willing to make available a copy of that report for their perusal? The public school headmasters who approached me about this matter reside in Melbourne, and I have no doubt that if one copy were made available to me it could be circulated amongst them all.
– The honorable member is asking for a very large undertaking because several reports which emanated from that committee were tabled, and an enormous amount of work would be involved in acceding to the various requests that have been made for various sections of those reports. However, I shall inquire into the matter to ascertain the extent to which I can oblige the honorable member.
– In reply to a question that I asked, on a previous occasion, the Treasurer informed me that the Capital Issues’ Board could not depart from its refusal to permit the Maitland Brewery Company Proprietary Limited to complete its building at Maitland. At one time there was a brewery in that city and also one in Newcastle. In view of the brewery monopoly that exists in New South Wales, I again ask the Treasurer whether it is not possible to get the board to alter its decision in this matter? Does the board propose to contribute to the perpetuation of the present brewery monopoly in that State?
– I have no intention of interfering with the considered decision of the Capital Issues Board in the matter that the honorable member has raised. The board was set up for the specific purpose of dealing with matters of that kind.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that Japanese trade representatives are now permitted to attend the talks on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that are now proceeding at Geneva? Is it also a fact that Japan will soon become a member of the conference on the General Agreement on Tariffs and
Trade, which has been established by the United Nations, and that, as a consequence, Japan will receive the full benefit and advantage of the hundreds of tariff concessions that Australia has granted to various countries at the conferences that, have been held at Geneva and Torquay? What action does the Government propose to take to prevent Australia from being flooded with the cheaply produced Japanese goods?
– Broadly, the answer to the honorable member’s question is “ No ‘’. The Japanese have been allowed to send an observer to the talks al Geneva to which the honorable member has referred. The position of Japan, in the event of its being admitted to membership of that organization, whether we support its admission or not, requires some clear statement. It is not accurate to say that Japan will automaticallybecome entitled to the benefits of certain advantages that concern Australia. We ourselves have our own rights in that matter. It might be desirable, for the benefit of honorable members generally, that I should ask the Minister for Trade and Customs to prepare a short statement setting out the exact position.
– Can the Prime Minister say what the Government’s attitude is towards the application of the Metal Industry Employers Association to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to re-introduce the 44-hour week?
– Order ! The honorable gentleman will not be in order in asking a question that relates to a matter that is before the court.
– Will the Government, as a major employer of labour, intervene in the proceedings in order to indicate that it supports the continuance of the 40-hour week?
– Whether or not the Government will intervene in the proceedings to which the honorable member has referred has yet to be determined. The matter is being given preliminary consideration. The honorable member will recall that when the 40-hour week was under consideration by the court, the government of the day intervened.
There is always a case for government intervention in proceedings of that kind, because a government can provide a good deal of material for the information of the court that is not available to any other authority. No actual decision has been made on the matter. I shall refer the honorable member’s question to the Minister for Labour and National Service.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether the Wool Textiles Labelling Regulations that were passed by the Chifley Government have been enforced? That act was designed to protect the purchasers of woollen goods from fraud and deception in the sale of shoddy articles which masquerade under the description of wool. Will he ascertain the reasons for the delay in implementing this most important legislation.?
– I shall obtain the information for which the honorable member has asked and supply it to him.
– Will the Prime Minister urgently reconsider a recent decision of his department to abandon the work of two psychologists in the Commonwealth Office of Education who have been studying the problem of mentally deficient children? Will ha take into consideration the following aspects of the work. First, that it involves the study over several years of a particular group of such children from their childhood to adolescence which work is only half completed and if discontinued now will cause the loss of results of several years investigation; secondly, that as the children being studied live in more than one State, the work cannot be effectively handed over to any State government; and, thirdly, that as only two public servants are occupied in the work, the cost involved is negligible in comparison with the benefits that will result from it?
– I shall have that matter looked at and supply the honorable member with a considered answer. At the moment, all I can say is that the chairmen of public service boards - Commonwealth and State - conferred some time ago on the question of overlapping. It was the unanimous view of that conference that the matter to which the honorable member has referred could be adequately attended to by the States and did not require Commonwealth treatment. I shall find out what has happened since then and see if I can do so. I shall elaborate on this reply.
– Did the Minister for Health, during his recent visit to the United States of America, investigate the work of Sister Kenny in relation to the treatment of poliomyelitis? Did he visit any of the Elizabeth Kenny clinics in that country? Having regard to the fact that Sister Kenny is back in Australia and that there is incontrovertible evidence of the efficacy of her methods in cases in which orthodox treatment has failed, will the Minister consider the advisability of utilizing her services in an advisory capacity in association with the Elizabeth Kenny clinics in this country, and of subsidizing State authorities which are conducting them?
– I discussed the value of Sister Kenny clinics in the United States of America with various authorities in the States in which they have been established. I found that the position there is similar to that in Australia. The difficulty about Sister Kenny clinics is that there is only one Sister Kenny with her personal drive, magnetism and enthusiasm to look after her patients. The result is that although Sister Kenny clinics have been established in Australia, and in other countries, they do not seem to get the same results as she is able to achieve personally. Mr. Fitzsimmons, who was the Minister for Health in New South Wales in 1935, established a Sister Kenny clinic at the Royal North Sydney Hospital, but it was closed about two years ago by the then Minister for Health, Mr. C. A.
Kelly, because very few patients were being treated in it. A similar experience is reported with other Sister Kenny clinics throughout Australia. The reason given for that position is that it has been found that the orthodox methods of treating poliomyelitis patients, and Sister Kenny’s methods, have steadily been approaching each other. In other words, Sister Kenny’s methods have been coming closer to orthodox methods, and the orthodox methods have been coming closer to Sister Kenny’s methods. The result is that the ordinary clinics have been filled with the increasing number of poliomyelitis cases that have been reported in Australia. Sister Kenny,by strongly emphasizing early mobilization of the limbs after a poliomyelitis attack, especially to encourage their use on the part of the patient and exercise ofwillpower to keep the muscles operating, was able to get very good results. That method has now been adopted as policy throughout the whole medical profession. I believe it is the reason why there has not been such an extraordinary and constant attendance at Sister Kenny clinics as in the early days. The various clinics that are treating poliomyelitis patients are in State hospitals, and they are the institutions in which research into that disease should be conducted. An application has notbeen received from any State for financial assistance to enable it to conduct. Sister Kenny clinics.
-Will the Minister for Civil Aviation inform me whether it is a fact that dismissals of staff in the Department of Civil Aviation, and heavy reductions of expenditure on aviation works, will seriously retard the development of airports and radio aids to navigation? Will the Government review its decision, because of the essential nature of aviation in the development of the Commonwealth ?
– The Government will not review its decision.
– Has the Minister for Civil Aviation seen the report of the tragic air crash in Western Australia last night? If so, has he, as is customary. sent a message of sympathy from this Parliament to the relatives of the unfortunate victims? Will he take steps to ensure that a full inquiry is conducted?
– I have seen the account of the regrettable accident and will take steps to send messages as the honorable member has suggested. Investigations have been made already by officers of the Department of Civil Aviation, who are trying to assemble facts that will lead to some conclusion concerning the cause of the accident.
– I desire to address a question to the Minister for Supply, but I feel that I should preface it with an assurance to you, Mr. Speaker, that it has no relation to an anniversary which will occur in the first week of November. Can the Minister take any action to encourage an increase of the production of gun-powder in Australia so that farmers, members of gun clubs and others will not be forced to buy Italian cartridges at high prices, and will be able to load cartridges for their own use?
– I shall give consideration to the matter that has been raised. I shall also discuss it with the Minister for Defence Production and will furnish the honorable member with an early reply.
– I remind the Treasurer that he made the following statement in the policy speech which he delivered at Boonah, in Queensland, on the 17th November, 1949 : -
Our plana for national development will enable us to co-operate with Queensland for the development of the Channel country, and we will proceed with the Burdekin scheme immediately and not keep it pigeon-holed as a blueprint for depression.
Does the right honorable gentleman recall that he used those words? If he recollects them, can he explain why, in the 22 months during which he has been the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister, he has failed to do anything about the Burdekin Valley developmental cheme oor any other scheme which is designed to promote the development of Queensland ?
– The reason is that the Government of Queensland has not established the economic soundness of the Burdekin Valley scheme.
– I desire to address two questions to the Treasurer. First, can the right honorable gentleman inform the House whether the deductions from individual V001 C cheques, which have been made since the 1st July last under the Wool Sales Deduction (Administration) Act, will be refunded to wool-growers shortly? Secondly, when does the Government intend to refund to wool-growers the levy which they paid under the now defunct post-Joint Organization scheme?
– I have already introduced a bill which provides for the expeditious repayment to wool-growers of deductions that were made from the gross proceeds of their wool sales. That payment will be made as quickly as possible after the legal authority for such action is established, the Government has the matter of the postJoint Organization levy in hand now, and hopes to make that refund as expeditiously as practicable.
– The Prime Minister advised me on Wednesday last, in reply to a question, that retainers paid to members of the legal profession were merely of a nominal amount, and he illustrated his point by stating that, for a payment of £1 ls., I could retain his services for the rest of our joint lives. I now ask the right honorable gentleman whether he will have inquiries made in order to ascertain whether it is a fact that the Minister for Supply is in receipt of a large sum of money annually from Lewis Berger and Sons (Australia) Proprietary Limited, paint manufacturers, who have substantial contracts with the Government, and, -if so, from what date such payment commenced. Furthermore, in view of the
Minister’s claim that his association with the company is solely in his professional capacity as a King’s Counsel, and in view of his refusal to supply any information about the amount of payment, will the Prime Minister ascertain whether the honorable gentleman has, since he became a Minister, appeared in any litigation for the company or performed any legal work on its behalf, and, if so, who was the instructing solicitor and what were the fees marked on the briefs?
– I certainly do not propose to occupy my time in investigating the professional earnings of any member of this House. I must confess that I fell into a slight error, which 1 should like to correct. I find, on making an investigation of my own recollection - and, after all, I have had an extensive experience of the legal profession - thai, it would cost the honorable member for East Sydney, not £1 ls., but £5 5s. to retain my services for the rest of our joint lives. The prospect ought to entice him. I do not understand his constant, irritation with the legal profession. I should have thought that he would be eternally indebted to it.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that not one order for a Commonwealth ship has been placed with any Australian shipyard since the present Government took office in 1949, notwithstanding the acute shortage of ships on the Australian coast and the imperative need to maintain an active shipbuilding industry as a defence safeguard. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that, because of limited orders, Australian shipbuilding yards are experiencing difficulty in retaining trained operatives whilst, at the same time, Government officials are making every effort to purchase old ships overseas?
– The suggested fact is not a fact. This Government has placed orders for ships with Australian shipyards. In fact, it has directed a. great deal of attention, through relevant departments, to maintaining the flow of business in our shipyards because it attaches real importance to the shipbuilding industry.
– Does the Treasurer intend to repay the two loans, of approximately £11,800,000 and £10,800,000 respectively, which he has the option to pay off in London at any time he wishes to do so, and thus honour the promises that he made during the 1949 election campaign to pay off such loans as they fell due from the large balance that had been accumulated in London during the war and the immediate post-war years?
– The question is based on wrong premises and therefore it supplies its own answer.
Reports on Items.
– I lay on the table reports of the Tariff Board on the following subjects: -
Copies of the reports are not yet available for circulation to honorable members.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to amend the definition of “ producer “ in the Egg Export Control Act 1947 to allow for elections to be organized and conducted in the industry to determine future producer representation on the Australian Egg Board. The act provides that members representing producers should be elected, wherever practicable. Such an election has not been practicable up to date, and the producers representatives have been appointed by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture under an alternative section of the act. Strong representations on the subject have been made by various sections of the egg industry, and the Government is convinced that the industry should have the final say on who will be its representatives on the Australian Egg Board. The system of election provided for is most democratic and, in the final analysis, the most satisfactory one that can be applied since it will give interested producers the opportunity to have a say in the standard of representation of their industry in what is a most important sphere. The act, as it now stands, defines a “ producer “ as being a person defined by any State act as a “ producer of eggs “. However, definitions in State acts lack uniformity, and for the purposes of a Commonwealthwide election it is considered necessary to ensure uniformity of franchise. The sole purpose of the bill is to achieve that aim.
In order to arrive at a uniform definition agreeable to the industry, all State Departments of Agriculture, State Egg Marketing Boards and the Egg Producers Council were invited to submit their views on a suitable uniform definition of “producer”. Recommendations from StateDepartments of Agriculture ranged from persons owning from 150 to 400 laying hens; four State egg boards recommended 500, one 250 and one 150 as the basis, whilst the Egg Producers Council’s original recommendation, on a majority decision, was that “ producer “ should mean a person owning 500 or more laying fowls. The Egg Producers Council is not a statutory body but, broadly speaking, is a federation of all State egg boards to give added weight to action on matters that affect all of them. The final recommendation of the Egg Producers Council was a unanimous recommendation that only producers who own not less than 500 adult female domestic fowls should be entitled to vote, and that the definition of “ producer “ should be drafted on thatbasis.
The council also recommended that the principle of “ one farm one vote “ should be adopted, as it is aware that at least one State act allows more than one person to vote at board elections, despite the fact that the farm in respect of which votes are cast is operated as one entire unit. The Government has accepted the majority recommendation of the State egg boards and the unanimous recommendation of the Egg Producers Council in framing the definition of “ producer”, because it considers that, as the Australian Egg Board is primarily concerned with egg exports it appears appropriate that, for the purpose of this bill, producers should, in fact, be commercial producers, and also that the principle of “ one farm one vote “ is democratic.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 11th October (vide page 594), on motion by Mr. Townley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Clarey had moved, by way of amendment -
That all words after “ that “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: -
. the hill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for -
.- My approach to this bill is one of conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I am pleased that the Government proposes to increase pension rates, but on the other hand, I am disappointed by the amount of the proposed increase, because I consider that, in relation to existing living conditions, it is too meagre. That also appears to be the general consensus of opinion throughout the Commonwealth. When the bill becomes law the age pension rate will be £3 a week, which is 10s. a week more than the existing rate. Government supporters are particularly jubilant about the increase and have told us on a number of occasions during the last week that it will be the largest single increase of pension rates since social servicesbecame a federal responsibility, and that the pensioners are to be congratulated on having such a benevolent government in office. But the amount of the increase cannot by itself justify any such jubilation,because it is meaningless unless it be considered in relation to the increases of living costs that have occurred during the last year. So the measuring stick to be applied to the proposed increase should not be the actual amount of the increase but the necessaries of life that the increased amount will purchase. Analysed on that basis the proposed increase falls far short of what it should be. No section of the community is more deserving of the right to lead a life of self-respect and freedom from economic anxiety than are the pensioners. But we find that, owing to the ever-increasing inflation, pensioners are being forced to exist on a mere subsistence level. Most pensioners are forced to live in rooms for which they are unable to afford to pay more than £1 5s. a week. Nutritious foods, such as butter, which costs 3s. 2d. per lb., eggs and milk, are particularly dear. In fact, all the necessaries of life are not only dear already but are increasing in price. During the last few weeks it has been announced in Melbourne that the prices of onions, cheese and potatoes, which are all staple foods, are to be increased in Victoria and that in a few weeks the price of bread will alsobe increased in that State. It can be seen, therefore, that the lot of the pensioners will be a sorry one unless the Government realizes that the proposed increase is inadequate and makes it more substantial.
Unfortunately the approach to the fixation of the pension rate has always been haphazard. The method adopted seems to be that the government of the day operates on the principle of thinking of an amount and saying “ That will be the pension rate “. As far as I can see, there has never been a scientific approach to the fixation of the rate. I suggest, as other honorablemembers on this side of the House have suggested, that the rate be definitely related to the basic wage which, despite the imperfections of the method of its fixation, has some relation to living costs. If the Government fixed a percentage of the basic wage to be the pension rate, the amount of pension received by pensioners would rise according to increases of living costs as reflected in the quarterly adjustment of thebasic wage. Government supporters claim that the Government now proposes to give to the pensioners a larger increase of pension rate than was ever given by a Labour government. I point out that the last increase of the pension rate made during the regime of a Labour government brought the rate to £2 2s. 6d. a week as from the 21st October, 194-3. That amount may not seem large when it is compared with the rate of £3 a week which will operate when this bill becomes law, but it represented 36.64 per cent, of the then basic wage. The present proposal will bring the pension rate to only 31.5 per cent, of the basic wage. That is bacl enough. But we have been informed through the press during the last few days that the basic wage will be increased from the 1st November by another 10s. a week. That increase will have the effect of bringing the percentage relation of the pension to the basic wage down to 30 per cent, compared with ,he 36.64 per cent, level when a Labour government last increased the rate. In view of these considerations the paeans of praise from honorable members opposite are empty sound. “We all know that not only will the basic wage be increased by another 10s. from the beginning of next month, but we have also been informed on reliable authority that it will be increased again next February as a result of the increases of living costs that stemmed from the last quarterly increase. In next February, therefore, the lot of the pensioners will be desperate. The Government should take cognizance of these facts and consider the justice of relating the pension rate to basic wage increases. I realize that that system has been followed before, and was discarded for reasons which do not now apply. Precedents for the system exist in the periods between 1932 and 1985 and 1942 and 1945, when pension rates were fixed in accordance with the quarterly adjustment of the basic wage. An honorable member opposite stressed the fact that the Labour Government was responsible for the discontinuance of quarterly adjustments. 3ut when those adjustments were discontinued the pensioners were given an increase in the pension rate which was more than the adjustment would have been. Naturally, the pensioners wanted the higher rate and they requested the Labour Government to eliminate the cost-of-living adjustments in favour of the proposed larger increase.
A different state of affairs now operates because the cost of living is increasing rapidly. Unless the pensioners receive at least a percentage of basic wage increases goodness knows what their position will be in twelve months’ time. I am not prepared to believe that, after paying the present proposed increase, the Government will introduce a supplementary bill next year in order to make a further increase of the rate. It did not do that early this year when a rise in the cost of living was brought about by an increase of £1 a week in the basic wage. The present spasmodic method of altering the act results in complete frustration of the pensioners. If the Government were to relate the pension to the basic wage and arrange for the granting of quarterly adjustments it would bring to the pensioners a measure of security that they do not have at present. A single increase pf 10s. a week is only beneficial to them for a week or two, after which it is speedily absorbed by increased living costs. If the Government decided to fix the rate of increase at, say, 35 per cent, of the basic wage the pensioners would receive an immediate 3s. a week increase when the basic wage rose by 10s. a week. Then, if the basic wage were to rise 12s. a week in February the pensioners would receive an increase of 4s. a week. In actual fact that figure of 35 per cent, that I have suggested would be altogether too small. Pensioners’ leagues have requested, with a great amount of justification, that the pension should be fixed at 40 per cent, of the basic wage. If that were done and, in addition, the pension was adjusted quarterly in accordance with alterations of the basic wage, the lot of the pensioners would be much happier than it is at present.
Whenever there is a debate on social services in this House honorable members on both sides discuss the subject of the means test. I think that that is because it is the ultimate ‘ objective of all political parties that the means test should be eliminated. I realize that it is impossible to abolish the means test at one fell swoop under present financial conditions because huge expenditure is involved. In the policy speech that the Prime Minister delivered in 1949, he dangled roseate promises before the pensioners. He stated that he hoped to give immediate attention to the lifting of the means test. But what the Government has done in that respect has been infinitesimal. When the Labour Government was in office it recognized the inequity of the existing arrangements and made periodical adjustments of pension conditions which eased the means test to some extent. In 1946, the permissible income that a ‘pensioner could earn without affecting the rate of his pension was increased by 12s. 6d. to £1 a week. In 194S it was increased to £1 10s. a week. That amount has now been in operation for the last three years. I hoped when this bill was foreshadowed that the Government would recognize the existence of the inflationary spiral and increase that figure to £2. lt was a vain hope. No immediate relief has been offered to the pensioners by way of an increase in the permissible income. I consider that the Government could well have raised that figure to £2 a week, which would have resulted in an increase in the very meagre standard of comfort of the pensioners. I know of no class in the community that is more entitled to the small comforts of life than these people.
The Labour Government recognized the inequality of the conditions relating to the value of property owned by pensioners, and in 1946 it made it possible for pensioners to own property to the value of £650, instead of £400, and in 1948 it increased that figure to £750. The amount is now to be raised to £1,000. That amount will also be inadequate. Property values have increased so greatly that the figure should have been raised, at least to £1,250. Even now, it is not too late for the Government . to introduce an amendment in order to increase the permissible income to £2 a week and the property limit to £1,250. The present position in relation to the means test is obviously unfair to those who have saved for their old age and it tends to discourage thrift. A person who has saved a little money or contributed to a pension scheme organized by his employers is deprived of much or all of the pension benefit while another person who has not provided for his future receives a full pension. There is a trend in indus. try for firms to provide a pension scheme for their employees. That trend is to be commended because it encourages the workers to provide for their old age. A number of firms ask their employees to contribute up to 14s. a week, which enables them to retire at 60 or 65 years of age and receive £4 or £5 a week. Those who pay those contributions are particularly aggrieved. Whilst they deprive themselves of the amount of their contribution every week, other persons in receipt of equal remuneration spend it all and, when they retire, receive the full amount of the pension, while those who have been self-sacrificing and thrifty are deprived of a large proportion of the pension.
No amount of sophistry or logic can contravert those facts. This problem constitutes a challenge to all political parties to arrive at a solution that will not penalize those persons who are prepared to provide for their future. There is no encouragement, under present circumstances, for any firm to institute a private pension scheme. Prior to entering this Parliament I was employed by a firm, which had a good pension scheme. When its employees were asked by the management whether they were prepared to participate in the scheme a large number of them refused. They said, “ If we spend all our money we shall get the full age pension when we retire, but if we pay 8s., 10s., or 12s. a week into this scheme we shall get only a reduced pension, if any at all “. A number of employees in the firm in which I was employed refused to take part in the scheme. That was a matter to be deplored of course, because the firm was making an effort to ensure that its employees at the age of 60 should have some sort of economic security.
A truly Gilbertian situation has arisen under the present system. Many illustrations could be given of that, but to-day I shall put forward only one example of the strange results of the Government’s policy. It was brought to my notice recently that a retired Victorian railway porter has been receiving £5 a fortnight railway superannuation pension and £3 a fortnight age pension. Therefore, his total income was £8 a fortnight. The Victorian Government recently increased superannuation pensions by 20 per cent, because of soaring living costs. This man’s pension was increased accordingly from £5 a. fortnight to £6 a fortnight. In the same post in which came the notification that his superannuation pension was to be increased, also came a notice from the Department of Social Services which informed him that his age pension, in consequence of the increase in his other income, had been reduced to £2 a fortnight. The retired railway employee got no benefit from the Victorian Government’s praiseworthy action in increasing his superannuation pension because of the high cost of living.
The relationship of age and invalid pensions to income is so strange that the three parties in this House should confer in order to try to evolve some formula which would give justice to the people who, during their working lives, have deprived themselves of portion of their income to make provision for their old age. Much has been said about the amelioration of the means test, but I desire to add a few remarks about another matter. I draw the attention of honorable members to the state of those people who are receiving pensions consequent upon the death of employees of the Allied Works Council. Only 105 such people are involved, but they seem to be nobody’s care. Their .pensions are paid under 2egulation and are not governed by specific act of Parliament. Since their pensions commenced to be paid they have been increased only once. That was last year, and the increase occurred because of representations that I made. Last year 8s. a week more was given to the widows of the employees that I have mentioned, which increased their pensions to £2 10s. a week. I hoped that the Government would have included those pensioners in the legislation now before the House so that they would get the increases which are to be given to age and invalid pensioners. Unfortunately, such people have not been mentioned in this bill.
I bring that matter to the notice of the Minister for Social Services (Mr: Townley) and ask him to include the pensioners that I have mentioned with the other pensioners under the care of the Department of Social Services. I also suggest that when increases are made to age and invalid pensioners these pensions should be increased accordingly. The people receiving such pensions should not have to wait for months before their pensions are increased as they did last year. However, in fairness to the Government I must say that last year’s increase was made retrospective. These pensioners should not have to wait for an increase until a member of Parliament makes representations to the Government.
The proposed increase of age and invalid pensions to £3 a week is not sufficient. This bill mostly concerns the people who have no income other than their age or invalid pensions. Eighty per cent, of the pensioners fall within that category, and will have to live on £3 or £3 5s. a week. Many pensioners need a special diet in order to maintain a reasonable standard of health and it is impossible with the present small pension to obtain anything but the bare essentials of life. The pensioners need milk, eggs, cheese and fruit, among other things, but all those articles are well beyond their means. As far as clothing is concerned, most pensioners have to depend on handouts from their relatives. I make two suggestions to the Government. First, I suggest that it should tie the pensions to the basic wage, and make the pensions 35 per cent, or 40 per cent, of the basic wage. Secondly, I suggest that it should arrange for the cost of living adjustments to be made to pensions every quarter instead of dealing with them in a haphazard fashion every twelve months. The Government should make every endeavour to obtain the necessary money to do these two things. We have been told that the financial commitments of the Commonwealth would be unbalanced if the pensions were further increased, but there is no more deserving section of the community than the pensioners.
Honorable members have been informed by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) that this year there will be a. surplus in the Treasury of £114,000.000. It is inconceivable that £8.000,000 or £10,000,000 of that sum which should be transferred for expenditure in pensions would appreciably affect the inflationary spiral. We have, been told that the £114,000,000 is being taken out of circulation and kept in a safe place by the Government. Surely, £8,000,000 or £10,000,000 would not affect the Government’s indulgence of its anti-inflation theory - and, after all, it is only a theory. Wages and salaries were never higher than they are at present.- Profits and dividends are reaching astronomical proportions, and extravagant provision is being made for depreciation throughout the field of industry and commerce. The only thing that seems to be lacking in our era of high incomes is a full appreciation of the urgent necessity for ensuring that the elderly people of the Commonwealth shall he treated in a manner befitting a country which is proud of its humanitarian outlook.
– I support the thought which lies behind the approach of the Government to this important matter of social services. Honorable members on this side of the House do not regard legislation such as this as a vote-catching matter. Unfortunately, during the last general election campaign perhaps more than ever before, the leaders of the Opposition, and some of the honorable members opposite themselves, treated such legislation in that manner. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), together with a number of his colleagues, represented the Opposition as the champion of the pensioners and of all under-privileged classes. I speak on this subject -with some knowledge of the needs of pensioners and of the conditions under which they live at present, because, within my electorate, there are three districts in particular in which the population consists of a large majority of those who are dependent for their needs on pensions or on superannuation payments. I wish to develop an argument which is contrary to that of the honorable member for Batman. Although I do not wish to answer him in particular, I noticed that he spent a lot of time in detailing his arguments in favour of making some relationship between the basic wage and the age and invalid pensions. On that point, the honorable member’s argument was largely irrelevant. Originally,, the basic wage was computed on- the basis of the needs of a man, his wife and two children. In the meantime, many changes have been made in the method of computing the wage. The honorable member’s arguments in that respect were not convincing, because the Government has made available many additional benefits to pensioners apart from actual increases of the rates of pensions. The Chifley Go vernment endeavoured,, with disastrous results, to initiate a medical and pharmaceutical benefits scheme. On the other hand, this Government has already implemented such a scheme, which is operating satisfactorily. It was unfortunate for the honorable member’s case that he referred to increases of pensions that were made by Labour governments, because, whilst on one occasion the rate was increased by 6d. a week, no increase at all was made for several years. Finally, when the old system of age and invalid pensions were abandoned, the Chifley Government increased the rate of pension by only 5s. a week.
I congratulate the Minister upon the Increases of benefits that are embodied in the bill now before us. During the last general election campaign members of the Labour party made all sorts of promises to the pensioners, whereas supporters of the Government made no such promises but undertook that if returned to office they would do everything in their power to provide the greatest possible benefits. Under this measure, the Government is now giving effect to that promise. The honorable member for Batman also said that the Government parties in their policy speech in 1949 promised to abolish the means test. That is not correct. Those parties said that they would endeavour to achieve that objective. At that time, we placed our thoughts on that matter before the people and expressed the hope that if returned to office we would be able to abolish the means test in 1952. I know that the Minister and his advisers are constantly giving consideration to the problems that are involved in that matter. Many of my colleagues and I, myself, have conferred with the Minister on the subject and have conveyed to him the views of our constituents upon it.
Under this measure, the rate of age and invalid pensions will be increased by 10s. a week. As has been pointed out already, this is the largest single increase that has been proposed since pensions first became payable. Additional benefits are being provided in respect of civilian widows. The permissible income of blind pensioners will be substantially increased. A number of blind pensioners who reside in my electorate have informed me that they appreciate the additional benefits that are being made available to them under the bill. The permissible income of a blind pensioner, in addition to the pension of £3 a week, will be increased to £10. If a man and his wife each receive a blind pension, their combined income could amount to £16 a week instead of the present limit of £13 a week. Furthermore, the means test has been substantially liberalized. In this respect, I cite the case- of one of my constituents who has informed me that he is compelled to contribute to a superannuation fund at the rate of approximately £4 a week. Under that scheme he will become eligible to receive a retiring allowance when he reaches the age of 60 years. He also contributes to a friendly society fund for sickness and death benefits. His wife, who resumed work as a teacher during the war, contributes at the rate of £3 a week for a retiring allowance. He points out that, consequently, neither hid wife nor himself will be eligible to receive social services benefits on their retirement although they are contributing substantially for such benefits. Last year both of them paid, approximately, £120 in tax and social services contribution and as; they have a family to support, denial of social services benefit to them is unjust. That case is typical of many that have come to my notice.
Supporters of the Government fully realize the difficulties that confront persons who come within that category. We recognize that the means test operates unfairly against them. That is why supporters of the Government will continue their efforts to devise a scheme under which it will be possible to abolish the means test. I suggest to the Minister that when he is evolving such a scheme, whatever form it may take, it should at least be founded on a contributory basis. Such a scheme should not be financed from direct taxes. It is most unfortunate that persons who are now in receipt of a retiring allowance and arc wholly dependent upon such au allowance are disqualified from receiving social services benefits in spite of the fact that they are contributing towards the cost of such benefits. However, I am assured that the Government is pursuing this matter and that it hopes to be able in the near future to introduce a scheme that will be practical and of benefit to the class of persons to whom I have referred. Under the bill, the means test will be liberalized to allow applicants for benefits to own property to the value of £1,000.
I point out that the additional benefits that are now being provided will not apply to one class of person. I refer to daughters and sons who are caring for invalid parents in receipt of the age or invalid pension. On this point, I shall read a letter that I have received from one of my constituents. It is as follows : -
The case concerns myself. I have looked after my father, who is in receipt of the Invalid Pension and all I receive is £1 per week from the Social Service Department. As there is nothing in the pensioners act to cover a daughter or son who may be looking after an invalid parent. The £1 (pound) I receive which is a special benefit from the social service, does not come under the rises in the pension, you can appreciate that £1 (one pound) per week is an impossibility today to live on.
I understand if the act was amended to include in the wives and dependants portion of the act, the word son or daughter who may be looking after an invalid parent, it would entitle me to come under the benefits of the dependants of a pensioner.
That case is by no means an isolated one. The letter briefly describes the situation of persons to whom I have referred. However, under this measure the Government has shown that it realizes its responsibility to help those who are not able to provide for themselves out of their own resources. That attitude is also becoming more pronounced in the community generally. Persons who are in good health and are earning more than sufficient to meet their needs are more and more realizing their responsibility to assist those who are in less fortunate circumstances.
Speaking generally, one would like to see the Government provide even greater additional benefits under this measure. However, this problem must be considered in relation to our economy as a whole. To a large degree, we are an ageing people. The number of persons who become dependent upon social services in one form or another is increasing annually in relation to the total number of wage-earners. I understand that as a result of our immigration policy that ratio will be decreased to a degree for at least the next 25 years. However, we must relate the provision that we make available in respect of social services to the proportion of our population that will be obliged to finance such expenditure. That consideration will determine the limit of social services benefits that the Government can make available in any one year. People, when they consider the various reasons for the introduction of this legislation, should also consider the background to which the Government must relate its policy in such a matter. The Government has incorporated in its social services programme a medical and pharmaceutical benefits scheme which, although it will impose a considerable charge upon the Treasury, is well worth while. In contrast, the health and medical scheme of the preceding Labour Government proved a lamentable failure.
Persons who are dependent to a great degree upon their pensions but who are able to supplement that income from other sources realize that Government supporters have their interests at heart. Any Opposition member who doubts that statement must inevitably revise his views if he compares the benefits that the recipients of social services have received from Liberal governments with those that have been granted by Labour governments. When I make that statement, I do not decry in any way what Labour governments have done to assist pensioners. Indeed, I give them full credit for their actions in that respect. Unfortunately, I find all too frequently that Opposition members are prone to take credit for what Labour governments have clone, and completely to overlook what Liberal governments have done, for pensioners. I urge them to refresh their memories on that subject, because they will find that, on balance, the results are considerably in favour of Liberal party governments.
This bill gives effect to the policy that was enunciated by the leaders of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party respectively in their policy speeches during the general election campaigns in 1946, 1949 and April, 1951. We have always stated, and shall probably continue to state in future, that we do not promise to increase social services by specific amounts. Our purpose in adopting such a policy should be obvious to the Labour party. We do not wish to use social services as a votecatching medium. We firmly believe that social services should not be used for party-political purposes. Those persons who are dependent upon various forms of social services know, from our actions in the past, that we shall continue to develop social services schemes in future. Our most immediate problem, which we hope to solve when the administrative aspect has been examined, is elimination of the means test. I congratulate the Minister for Social Services on what he has been able to achieve to date, and I wish him luck for the future. I know that, at the appropriate time, he will he able to tell us something definite about the scheme that he has in mind.
– I support the amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey). Briefly, it provides that the payment of the increased rates of social services shall be made retrospective to the 1st July last, and that endowment which is payable in respect of the first child of a family under the age of sixteen years shall be increased from 5s. to 10s. a week. I listened attentively to the speeches of Government supporters on this bill, and noticed that they repeated the parrot cry that they constantly uttered during the consideration of the budget last year; namely, “ The Liberal party is the only political party that has ever done anything to assist age and invalid pensioners “. Even the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean), who expressed the hope that social services would not be made the subject of party politics, was satisfied that the Liberal party was the only party that had ever assisted the recipients of social services. The honorable member for Bendigo moved his amendment, on behalf of the Opposition, in an endeavour to prove that the Labour party is the only political party that is sympathetic towards age and invalid pensioners. The charge that has been levelled against us by Government supporters that the amendment is merely an attempt to make party-political capital out of social services is completely unfounded.
I take second place to no honorable member in my advocacy, over a long period, of the interests of age and invalid pensioners. I fought on their behalf for many years before I even thought of becoming a member of this Parliament. Therefore, I am completely sincere in supporting the amendment. Another reason why the amendment has been moved on behalf of the Opposition is that it is a tradition of the Labour party to improve the conditions of the pioneers - the aged people - of this country. Yet Government supporters continue to utter the old parrot cry that the Liberal party - the so-called Liberal party - is the only party that has ever done anything for the recipients of social services.
– We do not claim that the Liberal party is the only party that has done anything for them. We assert that we have the best record in that matter.
– The honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne), during the debate on the budget last year, tried to belittle the efforts of the Labour party on behalf of age and invalid pensioners, and even accused us of having neglected them. I recommend Government supporters to read and digest the history of age and invalid pensions that has been issued by the Department of Social Services. I propose to read some extracts from that publication in order to reveal the facts, and I challenge the honorable member for Evans to disprove them. During this debate, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate), and the honorable member for Lyne (Mr.
Eggins), repeated the parrot cry that the Liberal party was the only party that had done anything to assist pensioners. I hope that they will listen carefully as I give the facts from the records of the Department of Social Services. I find that age pensions were introduced in 1910 by a Liberal government.
– Hear, hear ! A good point.
– I invite the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) to listen attentively to the circumstances. The Liberal party Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Alfred Deakin. introduced the Old-age Pensions Appropriation Bill. The honorable member for Evans, if he will read the relevant debate in Hansard, will be able to verify for his own satisfaction what I say. Mr. Deakin instituted the payment of old-age pensions in that year, not because he had any sympathy for aged persons, but because he held office with a slender majority, and required the support of the Labour party at that time. The late Andrew Fisher, who was then the Leader of the Labour party, had advocated for years the introduction of age pensions. Mr. Deakin entered into an agreement with Mr. Fisher, the effect of which was that he would introduce certain legislation, provided the Labour party would support it, and would then introduce the Old-age Pensions Appropriation Bill. It was in those circumstances that a Liberal government instituted the payment of oldage pensions. It was forced to do so by the Labour party, and. therefore, even Mr. Deakin could not take all the credit for such a social advance.
The only other piece of social services legislation for which the so-called Liberal party can take credit, is child endowment. Let us see why and when that legislation was introduced. The Labour party follows trends in industrial matters more closely than do Government supporters, and was quick to relate the action of the Menzies Government in introducing the Child Endowment Bill in 1941 with a basic wage claim that was being heard by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The employers in industry, who were the respondents to that particular claim., told the Menzies
Government plainly that they required a quid pro quo for the support that they had rendered to it during the general election campaign in 1940. The employers realized that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court would grant a substantial increase of the basic wage, and the Menzies Government, in order to save them at least a part of that additional cost, decided to introduce endowment that would be payable to children of a family under the age of sixteen years, with the exception of the first child. The Menzies Government, by its action, saved the employers millions of pounds a year. Let us now examine the record of the Labour party in regard to social services.
– It will not bear examination.
– “We shall see whether it will bear examination. Invalid pensions were introduced by the Fisher Labour Government in 1910, and the maternity allowance was introduced by the same Government in 1912. The widows’ pension was introduced by the Curtin Government in 1942. Allowances for the wives and children of invalid pensioners, and funeral benefits, were introduced by the Curtin Government in 1943. Unemployment and sickness benefits were introduced in 1944 and the rehabilitation scheme for invalid pensioners was instituted iu 194S, by the Chifley Government. Those were eight major social reforms by Labour governments, compared with two reforms by anti-Labour governments, which, after all, were introduced under compulsion, applied on the first occasion by a Labour opposition and on the second occasion by the employers of Australia.
The proposed increase “is totally inadequate in relation to the cost of living. The pension, when increased by 7s. 6d. last year, represented 36 per cent, of the basic wage, but, with the proposed increase of 10s., it will represent only 31 per cent, of the basic wage. Therefore, the net result will be a reduction of the pension. When the Government announced its intention to increase the pension by 7s. 6d. last year, I said that, if it .sincerely intended to treat pensioners as it had promised to treat them, it should have provided for an increase of at least los. a week in order that their incomes might keep pace with the cost of living. Again I say that, if the Government were sincere, it would provide for an increase of at least 153. in order that the rate of pension might represent a reasonable proportion of the basic wage.
The basic wage to-day is about £9 13s. a week and, according to the press, it will soon be increased again. We need not rely on newspaper reports, of course, because we all know that the quarterly adjustment of the wage in accordance with the Statistician’s index is due to be announced at any time. I believe that the adjustment, which probably will be made within the next few weeks, will add at least 9s. to the basic wage. Some honorable members believe that the increase will be even greater than that. However, the result certainly will be that the pensioners will be even worse off then than they are to-day. The Government has failed to accord justice to the pensioners although, in honour bound, it should do its utmost to help them. They were our pioneers and many of them have made it possible for honorable members to sit in this chamber to-day.
Age pensioners are often described as spendthrifts who, during their working lives, did not provide for the future. That is .altogether unfair. We must always have in our midst men and women who will not have the opportunity to accumulate money or assets in order to provide for the eventide of their lives. All of us cannot be captains of industry or members of Parliament. There must always be large numbers of toilers who have to live from hand to mouth far below what may well be described as the bread and butte> standard. Wages always rise behind prices. Therefore, when such workers retire from industry, either of their own volition or willy-nilly on account of their age, they become dependent on the nation because they have not been able to save enough money to provide for themselves. Those are the people that this Government and every other government should protect. I am pleased that the Government has decided to grant .at least some increase of the pension rate and I am sure that pensioners will be glad to receive even the niggardly additional amount for which the bill provides, but their situation will remain extremely precarious.
The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) have both said that the Labour party is the only political party that ever reduced pensions when it was in power. That is a downright untruth. Honorable members should make a careful examination of the history of social services before they make such damaging statements in this House in the knowledge that their words will be broadcast throughout Australia. I have before me the full story of Australian social services as it has been issued by the Department of Social Services. With the authority pf this publication, I give a most emphatic denial to the charges of the honorable members whom I have mentioned. The Labour party is not the only party that has reduced pensions-
– Yes, it is.
– I shall prove that the statement is absolutely untrue. Many honorable members make such assertions without any knowledge of the subject. They merely utter parrotcries. Nobody denies that the Scullin Government reduced invalid and old-age pensions. I opposed that reduction, but I .remind honorable members that the Scullin Government was faced with a hostile Senate and an empty treasury when it came into office. The budget presented by -the Treasurer in the preceding Government prior to the general election of 1929 had to be recast because the Scullin Government found only enough money in the treasury to enable it to pay 12s. 6d. in the £1 of all governmental expenses.
– That is a fine example of Labour management.
– That situation was a result of mismanagement by the Bruce-Page Government. Many honorable members who now sit on the Government side of the House were in Opposition during the regime of the Scullin Government and they supported the .reduction of the .pension rate to 17s. 6d. a week. The Scullin Govern ment was succeeded by the Lyons Government in 1931. What did the Lyons Government do?
– It increased pensions.
– I shall demonstrate the foolishness and untruthfulness of that statement. The Lyons Government reduced the pension rate from 17s. 6d. to 15s. a week.
– That is not correct.
– I challenge the honorable member for Sturt to disprove my statement. The Minister for Social Services will support it, I am sure, because it is based on the history of social services that has been issued by his department. I shall toll the honorable member for Sturt a little more about the misdeeds of the Lyons anti-Labour Government and then we shall see whether he will continue to declare that the Labour party is the only political party that has reduced pensions. At the time when the Lyons Government lowered the rate of pension to 15s. a week, it also amended the social services legislation so as to compel the offspring of pensioners to contribute to the maintenance of their parents. And that was done during a period when thousands of unfortunate Australians were drawing the dole or earning very little more than that ! But the Lyons Government went even further than that. It amended the law to provide that the Government should have a mortgage over the property of pensioners so that, when a pensioner who owned his home died, the Government could sell the property and deduct from the proceeds the amount that had been paid to the pensioner. The Lyons Government was of the same political colour as the present Government. Many supporters of this Government have been members of the Parliament for very brief periods, and they appear to be unaware of these facts.
– And they could not care less !
– That appears to be their attitude.
Honorable members on the Government side of the House have also declared that anti-Labour governments have granted more, and larger, .pension increases than Labour governments have granted. Let us examine the facts and test the accuracy of their boast. During the term of office of Labour governments, between 1941 and 1948, six increases of pension rates were made.
– What did they total ?
– The total does not matter. What matters is their value in relation to the cost of living at the time that they were made. In the period between 1941 and 1948 the rate of pension always represented a considerable percentage of the basic wage. Even when the proposed increase operates the percentage relation of the pension to the basic wage will be lower than it has ever been.
– Nonsense !
– I suggest that the honorable member for Sturt obtain some information on the matter. He will then see for himself wherein he is wrong and will have no excuse for repeating the parrot cries in relation to this matter that are the stock-in-trade of Government supporters. In addition to the six increases of pension that I have mentioned there were six cost of living adjustments of pension rates between 1941 and 1948, which made the total twelve increases in that period. Each of those increases brought pensions and other social services payments up to a reasonable percentage of the basic wage. The Government can make no such claim. The proposed increase of 10s. a week will make the pension rate only 31.5 per cent. of the basic wage, whereas last year’s increase of 7s. 6d. a week brought the pension to 36 per cent. of the basic wage. Therefore, the purchasing power of the increased pension will actually be smaller than the purchasing power of the pension following last year’s increase although the increase was 2s. 6d. a week less than that now proposed.
I am pleased that the Minister for Social Services was able, whether by hid influence or not I do not know, to give to pensioners a niggardly amount which, nevertheless will be acceptable to them. However, it will not be sufficient to provide the ordinary standard of living to which human beings are entitled.
I turn now to the allowance for the wife of an invalid pensioner. That social service was introduced by a Labour Government, and is a very valuable and necessary provision. I have always believed that the wife of an invalid pensioner should receive the same amount of pension or allowance as is received by the wife of an age pensioner, or even more, because she has to nurse her husband. It was for that reason that a Labour government introduced the provision. Wives of invalid pensioners should receive a higher rate of pension - -
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- It is significant that, although previous speakers on the Government side have taken considerable credit for certain commendable improvements that are contained in this important legislation, not one of them commended what had already been clone by previous governments in the social services sphere. That is significant and can be taken as an indication that many honorable members opposite realize that in the past they have been significantly lacking in appreciation of the requirements and of the position of the pensioners. I shall say a few words about the problems of pensioners and shall also answer honorable members opposite who have taken great credit for this legislation and for, as they have claimed, having taken action to make the position of pensioners “ absolutely secure “. In the first place let me say, before criticizing certain proposals that have been enunciated by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) in relation to the bill, that I support without reservation the vital amendment that has been moved by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), which proposes that - thebill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for -
In. due course, I shall elaborate upon the amendment and state my reasons for believing that it should be supported by everybody who believes in social justice and the welfare of the people who come within the scope of the bill. Naturally, considerable improvements in the social services field will be made by the bill, and, like all other honorable members on this side of the House, I am prepared to commend the benefits that are to be conferred by way of increases of pensions, the removal of certain anomalies and various other minor adjustments that are to be made in the present act. These are matters which have the approval and support of all members of the Parliament. Where we differ from the Government is that we believe that considerably more could have been done by it to assist people who are dependent upon pensions and other social benefits for their existence. So that whilst we commend the improvements contained in the measure we reiterate that in these days of rising prices and inflation, which threaten the welfare of all the people, particularly those who live on lower incomes and social services payments, the improvements proposed are a long way from being what should have been done by a government that is budgeting for a surplus of more than £114,000,000. The legislation provides for a miserable increase of 10s. a week for invalid pensioners and others.
– Is not that the amount that the Labour party promised during the general election?
– Yes, but we expected when we promised the pensioners that increase that we should be again in office after the general election and would be in a position to take effective action to keep prices down and to prevent the exploitation of pensioners. In 1949, when honorable gentlemen opposite were promising so much to the pensioners, the Australian £1 was worth, as the Prime Minis tei- (.Mr. Menzies) himself stated, about 9s. 2d. Honorable members opposite called it “ the Chifley £1 “. To-day, it is not necessary for me to cite figures to show that under the present Administration the purchasing power of £1 is not more than 6s. 2d. So, in practice, the Government proposes to give to the pensioners a miserable increase of 3s. Id. a week ; in effect it has taken away from them their purchasing power by decreasing the purchasing power of the £1.
Some Government supporters have made great play on what the proposed increase of 10s. a week will buy for the pensioners. They congratulate themselves that it will represent the largest increase of pensions made in modern times. But when the increase of the basic wage and of the cost of living is taken into consideration nothing short of an increase of between £1 5s. and £1 10s. a week would adequately make up to pensioners for the loss in the value of the £1 that has occurred since the Government, took office. It is idle for honorable members to say that inflation has not run riot and to deny that they have failed to do what the Prime Minister promised in relation to pensions in his policy speech at the 1949 general election. He said, about pensions -
We will, much mure importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
Now let us examine what -pensioners will be able to buy with the proposed increase of 10s. a week. In Sydney today peas, which are a necessity in a family’s regimen, cost 2s. per lb., as against ls. <3d. per lb. when the Government came to office. Tomatoes which cost 2s. per lb. in 1949 now cost 4s. 3d. per lb. Eggs are at present 4s. 5d. a. dozen which means that it costs a pensioner about 4½d. to have a poor man’s breakfast. The miserable increase of pensions provided for in this legislation will not do much towards buying a pensioner lamb at 7s. per lb., the present Sydney price. Sausages, which cost ls. per lb. at the time that the Prime Minister made his 1949 promise, now cost ls. 7d. per lb. The prices of most of the foods that are necessary for pensioners and others are not only outside the scope of pensioners and people on lower incomes, but also completely beyond the purchasing power of people who receive high wages, because of the present inflationary trends in the community. What chance, for instance, will a pensioner have of buying even a small piece of ham with this increase, when ham costs 9s. 9d. per lb? What chance has he of buying a cauliflower when cauliflowers are selling in Sydney at 5s. each? Is there any wonder that skyrocketing of prices continues in view of the complete inability and inactivity of this Government in relation to prices? The Sydney Sunday Sun and Guardian of the 26th August last printed an article on the plight of pensioners, under the following headlines: -
Waiting to Die.
That’s the only prospect left for many of the 140,000 old-age pensioners living in New South Wales.
Yet the Government claims great credit for having given these people something to which they are entitled in return for their services to the nation. The Government stands condemned for its record of inactivity, inability, incompetence and complete failure to keep prices down, particularly in the interests of people who depend on social services for their existence. It is idle for the Government to claim that this proposed increase of 10s. a week is adequate when it is budgeting for a surplus of more than £114,000,000 which it well knows will ultimately turn out to be £200,000,000 or £300,000,000. Every honorable member opposite who is honest knows that the Government could afford to give a bigger increase than it proposes to give. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has already told us of the means by which the Government will take large sums from the taxpayers. I consider that it will use some of its great revenue at a later stage as a bribe to the electors in the hope that it will be returned to office at the next general election.
How much do honorable members opposite think that pensioners will be able to buy for £3 a week, when the Government refuses to take effective action to control prices ? I am astonished that the Minister for Social Services, who has given so much time and thought to this bill, as his second-reading speech showed, did not see fit to increase the amount of money to be devoted to pensions. The permissible income limit for pensioners is to be 30s. a week, which means in effect that there has been no alleviation of the means test to any great degree. An invalid pensioner is not to be allowed to supplement the pension by more than 15 per cent. of the basic wage. Surely in a budget of more than £1,000,000 the Government could have increased the permissible income. What is the use of the Government’s clamouring for aged people to accept employment in order to earn extra money when it allows them only 30s. a week as a permissible income if they are to receive a pension?
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) suggested that, the Government should institute a coupon scheme which would enable pensioners to purchase subsidized foods at a cost commensurate with their ability to pay. Within the next twelve months a continuation of the spiral of living costs can be expected whilst pensioners’ incomes will still be restricted to the amount provided for in this legislation. Whilst honorable members of the Opposition acknowledge that this legislation will, in some small way, relieve the distress of these people, they contend that it is not honest of the Government to budget for a surplus of approximately £300,000,000, in the ultimate, and expend only a small amount on an increase of pensions. I hope that the Government will give effect to the suggestions that have been made by honorable members on this side of the House and expand its social services. I trust that it will make a contribution towards the welfare of the less fortunate instead of give rebates to people who can well afford to pay taxes and meet increased costs. I suggest that the Government give a Christmas bonus to pensioners and that, in the immediate future, it will review the social services legislation and will submit a proposal for a further increase of the amount that is paid to pensioners. I hope that it will also give to pensioners an opportunity to earn a little more by increasing the amount of the permissible income.
The Government has raised the value of property that a pensioner may own from £750 to £1,000. Whilst that alteration will be acceptable to the pensioners I think that it would have been more commendable had the Government exempted the first £500 of a pensioner’s assets from consideration asproperty. The people are beginning to realize that the Government has not all the answers although it made many promises. They are realizing that the Government is following the programme that has been laid down by the Labour party but that it is not following it nearly so fast or effectively as it should follow it, considering the finance that is available to it.
Certain Government supporters have outlined the measures that are necessary to remove the anomalies that exist in relation to the means test. Those members will soon have an opportunity to cross the floor and vote with the Opposition on the amendment that has been submitted for the amelioration of the means test. It is significant that the fine speeches in favour of the abolition of the means test have been made by honorable members who occupy the back benches on the Government side. It will be interesting to see whether they will exercise the independence of which we have heard so much and join the Opposition in an endeavour to remove the anomalies that exist in social services legislation. For the greater part of the first 40 years of federation, parties with political views corresponding to those of honorable members opposite were in control of the treasury bench and they had many opportunities to eliminate the means test. If it had not been for the acts of Labour governments from 1914 onwards not one measure would have been introduced to relieve pensioners from the operation of the means test. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) spoke on the viciousness of the means test that was imposed by a government of which the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) and the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) were members. The honorable member for Brisbane mentioned how viciously a similar government to the present one ground the pensioners down in the 1930’s instead of removing the anomalies that existed. The sorry record of incompetence of governments of this political character was well exemplified in those years. A lead has been given by the Labour party in modifying the means test and I am pleased, for the sake of the pensioners, that the Government has recognized the justice of the social services programme of the Labour party and is prepared to jump on the Labour party band wagon and advocate the abolition of the means test. Honorable members of the Opposition are sick and tired of hearing honorable members opposite speak of what they would do in relation to the means test. A study of the promises made by Liberal party and the Australian Country party candidates will show that they won their way into Parliament by promising to abolish the means test. The opportunity now exists for them to do so. You have spoken about what it will cost.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman will address me.
– The Government has budgeted for a surplus of about £115,000,000 which may, ultimately, be a lot higher than that. Irrespective of the cost, if the Government is sincere it will do more to modify the means test than has been proposed in the bill before the House. The lead in social services legislation has always been given by the only party that really believes in it in this country - the Australian Labour party.
No increase of sickness and unemployment benefits has been proposed in this legislation. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) cited the number of people who will benefit and the number who will suffer because no increase of these benefits is to be made. In view of the effects of inflation, I wonder, why the Minister has not considered allocating a part of the very small amount of money available for social services to assist those people who must be unemployed temporarily from time to time, perhaps because of illness. In these times, it is wrong to assume that a single man can exist on 25s. a week. Perhaps the Minister will again examine that part of the legislation in order to ascertain whether or not an amendment can be introduced to provide for an increase of the amounts payable by way of sickness and unemployment benefits. Honorable members supporting the Government who believe that an increase of these payments is justified will have an opportunity to exercise their moral courage and vote in favour of the amendment of the honorable member for Bendigo.
An anomaly has existed for a long time in relation to invalid pensioners who are under the age of 21 years. I do not know why .the Government could not give invalids, from sixteen years of age on- - wards, the full benefit at present payable to invalid pensioners over the age of 21 years. It must be a tremendous strain on the financial resources of any man to maintain a child who is a complete invalid or a permanent invalid. This would not require the expenditure of a great sum of money and the budget involves an enormous amount. Although some improvement has been made in relation to this section of social services legislation I believe that the Government should have eliminated the maintenance provision completely so that invalids, from sixteen years of age onwards, could receive the full pension. Perhaps the Minister will still take action in that respect.
Honorable members on this side of the House have no desire to delay this bill, but we object to the Government’s endeavours to stifle criticism. I consider that the Government has inserted the provision that these increases shall not be payable until the legislation is passed in order to force honorable members to deal with it hurriedly. I see no reason why the Government should not have provided that the increases should be retrospective to the 1st July. It is not right to delay the payment of pensions to people who urgently need them. The Government should accept the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Bendigo the principle of which has been subscribed to in the past by the honorable member for Wentworth and others. It should have included in the bill a provision tj make the increases retrospective to the 1st July.
I commend the Minister for his desire to improve this legislation. He has made a serious study of social services problems. I ask him to review the matters I have mentioned and carefully examine the proposals contained in the amendment before he decides to ask his supporters to vote against them. I believe that child endowment in respect of the first child should be increased to 10s. because of increases that have taken place in the cost of living.
An increase in unemployment and sickness benefits is not only desirable but also necessary in view of the number of people who come within their scope. The further amelioration of the means test, particularly in respect of permissible income, bank deposits and property owned, should receive the Government’s immediate attention. This is a splendid opportunity for the Government to carry out a programme of social justice and the most commendable thing it could do would be to support the Opposition’s amendment. Whilst commending the Minister for the proposals that he has submitted, I reiterate that they are not adequate compared with what should be done for the people who are dependent on this legislation for their welfare. Any government that budgets for a surplus of between £115,000,000 and £300,000,000 must have plenty of money that could be given to people who urgently need it in order to meet the ordinary commitments of everyday life. I commend the Opposition amendment to Government supporters and suggest that they accept it and vote with the Opposition in favour of it.
.- I rise to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey). In doing so, I appeal go honorable members on the Government side of the House to adopt the attitude that was adopted by some Government supporters when an amendment was moved in relation to the Government’s budget proposals on the 3rd October, 1941. The then’ Leader of the Opposition appealed to honorable members on the Government side to cross the floor of the House. Some did so and helped to defeat the Government. Although honorable members on the Government side of this House have said much about the inadequacy of the proposed pensions, none of them has yet shown any sign of crossing the floor of the House in order to translate words into action.
The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) is a credit to his department. The community owes a debt of gratitude to him for the sympathetic attitude he has adopted since he assumed office. I therefore ask him to do something at this “late stage to alleviate still further the lot of that deserving section of our community, the pensioners. The means test has been discussed at some length. I believe that those who by their lifetime thrift have been debarred from receiving the age pension should have special attention paid to their claims and receive sympathetic treatment. I agree that the means test has been made slightly less onerous under this bill, but a government which is budgeting for a surplus of 114,500,000 could go much further along the same line. It has been said that it would cost £9S,000,000 to eliminate completely the means test. I suggest that that figure is not quite correct, because throughout Australia there are about 1,000 officials engaged in checking the incomes of pensioners, and if the means test were eliminated those officers could be transferred to much more productive work in industry. Honorable members on the Government side have suggested that the increase of 10s. a week is a magnificent one. No doubt it will be most acceptable to age pensioners, but it must be remembered- that before this bill becomes law the basic wage will increase by 10s. or more a week, and that will nullify the effect of the proposed increase. Since this Government came into office the basic wage has increased by more than £3 a week, yet the age pension has increased by only 17s. 6d. a week. Therefore, pensioners are financially worse off now than they were when the Government assumed office. As one who moves about freely amongst honorable members from both sides of the House, I know they claim that on the present parliamentary allowance of £1,500 a year they are feeling the economic pinch. How much more must it be felt by those who receive only £3 a week? I say that pensioners and those in receipt of sickness benefit are to-day on the verge of starvation.
In 1945 a bill to provide sickness and unemployment benefits at 25s. a week was introduced into the Parliament. It has been argued recently that it is almost impossible to increase the sickness benefit because it is coupled with the unemployment benefit. It has been said that if the sickness benefit were increased, the whole scheme would break down in the event of widespread unemployment. In the interests of those unfortunate people who are in receipt of the sickness benefit, I suggest that the benefit be separated from the unemployment benefit. Perhaps the advocacy of the 44-hour week by honorable members on the Government side has led to the fear that we shall have industrial trouble at some time in the future and that therefore the sickness benefit should not be increased. At present the cost of unemployment and sickness benefits amounts to about £1,000,000 a year. The budget envisages the expenditure next year of about £2,000,000. Not many people receive the unemployment benefit, but many thousands receive the sickness benefit, which is still 25s. a week as it was in 1945. Eight thousand five hundred people receive the sickness benefit each month. Therefore, within a period of twelve months about 100,000 people may be said to have benefited from this form of assistance. Some such people receive the benefit for two or three weeks, and of course if they then resume work they have not been greatly handicapped by the low rate of payment. However, many people remain on the sickness benefit for months. There is a man in my electorate who has received it for about twelve months. He, made application for an invalid pension, but was informed that he would have -to he at least 85 per cent, incapacitated before he would be eligible for it. I appeal to the Government to give consideration to the claims of people who have to draw the sickness benefit for more than one or two months, and to increase the benefit to about the amount of the invalid pension. I know that the people who have to receive the sickness benefit for any length of time cannot keep body and soul together. I ask the Minister, who has already done a good job, not to blot his record over this matter.
I had hoped to see a provision in this bill for increases of pension according to rises of the basic wage. I suggest that it be provided that pensions shall increase as the basic wage increases, but that a special safeguard be inserted providing that the pensions shall not be reduced without the matter being referred to the Parliament. That is not asking too much of the Government, and I suggest that consideration be given to my request.
Another matter concerns permissible income in relation to war pensions. Every Id. of a war pension is treated as income when the recipient’s age pension is being assessed. Therefore, a mau who receives a full war pension for the loss of both legs or some other total incapacity is disqualified from receiving an age pension. Moreover, a dual amputee war pensioner can have only £4 a week, whereas any other age pensioner is allowed to have £4 10s. a week with the permissible income added to the pension. A government which pays great lip service to ex-servicemen should consider that anomaly.
– What is the anomaly?
– If a war pensioner receives the maximum pension of £4 a week he cannot receive an age pension. If he receives a £2 war pension he can get a £2 age pension. He has a permissible income of £1 a week, whereas any other pensioner has a permissible income of £1 10s. a week. That anomaly should be adjusted by the Government.
Another matter which could have been given consideration by the Government is the matter of hospital benefit. That is to remain at 8s. a day. The authorities in the various States have stated that it costs about 30s. a day to keep a person in a public ward of a public hospital. A government which has so much money available to it as this Government has should have increased this form of allowance.
The matter of a poliomyelitis treatment clinic was raised at question time to-day. The establishment of such a clinic should have been given consideration by the Government. A great woman, Sister Kenny, is now in Australia. Her treatment is recognized in almost every country of the world, and I suggest that this Government consider the allocation of money to the States for the establishment of a Sister Kenny clinic for the treatment of poliomyelitis. In such a clinic Sister Kenny could practise her methods of treatment and instruct various authorities in her particular system. The Government should take this opportunity to help the ambulance service in each State and make available financial assistance instead * of obliging them to make what provision they can for themselves by conducting raffles and operating chocolate wheels on street corners in the cities. We should emulate the example that the New Zealand Government has set by providing homes of a special type for aged couples. Honorable members on both sides of the chamber have suggested that cottages of, say, two rooms would serve that purpose. The Minister has shown that he is sympathetically inclined towards the claims of pensioners ; and he has endeavoured to assist them in many ways.
I commend the Government for having made provision under this measure to give discretionary power in certain circumstances to the Director-General of Social Services to waive a part or” the whole of the value of a pensioner’s property in the application of the means test. That provision is completely justified, because many pensioners, who are in extreme financial difficulty, are penalized under the moans test. The same observation applies in respect of the rehabilitation benefit for invalids under the age of 21 years.
– The Chifley Government introduced that benefit.
– That is so; but its administration can be improved. The permissible income of parents, which is now being increased from £9 to £12 a week, and the benefit payable in respect of dependent children, which is being increased to £2 a week, should be still further increased. When these increases are implemented the basic wage will have been increased to £10 5s. a week and, as supporters of the Government have admitted that the average wage-earner receives a wage of not less than £14 a week, the limit in this respect should be increased to at least £15 a week. Government supporters say that they believe that ultimately the means test will be abolished. The sooner that objective is achieved the better will it be for the community as a whole. I trust that before we have concluded our consideration of this measure the Government will state exactly what it has in mind and that it will do something tangible in that direction.
– Order ! Before calling upon the next speaker, I direct the attention of honorable members to Standing Order 86, which deals with tedious repetition of argument. At this stage of the debate we should hear something new. I have not heard anything new since the bill was introduced.
– I rise to order. Are we to take that as a ruling by the Chair ?
– Yes ; and I have given it in accordance with Standing Order 86.
– Will the ruling preclude honorable members on one side of the chamber from continuing to present arguments when counter arguments are not presented by honorable members on the other side? Will honorable members be entitled to express their views ?
– My ruling is that each honorable member is to be required to submit new matter. Standing Order 86 reads -
The Speaker, or the Chairman, after having called the attention of the House, or of the Committee, to the conduct of a Member, who persists in irrelevance, or tedious repetition either of his own arguments, or of the arguments used by other Members in debate, may direct him to discontinue his speech: Provided that such Member shall have the right to require that the Question whether he be further heard be put, and thereupon such Question shall be put without debate.
I consider that the time has arrived when new matter should be presented in this debate.
.- I shall endeavour, Mr. Speaker, to conform to the ruling you have just given by introducing entirely new matter in this debate. Honorable members opposite have been reluctant to defend the social services policy of the Government. During the last two years we have received record prices for our exports. Those who have sold commodities inside Australia have made immense profits whilst those who have investments in industrial and commercial undertakings have received dividends of a magnitude that they never dreamed of a few years ago. Thousands of Australians are travelling overseas to luxury holiday resorts with the object of enjoying themselves on the expenditure of a portion of the vast amount of money that they have recently amassed. Others who have been less venturesome have had provided for them in this country the Hayman Island way of life in pursuit of which they have dissipated some of the money that has come into their possession practically overnight. I recall the following words that were written about the present generation: -
We boast of vast achievements, and of power, Of human progress, knowing no defeat,
Of strange new marvels every day and hour.
Yet, many pensioners in this country are obliged to sustain themselves on whatever scraps of food they can find in garbage tins in the streets of our big cities. That indictment has been levelled against the Government not by members of the Labour party but by the Melbourne Herald, from which I quote the following article that it published last month: - “ Oppressed with two weak evils, age and hunger . . . “
They grope for scraps of food.
Hundreds of decent old men and women in Melbourne have to do what the man in this picture is doing-
– From what newspaper is the honorable member quoting?
– I am quoting from the Melbourne Herald, which is the mouthpiece of liberalism in Victoria. The article continued -
He is salvaging food scraps from a City Council rubbish tin.
The men and women forced to do this are respectable, honest, old pensioners.
On their small pension in the face of everincreasing food prices, they find it impossible to exist . . . without the help of the garbage tins and the litter baskets.
Over the past three months, I have watched their numbers grow and grow.
Yesterday,I stood at the south-eastern corner of Collins & Swanston Streets. Behind me I heard the rustling of paper.
Turning, I saw a frayed sleeve quickly withdrawn from a City Council “ Be Tidy “ tin.
An old man of about 70 his suit neatly pressed, blushed as he saw me looking-
The article proceeded to relate how the pensioners, because of the inadequacy of their pension, are obliged to seek sustenance from garbage tins. It also related how a woman had scoured a garbage tin quite openly because she was too hungry to hide her shame. The article also stated that police officers, out of pity, had turned their backs upon old people whom they saw delving into garbage tins. Apparently, the article touched a responsive chord in the hearts of many people because in subsequent issues the newspaper recorded donations that had been sent by readers to be made available through it to impoverished pensioners.
– In whose electorate is the area to which - that article refers situated ?
– It is situated in the electorate of my colleague, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) ; but the pensioners mentioned in the article probably reside in the Prime Minister’s electorate. The point I make, however, is that, as the article emphasized, pensioners are obliged to scour garbage tins for scraps of food because they cannot subsist on the present rate of pension. During the general election campaign in 1949, supporters of the present Government parties said, in effect, to these people, “ Return us to Parliament. Give us your vote, and if we are returned we will give you a purchasing power that you did not possess when the Chifley Government was in office “. A civilized community has the responsibility of making provision for its aged and infirm. Indeed, the measure of civilization is the degree to which a community as a whole makes provision for its less fortunate sections. The fundamental difference between a civilized and an uncivilized community is the manner in which each makes provision for the welfare of its aged, sick and young. This Government must be indicted for its failure to discharge its fundamental responsibility to the aged. Having been elected to. office in December, 1949, upon a solemn and definite promise that it would give to age pensioners greater purchasing power than they then possessed, it is doubly guilty. It is guilty, first, of having neglected a fundamental obligation, and, secondly, of having failed to keep that solemn pledge to those people.
Government supporters who are now interjecting to show their dissatisfaction with my remarks, are not sufficiently vocal to defend the bill in this chamber.
When they return to their electorates, they will probably attempt to persuade the people that the Government has carried out the promise that was made during the general election campaign in 1949, because in December, 1950, it increased the age pension from £2 2s. 6d. to £2 10s. a week. Of course, that increase of 7s. 6d. was not made retrospective to the date on which the Government that had promised to increase the purchasing power of pensioners had been elected to office. The increase of 7s. 6d. a week was intended to cover, not the period from December, 1949, to the end of 1950, but from the end of 1950 to the present time. Yet in the period from December, 1949, to the end of 1950, the prices of commodities had risen at such an alarming rate that the additional 7s. 6d. a week was not adequate to place the purchasing power of pensioners upon the same level as existed on the 10th December, 1949.
The Government proposes under this bill to increase age and invalid pensions by 10s. a week, and boasts that such an increase is a record. What is the reason for the increase? It is granted because of the rising prices of commodities, presumably from the time the last increase of pension was granted until the present day. From now until the budget for the next financial year is introduced, probably next September, prices will continue to skyrocket, and age pensioners will bo worse off than the age pensioner who was seeking food from a garbage tin.
– Why did the Labour party promise to increase pensions by 10s. a week?
– Apparently the only defence that honorable members opposite can offer for any action that is taken by this Government is the suppositious one that the Labour party, if it were in office, would do precisely what the present Government is doing. In reality, that would not be so. That is not a sound defence. How can Government supporters believe for a moment that such a defence is sound when a Labour government is pledged to assist the working population, the pensioners and others, and shows no solicitude for the interests that are establishing vast fortunes and are seeking means of spending them at home and abroad ? Government supporters have never witnessed luxury spending on such a scale as is now proceeding in this country. Some wealthy persons are even going abroad to seek avenues for super luxury spending. They received vast cheques for the sale of their wool from their shareholdings in big companies.
– Is the honorable gentleman criticizing his own colleagues?
– I am criticizing the gulf that exists between the wealthy classes, who are spending fortunes in the playgrounds of the world, including Hayman Island, and the age pensioners. At Hayman Island there are more attendants and servants than there are guests. A similar situation exists in hotels in the vicinity of Canberra, and certain other places that I could name. The plight of the pensioners must inevitably become worse in the immediate future as a result of the inadequate provisions of this bill.
– What did the Chifley Labour Government do for the pensioners in its last year of office?
– The honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury) seeks to divert me from my theme. I know what a Labour government would do if it were now in office. As a supporter of such a government, I should point out that the estimated surplus for the current financial year is approximately £114,000,000, and that probably there are hidden surpluses of a similar amount. This Government proposes to keep those moneys in cold store, while the pensioners seek food in garbage tins.
– The Vice-President of. the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) has the audacity to describe as nonsense a deliberate statement that has been published in a Melbourne newspaper which, as his leader, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) knows, was mainly responsible for the return of this Government to office.
– The age pensioners will not thank the honorable member for stating that they get food from garbage tins.
– Order I I ask the Minister to remain silent.
– I am not here to seek the thanks of the pensioners, or to receive the plaudits of big business. I do not want the gratitude and adulation of, and probably assistance in my election campaigns from, those sections of the community that are able, because of the activities of this Government, to spend money in supporting political parties. 1 am here to carry out the duty of ensuring that the Government shall utilize a part of its deliberately planned surplus, including hidden surpluses, to provide adequately for the aged and the infirm.
The condition of aged persons is more grevious to-day than it has ever been in our history. There are institutions that provide inadequately for the aged. They cannot obtain sufficient staff or financial support, and are not able to expand. The aged who have no relatives upon whom they can depend, and who wish to enter institutions in a vast metropolis or a country town, are unable to secure accommodation in them. They must live as best they can in rooms, and look after themselves. They must endeavour to save, out of their meagre pensions, sufficient money to enable them to purchase clothing and boots, the prices of which are exorbitant.
An age pensioner cannot make adequate provision for food, clothing and shelter, After all, those persons who have laboured in the mines, made the bricks from which our big cities have been built and toiled in the fields and in the factories, and to whom this country owes its greatness, are entitled to a new suit of clothes occasionally. Yet the cost of a new suit is £20. Even the age pensioner is expected to make a contribution to the income of the wealthy wool-grower, the footwear manufacturer, and the persons who supply hides. A reasonably stout pair of boots costs between £2 and £3, which is equivalent to a week’s pension. A person, by saving the whole of his pension for seven weeks, may be able to afford a suit of clothes. Shirts, collars and other articles of apparel are also dear. A pensioner, in order to provide himself with a reasonable covering, to which he is entitled, would need to expend between £50 and £60 a year. At the present rate of the pension, that is impossible. Consequently,’ pensioners must go ragged, hungry and ill-kempt, with the result that they develop all kinds of diseases. When they are taken ill, they are not able to secure admission to hospitals because those institutions are over-crowded. The .problem of hospital accommodation is becoming more acute for the aged and infirm. A pensioner, unless he is the victim of an accident and, accompanied by a policeman, is taken in an ambulance, is not able to obtain a bed in a public hospital.
Such a condition of affairs is most undesirable, and, as a member of the Labour party, I protest against it. Had such a condition existed in the past, there might have been some justification for it. Perhaps, every one was suffering in common, and all were ill fed, ill clad and uncomfortable. But such a position does not exist to-day. My complaint is levelled, not particularly at the plight of the age pensioner, but at the vast gulf that separates him from the wealthy section of the community. I object, noi so much to poverty, as to poverty in th<i midst of plenty, and opulence. I object, not so much to the fact that some people are ill clad, as to the fact that many persons are able to purchase magnificent raiment such as King Solomon wore. Because of that gulf between the wealthy and the pensioner, members of the Labour party claim that the Government, even at this late hour, should act more generously towards the unfortunate. We appeal to the Government in this matter. It ha3 budgeted for a vast surplus, some of which could be used to advantage to improve the plight of the pensioners. I have been assured by all who know the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley), and my belief is strengthened by the congratulatory remarks that have emanated even from some honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber, that he is a kind man. I am certain that he would like to feel, in the quiet seclusion of his home, that he had done something worthy of commendation by all sections of the community to repay the valuable service that has been rendered to Australia by people who are now aged or infirm.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8.15 p.m.
– I have been particularly careful not to exaggerate in any way in presenting the case on behalf of the pensioners. I have drawn my descriptions of the plight of pensioners from a source which honorable members on the Government side of the House regard as unimpeachable - the Melbourne Herald. No honorable member on the Government side, at least if he comes from Victoria, will dare to impugn the integrity of articles that appear in the Melbourne Herald. The conditions of a month ago, as they were described in that newspaper, will inevitably be duplicated ten months hence, if not earlier, unless the Government grants a further increase beyond the 10s. a week for which this bill provides. After all, the Government can be genero.us without levying any toll upon the interests that support it. The Treasurer has budgeted for a surplus of over £100,000,000, and it is generally admitted that the actual surplus will be considerably more than that amount. In fact, a surplus of over £200,000,000 is expected. The pensioners are the chief victims of inflation. Their purchasing power has already been destroyed. In support of that statement, I quote another authority that honorable members on the Government side of the House consider to be unimpeachable. The present Prime Minister, in his policy speech in 1949, told the people of Australia that, if the parties that he led were returned to power, he would restore purchasing power to the pensions. That was an admission that pensions were inadequate even then. But he has not restored their purchasing power. The right honorable gentleman can return to the pension some of the value of which it has been deprived by inflation and at the same time redeem a promise that he and his colleagues made to the people. If we force the Government to do justice to the pensioners, we shall achieve two results of outstanding importance. Ths first will be the almost miraculous achievement of persuading the Government to redeem one of its pledges. The second will be to provide for our age pensioners some slight reward for their services in the development of this nation, a reward to which their contributions to the welfare of the community as a whole richly entitle them.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Graham) adjourned.
. - by leave - Recent events in the Middle East have given great concern to the Australian Government and, I believe, to the Australian people. Up to the present I have refrained from comment because certain negotiations were at a delicate stage. The time has now come, however, when the attitude of Australia should be soberly and clearly stated. We have a vital interest in the Middle East. The Suez Canal is a water-way, a line of communication and transport of immense significance not only to ourselves and our New Zealand cousins, but also to other free nations in this quarter of the globe. Iran has been a great source of petroleum products, and, therefore, the arbitrary exclusion of British oil interests from that country is of great significance to us. We are living in a time in which there is an insistent danger of war. If that danger materializes within the foreseeable future, the nature and dispositions of the enemy will be almost inevitably such as to make the Middle East one of the key strategic areas.
I have said that we have a vital interest in the Middle East. I should like to say at once, and should hope that the governments concerned would take note of it, that we have no interest in the subjection of Egypt or Iran or in limiting in any way their just and legitimate freedom. What they are to remember is that the other democracies also have just and legitimate freedoms which they are bound to defend wherever they may be attacked. The second thing to be remembered - and it is a thing which some nations may be apt to forget - is that against powerful aggression in this world there is no adequate defence except a joint and concerted one. We admit, quite frankly, that in a world conflict the freedom of Australia cannot be successfully defended by Australia alone. The free nations will either stand together and defeat aggression or they will stand separately and be defeated by it. All these considerations have, beyond question, been in the minds of the great powers which in the last few days have been presenting to the Government of Egypt proposals which may be properly described as proposals for mutual defence in the Middle East.
So far I have spoken of Australia’s interests. But never let it be forgotten that Great Britain has for very many years accepted special responsibilities in the Middle East. Its association with the development of Egypt, the Sudan and Iran, to take only three examples, has been both long and honorable. Each of these countries has reason to be indebted to British leadership and assistance in engineering development, in selfgovernment, in the rule of law, and in public administration. It is, therefore, quite unreal and fanciful for anybody to describe British activities in the Middle East as those of interlopers. Egypt, above all, has much to remember. As recently as the last war, British soldiers from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as from Great Britain, were the effective means of preserving Egypt from ruinous invasion and of keeping it in health and prosperity during a great world struggle. All these things give us a right and a duty to state our views.
I shall speakfirst of events in Iran, events which have resulted in the withdrawal - temporary I hope - of British employees of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company from Abadan and the oil-fields. That oil company is not an ordinary commercial enterprise; the Government of Great Britain has a substantial and indeed a controlling interest in it. The Government of Iran, paying no undue regard to the basic welfare of its own people, decided to abrogate its agreement with the company in clear breach of its terms. References have been made to the Iranian action as a “ nationalization proposal “. It was and is more accurately to be described as an act of confiscation. It is reasonable to suppose that the Iranian Government would not have contemplated such a remarkable course if it had not felt that it could shelter behind the terms of the Russo-Persian Agreement of 1921, which might be claimed to justify the entry of Russian forces into Iran if other foreign troops entered it. Knowing that a clash between British and Soviet forces might well precipitate a world war, and realizing the genuinely peaceful attitude of the British people, with whom resort to force comes last, the Iranian Government decided to capitalize upon that well-known fact and to assume that the United Kingdom would not protect its important and legally recognized interest in Iran by force of arms. The Australian Government deplores this action by th.i Iranian Government, not only because we have legitimate interests of a high order, but also because . the flagrant violation of international agreements weakens the structure of international law and therefore does a deep injury to the cause of world peace. As the matter is now before the Security Council, I desire to say no more about it at this time except to express the hope that the Prime Minister of Iran will find during his stay in the United States an .atmosphere more conducive to a reasonable settlement of this problem than that in which he has recently been moving.
After Iran comes Egypt. The AngloEgyptian Treaty of 1936 was freely negotiated. It is interesting to recall that the negotiator on the Egyptian side was Nahas Pasha, the present Prime Minister. It gave substantial effect to Egypt’s national aspirations. It does not terminate until 1956. Its revision has been a current problem for some years. The matter was reviewed at the conference of British Commonwealth Prime Ministers held in London in January of this year. At that conference the British Foreign .Secretary told us of his efforts to secure an agreed variation of the treaty which, while meeting legitimate. Egyptian feelings, would still make it possible to maintain in Egypt a military base vital for the defence of the free world, including Egypt itself. We have subsequently been kept informed of the course of negotiations. Towards the middle of August of this year we were informed by the United Kingdom Government that new proposals were under consideration.
The broad objective, sensible and realistic, would be to set up a Middle East command and to establish the necessary organization under it. Of that command Egypt would be a member. It was felt that Egyptian hostility to the maintenance of United Kingdom troops in the canal zone might be overcome if an allied command for the Middle East area as a whole were set up, and if the forces to be maintained in that zone were allied forces under an allied commander. We were asked whether Australia would participate in such a command, together with the United Kingdom, certain other British Commonwealth countries, the United States, France and Turkey. We gave this request most earnest consideration. It was made clear that what was contemplated was an integrated command organization and that the actual provision of forces by us was something to be determined in future in the light of all the circumstances, both in the Middle East and in SouthEast Asia, which might affect Australia’s position. After much exchange of views, the Australian Government informed the United Kingdom of its agreement in principle to participate in the establishment of the command. Honorable members will agree that it is proper that we should be associated with the setting up of this command, so as to play a part in its initial planning. After all, Australia’s forces have in two great wars fought with great courage and success in the Middle East and, as I have previously stated, we believe that in the unhappy event of another world war the freedom of Australia will in all probability have to be defended in places outside of Australia itself. Under these circumstances to refuse to take an effective share in the joint planning of the great free democracies would be foolish and unreal.
The proposal to establish a Middle East command was discussed in Washington by the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom and France and the United States Secretary of State, and certain aspects of the proposals were also considered at a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Powers in Ottawa in the month of September. Further discussion then took place between all the countries concerned, and the Egyptian Government was informed by the United Kingdom Government that a new major proposal designed to meet Anglo-Egyptian differences regarding the revision of the treaty would be transmitted to the Egyptian
Government by the 10th October. Notwithstanding this, the Egyptian Government decided not to await receipt of the proposals and, instead, announced in the Egyptian Parliament on the 8th October the intention of the Egyptian Government, by unilateral act, to abrogate the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. In spite of this action, a formal approach was made to the Egyptian Government on the 13th October by the diplomatic representatives in Cairo of the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Turkey, inviting Egypt to participate in the Middle East Command. I am advised that the text of the proposal has now been made public. I shall table a copy of it for the information of the House.
Perhaps it will be agreeable to honorable members if I read it now, because it sets out the precise terms in which the demarche was made to the Egyptian Government. It is as follows : -
The detailed organization of the Allied Middle East Defence Organization and its exact relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have yet to he worked out in consultation between all the Powers concerned. For this purpose it is proposed that all founding members of the Allied Middle East Command should send military representatives to a meeting to be held in the near future with the object of preparing detailed proposals for submission to the Governments concerned.
That is the major document. I venture to describe it as an historic document, having regard to the developments in this world since the last war. Attached to it is another document, headed “ Technical Annex “, which reads as follows : -
DocumentB. Technical Annex.
In view of Egypt’s importance to Middle East defence, it is expected that in common with other participating Powers who are making similar contributions to the defence of the area -
Egypt will agree to furnish to the Allied Middle East Command Organization such strategic defence and other facilities on her soil as are indispensable for the organization in peace-time of defence of the Middle East;
She will undertake to grant the Forces of the Allied Middle East Command all necessary facilities and assistance in the event of war. imminent menace of Avar, or apprehended international emergency including the use of Egyptian Forces, airfields and means of communication.
We should also hope that Egypt would agree to the Allied Supreme Commander’s head-quarters being located in her territory.
In keeping with the spirit of these arrangements it would be understood -
that the present British base in Egypt would be formally handed over to the Egyptians on the understanding that it would simultaneously become an Allied base within the Allied Middle East Command with full Egyptian participation in the running of this base in peace and war;
b ) that the strength of the Allied Forces of participating Nations to be stationed in Egypt in peace-time would be determined between the participating Nations, including Egypt, from time to time as progress is made in building up the forces of the Allied Middle East Command ;
it would also be understood that an Egyptian Air Defence Organization would be set up (under the Command of an officer with joint responsibility to the Egyptian Government and to the Allied Middle East Command for the protection of Egypt and Allied bases) involving both Egyptian and Allied Forces both of which would be trained and equipped up to the latest modern standards with the assistance of the participating Powers.
I should add that it has been made clear to the Governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and France that Australia would have certain important matters to raise regarding machinery to be established for a Middle East Command so as to ensure that an adequate Australian voice would be heard in the political as well as in the military field.
The situation in Egypt is tense and fateful, and the House will not expect me to make detailed comments on the changing situation. The Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom has indicated in clear terms the intention of the United Kingdom Government to maintain British troops in Egypt, in accordance with the terms of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, until such time as the treaty is varied by agreement. I venture to express the hope that the Prime Minister of Egypt, Nahas Pasha, will take full account of the seriousness of the present situation and will recognize that the longterm vital interests of Egypt are more important than any temporary and illusory political victory. I also express the hope that HisMajesty King Farouk of Egypt will exercise his influence with the Egyptian Government with a view to avoiding hasty and ill-considered action which could have the most serious consequences.
I have made no reference earlier to the position in the Sudan because Australian interests are not so directly involved in that issue, but I feel bound to say that it is the view of the Australian Government that there should be no political or constitutional disposition of the Sudan without taking into the fullest account the wishes of the inhabitants of the Sudan themselves.
I lay on the table the following papers : -
Text of proposal for the establishment of an Allied Middle East Command transmitted to the Egyptian Government on 13th October, 1951, and
Recent Events in the Middle East - Ministerial Statement, 16th October, 1951, and move -
That the papers be printed.
– I agree with a great deal of what the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said in the very important statement that he has just made. It is not possible to have a full dress debate on this matter now. I shall refer to several aspects of both problems. It is elementary that Australia, because it is an integral part of the British Commonwealth, has a vital interest in the Middle East. Great Britain has an even greater interest in that area. Therefore, both Australia and Great Britain have the right to speak on this matter. I suppose that the Australian effort in two world wars has been more closely connected with the Middle East than with any other territory. That is all true, and so many of the statements of the Prime Minister are of that character that I shall not traverse them. What I should like to do very shortly is to come to grips with what I believe is the principle applicable to both of those cases - the case of Persia and the case of Egypt. The Prime Minister was good enough to give me a copy of his statement a few minutes before the House resumed, and I followed him very closely while he made it. Normally, I should prefer to consider such a statement in detail, but I believe that it contains matters that should be mentioned at once. I agree with the Prime Minister when he says that it is fanciful for anybody to describe British activities in the Middle East as those of interlopers. Of course, the British are not interlopers in the Middle East. But for the efforts of Britain and the British Commonwealth during the last three centuries, the independent nations of Egypt and Persia would not exist. That is a commencing point.
I agree entirely with the Prime Minister’s reference to the efforts in Egypt of soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa as well as from Britain, and I am very disturbed about these fantastic claims by Egypt for an indemnity in . connexion with the operations of British Commonwealth forces in Egypt during World War II. Any payments in respect of those activities should be made by Egypt. I agree entirely with the Prime Minister’s views on that matter. Apply that position of Britain to Persia. I agree that the Government of Persia, in its so-called oil nationalization proposals, has torn up an agreement. But, as the Prime Minister has said, it is a commercial agreement. I admit also that the Prime Minister was correct, when he said in reference to the Russo-Persian Agreement of 1921, to which other countries became parties, in a sense, as was shown at the hearings of the Security Council in 1945 -
The Iranian Government decided to assume that the United Kingdom would not protect its important and legally recognized interests in Iran by arms.
The Persian Government probably did decide to assume that, but the real question is this: Is the British Government to be blamed in any way because it did not use armed force in Persia to protect commercial interests? I should have thought that the important thing to remember - and this is what this whole statement tends to forget, although I do not say that the Prime Minister has forgotten it - is that no alteration of international status can take place in the world of to-day except through the recognized medium of the United Nations. That is the difference between the situation in Korea and the situation in connexion with Persia.
– I wish that that were true.
– If the Prime Minister would listen to what I have to say, he would have an inkling of the principle that should be applied in international affairs. I do not think the result would be worse. It would be better. What happened in Korea? There was a flagrant case of aggression by North Korea against South Korea. The matter was referred to the United Nations which called upon its loyal members to resist the aggression. Britain and the United States of America intervened and Australia supported that intervention by force of arms. Anything else would have been contrary to the definite obligations imposed by the United Nations Charter, by which we all are bound. Therefore, agreeing as I do with so much of what the Prime Minister has said, I do not like this indirect assumption that the British Government is at fault in relation to the Persian affair. I hope that the Prime Minister himself does not make such an assumption, and perhaps I am wrong in calling it such. If so, I regret my error. But the suggestion may be read into the words of the statement that some blame attaches to the British Government in connexion with the Persian affair. I do not think that any such blame properly attaches to it. The British oil industry in Persia was, in my opinion, a commercial enterprise in connexion with which there was undoubtedly a breach of agreement by Persia. I accept that view and I think that the Permanent World Court at the Hague in substance also hold that view. But where is the AngloPersian matter now? It is in the right place! It is in the hands of the recognized agency of the United Nations, the Security Council. I agree with the Prime Minister’s conclusion on Persia.
Air. Menzies interjecting,
– I wish that the Prime Minister would listen, to my statement of the view that we hold. The right honorable gentleman said -
As the matter is now before the Security Council I desire to say no more about it at this time except to express the hope that the Prime Minister of Iran will find, during his stay in the United States, an atmosphere more conducive to a reasonable settlement of this problem than that in which he has recently been moving.
I, too, hope that he will do so, because I consider that the atmosphere in which the Prime Minister of Persia has been moving is the atmosphere of the governing classes of Persia, who are trying to squeeze more out of Britain and other interests for purposes that are not proper. I consider that to be correct. But then, having agreed upon that, we cannot go on to the next step and say that that in itself justifies the use of international force. It requires great patience and a sense of high obligation to refrain from force when one considers that the other party is entirely in the wrong. The Government considers Persia to be in the wrong, but there is only one body that can deal satisfactorily with the matter. The romantic days of the nineteenth century are over. You cannot send your gunboats and troops along to attack a country and then settle the original argument afterwards. It requires great courage for the government of a great power to take the patient way of international conciliation. I agree with the Prime Minister that the dispute with Persia is now in its proper . jurisdiction - the Security Council, which is where it should be. If nothing should come of its appearance before that body, then it should be dealt with by the General Assembly of the United Nations, where the veto does not operate.
I turn now to Egypt. I do not think that it is an accident that Egypt has taken up its present attitude a few weeks after certain developments in Iran had occurred. The two events are clearly connected. I also agree with the Prime Minister about the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. That treaty is still in force. It has not been terminated by Britain. Egypt is bound by it, and Britain is bound by it. The remainder of the statement of the Prime Minister in relation to Egypt deals with an entirely new proposal which has never been mentioned to this House before. At once we can see the significance of it. I must admit that in some respects the proposal is attractive to me. I consider, however, that this Parliament should be consulted before the Australian Government becomes a party to the establishment of a command for the purpose of war. I might be entirely in favour of it, and I believe that there is a great deal to be said for it. But look at the position! The Prime Minister used the following words in his statement to-night : -
It was felt that Egyptian hostility to th«maintenance of United Kingdom troops in the canal zone might be overcome if an allied command for the Middle East area as a whole were set up and if the forces to be maintained in that zone were allied forces under an allied commander.
Why was that felt? Why did Egypt object to British troops in the canal zone? Britain had a right to keep their there. Britain did not need to be supported by Turkey. The history of Egypt shows that every wretched person who demonstrates in the bazaars of Cairo would be fired to more frenzied demonstrations by the mention of Turkey as a partner in an international force stationed in Egypt. Such a proposal may well have aroused resentment in Egypt, though I should imagine that the resentment would spring from a broader ground.
– The right honorable gentleman would have taken a gunboat there.
– No, I would not. When the Prime Minister says that I would have taken a gunboat there, he knows that I should have done nothing of the sort. The Prime Minister asks us, in effect, whether we would use force. The answer to that is “ No “. But there are already British troops in Egypt and the British Foreign Secretary said only a few days ago that those troops will be maintained there in pursuance of the treaty provisions. But the proposal to establish an Allied force is entirely new and requires considerable discussion. I can understand that the Egyptians might be willing to continue the agreement with Britain, but not be prepared to accept the notion of a command such as the Prime Minister lias mentioned. I agree with what the Prime Minister has said about the intentions of the United Kingdom Government. His words were these -
The Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom has indicated in clear terms the intention of the United Kingdom Government to maintain British troops in Egypt in accordance with the terms of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty until such time as the treaty is varied by agreement.
We would entirely agree with that. Why? Because international law entitles Britain to have that agreement carried out and does not entitle Egypt to set it aside.
– Tell me how Britain can enforce the agreement?
– The Prime Ministers idea of enforcement of agreements in J 951 is the ideal .of a century ago of sending over a gunboat.. I suggest the same remedy in the case of Egypt as was applied in the dispute in Korea, namely the taking of the matter to the appropriate forum of the United Nations. That is the only way in which governments can carry public opinion with them in such matters.
Mr. Menzies and Government supporters interjecting,
– Order ! I must ask the House to maintain order. The right honorable gentleman is dealing with a very important matter which involves the issues of peace and war. Every honorable member is entitled to express his view without interruption.
– I have tried to make my point one of principle - a. principle that was applied in Korea and must he applied in every international dispute or situation. From beginning to end of the Prime Minister’s statement there is hardly one word about the United Nations. One would think that that body is non-existent, because the only reference to it in the statement is a casual one in relation to the dispute in Persia. I say that international agreements cannot- be varied simply by presenting demands. Disputes over them must be taken to the United Nations. The action taken in. regard to the Korean rar was proper and was supported by the Labour party. But the position in relation to Persia is entirely different. I do not see that any blame should lie against the British Government in relation to the situation in Persia. With regard to Egypt we must not forget that that country has a binding agreement with Britain w7hich is still in force. If Egypt will not agree to the substance of the treaty, pressure will not make it do so. But Egypt is still bound by the treaty.
– Hear, hear!
– I am. glad to hear the Prime Minister say “ Hear, hear !”.
– I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition has come back to realities.
– My statement does nor indicate that I have come back to realities, because I have made it before. The only person here who should come back to realities is the Prime Minister himself. The present agreement with Egypt stands and, therefore, pressure nf any kind cannot be used. Britain can do no more than adhere to the existing agreement, which is what the British Government intends to do if we are to judge from the statement of the Foreign Secretary, who has said that the United Kingdom intends to insist on retention of its troops in the canal zone, as it is entitled to do under international law.
I notice that, although the Prime Minister does ‘ not commit Australian forces to Middle East operations, when he asks for Australia to share in the command he does so by implication. I say that before that was done, as it has been done, this House should have been consulted. I do not wish to say any more on that matter at present because it is of supreme importance. I infer from what is contained and what is not contained in the statement that there is no criticism, that, can be levelled at the British Government in the matter of Persia.
– The right honorable gentleman seems to remember that Britain is having a general election soon.
– You do, and some of your Ministers do, and some of your backbenchers
– Order ! The right honorable gentleman will address me.
– I should have addressed my remarks to you, Mr. Speaker. Broadly my view is that, whatever government happened to be in power in Britain, very much the same actions would have been taken as have been taken in the present great difficulties.
The Prime Minister’s appeal to His Majesty the King of Egypt was interesting, but I do not think that it was very real. I think that in both Persia and Egypt the real difficulty is that the governments of those countries are careless of the standard of living of their people. I consider it to be necessary to examine these situations from the point of view of the high principles of the United Nations Charter and to adhere to those principles. Speaking from that standpoint, I say that the Prime Minister’s statement shows clearly that the opinions expressed from the Opposition side of this House have been correct.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Casey) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 672).
.- 1 rise to support-
– Order ! The honorable member will resume his seat until the House comes to order. There is a standing order which provides that there shall not be conversation in this chamber while an honorable member is addressing the Chair.
– I rise to support the Social Services Consolidation Bill 1951, which has been introduced consequent upon the proposals that have been outlined in the budget. Most of the facts associated with this measure have been traversed and I do not wish to weary honorable members with mere repetition. Therefore, I should like to refer to a number of issues that have been put forward by three honorable members of the Opposition who spoke this afternoon. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) spoke with great feeling about the amount of money that had been allocated for pensions increases in this bill and implied that a considerably greater amount should have been allocated. No doubt similar statements were made from the Opposition benches on the occasion of the presentation of the budget by the last Labour Government in 1949. I have no doubt that what the honorable member for Grayndler said, at that time, would be just as applicable if said by me on this occasion. This, in the main, is purely and simply a problem of money. From time to time all honorable members have expressed the view that the means test is so frustrating and unfair that it should be removed as soon as possible. The cost of removing the means test would be almost £100,000,000. About £300,000,000- almost a third of the entire budget - has been allocated for social services expenditure of all descriptions including repatriation benefits. Honorable members must take a serious view of the money problem. I know that the honorable member for Grayndler is fully entitled to make statements that are of some political benefit to him and his colleagues and he was engaged in that practice this afternoon.
A budget surplus of £100,000,000 was mentioned by the honorable member for Grayndler, the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) and the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson). It will be recalled that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said that at an Australian Loan Council meeting the Premiers agreed that in view of the condition of the Australian economy there should be no resort to treasury-bills to finance Government expenditure irrespective of the purpose for which finance was required. That was obviously an intelligent decision, because at a time, when there is an abundance of money in the community, it is economically unsound to create new money. Consequently, if those honorable members whom I have named were sincere in their proposals they must have envisaged further increases of taxation. Do those honorable members suggest that the Government should increase taxation so as to be able to draw from current revenue sufficient money to remove the means test? Such action would result in the special taxation levy of 10 per cent, being increased to 20 per cent. In that ease the budget, which has been described by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) as a depression budget, would surely be described by him as a catastrophic budget ; or his deputy, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) might drag out of Alice in Wonderland a better word than “ phantasmagorical “ with which to describe it.
The honorable member for Burke quoted . several paragraphs from the Melbourne Herald. I am from Sydney, where there is also a Herald. I have had great respect for the views of the Sydney Morning Herald on many occasions, but there have also been occasions when my respect for that newspaper has not been on a high level. I think that this might also be said of the attitude of honorable members to the Melbourne Herald. Australia’s national income increased by £800,000,000, during the last financial year, and that raised that income to the record level of almost £3,000,000,000. In view of that fact does the honorable member for Burke imply that in this country the majority of age pensioners are forced to exist in the manner that he described? If .1 per cent, of age pensioners have to search rubbish bins for the means of sustenance this whole Parliament should be indicted. I do not believe that there are many such people because if it were true in 1951 it would have been equally true in 1949 when a Labour Government occupied the treasury bench. It is arrant nonsense and hypocrisy to maintain that such a position exists. “We are a civilized community. Honorable members have some appreciation of whether or not they are living in a time of boom or a time of depression; they know whether they are surrounded by evidence of what the Premier of New South Wales described last Christmas as unparalleled prosperity or whether they are living in an age of poverty. The honorable member implied that thousands of elderly people are to be seen almost dying of starvation in Melbourne. That is a gross exaggeration. If the Melbourne Herald could have produced to the honorable member three or four ‘people who were suffering from malnutrition, he could have risen in his place and demanded that the
Government do something for them. 1, for one, would have given him my complete support. If he can give me the name of one pensioner who at this moment is about to die of malnutrition I shall get in touch with agencies within 24 hours and they will assist him. If the honorable member considered that the newspaper reports were true he could have taken similar action.
The amendment moved by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has been introduced at a time when it was considered that the greatest party political advantage could be derived from it. It is very much like an amendment submitted on behalf of the present Government parties when they were in Opposition before the 1949 budget was presented. The first portion of it seeks to have the provision made that the act shall operate from the first pension day in July, 1951. In the history of this Parliament no government, on the recommendation of an opposition, has ever made pensions payments retrospective to the first day of the financial year.
– They have made them retrospective.
– But not to the first day of the financial year. I have before me a list of alterations that have been made in pensions rates, and I find for example, that on the 21st October, 1948, the late Mr. J. B. Chifley introduced a similar measure, but refused to make the new rate retrospective to the beginning of the financial year. Pensions will be received under this legislation by 347,000 age pensioners, 70,000 invalid pensioners and 42,000 widow pensioners. Enormous administrative difficulties would confront the department if it had to make payments retrospective for four months. Many pensioners would have passed away during that period and many persons would have become eligible for a pension on different dates. That is why governments have always refused to make payments retrospective to the beginning of a financial year, and that is why they will always refuse to do so in future, whatever their political colour may be.
Paragraph (b) of the amendment seeks to have provision made for the payment of child endowment in respect of the first child at the rate of 10s. a week. The views of the Labour party on child endowment have varied somewhat during the years. The last variation of the Opposition’s viewpoint occurred after it had lost the general election in 1949. The late Mr. J. B. Chifley, when he was Prime Minister, said that the proposal of the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) for the payment of endowment in respect of the first child amounted to neither more nor less than political humbug. He said that not only in the Parliament but also on a public: platform. After the present Government had assumed office and bad introduced a. measure which provided for endowment of the first child at the rate of 5s. a week, within six months the Opposition saw its way clear to say that that amount should be increased to 10s. At that time in another place the majority represented that great political institution, the Australian Labour party. This majority refused to allow to pass through that chamber the legislation which proposed to endow the first child, unless the endowment was increased- to 10s. For some time it appeared that there would be a double dissolution on the issue of whether the endowment for the first child should be 5s. or 10s. At the last moment, realizing that the authority of an Australian government should not be challenged except in special circumstances, and for other devious party political reasons, the Opposition in another place agreed to allow the Government’s measure to pass. During the last general election campaign the Opposition promised the people that, if it were elected to office it would pay an endowment of 10s. a week for the first child of each family. The Government promised no more than the os., and since the elections it has refused to increase the endowment for the first child because it realized that the only way in which it could -increase the endowment would be by taking more money out of the pockets of the taxpayers.
At this stage there is something which should be said, but which may not be highly palatable to one’s constituents. That is that there comes a time in the life of a nation when it is improper and immoral to rob Peter to pay Paul. I believe that a great national review of all social services is long overdue. I have said before, and I say again, that I believe it to be a grievous insult to the age and invalid pensioners of this country that their welfare should be bandied about like an Australian Rules football on the Melbourne cricket ground ; because, after all, we all have been guilty of making speeches which have been tantamount to agencies for buying votes. “We know that the means test cannot be removed under present circumstances. It could not be removed by the Leader of the Opposition. nor by any one on this side of the House. Interesting suggestions have been made by the honor.able member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) which will no doubt be given full consideration, by the. Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley). I hope that some form of contributory system will result from those deliberations and that it will lighten the enormous financial burden on this Government. If that is not done, the Government will find itself in the position of the present Government of the United Kingdom. In Great Britain, because of enormous armament commitments, the Government has found itself forced to review its national health and welfare services. Social services and the means test are matters which involve finance, and we have to realize that a country cannot go on and on taking from Peter to pay Paul.
– The honorable member advocates the payment of further money to the wealthy.
– In view of the present taxation, the interjection made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) is arrant nonsense. At present some people pay provisional tax and normal income tax to the aggregate of 21s. in the £1. There is a greater and more equal distribution of wealth throughout Australia to-day than there has been in any other country on the surface of the earth in the history of mankind. The Government deserves great credit for the increases that it has made in age and invalid pensions during the present economic condition of our country. It is true that we should pay the most attention to those whose need is the greatest. I believe that that is what we have done to the best of our ability. Age pensions can be further increased by taking more money out of the pockets of the people. I believe that it would be wrong to tax the people still further for that purpose. Tt would be improper for us to put such a burden on the taxpayers. Another way in which this money could be obtained would be by reducing the works programmes of the 1 States. That also would put a great and improper burden on State governments and force them into repudiating an enormous number of contractual obligations. That would be not only immoral but also uneconomic, and would reduce the confidence of the Australian people generally in the basic honesty of their governments, both State and Federal.
I shall now refer to a suggestion about having the scale of social services payments decided outside this Parliament. [ see no reason why a convention should not be called to consider just what social services now mean in our community. Let us define the welfare State, and say exactly what we are aiming . for. Let us have complete political agreement on this matter. “We want to know what the members of the Labour party think, and we hope that they want to know what we think. We must work out some basis for our social services. Originally age pensions were provided for the needy. They were never intended to be a living wage for people who had retired. It was assumed at a certain stage of our career as a nation that members of families took some measure of responsibility for their elderly people. Such an attitude exists widely in familiar even to-day. Surely honorable members opposite will not maintain that the 347,000 age pensioners are supported solely by their pensions? To maintain such a thing would be to indict the present generation of Australians. It is obviously nonsense. I believe that to maintain that is to deny the existence of the essential fibre of the Australian character. These matters should be further discussed, and some form of assistance determined for those people who come into the category referred to earlier by the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters).
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) has referred to these matters on many occasions, and I know that he has a great interest in them ; but again I say that if the younger generation of Australians are doing their jobs properly, then it is obviously true that a great number of elderly people in this community must be receiving considerable support from their sons and daughters. No one in this Parliament seriously believes that £3 or £3 10s. a week is sufficient to provide for the complete sustenance - that is board, clothing and other things - of any person. We all know that. As I have said before, if honorable members opposite want us to take another £100,000,000 out of the pockets of the people then they should say so. They should get up and support the budget and move an amendment to the effect that another £100,000,000 be obtained from the people.
– The Government has a surplus.
– That was ordained by the Loan Council because the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the State Premiers in the Loan Council realized that they could get only £150,000,000 from the loan market. They decided that the Australian Government should underwrite the residue of the total of £225,000,000.
– How much for war?
Honorable members interjecting,
-Order! If Opposition members do not refrain from interjecting I shall have to take certain action.
– The highly intelligent remark of the honorable member fo>r Watson (Mr. Curtin) cannot be allowed to pass without notice. He has asked, “How much for war?” If he looks at the budget he will realize that the Government intends to pay out £200,000,000 on defence. That is an enormous commitment for the people of Australia, but it must be realized that we must either pay for our defence and shoulder our obligations to the United Nations, or we shall lose this country. Under present conditions and in the light of the world situation I am troubled about the expenditure on defence, but only because it may be too little, too ,late. I believe that a great measure of the Government’s time should be given to this matter.
All the budget proposals have been before the Parliament for a considerable time, but not one honorable member opposite has pointed to any particular item and said that it should be reduced. If that had been done it would have been some sort of constructive criticism. All that has been put forward by the Opposition is not constructive criticism but purely and simply political humbug. A substantial increase of unemployment and sickness benefits and further amelioration of the means test could only result in increased taxation. Let us do these things by all means ; but how ? We must either increase taxation in this inflationary period, which would not be recommended by any seriousadult member of the Opposition, or print treasury-bills. This social services measure is the very best that could be offered by the Government at this time. As far as the rest of the budget is concerned I say the same thing.
-Order ! The honorable member must not deal with the budget.
– In view of the proposals embodied in paragraphs (c) and (d) of the amendment of the honorable member for Bendigo, I am forced to the view that he envisages increased taxation. If he does not, he must advocate the issue of treasury-bills. I understand that he would be most keen to have the means test removed. I believe that those people who have suffered from some physical disadvantage consider that there should be a wider scope as far as human factors are concerned. Governments are not always bound by human factors, £ s. d. also enters into their calculations. That is something to which this House should pay great attention, because this amendment and the speeches of honorable members opposite have seemed to .assume that the Government could, if it chose to do. so, get money out o( the sky. .The only way in which it can get money out of the sky is by issuing treasury-bills. I thoroughly disapprove of the amendment. With due respect to the honorable member for Bendigo, I believe it to be nothing else than a party political gesture. I myself have, as has every other honorable member of the House, been guilty of such gestures, and with the best grace possible I accept the amendment in those terms. I believe that the bill should be accepted, and that the Government has done the best that it could do at a serious period of Australia’s history. I congratulate the Minister upon its introduction. Although he was elevated to ministerial rank only recently he has done an extremely good job, of which all supporters of the Government may well feel proud.
– This bill effects amendments in respect of a wide range of social services benefits It covers a very wide field and, Mr. Speaker, bearing in mind your warning that honorable members must not indulge in monotonous repetition, I propose to. touch upon only a few aspects. In the last speech that the late Mr. Chifley made on this subject - he made it last year - he referred to the fact that when Labour took office in 1941, the total expenditure on social services amounted to £17,000,000 annually, whereas when Labour relinquished office at the end of 1949 it had increased to over £100,000,000 annually. As a result of the proposals embodied in this measure, the expenditure under this heading will be increased to £184,800,000 for the current financial year, the increase being due largely to rising costs of living, which have increased tremendously during recent months.
Social services benefits are paid in the main from the National Welfare Fund, which is financed by direct taxes levied according to the well* established principle of ability to pay.. Under the operation of that principle, persons on the highest ranges of income make the greatest contribution to the tax pool; and the provision of social services benefits represents a form of redistribution of income. The legislation provides for a minimum basis of social security for various sections of the community, such as the aged, invalids, widows, the sick and the unemployed. We have developed a welfare state. Members of the Opposition claim that this form of social security was largely instituted and implemented by Labour governments and that now, having been approved by non-Labour governments, it is generally accepted as a permanent feature of government.
It is noteworthy that most honorable members who have spoken in this debate have paid particular attention to age and invalid pensions. All of us realize that the number of aged people in our population is increasing year by year and that the cost of financing such benefits is becoming correspondingly heavier. In 1910, when old-age and invalid pensions were first introduced, the total expenditure under that heading was £1,400,000, whereas for the last financial year it amounted to £44,500,000. A number of honorable members have dealt with the means test, and their opinions have been echoed in newspaper editorials. There is a general demand in the community that the means test be abolished. The arguments that have been advanced in favour of such action are cogent and have considerable merit. It is said that people who save, and accumulate assets, in order to assure an income for themselves in their declining years are thereby disqualified under the means test from receiving some social services benefits, and that, consequently, the means test discourages thrift. There can be no doubt that serious anomalies arise in that respect. Many persons are unjustly penalized because of the operation of the means test. It is also argued that some aged people would work and thus add to the productive force in the community if they were permitted to earn additional income without disqualifying themselves from receiving the full pension. That is advanced as another reason why the means test should be abolished. Members of the Opposition believe that the means test should be abolished progressively, and that we should work to achieve that objective ultimately. However, we believe that it would not be possible to abolish the means test immediately because of the heavy financial commitments that would be involved. *
Some age pensioners are much better off than are others. For example, a man and his wife may each receive a pension of £3 a week and as a couple be permitted to have a combined income of £3 a week from other sources, which would bring their total income to £9 a week. In addition, a married couple are permitted to own their own home and to have up to £219 in the bank without being disqualified from receiving the full pension. The argument has been advanced that we should abolish the means test so that persons who possess considerable income and assets should be entitled to receive the same social services benefits as persons on the lower rung of the economic ladder are entitled to receive. Before we examine when, or how, the means test should be abolished, we should ask ourselves : Who are most in need of assistance? Whose standard of living is the lowest in the community? To which section in the community is the term “ social security “ largely a meaningless phrase? Age and invalid pensioners who have no income other than their pension are most in need of our consideration and assistance. A married couple, each of whom receives a pension, are able to share expenses in respect of rent, electricity and fuel, but a single man or woman, a widow or widower, who has to live in a room is obliged to pay all his or her living expenses out of the one pension of £3 a week. In many instances, single pensioners have no other source of income despite the fact that under the means test they are permitted to have an income of 30s. a week in addition to their pension.
Honorable members are aware of the extreme difficulty that many persons experience in trying to eke out an existence on a total income of £3 a week. In many instances they are obliged to pav rent for a room at the rate of 25s. a week. I know of many age pensioners who hesitate to purchase even a 3d. ticket in a raffle. Before doing so they count their money in order to see whether they will have sufficient to purchase necessaries that they will require before the next pension pay day will come around. If we are to do justice to those persons who most need assistance and if we are to deal effectively with the problem of social security we should provide a differential payment of pension to those who have no income but their pension. I do not know what percentage of pensioners come within that category. 1 should like the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) to obtain that information and to supply it to honorable members. The honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham) has said that the number of such pensioners would be inconsiderable. However, it has been variously estimated that from 20 per cent, to 65 per cent, of the total of over 400,000 pensioners have no other income but their pension. The Minister should supply accurate information on .that point to the House. I suggest that a special increase of the age and the invalid pensions of 10s. a week should be payable to persons whose sole income is their pension and that such increase should be payable, not automatically, but only upon application to the department. In that way of payment of the increased benefit would, to some degree, be left to the discretion of officers of the department.
Under this bill provision is made to give discretionary powers to senior officers of the department in the application of the means test. That is a meritorious alteration. All honorable members have frequent contact with such officers and I am sure that they will agree that those officers perform their duties in a just and humane manner in instances in which the law might appear to be a little tough. Of course, laws are made in a general way and do not provide specifically for individual cases. Likewise, every law gives rise to cases of individual hardship. However, officers of the Department of Social Services invariably lean towards the viewpoint of the individual. The Director-General and the Deputy-Directors in the various States are administering social services benefits in the tradition of the Public Service so as to render the utmost service to the community. I should be happy if the increase of pension of 10s. a week were made payable to those persons whose sole income is their pension and if such increase were made payable upon application to the department and at the discretion of departmental officers.
It is pleasing to note that there is an increasing consciousness in the community of the obligation that we owe to aged people. Generally speaking, the average citizen is now alive to the fact that this is a serious problem, because a greater portion of our people are aged, and the community has the duty of bringing happiness, contentment and brightness into the lives of the aged. There is no doubt that there is considerable unhappiness, loneliness, and miserableness among many aged people who are unwanted and uncared for. It is high time that we tackled this problem in a general way and decided to give a new deal to the aged.
The first step that should be taken in instituting such a deal is, as I have already said, to increase the basic rate of pensions to those who have no income but their pension and to progressively liberalize the means test. The second point relates to a matter that requires the attention noi so much of the Government as of individual citizens. Only yesterday when I was on my way here, I had an experience which I think many other honorable members also have had. I was called to the home of a woman who is over 80 years of age. She had been under medical attention and was living in a room by herself. In the opinion of the doctor, that fine old lady was suffering from malnutrition. She received the pension, but because of her advanced age, she was not able to cook her meals and look after herself sufficiently to get proper nourishment. Had it not been for the care and attention of neighbours, she would have been in a most serious physical condition. When people grow old and live in rooms on their own, many simple little problems of life that do not mean a thing to younger persons weigh very heavily upon them. Such simple tasks as going down the street to buy the necessaries of life, cooking meals and cleaning a room are some of the things that aged people are not able to do for themselves. The fact that such a condition of affairs exists is a challenge, not merely to every member of the Parliament, but also to every member of the community. A great opportunity is offering in that regard for voluntary organizations to come to the assistance of the aged.
We all are aware of the fine work that is being done by many women who spend their time, energy and money as members of auxiliaries to help hospitals and various charitable institutions. No work would be more fruitful or humane and would serve a better cause than would that of an organization of womenfolk which, on a voluntary basis, in the form of auxiliaries, provided help for aged people. Such work is being performed in a fine way in England, but is not being done in Australia. Such voluntary groups could well be formed here. They could be centred, to the best advantage, on the local town hall, and the work could be conducted on a municipal basis at very little expense, with a little organization but a lot of goodwill. For example, an organization could be established to operate a. mobile kitchen that would provide a hot meal daily for aged persons. A roster could be compiled of voluntary helpers who would be available to visit the homes of old persons regularly, do their messages, clean the rooms and attend to them. Those would be little things in themselves, but they would mean much to aged people, and would bring some happiness and contentment into their lives. I make that suggestion as my second point in a new deal for the aged in this country.
My third point is that special housing units should be available for aged persons. Elderly people, because their physical condition is deteriorating and their energy is becoming exhausted, are not able to look after big houses. In fact, they do not want big houses. In some other countries in which social science has advanced, a particular kind of home has been evolved to suit the needs of aged people. Small self-contained cottage units or flatettes in which there is a common infirmary or dispensary are being built. Some progress in that direction is being made in Queensland, and a great advance has been accomplished in England. I do not say that the Commonwealth should take over such a function, but I consider that it should subsidize an effort to provide special suitable housing units for the aged. If we can provide a new deal for aged persons in the manner I have suggested - increase the pension of those persons on the minimum rate who need the extra help, and provide some kind of home help and special housing units for the aged - we shall make a really worthwhile and positive contribution to social justice in this country.
It is my experience as a member of the Parliament that many of the things that happen to a politician are rather frustrating, and that some of them are not very pleasing, but it is from being able to help the old people that a member of the Parliament derives his greatest satisfaction. Such is certainly my own experience, because I feel that I am doing something that is really worth while and am making at least some attempt to bring happiness into the lives of aged people. The Parliament should devote its attention to those objectives that I have advanced, and grant that measure of social justice to our elderly citizens, who are a most worthy section of the community.
I now propose to refer to the position of sightless people, of whom there are approximately 6,000 in Australia. In Great Britain and the United States of America, the responsibility for rehabilitating and looking after the blind is borne by the governments concerned at considerable expense, but in Victoria and in some other States in Australia, the responsibility is assumed largely by voluntary organizations. The Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind does a magnificent job on behalf of sightless people. The blind have made representations to the Government, and are pressing their case, for the abolition of the means test in respect of their incomes. They contend, and I believe that everyone will agree that their contention is full of justice, that the payment which they receive from the Commonwealth should be regarded, not as a pension, but as a. disability allowance. They suffer handicaps and incur expense that arise from the fact that they have lost their sight. They submit, with complete justice in my opinion, that their handicap should be regarded as a disability, that they should be paid the social services benefit of £3 a week as a disability allowance, and that they should not be prevented by the means test from earning in industry whatever they are able to earn. I admit that the Government, under this bill, is increasing the permissible income of blind persons by a fairly considerable amount. That is a worth while step in the right direction. I now urge the Government to take the final step, and to do what the institutes for the blind in the various States and the Blind Workers Union has urged it to do, namely, abolish the means test, as it applies to the incomes of blind persons, completely.
There is another matter that I wish to bring to the notice of the Government on behalf of sightless people. It is a simple little matter, but if my suggestion be adopted it will be the means of bringing great pleasure to them. A little more than a hundred years ago, Louis Braille invented his system of Braille writing which, for the first time, made it possible for the blind to read some of the gems of our literature. Braille libraries have since been established that cover a wide range of literature, and blind persons who are able to use the Braille system now have access to much of the literature that is available to people who have their sight. It came as rather a shock to me to learn that only about 25 per cent. of the blind in our community are able to use the Braille system. Apparently, the majority of people who lose their sight, do so in later life, when they have not a sufficiently sensitive sense of touch to be able to acquire the necessary skill to enable them to read Braille. In other words, literature, whether it be the classics or light reading, is a closed book to approximately 75 per cent. of the blind in this country.
It is only in recent years that, as a result of work that was done by the American Foundation for the Blind, such a condition of affairs has been altered, and now the greatest boon that modern science and inventive genius have yet produced for the benefit of the blind has been made available to them. I refer to the talking book, which is really a modified form of gramophone, with special adjustments, so that it. can be operated easily by blind people. It plays records that are transcriptions of complete books. I understand that a novel of normal length occupies about twelve 12-inch records. As a result of the energy and activity of the American Foundation for the Blind, and of the people who care for the blind in England, a considerable library of those records has been established, and many forms of literature, such as the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, the classics, novels, mystery stories, “ thrillers “ and biographies have been transcribed upon records which are available to the blind on the condition that they have the machine with which they can be played.
The Repatriation Department in Australia, to its great credit, provided one of those machines for every blinded exserviceman of World War I. and World War II. All those blinded ex-servicemen have access to the great library of records that has been established in the various States. Unfortunately, the number of machines available to other sightless persons is very limited, and it is beyond the resources of institutes for the blind to provide anything like the number of machines required. I appeal to the Government to give consideration to that matter. The granting of a subsidy to the institutes for the blind in the various States, which would enable a talking book apparatus to be made available to every blind person who wanted one, would not involve a large amount. I understand that the cost of a machine is only about £22, because such instruments are manufactured on a nonprofit basis and are admitted to this country free of duty. If my suggestion were adopted, all the blind people in the community would have access to the literature to which I have referred, and a worthwhile step would be made towards giving them the pleasure and comfort that people who have their sight obtain from reading literature. I commend that suggestion to the Government. It could make a slight gesture to the sightless people by providing a talking book apparatus for every family in which there is a blind person.
Motion (by Mr. Gullett) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Mr. Clarey’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I listened with very keen interest to the secondreading debate on this measure. On the whole, the views that were expressed by honorable members were commendatory, and I thank the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), who led the debate on behalf of the Opposition, for the courteous way in which he presented his case. At this stage it is desirable that I should reiterate the proposals that are embodied in the legislation and, therefore, I propose to remind honorable members of the nature of its various provisions. Age and invalid pensions will he increased by 10s. a week at a cost of £11,000,000 a year. Allowances for the. wives and children of invalid pensioners! will be increased by 6s. for a wife and 2s. 6d. for a child at a cost of approximately £250,000 a year. The pension for class A widows will be increased by 10s. a week, and pensions for the other main classes of widows will be increased by 8s. a week, at a total cost of nearly £1,000,000 a year. The bill provides that the ceiling limits on the amounts that various classes of pensioners may receive by way of civil pensions plus war pensions will be raised.
The means test will be relaxed in six different ways. The permissible income for a blind pensioner will be increased by £2 to £10 a week. This will represent a total increase over the last two years of £4 2s. 6d. a week. Permissible income for all classes of pensioners with dependent children will be increased. The property limit for all classes of pensioners will be raised by £250. A similar increase of the maximum surrender value of life insurance policies and of reversionary interests, which will be completely disregarded under the property test, will be granted. The civilian rehabilitation scheme will be improved by extending the period for treatment and training from two to three years and by bringing within its scope persons between the ages of 16 and 21 years who have been debarred hitherto on account of the circumstances of their parents. In addition, rehabilitation allowances, living-away-from-home allowances and other concessions in relation to travelling expenses will be extended.
Funeral benefits will be provided for certain recipients of allowances under the Tuberculosis Act. Various minor concessions will apply in relation to other benefits. These liberalizations, which will cost £1,300,000 a year, will bring to £13,500,000 a year the total cost of all increases and concessions that will come into effect under the terms of the bill. Adding £9,000,000, the cost of the increases granted last year, and £15,000,000 for the endowment of the first child in every family, we get the substantial sum of £37,500,000, which represents the expansion of expenditure upon social services under the Social Services Consolidation Act since the change of Government occurred in December, 1949.
It has become customary, when a budget has been presented and the provision for social services is being discussed, for an Opposition to raise all kinds of specious arguments, which sometimes verge on humbug. Three years ago, the late Mr. Chifley, when he was Prime Minister and Treasurer, was asked to alter the provision that he had made in the budget for social services. For the benefit of honorable members, I shall read the words that Mr. Chifley then used. He said -
I think I should make it clear to the committee at the outset that the Government does not propose to accept any amendments to this ‘bill. In saying that, I refer not only to the matter under discussion but also to other payments provided in the bill. General principles have been laid down by the Government regarding the various types of benefits proposed in the legislation, which cover an expenditure of a considerable amount of money. The Government does not propose to depart - from those principles. Whatever may be said, we believe we have made a fair judgment and a very liberal advance in the way of social services payments.
I echo the words that were used by the late Mr. Chifley on that occasion. I ask honorable members to pass this bill quickly in order that the pensioners of this country may receive at the earliest possible opportunity the advantage of very liberal improvements of pension rates.
– Clauses 4 and 5 provide for the amendment of sections 22 and 25 of the principal act by omitting the words “ Seven, hundred and fifty pounds “ and inserting in their stead the words “ One thousand pounds “. The effect of the amendments will be to increase from £750 to £1,000 the value of any property, apart from his own home and furniture, that a man may possess without being disqualified from entitlement to an age or invalid pension. I am sorry that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) has not sought to remove that restriction completely. The limitation placed upon the value of property is a feature of the means test to which many people object very strongly, but it does not really mean much. The age or invalid pension was originally paid at the rate of 12s. 6d. a week and subsequently at the rate of £1 a week. The limit then placed upon the value of property was £400. The annual rate at which a pension was paid was reduced by £1 for every £10 by which the value of property owned exceeded £50 but did not exceed £400. When the pension was £1 a week, the operation of that provision meant that a person who had property valued at £400 received a pension of £17 a year. If the property were valued at £401, he received no pension. When the late Mr. Chifley was Treasurer, the limit imposed on the value of property was increased to £650. The annual pension was reduced by £1 for every £10 by which the value of property owned exceeded £50 but not £400, and by £2 for every £10 by which it exceeded £400 but not £650. A man with property valued at £650 received an annual pension of £12 10s. When the property limit was increased to £750, the initial allowance of £50 was increased to £100. The pension was then £2 2s. 6d. a week. A man with property to the value of £750 received an annual pension of £15. It will be seen that the alterations made very little difference to the amount of pension a person on the property limit received.
When this Government increased the age and invalid pensions last year from £2 2s. 6d. a week to £2 10s. a week, it did not increase the property limit of £750. The anomaly then arose that a man with property of the value ,.of £750_ received an annual pension of- £35, but a man with property of the value of £751 -was not entitled to a pension. The Govern ment, having decided to increase the pension to £3 a week, considered it necessary to avoid having a great difference between the positions of a man with property of the full value prescribed and a man with property valued at £1 more than that. The limit will he increased to £1,000. A man with property of that value will receive a pension of £15 10s. h year. If no limit were placed upon the value of property, under the present system -a man with property valued at £1,060 by the deduction of £1 for each £10 between £100 and £450 and £2 for each £10 or over £450 automatically receives no pension.
I ask the Minister to give consideration to abolishing the property limitation. It is something that many people cannot understand. Some believe that if they have property of the value of over £100 they are not entitled to a pension. They do not realize that the annual pension is reduced by £1 for every £10 by which the value of their property exceeds £100 but not £450 and by £2 for every £10 by which it exceeds £450. What is proposed to be done will not be anything new regarding the means test. The Government is adhering to the principle that has been followed since age and invalid pensions were introduced, that is, to avoid too large a difference between the position of a man with property valued at precisely the limit and that of a man who has property valued at £1 in excess of the limit. I ask the Minister also to consider reducing to £1 the £2 for every £10 by which a pension is at present reduced when a pensioner has property of the value of more than £450. That would be a progressive step.
If honorable members opposite ask me why I did not request a Labour government to do this, I shall reply that I did make such a request. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) had a lot to say about lifting the means test. I gather that he considers that the only way in which that can be achieved is by the introduction of a contributory scheme, under which everybody between the ages of sixteen years and 65 years would be required to make compulsory contributions. That matter was thrashed out in 1935 and 1936, when a national insurance scheme hecame law. Although the Liberal government of that day had a majority in both Houses of the Parliament, it did not put that scheme into effect, because it was afraid of what the result would be. Therefore, I believe that if we have to wait until a contributory scheme is in existence before we can assist pensioners, we shall have to wait for a long time.
I am concerned about a section of the community that has not been mentioned much. It is the section that consists of persons who have a little property from which they derive a small income. I received a letter to-day from a man who lives in a Sydney suburb. He wrote to me because he knows that I have been advocating for some time an ameloriation of the means test. He told me that over a period of twenty years he had succeeded in paying off a mortgage on a pair of cottages. They are valued at £1,600, and he receives rents which total £2 10s. a week for them. He is not entitled to an age pension. After he has paid rates and taxes in respect of his properties, he has £1 14s. a week left from the rents on which to maintain himself and his wife. It has been put to me that when a person has a little property from which he derives a net income of, say, £1 14s. a week, and when he and his wife would, but for the possession of that property, receive a joint pension of £6 a week, they should be permitted to receive the difference between their small income and the nominal joint pension. I know that there are difficulties in the way of doing of what I suggest. When approaching the problem of ameliorating the means test, we should not think only about everybody being entitled’ to receive a pension upon reaching the age of 65 years. The complete abolition of the means test would involve a huge additional expenditure. Let us do something to assist people who have a small amount of property, perhaps of the value of £2,000, and who are deriving from it an income that is not so great as that which an age pensioner receives but on which they have to live.
– A somewhat invidious situation has arisen, because the committee has decided to take this bill as a whole. It was my intention to oppose clause 12 and to vote against it, but I cannot do so now without voting against the whole bill. Clause 12 is the only clause to which I take exception. I consider the remainder of the bill to be good. It is obvious that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) has given consideration to the whole scope of social services and has not concentrated upon one element. Every facet of social services has been considered by him and by his advisers. Nevertheless, an anomaly exists, and it will be aggravated by clause 12. That clause seeks to amend section 50 of the principal act, which prescribes the sum that shall be contributed by inmates who are in receipt of age or invalid pensions in respect of their maintenance in benevolent institutions. Under this measure, inmates who are in receipt of an age or an invalid pension will be required to pay to the institution 39s. a week for their maintenance.. Other inmates who own property from which they derive an adequate income - those who receive, other social services payments much greater than an age or an invalid pension - or who are kept in the institution by a wealthy family, will be required to pay, provided they are not in receipt of an age or an invalid pension, only £1 ls. a week for their maintenance. The provision in Section 50 of the act became operative in 1943 if I remember correctly, when the Parliament decided that the rate of contribution to be made by age and invalid pensioner inmates of benevolent institutions should be in conformity with the payment then prescribed by the institutions for all inmates. That is to say, it conformed to the amount contributed by other inmates. . The people who administer those institutions have not seen fit to raise the amount to be contributed by other non-pensioner inmates, yet the Australian Government has, with, every successive increase of the age pension, preserved the original ratio of payments, so that the pensioner’s contribution will have risen from 17s. 6d. a week in 1943 to 39s. a week under this bill. Such a situation will cause disharmony in those institutions, in that age and invalid pensioners will consider, that an injustice is being done to them by the Government and that the institutions are receiving consideration of a kind that is not extended to people who are most deserving of it and who are the most indigent section of the community.
I must support the bill as a whole because the committee has decided to deal with it as a whole, hut I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the introduction of amending legislation as soon as possible so as to enable the full rate of pension to be paid to age and invalid pensioners, whether inmates of institutions or not, and that they be placed in the same category as anybody else. “When I say that, I mean that the responsibility should rest upon the pensioner inmates themselves to make contributions to the authorities that maintain the institutions, and that the Government should not arbitrarily decide the amount that age and invalid pensioners shall pay, without even giving them the chance to pay the amount themselves. People who are in receipt of other social services benefits and are inmates of such institutions receive full payment of their benefits and then make payments to the institutions. They contribute only the amount set by the institution and not a specific percentage of their social services benefits decided by another body.
The argument that has been used in the past against such amending legislation as I have suggested is that benevolent institutions have protested to the Government that a greater amount should be allowed to them from the pensions of age pensioners, because age pensioners receive more in pensions than they actually require. The institutions have claimed that it costs more than the amount contributed from the pension for the upkeep of pensioners. My answer to that contention is that those institutions are, after all, benevolent institutions which were not meant to be operated at a profit. Nor was it intended that age and invalid pensioners should contribute more than other inmates to the upkeep of institutions and so, in effect, provide benefits for other people who were in some instances in receipt of a far greater amount of income than was being received by pensioners. If those institutions consider that they require a greater amount of remuneration, then the source from which it should be obtained is not the incomes of age and invalid pensioners but the special grant made by the Australian Government for the maintenance of such benevolent asylums. They have recourse to their State governments to which they may make a request for a greater amount to be contributed by way of an appropriation for the upkeep of the institutions. I strongly protest against the proposal of the Government to demand from age and invalid pensioners 39s. a week which will be paid to organizations that conduct benevolent asylums.
– “What is the honorable member going to do about it?
– In this instance I am going to support the bill because I do not consider that the one clause that I have mentioned is sufficiently objectionable to warrant the rejection of what is otherwise the best amendment of social services legislation that has ever been placed before this Parliament. This measure is an indication of the sincerity and honesty of the Minister for Social Services and shows that he has examined1 the matter in its entirety and has introduced not only amendments that will be of party political advantage - a practice that is adopted by the Labour party-but also amendments that will be of benefit solely to the recipients of social services. It is interesting to note, in view of the interjection of the honorable member for East Sydney, that social services legislation comes before a Parliament of which the Labour party is in control only just prior to a general election. The Labour party uses increased social services as a bribe to the electors for its own political advantage. On the other hand, this Government has seriously endeavoured to assist the more indigent sections of the community, and for that reason I shall support the bill. It will provide an adequate rermuneration to age pensioners. Its only flaw is clause 12, and I trust that the Minister will give that clause his urgent attention, and effect an alteration of the law at the earliest opportunity.
.- There is much to commend in the point of view expressed by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. “Wight). He has expressed his opinion forcefully and with a tremendous degree of logic. However, as in other cases, there are two sides to the matter. The view that he has expressed is one in relation to which he has deep convictions which can be supported by logic. At the same time I feel bound to advance the views of the Government as a whole and of myself personally about this matter, and I shall do so as briefly as possible.
Over a long period of years it has been customary for all governments to allot 35 per cent, of the pensions of inmates of benevolent institutions to the pensioners and the remainder to the institution. Each time an increase of pension has been granted there has been this same controversy about how much shall go to the institution and how much to the pensioner. The allocation of a higher proportion of the increase to the institution than to the pensioner is justified by the fact that practically the whole of any increase of the cost of living falls on the institution and only a small part of it on the pensioner. The amount paid to the pensioner himself is more in the nature of pocket-money. The whole of his upkeep, including food, clothing, &c, is found by the institution, and it is to meet that cost that the greater part of his pension is allotted to the institution. The remainder of it goes to the pensioner for the purchase of extra amenities. The allocation to be made under this measure follows exactly the proportion that has been made during the last eight years. The increased amount of 39s. a week that is to be paid to the institution is considerably below the amount that is needed to maintain a pensioner in any institution. That should be borne in mind in relation to this matter.
Honorable members may be ,. interested to learn that the average cost of maintaining the inmates of two large government benevolent institutions in Queensland for the year ended the 30th June last was £3 lis. 9d. in one institution and £4 7s. lOd. in the other. I am not disputing the contention of the honorable member for Lilley, who pointed out that if an increase were needed the proper procedure would be for the State government concerned to apply for it. The average weekly cost at the two chief institutions in Melbourne for the year ended the 31st March, 1951, was £3 7s. 5d. and £3 12s. 2d. respectively. These costs will now be higher. The figures for the three chief institutions in Sydney are available only for the year ended the 30th June, 1950. The average cost for that year was £3 3s. 8d., £3 17s. Id. and £4 13s. 5d. a week respectively. In Adelaide, the average cost for the chief benevolent institution is £6 3s.-7d. a week, whilst in Perth the figure for the year ended the 30th June, 1951, was £2 18s. Id., which was the lowest in the Commonwealth except for a small institution at Grafton where the average cost was £2 15s. 9d. for a week during that year. In Hobart, the average cost of the main institution was £4 19s. 2d. a week for the year ended the 30th June, 1951.
Thus, notwithstanding payments by the Commonwealth from the pension payable to inmates each pensioner admitted to a benevolent institution involves a loss which must be made up from other sources, chiefly from State revenue. Although it is claimed to be an anomaly that in Queensland a person in receipt of a pension may be admitted to an institution for a charge of only 21s. a week, that is purely a State matter, and has no bearing on the payment which the Commonwealth makes to pensioners. In no other State is the position the same as in Queensland. In the three large State institutions in New South Wales, the charge for most pensioners is £2 2s. a week. In Victoria there is no fixed amount, but the charge is determined according to the circumstances of the applicant. The same condition applies in South Australia, where the amount varies from 10s. a week to £2 14s. 9d. a week. I shall not go through the whole list, but merely point out that in Tasmania the amount is £2 16s. a week.
For the reasons I have given, and having particular regard to the actual cost per inmate and the services provided, I believe that the allocation of 35 per cent, which has operated during the last eight years is fair both to the pensioner and to the institution. I may mention that in the United Kingdom a pensioner inmate of a benevolent institution is usually allowed to keep only 5s. a week for himself. I am sure that if that section of the act which specifies the allocation that shall be made between the institution and the pensioner were repealed, and the allocation were left to private arrangement between the parties, most inmates would be considerably worse off than they are at present.
.- I direct the attention of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) to section 21 of the principal act, which lays down the qualifications for an age pension. That section provides that an applicant, in order to qualify, must have resided continuously in Australia for a period of twenty years prior to the date of application. It is true that certain exceptions are made in a preceding section, hut one case has come to my notice of a man who had resided in Australia for a total of 29 years, but whose application for a pension was refused because he had not resided here for twenty consecutive years. A different principle is applied in the case of invalid pensions. Section 24 of the act provides that. a person who has resided continuously in Australia for five years, and who becomes incapacitated for work, is eligible to receive an invalid pension. Sub-section (2.) of section 25 provides that a person who becomes permanently incapacitated outside Australia, but who returns to Australia, is entitled to an invalid pension if he . has resided in Australia continuously for twenty years, or for periods aggregating not less than twenty years. I ask the Minister to consider amending the act to apply to applicants for age pensions the same residential qualifications as are required of applicants for invalid pensions. If the amendment cannot be introduced here, perhaps it could be inserted in the Senate.
– The point raised by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) is worthy of consideration, but there are certain aspects which he may not have considered. One of them is the reciprocal arrangements into which we have entered with other countries. For instance, we have a reciprocal arrangement with New Zealand, and considerable progress has been made with the drafting of a similar arrangement with the United Kingdom. It would not be proper for Australia to vary the conditions attaching to the payment of pensions without the concurrence of other governments who are parties to reciprocal arrangements. Under section 21 of the act, any continuous period of residence of twenty years in Australia is sufficient, but the period need not be immediately prior ( to the date of the claim. Absences in any of the circumstances mentioned in section 10 ancounted as residence. These include -
A period of absence during which the claimant’s home remained in Australia;
A period of absence due to circumstances connected with a war in which His Majesty was engaged;
A period of absence during which the claimant was deemed to be a resident of Australia within the meaning of the acts relating to income taxation; and
Occasional absences not exceeding, in the aggregate, one-tenth of the total period of residence plus the absences.
Furthermore, continuity of residence in Australia is not deemed to be interrupted by residence in a territory of the Commonwealth. The fact that the period of twenty years residence does not ha ve to bc a period immediately preceding the date of the claim for pension, and the various concessions in regard to absences in the circumstances mentioned in section 20, render this condition much less rigid and irksome than it would otherwise be. Absences are already provided for to a reasonable extent, and the concessions referred to are generally sufficient to meet cases where a continuous period of twenty years’ actual residence cannot be shown. To provide that the twenty years’ residence may be made up of a number of shorter periods of residence, so long as there is an aggregate of twenty years, would be going too far. During his lifetime of 65 years, a man not’ born in Australia could make twenty visits to Australia, and remain for twelve months on each occasion, or ten visits, remaining for two years on each occasion. Then, upon reaching the age pf 65 years, he could come here and immediately claim a pension. That may he an extreme case, out under the suggested amendment there would be nothing to prevent such a thing from happening. There would certainly be other cases with just as little merit. If there is to be any easing of this requirement it will need more careful consideration than can be given to it on the spur of the moment.
– But the principle has already been accepted in the case of invalid pensioners.
– We are speaking of two completely different things. A person must obviously become old if he lives long enough, but a person need not become an invalid. It is known when people will grow old but it is not know when they will become sick and that contingency is covered in the way that I have mentioned. I shall give consideration to the request of the honorable member for Bendigo but I cannot agree that an amendment should be made to the act at this stage.
– I support the suggestion that the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) has made. I consider that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) has overlooked an important feature with respect to the people who are in institutions. The Lidcombe State hospital provides facilities that are equal to those of any other hospital in New South Wales for the treatment of certain ailments. An age pensioner with an ailment affecting his internal organs who spends six months in the Royal North Shore Hospital receives the benefits of the hospital scheme and also his pension. If at the end of a month, instead of remaining at the Royal North Shore Hospital, he is transferred to Lidcombe State Hospital on his specialist’s instructions, he loses at the end of eight weeks the pension that he would have received in the Royal North Shore Hospital. The provision for the payment of only 35 per cent, of the pension operated before this Government and preceding governments accepted the policy of free hospitalization. If a pensioner is entitled to free hospital treatment at the Royal North Shore Hospital and is ordered by the specialist to the State
Hospital at Lidcombe that is no reason why he should lose 65 per cent, of the pension that he would have received had he remained at the Royal North Shore Hospital. I do not think that the Minister has given full consideration to the fact that the government subscribes to theprinciple of free hospitalization. A great part of Lidcombe State Hospital is not an aged asylum. The institutions at Lidcombe and Liverpool are firstclasshospitals. They are regarded as firstclass hospitals by the State Government and should be treated in that way by the Australian Government. It is not fair and just, merely because a man has been transferred, on the instructions of a specialist, from one hospital to another, to withhold his pension when he goes to the second hospital. If other people are entitled to free hospitalization surely the age pensioners are entitled to it.
There is one blind spot in this act. It is the provision for the application of a means test to any invalid child between the ages of sixteen and 21. No words of mine can emphasize too strongly this black spot, which should not be tolerated for a minute longer than it takes the Minister to consider the matter. I urge the Government to remove this black spot from the social services legislation. Surely any parents, whatever their position in life, who have the unfortunate responsibility of taking care of an invalid child until it reaches the age of 21 years has sufficient responsibility without being called upon to bear the additional expense involved. When such children reach the age of sixteen years their parents cease to receive 10s. a week in child endowment. I ask the Government to eliminate the means test in respect of these children who are such a tremendous burden upon their parents that if they were paid more than the full invalid pension it would not compensate them for the responsibility involved in the maintenance of the child. It is probably not possible to ascertain the small amount of expenditure that would be required to remove this one black spot from our social services legislation, but I think it would be so small as to make no difference in. a budget of the present dimensions. I know that the Minister will not insert such a provision in this bill but I ask him to take such action as soon as possible. If the Minister will do that it will put hope and a good deal of appreciation into the hearts of those who are most deserving in the matter of social services consideration.
.- The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) suggested that the Government should again amend the means test provisions of the act. Various governments during the last twenty years have endeavoured to improve those provisions. Each time that they have made such an attempt they have created new anomalies. There is only one remedy for this great trouble, and that is to abolish the means test entirely. Several honorable members have suggested that such a provision could not be financed. I suggest that it could be financed without any difficulty. I have stated in a previous speech that the means test could be abolished in respect of the male section of the community by means of a very small contribution, subsidized by a grant from general revenue. This would be a very small amount when considered in relation to the colossal figure that appears in the budget. To abolish the means test completely for men and provide them all with a retiring allowance of £3 a week from 65 years of age until death would require a weekly contribution of 2s., which represents only 1 per cent. of the basic wage. The Government contribution required to subsidize the scheme on a £1 for £1 basis would amount to £15.000,000, or only 1½ per cent. of the total revenues of the Commonwealth for this year. At a time when this country urgently needs production, the means test is discouraging work. At a time when the country urgently needs savings, the means test is discouraging saving. If we are to have a sound economy, and if we are to encourage the things which should be encouraged, 2s. a week is not too big a price for our men between the ages of 18 and 65 to pay. That sum represents only 1 per cent. of the basic wage. Is it too much to ask the Government to pay 1½ per cent. of the revenues of the Commonwealth in order to get rid of the greatest blot on our social services legislation?
I suggest that this is a matter which should be dealt with urgently and immediately. It can be done, and it should be done. During this debate I have heard many honorable members refer to the means test and inequalities and injustices caused by it. One speaker after another has urged its abolition or amelioration. The Prime Minister, in his 1949 policy speech, stated that it was the policy of the Government to place before the people in 1952 a scheme to abolish the means test. I am confident that the Government will carry out that undertaking, and that next year will see the abolition of the means test.
.- I did not have an opportunity of speaking during the second-reading debate on this bill because of the number of speakers from the Government side, and because of the Government’s use of the gag. I was further discouraged when I heard the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), make a second-reading speech at this stage of this bill. By doing so he has made two second-reading speeches on the same bill.
– Order ! The honorable member must deal with the bill.
– I have been very interested in this debate. I have listened patiently to it since last Thursday, when the bill was introduced. I have heard the many tributes that have been paid to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley). The Minister appears to be a courteous person, because he has taken up much time to-night in answering various speakers. However, I hope that he does not answer me because other honorable members may also want to speak. It has also been said that the Minister is sympathetic towards pensioners. I suggest that the pensioners do not look for sympathy. They want relief from their economic burdens. Sympathy without relief is like mustard without beef. The sympathy that they are getting is the 10s. increase that the Government is giving to them with one hand but taking away with the other hand in the form of increased commodity taxes.
– Order ! The honorable member must deal with the bill.
He must not continue to criticize honorable members.
– I point out, Mr. Chairman, that I am dealing with the bill because the bill makes provision for an increase of 10s. a week in pensions, but the sales tax-
– Order ! The sales tax is not dealt with in this bill.
– The 10s. that pensioners are being given by way of increase will be taken from them by way of increased sales tax. I am probably the only member of this House who was here when the Scullin Government was criticized for reducing pensions. But at that time it was the non-Labour section of the Parliament which forced the reduction of pensions. At that time my sympathy lay with the Scullin Government because the Premiers plan-
– Order! The honorable member knows that the Premiers plan is not involved in this bill.
– The Premiers plan was mentioned by the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), who said that there was one black spot in this bill. The black spot in the bill has relation to an invalid child who must be maintained by his parents while he is between the ages of sixteen and 21 years. An invalid child needs much more attention, medical and otherwise, than a normal child, and he should be given more consideration. There is another black 3pot in this bill, and that relates to the Government’s proposal to increase the permissible value of property from £750 to £1,000. The pensions awarded to people should not be made dependent upon the value of their capital assets. The rate of pension should be based on the same principle as that upon which taxation is assessed which is the income-earning value of property, A certain matter recently came to my attention concerning a man, an Irishman I will admit, who owned 100 or 200 acres of land. In order to qualify himself for the pension he wanted to give this land to the church. The priest would not take it because he said that it would only be an encumbrance to the church. The property remained an encumbrance to this man because the value of the land pre vented him from getting a pension. If the Minister is sympathetic towards the pensioners he should seriously consider assessing the amount of pensions upon the same principle as that upon which taxation is assessed which is, not upon the capital value of property but upon its income-producing value. The honorable member for Sturt advocated the abolition of the means test. At the same time, he urged the Government to introduce a contributory system under which the worker would be required to contribute at the rate of 2s. a week. That contribution would represent a reduction of the worker’s wage. Labour, when it was in power, always endeavoured to maintain the pension at a rate that was approximately from 35 per cent, to 40 per cent, of the ruling basic wage. Personally, I believe that the rate of pension should be not less than 50 per cent, of the ruling basic wage. Why should the workers be regarded as so much scrap iron? I have seen thousands of tons of scrap iron thrown away, but during war-time all available scrap iron is reclaimed and sold at a huge profit for the manufacture of munitions. Does the Government propose to treat the aged in that fashion? Our old people have made great sacrifices, from which the present generation is reaping many benefits. In industrial centres, the old people have established such amenities as schools of arts. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. In the evening of their lives, they should not be thrown aside as though they were so much useless scrap iron. Is not the Government prepared to recognize what they have done for this country in the past ?
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– 1 had not intended to speak at this’ juncture. However, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) has, on two occasions, emphasized his belief and that of the Government parties in a contributory scheme for the provision of social services benefits. He has advanced his proposition ostensibly on the ground that it would enable the Government to abolish the means test. Uppermost in his mind is the belief that a flat rate should be levied upon the workers in order to finance social services benefits. Apparently, he has forgotten the circumstances in which the national health and pensions insurance scheme was introduced in 1938. It is quite true that under that scheme the means test was to be abolished. However, beneficiaries were to be limited, with odd exceptions, to employees who did not earn more than £350 per annum. Such employees were to be required to make substantial contributions which ranged up to 4s. 6d. a week in the case of a man and his wife whilst employers were to be required to make a contribution of ls. 6d. a week in respect of each of their employees. That contribution by employers was to be made regardless of whether or not they were engaged in a profit-making undertaking. That scheme eliminated entirely from, the obligation to make contributions those in the professional classes, investors, rentiers, pastoralists and graziers who would not require to employ much labour. Obviously, it was designed to relieve the wealthy of the liability to contribute towards the cost of making provision for the aged and invalid. The relevant legislation was passed after a prolonged debate in the Parliament. Indeed, its passage was a tribute to the capacity of the Minister concerned. The Labour party, which was then in opposition, opposed the scheme because that party realized the real purport of the scheme. That scheme still remains on the statutebook. The government that passed that legislation ran away from the obligation of implementing it. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who was then AttorneyGeneral, resigned from the government of the ‘day because he was disgusted with its failure in. that respect.
Uppermost in the mind of the honorable member for Sturt is a belief that if the Government parties persist in their advocacy of the abolition of the means test and if they are backed by sufficient propaganda in the press they will hide from the people their real intention to introduce a scheme under which the wealthy sections of the community will be relieved of the obligation to contribute towards the cost of social services benefits. Under such a scheme, contribution will be made at a flat rate regardless of the incomes of contributors. I utterly disagree with a proposition of that kind. What are the facts about our social services benefits ? With the possible exception of the United Kingdom, with whose social services scheme, incidentally, I do not wholly agree, our social services system is the most soundly based of any scheme in any country. Under it, liability to contribute is placed fairly and squarely where it should bo placed. I shall make a comparison. Under the Chifley scheme a Cabinet Minister, for instance, is paying from £150 to £200 a year to the National Welfare Fund whilst a worker on the basic wage of £9 a week, and who has five, or six, children to maintain, does not make any contribution at all. Is it not more just to require a Cabinet Minister, whose income may be up to £3,000 a year, to contribute to the cost of social services benefits rather than, oblige a worker on the basic wage to contribute on a similar basis?
The average worker makes a substantial contribution to Consolidated Revenue through indirect taxes. Many persons, when they are advanced in years, find that they must rely on social services benefits because, perhaps, they have been improvident insofar as they have expended much of their income in the purchase of beer, spirits and tobacco. Under the budget that is now before the Parliament, the workers who purchase beer and tobacco will, in the aggregate, contribute over £100,000,000 to Consolidated Revenue. Therefore, when they reach the age of 60 years, they will have paid in indirect taxes more than sufficient to entitle them to the age pension.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the question before the Chair and I expect him to obey my direction to him.
– I regret that I have strayed slightly, but I was endeavouring to deal with the abolition of the means test. I am an ardent believer in the abolition of the means test, but not by the method advocated by the honorable member for Sturt which would involve the collection of 2s. a week - probably the figure would be 5s. by the time a concrete scheme had been prepared - from workmen who receive £8 or £9 & week.
– Order ! The honorable member cannot discuss that matter further. I have already allowed him ample latitude.
– Whilethe bill removes certain anomalies in the existing legislation, it does not ensure to pensioners the standard of living that they enjoyed under the Labour Administration when the age and invalid pension was nearly 36 per cent. of the basic wage. With further increases of the basic wage looming, the pension increase provided in this measure will have little value. Honorable members opposite boast that pension increases granted during the term of office of the present Government are the largest that have been ever made, but, while that may be true in a strict monetary sense, the purchasing power of the increases has never been lower. I have to support this bill because it gives the pensioners something. Had a government of another political complexion been in office, the pensioners would have been much better off notwithstanding the fact that the Labour party promised only a pension increase similar to that provided in this measure, because the economy of this country would not have been allowed to drift as it has done in the past two years.
– Much nonsense has been talked by honorable members opposite about the relationship of the pension to the basic wage. That argument is quite irrelevant, as the Opposition is well aware, and it has been advanced deliberately to mislead people who do not know any better. In the early days of pensions, the basic wage was based on the Harvester award, which had regard to the needs of a man, wife, and three children. But, over the years, that fundamental basis has been altered. In recent times, for instance, prosperity loadings have been added, and consideration has been given to the capacity of industry to pay. Therefore, whereas once the basic wage was directly applied to the cost of living, over recent years that relationship has become very remote and so the argument is completely devoid of logical substance. The. argument of honorable members opposite about the rela tionship of the pension to the basic wage might convince half-wits, but it is an insult to intelligent men. The substance of the argument is that a pensioner who receives £3 a week under this legislation will not have as much purchasing power as he had in 1948 when the pension was increased to 42s. 6d. I contend that pensioners will be at least as well off as they were in 1948. I base that statement upon the “ C “ series index which is something tangible. The last “ C “ series index figure determined before the 21st October, 1948, the date of the increase of pensions to 42s. 6d. a week, was 1311. That was for the September quarter of 1948. The latest index figure is that for the June quarter of 1951, which is 1833. Applying the ratio of 1833 to 1311 to the figure of 42s. 6d., we find that the result is 59s. 5d. That simply means that, on the basis of the “ C “ series index, £2 19s. 5d. a week will purchase the same commodities as £2 2s. 6d. purchased when the Labour Government last increased the pension in 1948. Therefore the £3 a week provided for under this bill, reflects the full increase of the cost of living since October, 1948.
Motion (by Mr. Gullett) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- For some days I have patiently questioned the Government in an attempt to obtain information about a certain matter which I have raised in this House and while the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) may have attempted to avoid the real issues involved by an unsatisfactory reply to my question to-day, I again press the matter, because I think that it is of some importance to the people of this country to know whether Ministers are receiving payments of which the public would not approve. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) has said that he refuses to give me any information on the particular matter about which I questioned him, because he regarded it as his own personal affair and his personal business.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) proposed -
That the question be now put.
– Bribery !
– Order ! I heard some one mention bribery. He might be called upon to prove it.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . ‘. 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Dairy Produce Export Control Act - Twentysixth Annual Report of the Australian Dairy Produce Board, for year 1950-51, together with Statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land, &c, acquired for Postal purposes -
Barmera, South Australia.
East Brisbane, Queensland.
Glenunga, South Australia.
Nationality and Citizenship Act - Return for year 1950-51.
Papua and New Guinea Act - Ordinances - 1951.
No. 28 - Legislative Council.
No. 29- Supply (No. 2) 1951-52.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Treasury - B. D. Mickle.
Works and Housing- A. Q. B. Davis,
A. L. Miller, M. Murch, N. Sneath, A. H. Wand.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act-
Regulations - 1951 - No. 5 (Fish Protection Ordinance).
House adjourned at 11.45 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has furnished the following reply:-
d asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Mr.Rosevear asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
How many air accidents, resulting in loss of life, have occurred in Australia involving airlines owned by (a) the Commonwealth, viz. - Trans-Australia Airlines and other lines in which the Government is financially interested and (b) private companies?
What has been the loss of life under (a) and (b ) respectively ?
y- The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Prime Minister -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1, 2, and 3. As I have already stated publicly, on the 9th August, with the Treasurer, I saw representatives of the trading banks in Australia at my own suggestion so as to obtain at first-hand any practical suggestions they might desire to make with respect to the operation of the present banking system - in particular, the credit policies now obtaining.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y. - On the 27th September, the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) asked a question regarding the construction of silos at selected centres so that normal wheat supplies will not suffer from periodic transport difficulties. The Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has now furnished the following reply: -
The increasing proportion of deliveries of wheat in bulk is steadily reducing the quantity of bagged wheat available in New South Wales each season. The Wheat Board uses bulk storage facilities at ports, but finds it impracticable to establish other bulk wheat depots outside the wheat areas.
– On the 3rd October, the honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury) asked a question regarding a statement made by the Acting Premier of Queensland to the effect that the Australian Government had refused to pay freight charges on the shipment of 300,000 bushels of South Australian wheat to Queensland, although the freight charges were met on gristing wheat shipped to Tasmania from South Australia. The Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has now furnished the following reply : -
The Commonwealth Government did not agree to a recent request from the Queensland Government that the Commonwealth should meet the transport charges on wheat shipped to that State. Interstate shipment is needed to meet shortage which has resulted because of a small Queensland crop last season. It is a fact that, in pursuance of a special arrangement, the Commonwealth has been subsidizing portion of the freight on mainland wheat forwarded for gristing in Tasmania. The circumstances are not analagous.
y. - On the 26th September, the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) addressed a question to the Acting Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the following terms : -
In explanation, I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to the alarming position regarding wheat supplies. I am advised that there is simply not enough wheat left in this country to feed our poultry and pig populations, and that farmers are being advised to slaughter off their flocks and herds as the only solution to the crisis. Will the Minister take immediate steps to ascertain what relief of this situation is possible? Can he reassure the House that no wheat is being exported? In regard to next season’s crop, will he investigate the desirability of allowing wheat consumers such as pig, poultry and dairying industries to be represented when domestic and export quotas are being allocated.
The Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has now furnished the following answer : -
– On the 3rd October, the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) asked a question regarding stocks of wheat in New South Wales, reduced acreage under wheat, and Australia’s commitments under the International Wheat Agreement. The Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has now furnished the following reply: -
y. - On the 4th October, the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) asked a question relating to the difficulties in procuring rice in Brisbane. The Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has now furnished the following reply: -
The distribution of rice in Australia is arranged by the trade and as with other household lines the Commonwealth has no control over its distribution. It is known that supplies for all local use should he adequate, as the rice crop this season was a big one. No representations concerning a shortage have been received from any of the rice retailers in Queensland. The Commonwealth has power only over the export of rice and consideration will be given to the restriction of export of rice if Australian consumers are not supplied with their requirements.
y. - On the 26th September, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) asked a question regarding supplies of feed wheat for the poultry industry. The Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has now furnished the following reply : -
A reduced wheat crop in New South Wales in the 1950-51 season, continued with an increased demand to meet poultry feed requirements, has created a supply problem in regard to wheat for stock feed. It is hoped that negotiations with wheat-growers and State governments concerning an extension of the Wheat Stabilization Plan will result in a basis for the future which will he satisfactory to all parties.
on. - On the 9th October, the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs the following question: -
I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs in connexion with a textile factory at Brunswick, Victoria, which manufactures tapestries and which has been forced to dismiss 40 employees out of about 100 that it employed because of unfair overseas competition. Furnishing Textiles Proprietary Limited and other companies have had before the Tariff Board since early 1950 claims for protection for their industry. Will the Minister secure early consideration of the claims of this industry and submit a report?
The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished the following information : -
The Tariff Board’s report on woven upholstery and woven furnishing fabrics has been received and the report is being examined by the department in relation to the trade treaty commitments involved. Endeavour will be made to bring the matter to finality as early as possible.
y. - On the 10th October, the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Berry) asked a question concerning the shipment of steel to Queensland ports.
The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answer : -
At the present time the following quantities of steel are available for shipment to Queensland ports: -
Against these quantities the following vessels have been allotted: - Newcastle - Enfield 570 tons Maryborough and Rockhampton (loaded), Bundeleer 4,500 tons Brisbane on berth 15th October, 1951; Kembla - Beltana 4,000 tons Brisbane E.T.D. 12th October, 1951; total 9,979 tons, leaving a total for which shipping has not been allotted of 4,424 tons of which 2,259 are at Newcastle and 2,165tons at Port Kembla.
y. - On the 9th October, the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Fitzgerald) asked a question concerning the transport of salt from South Australia to New South Wales. The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answer : -
The statement that the Australian Government is withholding shipping for the transport of salt from South Australia to New South Wales is not true. In actual fact the Government through its representatives on the Combined Traffic Committee makes continual representations for the allocation of shipping to load whatever salt is available in South Australia for New South Wales and other States. Practically all the vessels which load at Adelaide for Sydney carry salt as part of their cargo. The vessel Cycle arrived at Sydney on the 9th of this month with 1,526 tons of salt from South Australia and the Combined Traffic Committee is considering the next vessel which will be available to load a further cargo for Sydney.
y. - On the 10th October, the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) asked a question concerning the congestion of cargo on the
Sydney waterfront. The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answer : -
The provision of wharf space at Australian ports and protection of cargo on wharfs are matters for which the State authorities are responsible. In the case of Sydney the appropriate authority is the Maritime Services Board of New South Wales. At this present time the Port of Sydney, in common with other Australian ports, is meeting with the seasonal increase in imports, and the port’s facilities are being severely taxed to meet with this increase in cargo. It is not correct to say that the Commonwealth Government might be held responsible for the position, as only a very small proportion of the cargo being discharged is on Commonwealth account. The Commonwealth’s powers in regard to the direction of activities in ports are strictly limited, but, as Minister of Shipping and Transport. I arranged, some eighteen months ago, for cargo clearance committees to be established in the main Australian ports, including Sydney, for the purpose of alleviating as far as possible the causes of congestion. The Sydney committee is well aware of the present conditions in the ports and is taking appropriate action to relieve as far as possible the congestion that must he expected during the busy season between the present and early part of next year.
s. - On the 3rd July last, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) asked the following questions, upon notice : -
The attached schedule has been prepared giving the details, as at the 30th June, 1951, asked for by the honorable member. As there is no clear-cut definition of federal boards, commissions and similar authorities, it has been necessary to relate the answers to the honorable member’s questions to certain standards. The attached list excludes (a) all authorities with membership confined to officers of the Public Service, defence personnel or members of Commonwealth and State parliaments; (b) international authorities with Australian representation; (c) private companies in which the Commonwealth has an interest. There are 121 bodies which are considered to fall within the phrase “federal boards, commissions and similar authorities “. Of these eleven have been created or re-constituted since
December, 1949. The date of establishment of each authority is shown in brackets after its title in the attached schedule. A number of the authorities are advisory bodies only and meet infrequently.
– On the 9th. October the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) asked me a question concerning the provision of an ambulance station financed from revenue derived from the excise duty imposed on coal. I am now able to inform the honorable member that the duties of excise to which he referred are imposed on coal, as prescribed by departmental by-laws, produced in Australia and not being the property of a State. Under the States Grants (Coal-mining Industry Long Service Leave) Act 1949, revenue from this source is required for payment to the Coal Mining Industry Long Service Leave Fund. The act does not permit this fund to be used to meet the cost of providing an ambulance station.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
on asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
a asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What percentage of Commonwealth treasury bonds issued in each of the twelve-monthly periods ended the 30th September, 1049, the 30th September, 1950, and the 30th September, 1951, were issued to (a) insurance companies,
– The information is not available. However, particulars of the holdings of government and semi-governmental securities by life assurance offices, up to the end of 1949. will be found in the Australasian Insurance and Banking Record (October. 1950. issue).
– On the 3rd October, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) asked me the following questions : -
I now advise the honorable member as follows : -
– On the 27th September, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) asked a question concerning pensions payable to the widows of men killed while employed during the war by the Civil Construction Corps. The question of increasing these and other similar pensions is at present receiving consideration. The Parliament will be informed of the Government’s decision on the matter in due course.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 October 1951, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1951/19511016_reps_20_214/>.